image from Columbine High School security cameras
On Monday, it will be exactly 10 years since the day Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold ruled media airwaves with their massacre of 12 students and 1 teacher at Columbine High School. I remember that day distinctly. I had come home from school and instead of doing homework or going on my computer, I flipped on the TV. That was a strange thing for me to do, since I rarely watched TV during that time outside of late-night programming and sports. The abnormality of the moment was only magnified when I realized every channel was showing the same thing, an American high school that suddenly looked like a warzone. My stepmom came home from work and didn’t even sit down as we watched in stunned silence as the Columbine nightmare unraveled before our eyes.
Even 10 years removed, the effects of the Columbine incident are still felt and taken for granted—the increased criticism against violent video games, new policies across the board for school security, the further ostracizing of the goth subculture, just to name a few. It’s striking, though, how much of the truth surrounding the event has come to surface over the years, and how different the truth is from what was originally conveyed immediately after it happened. For example (the following is all from this article):
- I thought what I saw on TV was the live unfolding of the tragedy, when in fact the shooters had already committed suicide by the time cameras arrived on the scene. The shooting that was heard over live news broadcasts was from the SWAT teams shooting at locked classroom doors.
- Harris and Klebold were painted up as part of a group of rejected outcasts who listend to Marilyn Manson and held grudges against the jocks who bullied them. David Cullen, in his new book Columbine, reveals that the two actually had plenty of friends, did well in school, did not listen to Manson, and were not at the receiving end of any bullying.
- Harris and Klebold’s intentions went beyond just a spontaneous shooting. Their original goal, which took a year and a half of planning, was to essentially blow up the school and leave a death toll of about 2000, equal to the school’s population.
- Cassie Bernall, the supposed martyr who became a celebrity in the evangelical Christian world after her story leaked, was actually shot and killed outright. Valeen Schnurr was the one who was asked if she believed in God and said yes. Her life was spared.
Much of this information came as a shock to me since I haven’t read up much about the incident ever since it happened. It goes to show the power of media to proliferate knowledge, and the danger of that power when that supposed knowledge is actually a fusion of a few facts mixed with assumptions, cover-ups, speculation, and stereotypes. Further, I wonder about the sensationalism surrounding media coverage of events like Columbine that seem to glorify the perpetrators while inciting paranoia and directing responses towards problems that often were not part of the issue to begin with. What Harris and Klebold did was undoubtedly wrong, but I don’t believe it helped for the media to demonize them so much. That response, more than highlighting a fault of mass media, speaks of a problem with our society as a whole in possessing a witchhunt mentality when it comes to tragedies like Columbine instead of wanting to seek true healing, which requires us to examine ourselves in wondering how we let people like Harris and Klebold slip through the cracks.