Denver, CO -- Oct. 7 - 10, 2005

Columbine Survivor To Join Columbus Day Protests

Oct 6, 2003 11:49 am US/Mountain

Columbine survivor Richard Castaldo, once a guest of honor at New York's Columbus Day celebration, will protest the holiday this year.

Six months after surviving the 1999 school shootings, Castaldo celebrated Columbus Day alongside then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in New York City.

Castaldo, left paralyzed from the chest down by a bullet in the school shootings, said he's still proud of his Italian-American heritage and grateful to the people who invited him to New York. But he has changed his mind about Columbus.

"It seems like we really shouldn't be celebrating someone who killed so many people," said Castaldo, 22.

Denver's annual Columbus Day celebration has been a flashpoint for American Indians, who say explorer Christopher Columbus committed genocide against their ancestors. Columbus Day has been a state holiday in Colorado since 1905.

Denver's annual parade was halted in 1992, when participants were met by thousands of angry protesters.

The parade was revived in 2000 after Justice Department officials were called in to mediate a truce between parade organizers and the opposition. At one point, mediators thought they had found common ground -- a plan to rename the parade "The March for Italian Pride" -- but organizers eventually dropped the idea.

Since then, protesters have spent their time organizing counter marches. Columbus Day plan the "All Nations March" Friday, during which marchers will converge from four directions at Cuernavaca Park in Denver.

A "Take Back History" march to the state Capitol is planned at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Last year, an estimated 2,000 protesters met about 1,000 Columbus Day parade participants in an event watched by about 600 police officers. Seven protesters were arrested.

Parade organizer George Vendegnia said parade participants will meet opponents with waves and smiles this year.

"We're peaceful people. We're there to celebrate the day, and our First Amendment right," Vendegnia said. "The Columbus Day parade's not going to go away, that's for sure."

( 2003 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. )