Monday, April 20, 2009

Remembering Columbine 10 Years Later

April 20, 1999.
I was a freshman at West LA Baptist High School. A year removed from a wave of school shootings all over the country, I was happy that nothing major had happened. Knowing how bad bullies can be, I was grateful that I had a strong foundation and never thought twice about violence outside of maybe fighting back. Everything seemed like it was going to be calm and then it happened.

I can’t remember what exactly happened when I heard about it. I think I was in homeroom when a teacher mentioned it. But I didn’t have to react live to have complete shock when I heard the details. Shots fired at Columbine High School, campus being evacuated and all of a sudden, Littleton, Colorado was a town I’d never forget like Peducah, Kentucky – the site of one of the 1998 school shootings.

This hit close to home. Not knowing where it was, we called my family in Denver to find out how far the school was. Thankfully they were nowhere near it but I was a bit disturbed for a minute. One of the victims was a football player and at the time, my cousin played HS football. Soon we’d all hear about another victim, Cassie Bernall, who reportedly said she believed in God before being killed (a story that has since been attributed to another victim who survived her gunshot wound).

We heard hero stories like the teacher/wrestling coach who shielded his students with his body as gunshots claimed his life. And because I read and remembered everything, the irony of the shooting date was not lost on me. It came one day after the anniversary of the Waco Siege and the Oklahoma City bombing so I wondered if the two gunmen knew that in advance (stories indicate they not only did, they planned for a major catastrophe)

For so long, the only images I saw were that of students being marched out of the school with their arms over their heads, the shirtless kid who was being pulled out the window by the police and the many, many tears that followed. It wasn’t until I saw Bowling For Columbine that I was really haunted as I saw school cameras of kids falling over themselves trying to escape, kids desperately hiding and running for their lives and finally, the two gunmen.

The eerie silence of watching that four years later was something I’ll never forget.

I remember our school holding prayer sessions for the victims and their families. I remember talking about how if those kids were bullied, then as someone who was bullied I understood how they felt. They felt lonely and ostracized because they were picked on. We talked about school safety and noticed how metal detectors were being added to certain schools around the country.

And of course, we looked for scapegoats (hello Marilyn Manson and rock music! – sidenote, Manson gave an eloquent statement in “Bowling for Columbine” regarding the incident. Just one more reason that movie ranks in my Top 15.)

But in light of this USA Today story (later copied by CNN), 10 years has cleared up some of the stories we had from that day. According to this investigator, it turns out the gunmen were not loners, not part of this Trenchcoat Mafia and did not target particular victims.

Perhaps this was one of the first major stories of the 24/7 media cycle. Information was coming in so fast and media coverage was so swift and dominating that anything worth noting was reported. Even though there were five school shootings in 1998 that held our attention, this story was different. So many different layers, so many factors and they were all exposed before our eyes as they were revealed.

What have we learned 10 years later? Not just if schools are safer but have we improved recognizing kids being bullied and stopping bullies before they get worse? The story may be a part of our history but what does it say to us now? I think that Columbine helped shatter the innocence of the 90’s, something that 9/11 took away once and for all. It reminded us that just like 1998, schools were losing their sense of safety – something painfully aware as just last week someone was shot at Locke High School here in Los Angeles.

April 20 soon took on another meaning for me as I discovered it’s a holiday for marijuana smokers. But since I don’t smoke, I prefer to remember it as a day when a nation turned its eyes to Littleton, Colorado. When a senseless tragedy made us stop and pause and when freshmen like me battled fears of going to school.

Still feels like yesterday.

1 comment:

  1. I just got a chance to read this, but April 20 is also Hitler's birthday.