Thomthumb84's Blog

Lessons from Columbine

Posted in Comment by thomthumb84 on February 1, 2010
1998 Yearbook photographs of Klebold and Harris.

Image via Wikipedia

Four years after the High School Massacre in Columbine the U.S. Secret Service released a report. It questioned many of the preconceptions made about such killings and also raised a number of solutions that need pursuing.

If there is one major conclusion that may be drawn from this report, it is that there is no stock character who fits the bill of a young killer. The report itself states that; “There is no accurate ‘profile’ of students who engaged in targeted school violence.”

Prior to learning of this report I was concerned that profiling killers at such an age was not only impossible but also highly dangerous. Those characteristics so frequently pointed to by the media as indications of a potential young killer were also those I had seen in hundreds of people my own age as we had grown up.

The consequences of this profiling may lead to such young people becoming isolated or victimised. And, by doing so you might be generating the sort of resentment that could result in young people resorting to violence.

I frequently hear media ‘pundits’ throw about allusions that the killers were ‘loners’ with an ‘interest in violence or the macabre’.

Yes, you certainly can’t argue with the fact that Dylan Kledold and Eric Harris were interested in violence and the macabre. The Secret Service report agreed. It stated that ‘Over half of the attackers demonstrated some interest in violence, through movies, video games, and other media (59%).’

Dylan and Eric’s interest was reflected in the music they listened to, the games they played and their own writing (often for school work). But does this necessarily suggest that an interest in violence or the macabre necessarily implies that a boy is going to grab a gun and shoot up his school?

I would suggest not. The male youth market is saturated with toys, games, books and magazines concerned with violence and the macabre. Why? Because boys are boys and boys like guns and playing bombs. These things interest boys at a certain age of their lives and then they move on.

It might even be argued that a direct reference to an attack by a student does not necessarily mean they will carry it out. It may merely be a means of letting off steam – of relieving aggressive thoughts in a non-violent fashion. It may merely be, as Cullen says, that, “Writings and drawings on these themes can be a reflection of a harmless but rich and creative fantasy life.”

To presume, as some nervous teachers did, that every prepubescent child that makes a ‘bang bang’ noise at you is a potential killer in the making and must be sent home from school, is to make a great mistake.

The other dominant characteristic presented by the media is far more disturbing – that those likely to commit such acts are ‘loners.’ This was neither the conclusion drawn from the Secret Service Report, nor from accounts of Dylan or Eric themselves.
The report states that ‘the largest group of attackers for whom this information was available appeared to socialise with mainstream students or were considered mainstream students themselves’. Looking to Dylan and Eric as examples, we see that they are frequently referred to as popular guys who engaged in a number of social and sporting school activities.

Dylan went to the prom and Dave Cullen, author of ‘Columbine’ – an account of the massacre, describes Eric as something of a ladies man: “Eric..walked right up to the hotties at the Mall. He won them over with quick wit, dazzling dimples, and a disarming smile. His Blackjack Pizza job offered a nice angle: stop in late and he would slip them a free slice. Often they did.”

Cullen added: “Dylan was heavy into school stuff. Eric too. They attended the football games, the dances, and the variety shows and worked together on video production for the Rebels Network. School plays were big for Dylan.”

I find the idea of profiling ‘loners’ particularly worrying because isolating or ‘pointing the finger’ at those who already do not fit in will do nothing but exacerbate a situation. In fact the Secret Service report stated that: “Almost three-quarters of the attackers felt persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked or injured by others prior to the incident (71 %)”.

Just consider that. Persecution itself could even potentially lead to the creation of a murderer. And this does not begin to examine the question of why the person in question feels like a ‘loner’ anyway. If it is a psychological condition it is far more likely to be the result of depression rather than an indication of psychopathic tendencies

Psychopaths, such as Eric, are superb manipulators and often take pleasure in the company they keep. ‘Loners’ with depressive tendencies are far less likely to find the motivation to commit such an act. If anything, again, ‘finger pointing’ will do nothing more than exacerbate the situation.

Sadly the lessons learnt from Columbine are neither simple nor easy. As I said earlier profiling will just not work. Certain flags can and should be raised at particular times. While it is true that boys will at some time take an interest in the macabre, this must be taken with a pinch of salt. The key must lie in repetition. Cullen mentions, for instance, a report by the bureau of “a boy who worked guns and violence into every assignment. In home ec class he’d baked a cake in the shape of a gun.” That is common sense.

I also think that the USA needs to pursue a very heavy re-evaluation of gun control policy (USSS report states: “Over half of the attackers had some experience specifically with a gun prior to the incident”), while others had experience with bombs or explosives) but then this just appears to be common sense to everyone. Except to Americans themselves of course.

But individual counselling is also essential. The report stated that 98 percent of most attackers were known to have had difficulty coping with significant losses or personal failures. That is an astonishing statistic. Moreover, many had considered or attempted suicide. This information, in addition to the figures regarding bullying and persecution are far too telling to be ignored.

There is a great need to understand and listen to people who find themselves believing that this is their final option. It is not a question of finger pointing or alienating. It is about coming to a common understanding. That is the best solution and the only really successful pre-emptive strike I can imagine.

Published in T&C March Edition


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