Many people all over the world are familiar with the Columbine High School Shooting that took place on April 20, 1999. However, even though people are aware of what happened, many are still not sure why it happened.
Comprehending the reason high school students choose to kill their classmates can be hard. We don’t always like to believe our teens are capable of murder, and yet all too often it happens right in front of our faces.
Over eleven years ago, I built my Columbine Research website Dylan Klebold as a resource for interested people to get quality information on the massacre. Providing over 35,000 pages of official reports released by the Jefferson County Police Department, the FBI as well as over 25 other agencies, my research site generated over a million hits per month at its highest point. While some surfers came for information for school papers or projects they were assigned, others who knew what it was like being bullied and outcast came for comfort and understanding.
In addition to my research website, I also was able to get the old screen name of Columbine gunman Eric Harris, and engaged in many discussions with everyone who messaged me including deceased school shooters Bastian Bosse (Gescheister School, Germany, 2006), Asa Coon (Success Tech Academy, 2007) and Kimveer Gill (Dawson College, Canada, 2006).
Having Columbine gunman Eric’s former screen name gave me absolute trust from everyone. Misanthropic students would sometimes share their plans for a school massacre and talk openly regarding their desire to kill their classmates. At first I didn’t get the hefty responsibility that came with utilizing Eric’s former screen name, but all that shifted when one of the teenagers I had been conversing with for a while told me that he had been planning a school massacre but our conversations caused him to change his mind.
After thirteen years of communicating with tens of thousands of teens who understand what it’s like to want to shoot up their school, I’ve written a book on the subject soon to be published. My book is titled Transcending Columbine and is expected to be published at the end of 2012.
Before the release of my book, I am writing smaller articles on some of the subjects addressed in my book to give people a small taste of an issue that seems too big to comprehend.
What are we really asking when we turn to each other and say, “what caused Columbine?” At first glance it appears that we are asking an easy question, however, the answer is not that easy.
While I’m not creating this article to question the actual cause of Columbine, I would like to explore the concept of cause and get to the bottom of what we’re really getting at when we want to know, “why” a kid shoots up his school.
Each time a new school shooting happens, if the perpetrator lives through it the first question we ask him is, “why?” Usually the gunman will say he felt unloved, heavily outcast, and despised by his teachers and peers – and sometimes even his family. He’ll say that no one ever loved him and he saw no other way out. But those answers never satisfy us. We try to relate those answers to our own lives and poo-poo all of them because we can’t relate to them. “No, those are excuses,” we say, “give me a better reason. Tell me why!”
The reality is that a teenager can give us 9,118 reasons for why he shot up his school, and we will never be content. Asking a teen why he shot up his school is only ever going to produce what we experience as excuses and rationalization for their decisions – and we know this – yet we continue to ask, refusing to accept every answer.
Well, what answer would be good enough? Is there really anything a teenager can express that would satisfy the question of why they shot up their school? I don’t think there is. And I say that because when we ask a teen to share with us the reason he shot up his school, all he knows is what experiences led him to feeling like murder was the solution. And when we ask him why he shot his classmates, we aren’t asking him to share his experiences – we want him to give us an answer that will help us make sense of his actions. The catch is that if we’ve never experienced wanting to kill our classmates, we can never make sense of his actions and we therefore refuse to accept everything he says.
While he’s sharing his experiences thinking that’s what we’re asking him to do; we’re expecting him to make us understand something we never can. We’re having two separate conversations, and at the end of the day the gunman only feels frustrated and unheard. He’s answered our question in the only way he knows how – and instead of having his experiences received, he’s told that nothing he says is a good enough response. Yet his experiences were very real, so he doesn’t understand why we reject his answers. Clearly we’re not having the conversation we believe we are with these kids.
What caused Columbine?
When we question the “cause” of Columbine, it seems simple for most people despite a lot of different views. Some of us believe bullying caused Columbine while others believe a lack of God in the schools caused Columbine. Some people believe the police caused Columbine by not acting fast enough, and others believe the parents of the shooters caused Columbine by not paying enough attention to what their kids were up to. Some even believe that psychotropic drugs caused the massacre.
An objective person can probably see how others could come to the above conclusions even if they don’t concur. For example, we know that bullied teenagers can relate to being bullied, and it’s easy to understand how a bullied teenager can say bullying caused Columbine even if they, themselves, have never picked up a gun to shoot their classmates. To the bullied teenager, it makes sense that bullying caused Columbine.
What if there is a deeper, simpler truth to the cause of Columbine and school violence?
Any reasonable person can agree that despite the circumstances in the lives of school shooters, each of them made the choice to bring a gun to school and fire at their classmates. They may have been influenced but in the end the choice was theirs – and they chose to kill. This is perhaps the only certainty we have.
Attributing anything but the shooter’s choice as the cause of a school shooting only relieves the perpetrator from their accountability for their decision to kill their classmates. At the end of the day, the only cause for a school shooting is the teenager’s choice to shoot their peers at school.
If bullies are the cause of school massacres, then anyone who gets bullied would shoot up their school. (They don’t).
If a lack of God in schools is the cause of school massacres, then anyone who goes to public school would shoot up their school. (They don’t).
If easy access to firearms is the cause of school massacres, then anyone who has access to a firearm would shoot up their school. (They don’t).
If medication is the cause of school massacres, then anyone on psychiatric medication would shoot up their school. (They don’t).
The only reliable common factor among every school shooting that ever has been or ever will be is choice. And therein lie the problem – and also the solution.
Visit my website to download a free sample chapter of my book and discover a new perspective on school violence: Transcending Columbine