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Religious Tolerance logo

Why did the Columbine shooting happen?

The Sheriff's report and the author's theory

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Sponsored link.

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Sheriff's Report:

The Denver Post released some unofficial information provided by the sheriff's department. Some conclusions of the investigation, which took almost one year, were:

bulletKlebold and Harris worked alone.
bulletThe perpetrators did not target specific groups. Police say that their attack was "not about killing jocks or black people or Christians...it was about killing everybody.
bulletTheir main goal was to kill more that 450 students with two large propane bombs in the cafeteria. Fortunately, they did not explode. 1

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Department issued its report in mid-2000-MAY. It is in CD-ROM format and includes nearly 700 pages of text, audio files and video clips. Officials conducted about 5,000 interviews of witnesses, and analyzed over 10,000 pieces of evidence.

The "trenchcoat mafia" is a "loose, social affiliation of former and current Columbine High School students with no formal organization structure, leadership or purpose such as that typically found in traditional juvenile street gangs." Harris and Klebold "had a few close associates in the TCM, but overall were not described as having any particular influence or leadership roles within the Trench Coat Mafia."

Apparently the attack was originally planned for 1999-APR-19, on the fourth anniversary of the Oklahoma City, OK bombing and the sixth anniversary of the mass deaths at Waco TX. 

Some of the material deals with victim Cassie Bernall. She had been reported in various media as having been in the library studying her Bible. When Eric Harris burst into the room, he asked her if she believed in God. She clasped her hands in prayer, closed her eyes and said "yes." The gunman murdered her at this point. 2 In fact, she was studying for a Shakespeare exam at the time. Harris went to her library table, "where he bent down and saw two frightened girls.  He slapped the table top twice, said 'Peek-a-boo,' and fired, killing Cassie Bernall." He did not ask her about her belief in God; she did not say anything. At another table, Valeen Schnurr, had been critically hurt by Klebold. She began to cry, 'Oh God, help me.'  "Klebold...came back and taunted her about her belief in God. He then walked away." 3 More details

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The author's favorite theories about school mass murders:

Two scenarios emerge repeatedly from an analysis of recent school shootings:

bulletEither the perpetrator(s) were mentally disturbed at the time of the shooting, or
bulletthe perpetrator(s) were part of a group who had been bullied, ridiculed, rejected, and marginalized by the social elite among the student bodies. They finally cracked and discharged their hatred in a hail of bullets.

Dan Savage of "the Stranger.com" wrote a shocking article describing his personal experiences and observations while he went to high school. 4 Savage was apparently targeted as a geek by fellow students. Some of his comments are:

bullet"...in none of my [3] high schools did I for a moment feel safe. High school was terrifying, and it was the casual cruelty of the popular kids -- the jocks and the princesses -- that made it hell."
bullet"...I lived in fear of the small slights and public humiliations used to reinforce the rigid high school caste system: poor girls were sluts, soft boys were fags. And at each of my schools, there were students who lived in daily fear of physical violence."
bullet"I was f--ked with enough to spend four years fantasizing about blowing up my high school and everyone in it."

Fortunately, he never acted out his fantasies.

The same rage that Savage felt is evident in the suicide note left by one of the perpetrators at Littleton -- Eric Harris. He clearly regarded himself as a victim:

"By now, it's over. If you are reading this, my mission is complete.... Your children who have ridiculed me, who have chosen not to accept me, who have treated me like I am not worth their time are dead. THEY ARE F--KING DEAD...."

"Surely you will try to blame it on the clothes I wear, the music I listen to, or the way I choose to present myself, but no. Do not hide behind my choices. You need to face the fact that this comes as a result of YOUR CHOICES."

"Parents and teachers, you f--ked up. You have taught these kids to not accept what is different. YOU ARE IN THE WRONG. I have taken their lives and my own -- but it was your doing. Teachers, parents, LET THIS MASSACRE BE ON YOUR SHOULDERS UNTIL THE DAY YOU DIE." 4,5

It is our belief that the root motivation for most school shootings is caused by:

bulletA general lack of respect for others, and
bulletA lack of tolerance of minorities.

Some statements on the Internet support this theory:

bulletJoy Long, Webmistress of the Warners Community website wrote: "We can begin by bringing respect back into our own homes, not only kids having respect for their parents, but parents having respect for their kids.  Open your eyes and your hearts, listen to what is not being said.  Above all, kids must have respect for each other.  Just because someone dresses different, looks different, acts different or talks different, is not a reason to ridicule them. Before you say or do something that will hurt another person, stop for a minute to put yourself in their place and feel what they will feel as a result of what you are about to do or say." 6
bulletA spokesperson for the Rocky Mountain Conference Website of the United Methodist Church commented, in part: "Bishop Swenson, arriving in Denver only hours after the shooting, quickly learned that the gunmen had targeted minorities and 'jocks, and that the incident occurred on Hitler's birthday. 'All of the issues of race and violence immediately come forth. Hate is the visible cause of this tragedy, but the hidden cause is fear. One of our pastors talked with families with kids involved, and he said, 'The word is these kids were outcasts. They didn't like anyone and no one liked them. Our youth have talked at church about how we treat each other....' My prayer is for the day when there are no outcasts, when we can move beyond our barriers and the cliques and groups. We pray for a time when all are insiders, when everyone knows they are included, welcomed- even those out of the mainstream and on the margins. Maybe then, if we can reach out to the margin and welcome every child of God as a child of God, maybe then we can put an end to violence and hate.' " 7
bulletDr. Fred Mathews, an expert on youth violence at Central Toronto Youth Services commented that the real issue is not about Goths or Pagans. It is "about adults doing little to help those ostracized students, allowing them to grow more and more angry and bitter on the sidelines, while failing to hear or act on the warnings from the students who see danger." Unless we break the cycle of rage, school violence will continue. 8
bulletBarry Lynn is a spokesperson for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. In 2000-APR, he warned of the dangers of prayer and Christian displays in the classroom. He said: "Evidence indicates that the two students who killed their peers...felt alienated and ostracized. We know from experience that school-sponsored religious displays and worship invariably make some students feel like second-class citizens." 

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References used:

  1. Roger O'Neil, "Case closed on Columbine?" MSNBC, 2000-MAR-13, at: http://www.msnbc.com/news/348949.asp#BODY 
  2. Misty Bernall, "She said yes: The unlikely martyrdom of Cassie Bernall," Pocket Books, (2000). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  3. AANEWS, Newsletter of the American Atheists, 2000-MAY-22
  4. Dan Savage, "Fear the Geek: Littleton's silver lining," The stranger.com, 1999-MAY-20/26, at: http://www.thestranger.com/archive/833/FEATURES/
  5. "Eric Harris' suicide note" and "Excerpts from Eric's website diary," at: http://members.aol.com/DVD700/eric.html
  6. Joy Long, "A prayer for Littleton," Warner's Fellowship Community, (Syracuse NY) at: http://www.dreamscape.com/dduncan/communit.htm
  7. Anon, "Please remember Littleton in your prayers," Rocky Mountain conference Website. Reprinted at: http://www.dreamscape.com/dduncan/newsletter/may99/
  8. Tammy Todd, "Violence in schools: The 'Blame Game' continues," at: http://altreligion.about.com/library/weekly/aa042299.htm

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Copyright © 1999 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-JUN 
Latest update: 2008-APR-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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