National School Walkout Day, 19 years after Columbine

Em Carpenter

Em was one of those argumentative children who was sarcastically encouraged to become a lawyer, so she did. She is a proud life-long West Virginian, and, paradoxically, a liberal. In addition to writing about society, politics and culture, she enjoys cooking, podcasts, reading, and pretending to be a runner. She will correct your grammar. You can find her on Twitter.

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32 Responses

  1. Maribou says:

    Em – Thank you so much for writing about this, and especially for writing about it in the contextualized way that you did.

    I actually don’t remember where I was or what I was doing when I heard about Columbine (9/11 is the only day I remember that way, and a few vague wisps from the loss of the Challenger), but I do remember the weeks of dread and stress I felt following, the feeling that something had shifted (even though I was well aware of the history, that school shootings had happened many times before).

    I appreciate how you’ve put some of those feelings on the page so clearly, and reading about the nuances that you perceive as well.Report

  2. Dark Matter says:

    The reporting was thorough, continuous, and in depth. For weeks, the murderers’ names and faces, information about their families, and theories about their motivations dominated the media. Some of the survivors made the rounds on talk shows, describing what they saw that day and what they knew about the killers. We have now seen this scenario play out again and again, as the public struggles to figure out why this keeps happening and how to fix it.

    The last part in bold is answered by the first part.

    The solution on “how to fix it” is to prevent the first bold.Report

  3. Em Carpenter says:

    I kind of love this.Report

  4. jason says:


    The reporting was thorough, continuous, and in depth.

    is both right and wrong. There was a lot of reporting on the issue. However, much of it was false, and I suspect it was journalists plagiarizing other journalists. Dave Cullen wrote a book titled Columbine in 2009 and in it, he debunked many of the popular stories. (I haven’t read the book, but I’ve heard/read interviews with him and the details stuck with me; it’s on my reading list.) The killers weren’t unpopular kids–they both had friends, attended parties, etc. They didn’t listen to Marilyn Manson. One of them was a sociopath and that was the cause.Report

    • InMD in reply to jason says:

      I’ve read it. Much of the popular narrative isn’t accurate. They had friends, there was a ‘trench coat mafia’ but Harris and Klebold weren’t part of it. Their rampage was supposed to be done primarily with bombs, not the firearms they brought (the intent for those seems to have been to defend themselves while they laid the bombs then suicide, possibly by cop). Harris was a military kid who had a kind of tough, isolated upbringing and became truly sociopathic. Klebold was a normal suburbanite but had some serious depression problems and latched on to Harris.

      I can never decide if I think that the presence of SSRIs in the systems of these shooters is a cause or if people with the disposition to do it just end up on pharmaceuticals. I do like the ‘some asshole’ idea. The media had made too many of these people famous. The Columbine killers themselves were inspired in part by Timothy McVeigh.Report

      • Andrew Donaldson in reply to InMD says:

        As you rightly point out Harris was a sociopath, and while it is valid to examine that, a lot of these things come down to a very uncomfortable place: we are trying to fit logic and reason onto something that will probably never fit into those forms. The outliers like Harris are just not going to be very applicable to the general population. Lessons to be learned, but few rules that can be universally applied.Report

      • Pinky in reply to InMD says:

        As someone who’s been on SSRI’s, I’m not crazy about this comment. That sentiment isn’t intended to stigmatize people seeking help with mental issues, I’m sure, but I think it can have that effect. SSRI’s may be overprescribed, but the available evidence indicates that they’re beneficial for some people – people who are in a mental state that makes them reluctant to seek out help or follow through with it.

        SSRI’s are serious. Different ones and different doses affect people differently, as does discontinuing them. You should talk to a competent and involved doctor before taking them.Report

        • InMD in reply to Pinky says:

          Just to clarify it wasn’t my intent to stigmatize anyone. I think it’s possible they’re a contributing factor in some cases. I know it’s rare but it has been documented that they can have some very weird side effects, particularly on adolescents. Doesn’t mean they have no utility for anyone or that I think everyone on them is or should be treated as dangerous.

          Because the events themselves are so rare trying to tease out causation is really tough. It’s also totally possible that these come out in almost all of the toxicology reports because so many people take them to begin with or because they’re the go to for doctors when someone comes to them reporting depression.Report

          • Em Carpenter in reply to InMD says:

            In my (very amateur) research on elementary, middle, and high school shooters, I’ve gathered information on 20 individual perpetrators, as much as I could find. I know of 5 that were confirmed to have been taking some sort of prescribed medication for mental illness at the time of their incidents and 3 who had taken them previously, if not at the time of their crimes (this includes no only SSRIs but antipsychotics. History of mental illness without history of medication was reported in a few others.
            There are other commonalities among school shooters that are more prevalent than medication.Report

  5. Em Carpenter says:

    The Cullen book was excellent. It was a perfect storm of evil when those two boys connected. Harris was a scary person and I believe he had the makings of a serial killer, had he not done what he did.Report

  6. I definitely remember where I was when I heard the news. I was in a TA office meeting with a student, who had told me about some sort of shooting. Somewhere along the line that afternoon day, either from him or from another person, I learned that the shooting was at Columbine High School. I didn’t know the extent of the damage, but I was nervous because my niece, who lived in Littleton, was a high school student, and I called my mom to ask her about if she knew anything. I don’t know if she had even heard of the shooting yet, but she was able to tell me my niece went to Arapaho and not Columbine.

    That night and the next few days, it was a hard thing to absorb. I went to school in DPS, but my part of Denver wasn’t too far from Littleton and most (or at least many) people at my had had friends at Columbine. Of course, my high school years had been 6 years before the shooting, so there was a degree of separation, but it was still a hard thing to learn about.Report

    • I remember VA Tech better than I remember Columbine. I was just past my Ph.D. defense and gearing up for my first “real” (aka:scary) job when Columbine happened.

      I remember watching some of the coverage (evening news) on the little tv in my parents’ “guest room” (which I used as sort of a sitting room: I lived with them in grad school) and being kind of confused and horrified, bit it didn’t hit me in the gut like VA Tech did.

      I was sitting in my office on campus when VA Tech happened. It was scary and surreal and one of my colleagues lost a cousin in the shooting.

      And as to what someone else said: I wholeheartedly support the “Some Asshole” initiative. It might not stop everything altogether but I suspect a certain percentage of these jerks have some twisted sense of “getting famous.”Report

  7. Em Carpenter says:

    I was a college sophomore. I went to my boyfriend’s house mid-afternoon after classes and he was watching it on CNN. I was riveted until the wee hours of the morning. Since then I’ve been an amateur researcher of school shootings. Columbine was not the first but it was something different.Report

  8. Kazzy says:

    Just out of curiosity, is this the proper use of the term clip?Report

    • Andrew Donaldson in reply to Kazzy says:

      no, it is not. Magazine was the term he should have went with there. “Proper Nomenclature” social media is second only to “Spelling/Grammar” social media in swiftness to correct so no dount he’s barraged by now.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

        I’ll be curious. That confusion is often used as a disqualifer of a gun control advocate. But this is a gun owner. If mixing those up makes someone ignorant of firearm basics, surely he should have his weapon taken away… right?Report

        • Andrew Donaldson in reply to Kazzy says:

          I personally don’t get hung up on such things, unless it is in the greater context of someone espousing expertise that makes such a mistake. I’m sure myself and plenty of others who know better have the same slip. There is a point in saying you should have a basic knowledge of firearms to discuss nuts and bolts policy of them, but disqualifying/dismissing solely on terminology is too far.Report

          • Em Carpenter in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

            I have a bigger issue with the use of guns as props, like Feely did here, or as fetishized by Tomi L. and her ilk. I think it only hurts the image of responsible gun ownership.

            Tidbit about Columbine- they had a couple of shot guns and some pistols. No “assault weapons”. Of course, they intended the bombs to cause more carnage than they did, but it’s at least anecdotally an argument against ARs and the like being the problem to solve.Report

            • RE: the prop thing: I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who take those pics and post them on social media expressly to garner attention. You are not advancing anything other than drawing attention to yourself.
              The Columbine tidbit about not being is interesting. People forget, Eisenhower was president when the AR-15 was invented, and it has been exclusively sold to the civilian market since 1964. It didn’t magically or suddenly become more deadly. The issue is more than just the weapon.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

                It didn’t magically or suddenly become more deadly. The issue is more than just the weapon.

                It’s the copycat effect. We’ve had multiple successful school shooters use that gun, so future shooters will emulate previous ones and do the same thing.

                Thing is it’s less a magic feather than it is force of belief, and I expect it’d be instantly replaced if banned… and it’s not the rate limiting factor here. The successful shooters are able to reload multiple times because they don’t need to deal with police interference (for whatever reason). Making them reload more won’t make a difference if the police are an hour away from doing anything useful.Report

              • Important to note, some reporting on this Waffle House incident has said that when Shaw grabbed the rifle and took it from the shooter, the shooter was looking down at it. Whether you interpret that as a jam or he was out and needed to reload, something happened that impeded his ability to continue his attack, even if momentarily.Report

              • InMD in reply to Dark Matter says:

                IIRC the Tec-9 was the controversial firearm at the time.Report

              • Em Carpenter in reply to InMD says:

                Yes, Klebold carried a Tec-9.Report