Ten Years Gone

I wouldn't say a single word to them, I would listen to what they have to say and that's what no one did.

-- Marilyn Manson

My fifth-period class shambles into the room. Groggy from a blissful combination of record-breaking heat, the end of a two week long Spring Break and a recently consumed California-approved lunch, they’re hardly receptive to anything resembling instruction. I quietly take roll as they settle into their seats, waves of conditioned air washing over the walls.

“Can anyone tell me what happened 10 years ago today?”

Blank, cynical eyes answer. They’re not insulted by the grade-school question. They’re not annoyed that I’m taxing their critical thinking cortex. They honestly don’t know. Then again, it’s the name that commands attention, not the date.

“Columbine.”

As a high school Sophomore at the time of the shootings, I can clearly recall the aftermath. Almost immediately, my own school adopted a Zero Tolerance policy towards violence and weapons. Disaffected loners and Goths -- those that rejected the cliquey conformity of adolescence -- evolved into potential villains. Staples of academia -- pens, paperclips, rulers -- went from being simple writing implements to tools of violence.

And almost overnight, the dialogue on gaming shifted.

The world now seemed certain that children were being harmed by digital demons. Video games, which had once consisted of brightly colored, simplistic characters and environments, now contained graphic depictions of gore. Like Dungeons and Dragons or rock music before it, the scapegoating of a pastime had begun. DOOM became infamous, a subversive murder simulation that glorified Satanism, aggression, death and guns. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, adorned in black boots, camo pants and tactical bandoliers, became dangerously malleable symbols of the threat of youth. They were, simultaneously, misunderstood, wounded schoolyard victims; prophets of teenage anarchy and chaos; middle-American terrorists; acolytes to the degenerative gods of violence, iconoclasm and Marilyn Manson; homophobes; good kids that were dealt a bad hand; bullies; persecuted teens failed by The System.

And of course, there was the scarlet brand of reclusive “videogame addict.” This was the face of tomorrow’s youth, as presented by CNN and Fox News. Dangerous rogues that could not, or would not, distinguish reality from their simulated recreations. These were the children of the 21st century. They were monsters, plain as day.

"Columbine will not become just a metaphor for tragedy." – State Rep. Ken Summers, R-Lakewood.

Somewhere among the bookshelves lining my classroom, sandwiched between books dealing with student violence and gun control, sit three copies of She Said Yes, a memoir written by the parents of Cassie Bernall, one of Columbine’s 13 victims. The story goes that the girl was approached by Harris and Klebold in the school’s library. Guns leveled, they asked if she believed in God. After she responded, the duo shot her.

And while this has proved to be one of the most moving stories that emerged from that morning, it seems that, like most of the mystique surrounding the day, the event was a fabrication. Through incremental lies and creative liberties, Columbine has become a fantastic, mythic bogeyman.

A combination of re-scoured testimonials, witness accounts, police records, diaries, videos and e-mails now tell us that the story that unfolded through public channels was largely a pastiche of hearsay and creative padding. Harris and Klebold were bullies, not bullied. Their “hit list” consisted of a number of already graduated persons. Their affiliation with the “Trenchcoat Mafia” was tenuous. Ten years have gone by, and we still don’t know who these kids were.

For my peers, the experience served as a formative reminder that the ever-present parents of those born in the 80s could not possibly hope to protect their children from every danger in the world. This was our first tragedy, the first national event that affected us directly. Among the many labels used to classify us, we added The Columbine Generation. The shadow of the event will haunt Gen Y as they send their own progeny off to school. The implication is that Columbine, like Harris and Klebold, has grown beyond the simple scope of headlining event.

But for the sleepy dozen that inhabit my room, kids of the 90s who were grade-schoolers when the name of a high school became synonymous with rage, tragedy and fear, the word has no power over them. If they question the effect of violence in their games media, it’s because of the incidentals of Columbine. If they worry about safety, it’s because they’ve grown up in an era where school shootings are a blasé symptom of problematic youth. I think of the ten years that have gone by and have a feeling that Columbine is as anomalous now as it was back then, that a nebulous “we” will wrestle with motivation and blame for as long as we can remember.

And in a way, the naivety I observed is empirical in nature. I remember Columbine because I had a connection to the event, whether by the sheer luck of being a teenager at the time or through some indescribable zeitgeist informing me. In comparison, these students were hardly out of kindergarten. To think that they should care about the whole mess is unrealistic.

A sudden synapse-arc causes someone to speak up. “That’s like the guy that shot up Virginia Tech, right?” Soon everyone is either talking about their responses to the event or are rapt as they listen to someone retell the generalities of the story.

And in that moment, I understand. Whether they realize what Columbine was is almost inconsequential. This generation has a tragedy of their own to mourn over. It is an event that has scabbed over whatever Columbine was meant to be for them.

Mentions of that high school bring to my mind panoramic shots of a still campus. I see groups of scared teenagers being ferried across the grounds by wary SWAT members. I see a bloodied young man, arm limply swinging at his side, crawl over a broken window, dangling above the waiting arms of two adults. I think of Columbine and can only recall sorrow. There is a gravity to the event that is disquieting, depressing.

But in eight years, when my students hear that it's been a decade since Virginia Tech, what will they feel? Will they remember the specifics of the fatalities? The name of the attacker? Will they fixate on the dearth of information that trickled out? Or will they instead picture the sea of mourners, the field of somber candles that was somehow calming and reassuring? Will they remember an outpouring of support and unity?

I look at them, and I wonder: What will you remember?

Comments

Wow. That was an amazing article. Really makes me think about where I was during Columbine and Virginia Tech. And what I'll remember in the coming years.

Thanks for writing this. I was also 16 and a sophomore when Columbine hit, and a superficial look at my school and my activities had a lot of people looking askance at me until college (which, of course, started on September 12, 2001). I've realized this past week that that spot is still sore when I poke at it. It's troubling that my reaction has mostly been to listen punk and other angry music at maximum volume.

I'm fascinated by the notion that the generation after ours (the post-Columbine kids who are also often lumped in with "Gen Y" and "Millennial") doesn't have this cultural bruise. I've started asking high-school interns in my office, and aim to interrogate my younger relatives. They really do seem to see Virginia Tech as a big deal, which seems strange to me. From my point of view, it's just another aftershock since the earthquake.

I was at VT when Colombine happened, and settled into a new job in London when VT happened. I have to say that not only has the VT memorial picture become my desktop background, but this post is the one that made me register with GWJ.

What saddens me the most is that two extreme tragedies have now been trivialized by the video game discussion.

How would people feel if social scientists worked hard to link the Holocaust with Hitler's artistic ambitions. How would they feel if every time someone mentioned the Holocaust it turned into a discussion about whether or not letting your child paint could turn him into a tyrant?

How dare people like Jack Thompson destroy the significance of these events by trying to make it about themselves.

I was 3 blocks away from Columbine when it happened. All of the schools in the area were on lockdown, including mine. You can't forget the significance of that day and what it means now, especially if you live here in Littleton and either know some of the people who were affected or have friends that knew people that were affected.

I was in high school, living in Littleton, CO at the time of the Columbine shooting. I had several friends that went to that school and I watched the TV hoping those friends would call and tell me they weren't in the school.

One person I knew finally called me back hours into the event, down the street from the school, had ditched all morning and had no idea what was going on. Within minutes of speaking to us on the phone we saw her on TV talking about getting out of the school, gunshots fired, all sorts of garbage we knew wasn't true. She was just another teen who wanted face time on the news.

Just about everything you hear about Columbine is false. From friends who knew the shooters, these kids were not driven by video games to glorify violence, these kids loved violence and therefore looked for media which filled that desire. They weren't even the kids most bullied in the school. They weren't complete outcasts with no other friends.

Beyond the sadness of the dead children and other injured who waited for hours for the police to storm in, the paranoia in schools was stifling. Not only could kids not wear trench coats, I was sent home for wearing a jacket that was black leather. Teachers treated all of us like ticking time bombs, as if we were of a different species from them.

Two weeks after the shootings, three friends and I were walking up Dad Clark street near Broadway (about 15 minute drive away from Columbine) and a police officer pulled over, took all of our information and put us on a "gang watch list" - why? - because there were more than two teenagers walking somewhere together. That's the only reasoning the officer gave us, as if it was perfectly logical.

Less than a week later, we're walking up the same street and another officer pulled over and took our information again. He became suspicious because he compared it to the previous information and one of the addresses didn't match up. It's because one of my friends had moved recently. The first time he gave the officer information he hadn't yet memorized the house number.

The police officer made all four of us get into his car (all 4 in the back seat) and drove us to the house. My friend pointed out which house it was and the officer left three of us in the car while he took the child to the front door and knocked. Well, his parents were at work, which the officer apparently wasn't expecting so he thinks we're lying to him. He held us in his car for nearly two hours until my friend's father came home. We sat in the car and waited while his father, obviously angry was speaking to the officer like he was a small child. Eventually the officer let us out of the car and without another word to any of us drove off.

In that same year friends started driving and getting cars. We were pulled over at least 6 times in 3 months in the same neighborhood. Twice the officers searched the car, sure they were going to find something. They never did of course. The police seemed convinced that groups of teenagers were all conspirators of terrorism. I'm not sure how it is for teenagers now, but since the age of 20 I've been pulled over once - for a tail light out. The officer didn't take my information, just a friendly "hey your light is out". He would have treated me completely different if he thought I was one of those "teenagers".

You have a good point. The police in this area definitely seemed to get a tad overzealous after Columbine. The next year I started going to Chatfield (Columbine's rival) and security was tight even there. No long jackets, no black leather, had to show your IDs when entering the school and anytime you were in the hall, but we never quite got to the point of having a metal detector. Any behavior that was even remotely close to being "strange" was jumped on and observed. (I have a few personal stories about that.)

Xeknos wrote:

You have a good point. The police in this area definitely seemed to get a tad overzealous after Columbine. The next year I started going to Chatfield (Columbine's rival) and security was tight even there. No long jackets, no black leather, had to show your IDs when entering the school and anytime you were in the hall, but we never quite got to the point of having a metal detector. Any behavior that was even remotely close to being "strange" was jumped on and observed. (I have a few personal stories about that.)

Some "expert" clown got on nation-wide talk radio the next morning and said my school was the "most like Columbine" in the US. We had the same treatment (they couldn't afford metal detectors in their budget), up to and including spending half a day in offices for wearing a black shirt or hoodie.

Grr. Now I'm getting all angsty again. It really bugs me that I'm not over this yet.

mrwynd wrote:

...

Wow, I had no idea Colorado suspended the Constitution! Scary stuff.

Quintin_Stone wrote:
mrwynd wrote:

...

Wow, I had no idea Colorado suspended the Constitution! Scary stuff.

Is that really so surprising? I sort of thought it was about standard for the way cops and teachers treat teenagers.

I've never understood the obsession with Columbine. There were plenty of school shootings before and there have been plenty since. But for some reason (slow news days?) the media whored the story out for quite a while and now that's the pre-VT shooting that people remember.

I was a senior at the time and the only effect I can remember is that it cemented my belief that one shouldn't expect protection from the police since they sat outside and twiddled their thumbs while the shooters had their way with the students.

wordsmythe wrote:

Is that really so surprising? I sort of thought it was about standard for the way cops and teachers treat teenagers.

Well, there's been generations of undermining of rights of students while in school. However, his stories involving the cops don't have anything to do with a school.

mrwynd wrote:

these kids loved violence and therefore looked for media which filled that desire.

Completely agree. Any relationship between video games and real world violence is likely spurious. I don't think you can "make" a sociopath (though you can probably encourage manifestation of the psychopathology.) Saying that violent video games cause real world violence would be like saying that smoking cigarettes causes people to attempt crazy motorcycle stunts. No....a risk-taking personality causes both. Last I heard, the scientific community was having a hard time establishing any correlation between video games and violence, so their may not even be a spurious relationship.

edit: Re-read the article and realized the point was quite deeper than the old video game violence debate. Very nice work.

My roommate was a freshman at Chatfield when Columbine happened, so he got to experience what it was like when the entire student body of Columbine "shared" our school for a month and a half or so on a morning/afternoon system. (Well, perhaps not all, I hear the seniors' school year effectively ended when Columbine happened.) Evidently, it was not a pretty sight, for when the Chatfield students came in, it was more or less trashed and that elicited a "we take you guys in and this is how you repay us?" kind of attitude from the regulars.

CannibalCrowley wrote:

I've never understood the obsession with Columbine. There were plenty of school shootings before and there have been plenty since. But for some reason (slow news days?) the media whored the story out for quite a while and now that's the pre-VT shooting that people remember.

Well, at least here in Littleton, you can understand why they kept running the story was because it deeply affected most of us living here in some way. Most of us travel to the nearby memorial to pay our respects every April 20th. As for why it kept getting "whored out" nationwide, I'm not really sure. I wonder if maybe the casualty count had something to do with it.

The one thing that sets the Columbine shootings apart from any other school shooting in my mind is the completely worthless police force. ANY civilian could have done exactly what the police did, that's not what we pay them for.

Once again Columbine comes up in one school year. In the beginning of the school year we had a friend of Rachel Scott, one of the first two shot at Columbine, come talk to us about the disaster and school shootings. They didn't portray the video games. What the woman told us was about the bombers was that they were very into Hitlar, they wanted to do it on his birthday, and they mentioned how Ratchel Scott did her weird psychic thing where she knew she was going to die and how many were doing to die. Is this a fabricated story? No, there was video documentation and witness accounts told to us. Not only about Rachel but her brother also. His witness accounts of watching his black friend be ridiculed and being humiliated till they shot him in the library.

What else did we find out at that assembly about the attackers? That the shooting wasn't to be a main attraction. Harris and Klebold had made two bombs which were to go off in the lunch room. When it didn't then they went in and started shooting.

I hope I never see a school shooting live. Will I care and remember? Yes. Which do I remember better? Columbine. Tho I wasn't there or old enough to understand it still sticks out in my mind after all the information I've heard about it in the past year.

I too was an undergrad at VT when Columbine happened, with the stresses of high school still fresh in my mind. Two years ago I had just started graduate school, back here at Tech. On the surface they were both school shootings, but there are some important differences in how we reacted to them as a culture.

Granted I wasn't anywhere near Columbine, but mrwynd's post and what I saw in the aftermath... we turned on each other. People were targeted for what they wore, what music they listened to, and even just their age. Teachers and school officials treated students as enemies. A generation of kids who needed a bit of genuine concern and understanding were given the opposite... anything that might be interpreted as anything resembling a warning sign resulted in harassment from the authorities. School officials across the country were more concerned about being held responsible for missing something than they were about genuinely helping.

With Virginia Tech, we came together. There was no football vs. academics. No Engineering vs. Agriculture. No sci fi club vs. frat boys. We were all grieving together. The whole damn country, hell the entire world put on Orange and Maroon. As painful as it was to be so close to such violence, it was a genuine comfort to be able to walk through the student center and see the banners and signs filled with signatures of support from around the world.

Why was the reaction so different? Did video games provide a convenient boogey man for the media to chase at Columbine? Why didn't they find something at VT? Is it because college students are adults, and therefore the professors and administrators aren't held as responsible as teachers and principals? Is it because we had experienced 9-11-2001? Or is it just my own skewed perceptions because I'm a Tech student?

Two weeks ago I was on the drillfield for the ceremony of remembrance. The scene just after sunset looked much like the one in the picture linked in the article. The crowd was silent. The names of the victims were spoken. The light from the candles spread from person to person. After the names were read a cheer broke out. Just as it did last year. Just as it did the year before that.

But.

Before and after the ceremony itself, the mood of the crowd was different. People chatted on cellphones & waved to each other. Conversation was light. There were more families around. Some people brought their dogs. In just two short years the community has healed a lot. Last year on the anniversary it felt like a time to rest; we could take a break from the effort of continuing our lives as normal and give in to the pain we were carrying. "Let's go Hokies" was a rallying cry in the face of death and despair. This year wasn't about the catharsis of the pain we held. It was about stopping and picking the pain back up for a moment, lest it get lost in the shuffle of our everyday lives.

Time heals. Children grow and move on. In 8 years, at the 10th anniversary of the VT shootings, the 32 names on that memorial won't mean much more to them than the names on the other memorial, the one inscribed with the names of 424 alumni who died in war.

CannibalCrowley wrote:

I've never understood the obsession with Columbine. There were plenty of school shootings before and there have been plenty since. But for some reason (slow news days?) the media whored the story out for quite a while and now that's the pre-VT shooting that people remember.

I was a senior at the time and the only effect I can remember is that it cemented my belief that one shouldn't expect protection from the police since they sat outside and twiddled their thumbs while the shooters had their way with the students.

I'm trying to mentally trace the outline of the group that's still touched by Columbine in particular. My older sister, who was also a senior at the time, doesn't seem to have much connection to it, but she also wasn't a gamer. I think kids in junior high at the time still felt it, but I think the lower bound is at about that age. There's probably another group whose children were in the K-12 range at the time.

As a supplement to this article (and great job on it, BTW), I'd recommend the most recent What They Play podcast, which commemorates the ten year anniversary with an interview with Brooks Brown, who was one of the students at Columbine. Very interesting conversation.

Xeknos wrote:

As for why it kept getting "whored out" nationwide, I'm not really sure. I wonder if maybe the casualty count had something to do with it.

I would say that it was definitely was the casualty count, as well as the fact that it occurred in a high school; I think it's still the deadliest high school shooting that's ever happened and it had been 40 years or so since any school shooting had reached that level of bloodshed. The revelations that came later about the stunning incompetence of the police department only fueled the fire, in my opinion.

All that aside, the part of the article that resonated the most with me was actually this:

Disaffected loners and Goths -- those that rejected the cliquey conformity of adolescence -- evolved into potential villains.

And they were persecuted as such in my high school. My friends wore black trench coats and they received threats and other varieties of harassment from students and teachers in the days that followed. Hell, some of my classmates actually ramped up their bullying, openly warning them that "they better not think about shooting us up."

I was lucky in that I didn't get it as bad as they did, but even I got to have a conversation with the guidance counselor, who somehow felt that my placement in the honor roll and participation in various extracurricular activities was some kind of elaborate front for terrorism and/or the occult. All because my friends wore black trench coats Just Like They Did.

mrwynd wrote:

One person I knew finally called me back hours into the event, down the street from the school, had ditched all morning and had no idea what was going on.

Same here. 4/20 saved him at least some trauma, maybe more.

mrwynd wrote:

Two weeks after the shootings....

<- All I will allow myself to say.

I for one would love for people to stop with this morbid fascination, but I think it's more about having a vessel for their worries and fears. It's not Columbine in of it's self, it's the children killing children that captured the nations attention.

I was an adult (relatively speaking) when Harris and Klebold murdered their classmates. So I witnessed the standard American over-reaction in the wake of the tragedy. Still, the immediate over-reaction and panic against loners who wore trench-coats and played video games seemed to be a fleeting response. Maybe my view is heavily skewed by being on the tail end of generation X. I came of age reading Douglas Coupland. I can remember separate interviews on the radio with Billy Corgan and Eddy Vedder both talking about looking out at the crowd at a show and realizing the club was full of the kinds of kids who made their childhood hellish. I don't want to suggest that Jeremy is high art, but it prepared me for what happened five years or so later. I've always connected Harris and Klebold w/ Vedder's Lyric:

[i]Clearly I remember
Picking on the boy
Seemed a harmless little f*ck
But we unleashed a lion
Gnashed his teeth
And bit the recessed lady's breast
How could i forget
He hit me with a surprise left
My jaw left hurting
Dropped wide open
Just like the day
Like the day i heard

So what I thought was: "Of course this happened. If we treat enough people like that, sooner or later the law of averages dictates that some of them are going to crack." It doesn't diminish the enormity of their crime if we suggest that, in a general sense, we all participated in this. It almost seems necessary, when thinking about Columbine to empathize both with the perpetrators and the victims. Perhaps the anniversary of Columbine is a good time to remember the Glen Ridge Rape, which happened just a few years before Columbine in 1989. A group of "perfect" or "all-American" boys, jocks from an exclusive New Jersey suburb sexually assaulted a developmentally disabled female classmate in horrific fashion. This tragedy showed us that good schools and prosperous communities aren't a bulwark against human evil.

I guess what I'm aiming at is that when I think of Columbine, my thoughts don't go to evil loners or outsiders. I think about the evil that sits in all of us. The evil that penetrates "normal" America just as much as it does the fringe and the freaks. In our shared cultural history crimes like Columbine and Glen Ridge are symbols, symbols similar to those in the opening scenes of David Lynch's Blue Velvet, the severed ear and the insects that lie beneath the perfect suburban lawn.

My $.02: Columbine is not significant because it was something that happened to us, Columbine is significant because viewed from a larger perspective, it wassomething that we did. This is what happens in the world we have created for ourselves.

I'm glad I graduated the year before Columbine. High school was bad enough, actually getting better our senior year, but I hate to think to what extent we would have been suspected of doing something similar.

Harris and Klebold were bullies, not bullied.

The two aren't mutually exclusive. In fact they're somewhat correlated.

Edit:

I also meant to say that this is an excellent and much appreciated article. It's good to look back at hysterical times and find out what really happened, because it prepares us to be less susceptible to hysteria the next time.

Wolfen Victrocious wrote:

In the beginning of the school year we had a friend of Rachel Scott, one of the first two shot at Columbine, come talk to us about the disaster and school shootings. They didn't portray the video games. What the woman told us was about the bombers was that they were very into Hitlar, they wanted to do it on his birthday, and they mentioned how Ratchel Scott did her weird psychic thing where she knew she was going to die and how many were doing to die. Is this a fabricated story? No, there was video documentation and witness accounts told to us.

Not fabricated except for the psychic thing. It sickens me how these frauds attach themselves to tragic events in order to make a buck. Many people also discount the "Hitler's birthday" bit because the boys originally planned to do it the day before; but they had to delay due to issues with the bombs.

OzymandiasAV wrote:

I would say that it was definitely was the casualty count, as well as the fact that it occurred in a high school; I think it's still the deadliest high school shooting that's ever happened and it had been 40 years or so since any school shooting had reached that level of bloodshed. The revelations that came later about the stunning incompetence of the police department only fueled the fire, in my opinion.

It was only the deadliest school shooting if you ignore colleges and schools outside the US. If you take bombings into account I believe the event that happened here in Michigan in the 20s leads the US.

Captain_Arrrg wrote:

I for one would love for people to stop with this morbid fascination, but I think it's more about having a vessel for their worries and fears. It's not Columbine in of it's self, it's the children killing children that captured the nations attention.

If it's really about children killing children, then why focus on a shooting where the perpetrators are adults in the eyes of the law? Why not the 12 year old shooters in Arkansas or the 6 year old who shot a classmate outside of Flint?

Spaz wrote:

Somewhere among the bookshelves lining my classroom, sandwiched between books dealing with student violence and gun control, sit three copies of She Said Yes, a memoir written by the parents of Cassie Bernall, one of Columbine’s 13 victims. The story goes that the girl was approached by Harris and Klebold in the school’s library. Guns leveled, they asked if she believed in God. After she responded, the duo shot her.

And while this has proved to be one of the most moving stories that emerged from that morning, it seems that, like most of the mystique surrounding the day, the event was a fabrication. Through incremental lies and creative liberties, Columbine has become a fantastic, mythic bogeyman.

It honestly drives me bonkers how so many people I know have practically canonized Cassie as a saint based entirely on hearsay. To me, it detracts from the genuine tragedy of that awful event.

CannibalCrowley wrote:
Wolfen Victrocious wrote:

In the beginning of the school year we had a friend of Rachel Scott, one of the first two shot at Columbine, come talk to us about the disaster and school shootings. They didn't portray the video games. What the woman told us was about the bombers was that they were very into Hitlar, they wanted to do it on his birthday, and they mentioned how Ratchel Scott did her weird psychic thing where she knew she was going to die and how many were doing to die. Is this a fabricated story? No, there was video documentation and witness accounts told to us.

Not fabricated except for the psychic thing. It sickens me how these frauds attach themselves to tragic events in order to make a buck. Many people also discount the "Hitler's birthday" bit because the boys originally planned to do it the day before; but they had to delay due to issues with the bombs.

It was that Ratchel's Challenge group who promoted the oddities that happened a week before. The drawing is kinda creepy when you think of it. The exact number of drops for how many died. I seriously think there was more there than we think. Then again I'm the guy you guys would call a freak since I believe in interdemensional beings that are able to travel from time line to time line. If there are 10 dimensions then every possibility has happened meaning some where we never had this conversation because Columbine never became a tragedy and never happened.

Does this contribute to the discussion? No but it is an interesting thought. Would we be this looked down on if it never happened? Or would it of happened elsewhere and been worse? I truly don't know, but I do know that if one thing is for certain. Columbine and VT are not going to be the worse school shootings forever.

BritishDan wrote:

What saddens me the most is that two extreme tragedies have now been trivialized by the video game discussion.
...
How dare people like Jack Thompson destroy the significance of these events by trying to make it about themselves.

Welcome aboard! It's quite a complement to read something like "your words swayed me to register", so thanks very much. I hope you enjoy the community -- just stay away from RatBoy

Anywho, you're absolutely right that the resultant backlash against video games is unfortunate, and that the people exploiting it thusly are heels. I understand that people looked to those bloody video games as ways to reduce the question into a simple X + Y = action formula, but, as Jerrak has already stated, it's not as if DOOM or Quake turned Church Choirboys into sadistic thugs.

Consequently, this is one of the big differences between Columbine and VT. Very little was made as to Seung-Hui Cho's gaming habits (if there were any at all), but this is likely because there was a wealth of information about his instabilities and social anxieties. I'd like to think that we've come away from blaming the media for things like this, but it's more likely that there wasn't a need to fill in the blanks, in the way we've experienced with Columbine.

Vargen really lays it bare. Columbine was senseless and heart-wrenching, about turning youth anger into a volatile threat. VT was about coming together and working through the pain. It's hard to pin down exactly why, though.

CannibalCrowley wrote:

I've never understood the obsession with Columbine. There were plenty of school shootings before and there have been plenty since.

I think it's all the questions that have remained. A kid steals his dad's gun and shoots someone that stole his girlfriend/called him a F**/bullied him? We've got something simple and understandable. Kids leave behind photos, diaries and videos glorifying violence, attempt to turn the school into a propane bomb hazard zone, then kill themselves? We're left with a whole lot of questions about their behavior, what troubled them, etc etc. There's a huge, vacant "Where did we go wrong with them?" at the heart of it all.

I'd venture to say that the location also caused some interest. School shooting in the middle of Compton? Par for the course. Shooting in sleepy Colorado? That's going to raise a few eyebrows.

And, as Oso stated, there was a certain sense of "this is what kids can do"/"This is what High School culture can produce" that we felt responsible for.

Oh, and many thanks to mrwynd for his accounts. It's hard to believe that so much hysteria revolved around wearing long, black items of clothing or being in a group of teens. But it's a perfect example of the generation gap.

as someone who doesn't live in the US, Columbine has a different meaning for me.

Personally I find it a indictment on the US gun culture and while it was a tragic event, it seems the lessons have not been learned and continue to not be learned if the recent shootings are anything to go by.

A great article, but I have a little trouble relating to actual event.

AP Erebus wrote:

Personally I find it a indictment on the US gun culture and while it was a tragic event, it seems the lessons have not been learned and continue to not be learned if the recent shootings are anything to go by.

I know the gun thing is one of the bigger issues about the event, but I think it's also worth considering that the main aim of their plan was a propane bomb apocalypse that failed to materialize thanks to insufficient technical know-how.

The gun rampage is often treated as an adrenaline-fueled "why the &*(^ not" b-plan.

I'm pretty sure that, if the bomb scenario had been given more weight, the narrative would have been quite different.

Not to dismiss any of your observations, of course. I think GUNS GUNS GUNS being a focalpoint reflects the American preoccupation

Being in Colorado when that whole thing went down was a very schizo time, in my experience. I like the goth/industrial look (still do, on occasion) and so tended to walk around in a long black leather trenchcoat and big boots. Purely an aesthetic choice, and purely for my own pleasure. The Columbine shootings happen, and suddenly people are looking at me like I'm a murderer. Hell, when I wear my trenchcoat over at the med school even today, I get "trying to scare the patients?" comments.

But when I put on my uniform, donned a beret, and actually had a damned loaded pistol strapped to me, suddenly I was an upstanding citizen, and people are calling me "sir".

It's crazy how simple clothing influences peoples' perceptions so greatly.

I was a couple years younger than Eric and Dylan, but as an alienated teen that went to a high school in the wealthier part of town, Columbine held a special significance to me. I felt like nobody really understood the killers like I did. At that age, I thought I knew everything, but I especially felt like I knew Eric and Dylan. I was part of the "Manson-ite" clique in our school, which was classified as "anyone who wore black". Which was hilarious because it also included band nerds. During our break between the 2nd and 3rd periods, the hockey jocks from the wealthy families would throw half full cans of mountain dew, half eaten apples, sandwiches, etc. at us. But outside of that routine, we were constantly berated both physically, and verbally in the hallways at school.

The hall monitors, and the police liaison officer didn't do anything to stop it. I still feel apprehensive about admitting this... But I was one of those kids that drew up "plans", and even then, I knew that I could never go through with them. Still, being that age, I had this dark, angry, nihilistic side to me about the world. Maybe by coincidence, maybe not, but by the time Columbine happened, everyone in my school just sort of chilled, and this had helped me to grow up and mellow out. It's strange to admit this, but seeing the extreme violence of Columbine on TV had helped me realize "okay, this is the logical end to all of my anger", and even though I wasn't serious about it in the first place, after seeing the horror unfold on the screen, it had made up my mind that I would, and could never do such a thing. Everyone in my school started walking on egg shells, because our school was, and still is, very similar to that Colorado high school. Everyone, except me, because I knew who our Eric and Dylan were. My best friend and I.

At the end of the school year, I was pulled out of the end of my phys. ed class, and hauled up to the principal's office, the contents of my locker strewn out on the desk in front of me. Someone had reported that I planned on shooting up the school that day (to my knowledge I hadn't), and the police of course, took it seriously. After finding nothing in my locker, and on my person, they apologized, and sent me back to class.

PS - Thank you for this great article, thank you for keeping this memory alive.

Spaz wrote:
AP Erebus wrote:

Personally I find it a indictment on the US gun culture and while it was a tragic event, it seems the lessons have not been learned and continue to not be learned if the recent shootings are anything to go by.

I know the gun thing is one of the bigger issues about the event, but I think it's also worth considering that the main aim of their plan was a propane bomb apocalypse that failed to materialize thanks to insufficient technical know-how.

The gun rampage is often treated as an adrenaline-fueled "why the &*(^ not" b-plan.

I'm pretty sure that, if the bomb scenario had been given more weight, the narrative would have been quite different.

Not to dismiss any of your observations, of course. I think GUNS GUNS GUNS being a focalpoint reflects the American preoccupation :)

Which is a fair point, but the fact is that guns were a possible section option is really my point.

I guess it is just hard for me to relate to the way guns are seen and available.