A decade later, the school shooting is still causing collateral damage.
Just before noon on April 20, 1999, high-school students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 12 kids and one teacher before killing themselves. We all remember, and undoubtedly always will remember, what happened at Columbine High School. But for those of us who were in high school on that day, the memories are especially wretched—and personal. I was 16, and I remember fixating on a series of somewhat arcane details: Many of the Columbine victims were gunned down in the library. Sometimes I spent lunch in the cafeteria, but just as often I studied in the library. In other words, your life—my life—could boil down to one snap decision: lunch in the cafeteria, you live; study in the library, you die. Of course, I was never in any danger myself. My high school sat 1,153 miles away, in Fresno, Calif. But nobody really felt safe after Columbine. There had been school shootings before, but this was the deadliest, the most horrifying, the one that wouldn't heal. A few weeks following the shootings, my sleepy suburban school received a mysterious threat: someone was planning a second Columbine in our halls. We didn't know the details—it's unclear if anybody knew them—except for the early-May attack date. Lots of students stayed home, despite assurances from the principal that we'd be completely safe. Many more gathered up their courage and came to school anyway. I remember walking to trigonometry class on a sunny morning, looking up at the blue sky and seeing a police officer stationed on the roof of our language-arts building. I felt as if I was in a prison.
Columbine was a grisly milestone for my generation. It was the violent day that made Gen Y feel like victims, the first time that '80s toddlers realized that their overprotective helicopter parents couldn't protect them from everything. We'd witnessed other catastrophic events, especially the Oklahoma City bombing. But they felt distant, like something that happened in an office building. Columbine hit us because it took place in a school, and because it felt like the first large-scale tragedy of the 21st century. We'd never seen—or, rather, heard—a massacre unfold in real time, via broadcasts of some students' cell-phone calls. Cable news ran unprecedented saturation coverage. On that day, Fox News had its highest ratings ever up to that time, and MSNBC had its best numbers second only to Princess Diana's funeral. Harris had even documented his anger on the Internet and in videos, and when they leaked later, they became a glimpse into a teenager's angst, a precursor to blogging and YouTube. All of which meant we not only felt we were inside Columbine High School, we had to relive it all over and over again.
In the decade since Columbine, there have been countless efforts to make sense of that day: memoirs, books, movies, even a play opening in Los Angeles in April. The definitive account, however, will likely be Dave Cullen's "Columbine," a nonfiction book that has the pacing of an action movie and the complexity of a Shakespearean drama. "Columbine" opens four days before the shooting, at a school assembly where the principal, Frank DeAngelis, admonishes his students—ominously, it turns out—to be safe during prom weekend. Cullen has a gift, if that's the right word, for excruciating detail. At times the language is so vivid you can almost smell the gunpowder and the fear. On the day of the massacre, Harris opens fire at 11:19 a.m. on an outdoor staircase. Some students think it's a paintball game and rush toward him—one kid feels "a couple of pricks, like an IV needle being pulled out," before realizing he's been shot. Cullen shows us every bullet fired and every victim taken down. He writes of the gallons of blood that pool on the library carpet, "coagulating into a reddish brown gelatin, with irregular black speckles." Brain matter flies everywhere and later has to be "scraped off with putty knives." When Harris finally shoots himself in the head—"his arms curled forward, as if hugging an invisible pillow"—you unexpectedly shudder. He may have been a monster, but the image is so lonely you can't help but pity him.
1. Does the article have relevance to Psychology? Explain.
2. Identify the factors that influenced the two characters to behave violently.
3. For this specific issue, how do you think Psychology should have been used to prevent this conflict/crime?