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Cold Spring residents struggle to recover
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This shrine outside Rocori High School is in honor of the two students shot last week. Students and community members continue adding items to the makeshift memorial. (MPR Photo/Annie Baxter)
It hasn't even been a week, but for the people of Cold Spring, everything is different. They've already mourned and buried one of their own, and still grieve over another. After last Wednesday's school shooting at Rocori High School, Aaron Rollins, 17, was laid to rest Monday and Seth Bartell, 14, is still in critical condition at St. Cloud Hospital. Children and adults are grasping for ways to communicate their feelings.

Cold Spring, Minn. — Rocori High School sophomore Erin Herberg reads aloud a poem to commemorate the way a typical day took a terrible turn.

"It was just a normal day at my town high school.
Everything was fine, everything was standard and cool.
But in the middle of the day as I sat in my fourth hour class,
I heard two loud booms, and outside chaos en masse.
My terrified principal came onto the loud intercom,
Told us to go into Code Red, but at the same time try to remain calm.
As we all sat in confusion, watching the breaking news on TV,
It was all right outside our locked door... a school shooting was happening to me."

Erin's mother Jennifer looks on proudly from across the room. She says all four of her kids are doing well in communicating about last week's tragic events. But she worries about her own ability to give her children counsel.

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Image Erin Herberg's poem

"I just say a prayer each day, and say I just hope my husband and I are doing the right things we need to do to help our children through it," says Jennifer Herberg. "I don't have big words of wisdom for them, I don't have answers for them, so I just say, 'God, tell me what I need to tell them, and show me what I need to show them.'"

She and her daughter Erin hope that Erin's poem might offer some wisdom to others who are feeling the same way. That's why Erin placed it at the entrance to Rocori High School, alongside many other people's offerings. Flowers and photos and personal messages form a little shrine to the two boys who were shot.

And people like Lisa Cotton have made a pilgrimage to see it. She has a teenage son at home who she's tried to be especially attentive to this past week.

Cotton says there's a strange way in which the school shooting situation is somewhat familiar. She has a vague sense of how to handle it.

"I think because of the situation in Columbine, and the other school shootings that were publicized, everybody's learned a lot about it," says Cotton. "Most of the kids here have heard about those situations. And there's been followup, and you learn from other people's tragedies also. It feels like other people know more about it now."

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Image Mourners leaving funeral

In moments, families feel competent to approach the topic of the shooting with their children, but in other moments utterly powerless.

Even people who are paid to keep their cool and have the answers say it's hard to keep emotions out of the way. Cold Spring Police Chief Phil Jones says school and city officials need to be able to criticize one another's efforts. But right now, they can't simply bracket the trauma they're all experiencing.

"You can't effectively say you did something right or wrong, or, 'Chief, you should have done this,'" says Jones. "So you gotta wait, in my opinion anyway, you gotta wait until you can communicate, without people breaking down."

The people of Cold Spring have never mourned like this before. Hundreds are area residents packed St. Boniface Catholic Church for Aaron Rollins' funeral Monday. All over the church, there were flowers and photos. Smiling images from a young life.

Father Cletus Conners, who led the service, said the standing-room-only crowd was typical for this small central Minnesota town. Father Conners wants people to remember how precious life is.

It's a message that stuck with Karen Glad. After the funeral, Glad said Aaron's death has reminded her to pay attention to living life to its fullest.

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Image A window on the funeral

"If you need to apologize to someone, do it now; if you need to forgive someone, do that now. If you need to go on a second honeymoon or go on a family vacation just don't put those things off. We do need to act now because we don't know what tomorrow holds for any of us," she said.

Glad grew up in Cold Spring, moved away, but then moved back so she could raise her children in a safe community. She says Cold Spring is still the safe town it's always been.

Erica Idso, 19, who goes to college with Aaron Rollins' sister, came to the funeral to support her friend.

"This is an incredible tragedy and we're all deeply grieving. But we have to pick ourselves up and go on, and learn from it, and bind together as a community as a family, and I think that's the most important thing," Idso said.

Rollins' death has been just one of the heartaches for students at Rocori High School. Another of their classmates is still hospitalized with critical injuries.

Community members at Rollins' funeral says they're encouraged by the tremendous amount of support the town has shown in the wake of the shooting.

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Image Still a safe place

People have helped each other. Even Seth Bartell's family issued a statement offering sympathy for the family of Jason McLaughlin, the 15-year-old Rocori student charged in the shootings.

Rep. Doug Stang, a Republican who represents Cold Spring, says the real test for his community will be how it recovers from the shootings.

"I think it was a good start in the healing process for all of the families involved. There's still a long road ahead, but I think it helps to begin the process," he said.

While people begin that healing process, Father Cletus Conners is worried about what the shooting will do to the small town.

"You go somewhere and somebody doesn't know you and they ask where are you from and you say 'Cold Spring.' 'Oh,' they say, 'That's where the bakery is, that's where the brewery is, or that's the granite city of the world.' Or they say, 'Oh, yeah, that's where they had the big incident at school.'"

Father Conners hopes Cold Spring isn't remembered just for last week's school shooting, but for the community's response.

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