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5,000 Attend Last Columbine Funeral

April 29, 1999

DENVER (AP) _ Thousands of weary mourners packed a church today for the final funeral of the 13 Columbine High School shooting victims: 18-year-old Isaiah Shoels.

His parents, Michael and Vonda, embraced each other and shivered as their son’s silver casket was closed before the services began. Mrs. Shoels wept.

``He’s smiling down on us. I know he is,″ said Shoels’ friend, Nick Foss, an 18-year-old Columbine senior who was slightly injured in the attack. Foss and his twin, Adam, were among nearly 5,000 people who gathered at Heritage Christian Center for the service.

Shoels was to be buried in his graduation cap, intended for a ceremony he did not live to celebrate. With his funeral, Columbine High’s survivors buried their final fallen classmate, capping a week of mourning the 13 victims of the shooting that tore their school, and their community, apart.

``This is the last piece. Now the healing begins,″ said the Rev. Larry Russell, the center’s executive pastor. ``I don’t think the healing could begin until today.″

Shoels was the only black student slain by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris in the April 20 massacre and an accomplished athlete _ two strikes against him when it came to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, his father says. Some witnesses said the gunmen _ who committed suicide at the end of their rampage _ targeted Shoels because of his race.

On Wednesday, funerals were held for Steve Curnow, 14, and fellow Columbine student John Tomlin, 16, the latter funeral 900 miles away in Waterford, Wis.

In an autobiography he compiled for a recent class assignment, young Curnow described ``Me in a Nutshell″ _ a blond kid who loved soccer, knew all the lines from ``Star Wars,″ dreamed of flying F-16s and frequented Angie’s restaurant ``because they make a great pizza.″

``I am not a morning person, and I hate to get up in the morning. ... I would either like to go to college or go into the Air Force or Navy,″ Curnow wrote in the life story distributed at his funeral, attended by more than 1,000 people, including Gov. Bill Owens.

Curnow’s 20-year-old sister, Nancy, told of the empty spot his death created in her life.

``Now I don’t have anybody to have fights with over who ... fills the ice cube tray or brings in the groceries,″ she said. ``Now I can’t tease you about your first girlfriend or even when you start to shave.″

The Rev. Billy Epperhart, presiding over his fourth Columbine funeral in a week, acknowledged the personal toll.

``I’ve never even come close to seeing this grief in the eyes and lives of the families of these teen-agers who were so full of life,″ he said.

Epperhart read a statement from Curnow’s mother, Sue, who told of how, as a toddler, the boy who would suck on his blanket so hard that he left holes in the fabric.

``Thank you,″ Mrs. Curnow wrote, ``for that special moment two weeks ago when you told me, `Mom, I’ll bet there aren’t many guys who talk and discuss things like we do. Anytime you want to discuss anything, I’d like to be there.‴

Tomlin, a shy, religious boy who adored his Chevy truck, was buried in his native Wisconsin. He was remembered by 450 people and buried in a casket of green and gold _ the colors of his beloved Green Bay Packers, who sent flowers.

His girlfriend, Michelle Oetter, 17, said she wasn’t angry at Harris and Klebold

``John’s gone, and we have to take it and trust that God brings good out of it,″ she said. ``There’s nothing that we can accomplish by getting angry at those guys. Anger is what started this.″

Before the service began, Tomlin’s grandmother, Elizabeth, placed her hands on the coffin and cried silently. ``He is a kid that every parent and grandparent wishes they had,″ she said. ``He was always there for you.″

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