Columbine School Shooting: A Day We Will Never Forget
April 20th, 1999, at a high school in Littleton, Colorado, two cars pull onto campus. While they appeared unassuming, the drivers would start a chain of events that would shake the nation. They place homemade explosive devices near the cafeteria, set to go off at 11:17 am, and another device in the parking lot to detonate almost an hour later. However, at 11:19 am, when the bomb fails, two boys in trenchcoats enter the school with guns and an intent to kill.
They shoot the first of their victims near the entrance to the school, and quickly move on to the library, where they take the lives of many. By 11:35 am, they have killed 12 students and a teacher. Another 23 students are critically injured. It is then that the boys realize they have no way out. At 12:08 pm, shooters Eric David Harris and Dylan Klebold take their own lives.
After the event, the friends and families of the victims suffered a great deal. However, the school district’s insurance, as well as the company that made the guns, were required to pay a massive settlement to each of the victims or their families. In addition, Mark Manes, the man who sold the guns to the minors was sentenced to six years in jail. However, it wasn’t until September 21st, 2007, that a memorial was erected next to Columbine High School in remembrance of this heartbreaking event.
While those closest to the victims suffered the most, there is no doubt that this particular act of violence shook the country. Many public dedications and widely attended memorial events took place all over the United States. So many were shocked by the idea that a school was no longer a safe place for their children. It began a conversation among our nation’s leaders about the possible ways that this tragic event could have been prevented and what steps the school district will take to ensure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.
Why Did This Happen?
There are many theories about the Columbine school shooting and why Harris and Klebold committed this heinous act. The first theory is that they were a part of an organization called “The Trench Coat Mafia,” which is a group that takes part in the goth culture. It was said that this type of culture promotes violence and hatred, and the boys were simply trying to make a name for themselves among their peers.
Another theory is that the boys were bullied by their classmates. Many students who are bullied mercilessly often see no way out except the death. They develop a “him or me” kind of mentality, and a single act of bullying could set an individual off. However, later analysis would prove this theory to be incorrect.
Thirdly, the idea that Eric Harris was mentally disturbed began to surface. In fact, a few months before the attack, he was brought in for questioning because he had threatened to kill another student, and he even placed the threat in online. While Harris was bullied, he was not the sole perpetrator, and he often bullied other students without discrimination.
Who Was the Real Bully?
While it is without a doubt that several other students picked on Harris and Klebold, it was not the reason that the boys decided to plan the attack. There were a few students that displayed aggressive behavior towards a select group of students. Harris was not a part of this group, and the bullies graduated the year before the attack. This means that the Columbine school shooting was not an attempt to gain freedom from bullies.
His behavior during the shooting also provides evidence that his actions were not a form of revenge. During time in the library, he forced everyone to stand, regardless of their high school clique identities. He did not target a specific group of people, and no one that was shot had ever bullied him. His violence was not focused on anyone, and he killed indiscriminately. The bombs also show evidence that the boys were just trying to cause chaos. The explosives were set to go off in the cafeteria, which would have killed hundreds, including their friends. The other bomb was set to explode in the parking lot, and the boys were attempting to kill parents and rescue workers. The malfuction forced the boys to improvise.
Harris did, however, become a bully himself. He would verbally abuse other students to the point of tears, and his bad temper flared at the slightest sign of provocation. He alienated and abused many of his fellow classmates. When analysts went through his belongings, it became clear that he was disturbed with extreme narcissistic, antisocial, and sadistic traits.
A few other clues led analysts to believe that Harris was mentally disturbed:
- committed acts of fraud, vandalism, and theft
- an obsession with fires and explosives (a sign of a sociopath)
- his detailed obsessions with blowing up large cities
- a preoccupation with Hitler
- an almost religious belief in natural selection (often fantasized about killing all of the mentally or physically disabled)
- fantasized about rape
- described how “fun” it would be to shred someone with a knife
In one instance, Harris had a falling out with one of his friends. Instead of behaving as a normal teenaged boy, he decided to post threats against the boy and his family online, harassed the young man on campus, and vandalized his car and home. Some of his threats including holding his family hostage, torturing them, and then blowing up his home.
It is clear that Eric Harris was not in a right state of mind, and this psychosis was the real reason behind the shooting at Columbine.
Dylan Klebold was just caught up in Harris’ schemes. Dave Cullen, author of Columbine, described the relationship, saying that Harris was “the callously brutal mastermind,” whereas Klebold was a “quivering depressive who journaled obsessively about love.” It was also noted that Klebold attended the school prom just three days before the shooting. While Klebold is just as guilty, he is not the one who planned the attack. His personality allowed him to be easily led astray.
Since the Columbine school shooting, it has become evident that these kinds of violent acts are increasing. In the 2012-2013 school year, alone, there were at least 24 separate school shootings, including the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. This is a massive leap from the previous year, during which there were only nine shootings throughout the country. It’s very clear that something needs to be done. It is a sad world where parents fear for their children’s lives when they drop them off at school.
In some states, they are passing laws requiring teachers and administrators to complete some for of weapons training. Other states, including Colorado, Ohio, New Jersey, and Washington, have opted to employ armed guards in their schools.
But the conversation isn’t over. School violence is still on the rise, and it’s imperative that we find a solution. The next generation is at stake, and our children are dying while we try to find the right answer. However, it’s important to realize that this is more than just a gun control problem. Schools need to address issues such as mental healthy, bullying, communication with peers, and healthy ways to release anger.
It’s apparent that the budget cuts to schools have also added to this problem. With less funds, schools are cutting staff and programs. Students no longer have access to counselors or activities that would provide a regular outlet for their emotions. They become frustrated, and the result, as we have seen, can be pretty catastrophic.
Helping Your Child
In today’s world, communication is key. It’s important to talk to your child to reassure them that, no matter how scared they may be, they can always come to you with their problems. Some children feel that, by getting an adult involved, it will only worsen the problem. Let your child know that they are not alone, and that you can work together to fix the problem. Here are a few pieces of advice to give your child if they are being bullied:
- Walk away. If you aren’t in the area, they can’t hurt you.
- Take a self-defense class (especially if physical violence is being threatened).
- Tell a teacher or administrator. They can’t help if they don’t know what’s going on.
- Find support from your fellow students. Often, bullies will avoid attacking if you’re in a group.
- Ignore it. If they don’t get a reaction, they will get bored and move on.
Being the Bully
It is equally important to talk to your child about being the aggressor. It’s not just being physically abusive that makes a student a bully. Spreading rumors, excluding others, and using hurtful body language (rolling eyes, cold shoulder, glaring, etc.) is just as hurtful as throwing a punch. Many feelings including jealousy, frustration, a need for acceptance or power, and a search emotional escape can all lead to aggressive behavior towards other students. Talk to your child about proper means of self expression to combat any bullying behaviors they may be exhibiting.
If you feel as though you do not have the power or influence over your child to help them, don’t be afraid to reach out. Children who bully often need counseling to curb their aggressive behavior. Help is out there.
While it may be tempting to simply tell your kids to avoid guns at all costs, it can glamorize the idea of a gun. They will learn that guns are scary and only to be used in the presence of adults. They may even develop a morbid fascination. Instead, it’s important to “demystify” the gun. It’s not necessary to go as far as allowing them to use one, but it is important to teach your child respect rather than fear.
If you have a gun in your home:
- Keep it in a locked safe with the key stored out of sight. Children should never know the location of the key.
- Keep the bullets separate from the gun.
- Make sure the gun is not loaded and has the safety on.
- Because cleaning supplies can be poisonous if ingested, keep them stored in a safe location.
- When the gun is not locked away, never let it leave your sight.
What to do in an Emergency
Should the worst happen, you don’t want your child to be unprepared. Create easy to follow instructions, and keep your child’s age and school environment in mind. Having this conversation can help your child feel aware and confident in the face of danger. Here are a few ideas to help your child in case of an emergency:
- Have an emergency meeting place on the school grounds.
- Listen to instructions from the teacher or authority figure.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Report any strange adult to someone immediately.
- Know the quickest way out of the building, and have alternate routes in mind in case your exit is blocked.
- Have a cell phone on hand (for emergencies only).
- Keep some form of identification in your child’s backpack.
- Have several hiding places in mind in case of a shooter.
- Don’t be a “hero.”
In addition, explain to your child that there is no need to live fearfully everyday. The purpose of the plan is not to scare them. It is your goal to prepare them for the worst case scenario. More than likely, they they will go through their entire life without experiencing this kind of incident, but being ready for a possible threat is a way increase their chances of coming through unharmed.
In Memory: The Lives Lost at Columbine
Steven Curnow, 14
Daniel Mauser, 15
Daniel Rohrbough, 15
Kelly Fleming, 16
Matthew Ketcher, 16
John Tomlin, 16
Kyle Vasquez, 16
Cassie Bernall, 17
Corey Depooter, 17
Rachel Scott, 17
Isaiah Shoels, 18
Lauren Townsend, 18
William “Dave” Sanders, 47