Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Columbine

I can't believe it's been 10 years:

They weren't goths or loners.

The two teenagers who killed 13 people and themselves at suburban Denver's Columbine High School 10 years ago next week weren't in the "Trenchcoat Mafia," disaffected videogamers who wore cowboy dusters. The killings ignited a national debate over bullying, but the record now shows Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold hadn't been bullied — in fact, they had bragged in diaries about picking on freshmen and "fags."

Their rampage put schools on alert for "enemies lists" made by troubled students, but the enemies on their list had graduated from Columbine a year earlier. Contrary to early reports, Harris and Klebold weren't on antidepressant medication and didn't target jocks, blacks or Christians, police now say, citing the killers' journals and witness accounts. That story about a student being shot in the head after she said she believed in God? Never happened, the FBI says now.

What's even scarier is that, had Harris had the means and the patience, the death toll could have been much higher.

Among the revelations: Eric Harris was financing what could well have been the biggest domestic terrorist attack on U.S. soil on wages from a part-time job at a pizza parlor.

"One of the scary things is that money was one of the limiting factors here," Cullen says.

Had Harris, then 18, put off the attacks for a few years and landed a well-paying job, he says, "he could be much more like Tim McVeigh," mixing fertilizer bombs like those used in Oklahoma City in 1995. As it was, he says, the fact that Harris carried out the attack when he did probably saved hundreds of lives.

"His limited salary probably limited the number of people who died."

More than anything, Columbine and - to an extent, 9-11 - reminded me of how vulnerable we really are. If someone has the temerity and the illness and the means, they've got a pretty good chance of inflicting massive hurt on the rest of us.

But for me, this unease isn't all-consuming in the way of some people who were so transparent about their revenge fantasies following the terrorist attacks of 2001. I'm not big on living a life in fear or anger; I'm just predisposed to praying myself up and being aware of my surroundings.

That said, I don't have particularly strong feelings about gun control. I don't want a weapon in my home - other than my big, strong, bare hands - but I'm not all that gung-ho about preventing responsible folks from getting certain types of guns, mostly for hunting, as long as they go through all the proper channels.

However, this anecdote from hilzoy following the Binghamton shootings should worry us all, as I find it hard to believe there's a strong argument against "prevent(ing) someone from getting a gun when there is clear evidence that that person is homicidal."

5 comments:

Cami said...

wow. it has been a minute. that crime insane. there was one like that in mississippi, and it was way too Columbine-esque. i always wonder what could've prevented both of those crimes.

blackink said...

I don't know, Cami.

I'm not sure anything could have stopped Columbine, maybe other than radical intervention by Harris and Klebold's parents. But I don't blame them because it's quite a leap to believe that your own teenage son may be a homicidal maniac.

There's a part of me that wants real strong gun controls. There's another part of me that wants to respect ownership rights. More than anything, I just want people to be safe and responsible.

And in general, I don't think people should be able to possess semiautomatic weapons.

Jack T. said...

I was in college when this went down. I think it was the last day of class, too. I remember wondering what could have happened to these kids that pushed them this far over the edge. High School isn't fun for a lot of people, myself included (black nerd in predominately white high school - not fun), but it was never that bad. And it seems like for these guys it wasn't very bad at all.

I think that's the scariest thing about this mess: They didn't have a reason, they just wanted to kill people.

maria said...

when you have kids your unease will increase.

blackink said...

I can only imagine.

And Jack, you're right. What's actually interesting to me - as a journalist - is that so much of the original information about the kids was inaccurate or - uh, outright wrong.

They weren't in the Trenchcoat Mafia. They weren't loners. They didn't target the black kid, or anyone who said they believed in God.

How did so many reporters get that wrong?

Was it simply because it was easier to believe? Did that all make the tragedy easier to digest?

Also, what initially sort of peeved me about the coverage was the tone of "things like this don't happen in Columbine." My question was, well where in the hell is it supposed to happen?

(me, stepping off soapbox)