Monday, April 20, 2009

Columbine, 10 Years Later

I remember that it was my junior year of high school. It was just after spring break; everyone was restless and antsy because of the beautiful beach weather and because summer was so close it was almost tangible.

We Whitneyites are (or were, back then) a loud, giggly bunch (as I suspect most high-schoolers are) and very given to lemming mentality- we studied together, we complained together, we ate lunch together, we bemoaned our lack of a football team together (not really- we were too busy studying for a football team to have any importance). Given that my graduating class was only 165 people, I think it’s a complete given that we felt more like a big, sprawling family than a conventional high school.

Being a magnet school and having the constant pressure to keep up the grades (under threat of expulsion) also made us all bond together. The school goes from seventh through twelfth grade, so anyone that I went to elementary school with and then went to Whitney with was someone I’d known for the majority of my life, for practically the entirety of my cognizant life. We were stuck with each other and knew it.

Despite all of that plus the normal high school drama, we managed to stay pretty cheery. We were chipper, since the school was predominantly female and Asian, and we all know high school Asian girls are among the chirpiest creatures ever created.

In this insulated, well-sheltered little bubble, the sudden news: two high school students had killed several of their classmates. Killed.

I still remember hearing the news and not believing it. Colorado is on Mountain time and we’re on Pacific time, so their lunchtime was our third period. We just sat there, the teachers with TV’s in their rooms tuning to news stations that were all suddenly airing “breaking news.” Channels that normally aired soap operas at that hour were showing hastily made-up anchors, umm-ing and ah-ing through ill-prepared reports.

I just didn’t understand. How could two guys have just walked onto campus strapped with guns and bombs? How could students just sit there, eating their lunches, while these boys strode up to them and shot them? Could something like this really happen? Could it happen to me? Were they really targeting Christians? I began making hasty escape routes in my head, mapping out the shortest distances between any given classroom and my car. I thought of how stupid it was that Whitney was built in what is basically a large square, making it possible to run around and around the main building with no interruption, no hiding places. Why wasn’t this school bigger, with several stories? One main building with one measly floor just made us easy targets, didn’t it? If someone with a gun asked me if I believed in Jesus Christ, what would I say?

Once my paranoia calmed and the news agencies began digging into the matter, I could see why there wasn’t a screaming horde of students that stampeded over the gunmen: Columbine was huge. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were well-prepared. No one could have seen this coming.

The scariest part of the entire Columbine massacre, to me, was the fact that these two boys were my age. They were only a year older than me. I was a junior at the time, part of the class of 2000. Our class was in a mock-rivalry with the class of 1999, which Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold would have been a part of had they somehow lived in Cerritos and passed the entrance exams to Whitney.

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre, an event that triggered so much anger, so much agony, but also a lot of reform and attempts to change the way schools are secured, provide psychiatric support for students who need it, and tons of investigation into bullying, student abuse, and cliques.

Not all of these attempts have actually changed much in the high school world, of course, but awareness if always a good step. Columbine provided awareness in spades.

Even ten whole years after the fact, I can’t wrap my head around how absolutely horrible it must have been. I feel for the families of the victims, for their losses and for their justifiable anger. They were never provided with a definitive motive. They never got the chance to seek vengeance or justice. They lost a loved family member with no warning. I cried for them then, and I still get teary-eyed listening to testimonials from the surviving members of this brutal attack.

Although it might be an unpopular opinion, I feel for the families of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Not for the two boys; though judgment is not mine to make, I believe that they deserve all the torments of hell for their actions. Their families, however, could not have known what was going through the mind of their son/brother/cousin/nephew/friend. They could not have been prepared to deal with the aftermath of their family member’s actions. I pity them, I hope that they are not suffering too much guilt, because no one should blame anyone other than Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold for the events of April 20, 1999.

Had someone else from a hostile country committed the acts of these two high school seniors, it would have been the start of a war. Because they were U.S. citizens, born and raised here, we can do nothing but grieve.

Deaths in Columbine in chronological order:

1. Rachel Scott, 17
2. Daniel Rohrbough, 15
3. Dave Sanders, 47
4. Kyle Velasquez, 17
5. Steven Curnow, 14
6. Cassie Bernall, 17
7. Isaiah Shoels, 18
8. Matthew Kechter, 16
9. Lauren Townsend, 18
10. John Tomlin, 16
11. Kelly Fleming, 16
12. Daniel Mauser, 15
13. Corey DePooter, 17

Injured in Columbine in chronological order:

1. Richard Castaldo
2. Sean Graves
3. Lance Kircklin
4. Michael Johnson
5. Mark Taylor
6. Anne-Marie Hochhalter
7. Brian Anderson
8. Patti Nielson
9. Stephanie Munson
10. Evan Todd
11. Daniel Steepleton
12. Makai Hall
13. Kacey Ruegsegger
14. Liza Kreutz
15. Valeen Schnurr
16. Mark Kintgen
17. Nicole Nowlen
18. Jeanna Park
19. Jennifer Doyle
20. Austin Eubanks

Today is also Adolf Hitler’s 120th birthday. Not a good day in history.

I hope that those still in Columbine and those affected by the disaster are living with more hope, now that a decade has passed.

It’s disturbing, but a photo of the two killers after they committed suicide:

Harris, on the left, is wearing a white shirt with the words "NATURAL SELECTION" in black letters. Klebold, on the right, is wearing a black shirt with the word "WRATH" in red letters.


william April 24, 2009 at 2:54 AM  

gus van sant's 'elephant' is one of my favorite films. have you seen it?

jeanny April 24, 2009 at 3:43 PM  

I have not seen it, but heard great things about it. I'm still oddly emotional about Columbine and can't even watch new stories about it.

But once I get over that odd sensitivity, I will watch "Elephant"!