John F. Russell: Always a Warrior |

John F. Russell: Always a Warrior

— I still can remember running down the halls of my high school trying to get to class before the bell rang. I remember struggling to keep my focus in Western Civilization class, and I remember heading to Franks for the Memories, the hot dog place across the street, for lunch.

A lot of things have changed since then. I’m pretty sure Franks is just a memory, but the Burger King across the street is still there. I’ve driven past the school several times throughout the years, and from the outside, it looks like they’ve added new classrooms and a new pool to replace the one where I learned to swim as a child, and the athletic fields behind the school have tripled in size since my days there.

After high school, I headed off to college, graduated from the University of Colorado and moved to Steamboat Springs to work as a sports reporter and photographer. I left my high school behind, but I imagine more than a few of my teachers would be surprised with what I’ve done in those years. My English teacher from my sophomore year would faint if he knew I was a writer, and I owe the yearbook adviser a “thank you” for the kind words that helped fuel my desire to become a photographer.

Twenty-eight years have passed since my graduation in spring 1985, and my memories of high school have faded. I’m sorry to say that once I got my diploma, I never have returned to the halls of my high school.

But Friday, when the news hit that a student with a shotgun had entered Arapahoe High School, I returned to those hallways if only in my memories. The young man brought terror to the halls of my former school where he shot two students — critically injuring one— before taking his own life.

This is different from Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and the Aurora movie theater shootings, at least for me. I know these middle-class neighborhoods, and not that long ago, I was one of the students hanging out in halls of Arapahoe High School. It was a place where I felt safe and sheltered. I guess that these events have taught us all that no place is safe, and that’s unsettling for a father with a high school student and another in middle school.

As the news of what happened at Arapahoe rolled across my television screen Friday, I couldn’t help but think of my high school days. I thought about walking through those halls, reading in the library and eating in the cafeteria. Despite my own shortcomings, it’s hard for me to look back on those days without smiling. It’s where I learned what it took to be a photographer, where I learned that you can overcome and meet expectations and where I learned to make the most of every opportunity.

I took a lot of things away from Arapahoe High School, but the lesson we learned Friday was a hard one for this alumnus.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966

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