Ask anyone what April 20 is known for and you’re likely to hear about recreational drug use. But it also marks a grave moment in American history: the 10-year anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School.
Ten years ago today, Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, opened fire on their high school in Littleton, Colo. The shooting ended only after the two young men took the lives of 12 students, a teacher and themselves. Videos of the school and survivors’ accounts of the events were played on the news almost nonstop for days.
Despite widespread media coverage, an article published Tuesday in USA Today reported that much of what people thought they knew about the shooters is untrue.
The two students were not in fact involved with any “Trenchcoat Mafia.” They were not necessarily “loners” and their teachers often thought highly of them. What stands in greatest contrast to popular opinion, however, is the fact that violent video games and music played little part in their violent rampage.
In his new book, Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters, psychologist Peter Langman wrote: “These are not ordinary kids who were bullied into retaliation. These are not ordinary kids who played too many video games . . . These are kids with serious psychological problems.”
The shooters planted bombs in the school’s cafeteria, intending to kill everyone in the cafeteria and upstairs library. When the bombs did not go off, they improvised, using guns they had brought with them to start a bloodbath that would end with their own suicides.
Lengthy analysis of the journals of the two deranged students has shed light on what was originally seen as an idea thrown together quickly and without much planning. Diary entries prove that Klebold and Harris planned the attack for more than a year, and the death toll was forunately lower than they had intended.
But what does all this mean? And what has anyone learned?
For starters, violent video games can no longer be blamed for violent tendencies.
Robert Johnson, a Virginia middle school principal, told USA Today he makes eye contact with every student who enters his school through a metal detector each morning. Rather than waiting to blame video games and Marilyn Manson songs after gunshots are fired on his campus, he is being proactive and preventing another disaster. His approach should be applauded. Johnson said he looks for sadness and anger in his students’ eyes.
“The little things can lead to big things,” he said to USA Today.
Time has revealed the Columbine shooters had deep psychological issues — as did Cho Seung-Hui, who in 2007 killed 33 people and himself on the campus of Virginia Tech.
According to CNN, a Virginia special justice said Seung-Hui was “mentally ill” and an “imminent danger” to himself in 2005. Seung-Hui also planned his attacks in advance and even recorded messages on a video camera detailing what he said he “had to do.”
In light of these grave similarities, educators, administrators and, most importantly, students must do more to prevent future disasters. According to USA Today, the Secret Service claims that most school shooters tell other students about their plans. Students should not be too afraid to speak up or choose not to because they don’t think their friends are serious.
In the end, we can all take steps to prevent more lives lost at the hands of mentally ill students. Beyond the shooters’ mental conditions, investigators and experts have in no way ruled out bullying as a contributing factor in the Columbine, Virginia Tech or similar shootings. Too many people seem to have forgotten the power of simply listening.
In his journal, Klebold admitted feeling that he had “always been hated, by everyone and everything” not long before the shooting. Perhaps his own hatred drove him to actually pull the trigger, but the hatred of others may have driven him to bring the gun to school.
There is no way to definitively prevent all future school shootings, but steps can be taken to reduce the threat. While schools introduce safety measures such as mandatory identification and surveillance cameras, a little soul-searching and compassion from all of us can protect us from another school massacre.
Alex Cobb is a freshman majoring in mass communications.