Denver journalist Vickie Bane has reported on her tragedies for PEOPLE, among them the murder of Jon-Benét Ramsey. But none has hit her harder—or closer to home—than the shootings on April 20 at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. Bane has lived near Littleton all her life, was once president of the Jefferson County PTA and helped push through a $325 million bond referendum that funded, among other improvements, an addition at Columbine. Her niece Kelsey Bane, 15, is a sophomore at the school.

Vickie immediately thought of Kelsey when Vickie's son T.J., an 18-year-old senior at a neighboring school, reached her at the Denver restaurant where she was lunching with a friend and told her two guys with guns were shooting up Columbine. "We just ran out of there," says Bane. "I'm not even sure if we paid."

Heading straight for Columbine, 30 minutes away, Bane phoned our West Coast deputy bureau chief Meg Grant to alert her. Says Grant: "She did what any good reporter would do. She picked up her notebook and started working." Bane also reached Kelsey's mother and learned that her niece was safe. "Kelsey was very lucky," says Bane. "She had just stopped in the cafeteria for lunch and was near the entrance, so she was able
to get out unharmed."

Bane interviewed distraught parents gathered outside the school, where more than 250 students were trapped. That she was operating on her home turf was both a help and a hindrance. "It helps because I have great connections and credibility," she says. "It hinders because I'm even more emotionally involved."

To complete her reporting for our May 3 cover story and this week's follow-up on a group of Columbine teachers (see page 68), Bane endured the sort of physical stress—working 48 hours at a stretch without sleep—she associates with her days at Colorado State University, where she earned a journalism degree in 1969. But for this mother of two—she and husband David, a systems administrator, also have a 22-year-old son, Jason, an aspiring journalist—the emotional toll was even more taxing. Recalling a recent visit to the impromptu memorial near Columbine, she says, "I'm okay by the flowers. But by the school I find myself holding back sobs because of the fear the kids must have felt." Grateful for her outstanding work and dedication, we can only hope there will never again be a story such as this one for her to cover.