There were countless school shootings prior to Columbine in 1999.. but when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris decided to mass murder people at the Littleton Colorado school, it changed the course of history, media coverage, and eventual security in schools from that point on.
TIME MAGAZINE labeled them the monsters next door..
The magazine highlighted what media did best: Little black and white images of those dead.. bright color focused images on the smiling killers who destroyed lives. The attention always goes to the killer more.. That will be a trait of the media and humanity that was always thus and will never change in the future.
The April 20 1999 shooting struck during the school’s lunch hour. Propane tanks were set to explode in the cafeteria but did not. However the two killers opened fire on their friends and school mates …
The police were slow to enter the school, and they were heavily criticized for not intervening during the shooting. The incident resulted in the introduction of the Immediate Action Rapid Deployment tactic, which is used in situations where an active shooter is trying to kill people rather than take hostages.
Debates were sparked over gun control laws and gun culture, high school cliques, subcultures, and bullying. Also discussed were the moral panic over goths, social outcasts, the use of pharmaceutical antidepressants by teenagers, teenage Internet use and violence in video games.
So much more was learned after the killings occurred. President Bill Clinton responded in the immediate aftermath of the shooting:
The presentation and voice of grief would be one heard from more future presidents.. President Obama had an almost identical press conference after the Sandy Hook massacre.
It was not until 2006 when journals of Klebold and Harris were released that we found out more to their plan that day. It was not just a school shooting dream, but a massive terrorist attack..
On January 30, 1998, Harris and Klebold broke into a van that was parked near Littleton and stole tools and computer equipment. Shortly afterwards, they were arrested by a police officer and subsequently attended a joint court hearing, where they pled guilty to the felony theft. The judge sentenced them to a juvenile diversion program
Shortly after the court hearing for the van break-in, Harris reverted his website back to just posting user-created levels of Doom. He began to write his thoughts down in a journal instead. It shows a long period of methodical preparation for the massacre. Harris even wrote on his computer about escaping to a foreign country after the attack, or hijacking an aircraft at Denver International Airport and crashing it into New York City.
There are some things to consider–as 20 years puts things into new perspectives..While 2018 was one of the most deadly years for school shootings, a report from early last year put the fear into perspective: NEW YORK MAGAZINE reported that–at least under conventional descriptions–there is no epidemic of mass school shootings.
That does not negate the horror of the madness of school violence.. Nor does it eradicate the fact that many school shootings don’t factor in when they are caught beforehand or don’t feature a body count..
But it also displays how we aren’t much different now than we were then.. still the same shootings, same media sensations… same statements and same gun control and mental illness debates in the aftermath of death.
But something still rings different about Columbine. Perhaps it is because the event shattered the mostly peacefulness of the 1990s–the Seinfeld years with jokes about nothing suddenly got serious. People are did not pay attention to festering problems throughout the golden years of the 20th century found themselves in shock by the depravity of murderous actions.
When I was in high school that year, as I completed the final months before graduation, my class and I were collectively happy we were done with school–and we also knew that somehow, someway, this time was different.. that things were going to change. And change they did! Bomb and shooting threats because immediately common throughout the rest of that school year 20 years back. Schools of big and small sizes suddenly installed locks, cameras, and other security measures.. today many schools including my son’s feature police officers walking the beat. Not on streets.. but in hallways, in centers of learning.
Columbine also created something more bizarre: While many who were involved with the shooting or aftermath still have PTSD today as reported by the AP, some people exist crave and almost adore the killers. Just this week, a weird story emerged about Sol Pais, a young woman obsessed with the Columbine school shooting who set off a police search after traveling to Colorado and buying a gun just days before the attack’s 20th anniversary was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound..
There are websites that 4Channers who seemingly still celebrate the murders.. It goes beyond fascination and almost lends to infatuation and placing Klebold and Harris on pedestals, the same way that INCELS are still randomly celebrated in various online communities.
Moments of history in hindsight are opportunities to see what we collectively learned.. and we how personally changed. In 1999, most of my classmates were unaware of the events until we arrived home that day–news did not spread as quickly unless you were lucky enough to have a cell phone back then. Today we know news immediately.. we don’t let think sink in.. we don’t contemplate. We move on.. we rapidly move on.
Society has changed considerably since 1999.. But as the adage goes, so many things still stay the same.
Columbine’s finality for students murdered that day was horrendous. They were future doctors and lawyers, leaders and parents. They were robbed of the previous 20 years. Every victim of a school shooting–or violence in general–is robbed of their future. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were detestable but yet still, to this day, not explained. There was no “trench coat mafia” that wanted to kill… that was media hype. Warning labels on games and music were not necessary but yet we succumbed to believing it would save future youth. A study concluded in 2003 explained just how bad the media misled the nation in the aftermath of the Columbine massacre.
While big things changed since 99, we are the same in one regard in 19: We still don’t know much of anything about why these events occur… and when the media gets the story, we never quite learn why they even happened in the first place.