Remembering Columbine, 10 years later

On April 20, 1999, I was in my office in the public relations
department at The Children’s Hospital when my boss gathered us into a
meeting. Someone was shooting people at Columbine High School, and as
the level 1 pediatric trauma unit for the region, we could get some of
the shooting victims in our emergency department. We immediately put
our emergency plan into place. While some of my colleagues staffed the
ER and the communications center, my job was to watch local news
coverage and give periodic updates.

Ten years ago, a psychopath named Eric Harris committed mass murder
with his friend Dylan Klebold. I saw enough on that day to never want
to read or hear about what happened at Columbine again.I saw dead
bodies on the lawn beside the stairs. I watched Patrick Ireland climb
out the window. I sat, horrified, as someone put a sign in the window
reading 1 bleeding to death.

I don’t need a dozen pages in today’s Denver Post to remind me that
a decade ago, Colorado got put on the map not by our sports teams or
our skiing, but by the worst school massacre in history.

Please, let me bury my head in the sand. It does me absolutely no
good to watch the images on TV. I don’t need to watch them, because all
I have to do is close my eyes and watch the memory of what I saw, live
and in color, on April 20, 1999.

The other day, Lauren told me that her school was doing an anti-bullying program called Rachel’s Challenge.
She wondered who Rachel was, and I told her that she was a girl who was
shot to death at her school by some very mean kids. I told her that the
program was about making sure that kids never felt they had to “get
back” at the kids who were mean to them again.

I told her that schools are much safer now than they were 10 years
ago, but as I spoke those words, I wondered if I was telling a lie.Yes,
you can do everything you can to teach kids kindness and compassion,
but in every society there are people who are simply fucked up in the
head, people whose brains are built wrong, and no one and no school
assembly is going to make them have an epiphany that their desire to
kill everyone, as Harris wrote in his journal, is wrong and they should
give it up.

I heard on the news last week that law enforcement has thwarted
about two dozen possible school shooting scenarios since Columbine. The
Internet has been a big help, because apparently kids who plan to
commit mass murder like to brag about it on their MySpace pages ahead
of time. I’m grateful for that.

There is some debate now about whether Harris and Klebold were
bullied, or if they were bullies themselves. Dave Cullen, a journalist
who covered Columbine extensively, has a new book that
disputes a lot of the Columbine mythology–that they were part of the
Trenchcoat Mafia, for example, or that they targeted jocks. From the
reviews, Cullen seems to have done a stand-up job bringing truth and
reality into why Columbine happened. But I won’t be reading his book. I
just don’t need the emotional trauma.

I wasn’t there on the grounds of Columbine ten years ago, but I
experienced enough of it via satellite to feel upset beyond
comprehension. Whenever I hear about the tragedy, I say a prayer for
the people who lost loved ones or who were hurt that day. And then I
change the channel.

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