Ever since she was paralyzed below the waist during the Columbine High School shootings in April 1999, Anne Marie Hochhalter, now 34, has faced the kind of challenges that would leave most people stewing in bitterness.
Hochhalter spent months in rehab, learning to navigate the world in a wheelchair. She was dealt a second blow when her mother, who suffered from lifelong depression, committed suicide six months after the shootings. She continues to experience medical issues, such as intense nerve pain.
But in an incredible gesture of forgiveness, Hochhalter took to Facebook Thursday to post a letter to Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine shooters.
Hochhalter’s message: She wanted Klebold to know that she understands what she’s been going through in the 17 years since the shootings. She expressed that she has no anger toward Klebold for not realizing her son was planning the attacks that killed 12 students and one teacher, or for being in the dark about the fact that Dylan was anything but a regular teenager.
“I’m sure you have agonized over what you could have done differently. I know, because I do the same thing with trying to think of ways I could have prevented my mother’s death,” wrote Hochhalter. “I have no ill-will towards you. Just as I wouldn’t want to be judged by the sins of my family members, I hold you in that same regard.”
Hochhalter’s letter coincides with the release of Klebold’s book, A Mother’s Reckoning. In it, Klebold says that she lives with tremendous guilt over the horror her son caused. She admits that she would never have believed he was capable of the monstrous acts he committed. Dylan Klebold killed himself at Columbine, as did Eric Harris, his co-conspirator in the massacre.
Sue Klebold is scheduled to appear Friday night on 20/20 in an interview with Diane Sawyer. It’ll be the first time she has spoken publicly about the shootings.
Addressing the interview, Hochhalter wrote, “I was contacted by ABC to comment for the 20/20 special and they told me that any proceeds from your book (aside from publisher’s costs) will go to helping those with mental illness. It means a lot to me that you wouldn’t keep those proceeds for yourself, but to help others that suffer from mental illness.”
Hochhalter also posted a photo of a card (above) that Klebold sent her while she was recovering in the hospital after the shootings. “You and your husband wrote me a letter a few months after I was paralyzed saying how sorry you were,” she reminded Sue Klebold. “It was genuine and personal.”
In the years following Columbine, Hochhalter has by her own account had “a rough road.” Though she’s graduated college with a degree in business and owns her own home, the continued attention Columbine gets in the media can dredge up painful memories.
Her capacity for forgiveness is inspiring. “A good friend once told me, ‘Bitterness is like swallowing a poison pill and expecting the other person to die.’ It only harms yourself. I have forgiven you and only wish you the best,” wrote Hochhalter.