I’ve been reading Columbine by Dave Cullen, an exhaustive account of the events that took place near Littleton, Colorado in April 1999. This is not a review of that book, as I haven’t finished it and book reviews aren’t my thing. (I don’t like rating books, to be honest.) I’m avoiding names for this post.
I dimly recall April 20, 1999. I was 14, attending Roane County High School in Kingston, TN; when the shooting took place near 12PM mountain time, it would have been around 2PM where I lived. I vaguely recall some parents coming to pick up students a little early for the day. Most of what I recall was the aftermath.
My most vivid memory was riding the bus, either the following day or the day after. I was sitting near a good friend of mine, and I made some off-color remark about what happened. She said, don’t say that Erik, we’re all really scared right now. I hadn’t been scared; I had been uneasy, concerned, but I had no waking nightmare of two students in trenchcoats walking into RCHS and opening fire.
I didn’t feel like a target, yet everyone around me did.
I know a little now about why that was, having read much of Cullen’s account. Speculation about the motives of the two gunmen was rampant. They were goths targeting jocks, or gays targeting bullies, or neo-Nazis targeting Christians. The last was the most believed story in my social circle. At the time I was a Methodist, but a very liberal Christian, beginning to doubt the veracity of the Holy Trinity. Many of my friends were evangelicals. And the gunmen were assumed to have targeted evangelical Christians.
There’s the story of one girl, widely spread months after, who was asked if she believed in God by one of the shooters. She said yes, and they shot her for it. I took the story at face value at the time,
although I now suspect it’s apocryphal. (Edit: the book examines the story in-depth; it’s misattributed and didn’t happen under those circumstances.) They shot her for her belief in God.
I could never identify with the shooters, whom Cullen paints as wayward teenage boys who lost all sense of empathy. However, I can’t identify with that martyred girl, either. If asked, at gunpoint, whether I believed in God, I’d say “I don’t know.” That’s the truth. I pray every night, but I couldn’t say if anything divine was listening. My conception of God is pantheistic, like the Force from Star Wars, beyond human understandings of consciousness or personality. God isn’t wrathful because God is beyond wrath, or love, or concern. I don’t even know if “God” is the right term.
The events at Columbine precipitated some bad policies. For several years after, security theater dominated high school, with random lockdown drills, clear backpacks, and the banning of baggy clothing and trenchcoats. (I never even owned a trenchcoat until college!) It became a prelude to the aura of fear after 9/11.
The terrorist/authoritarian vicious cycle just makes things worse.
For all that, I can’t fathom how the survivors must feel, sixteen years afterwards. I can only hope they found some peace. I don’t know if there’s any real resolution to those events. I think Columbine … just is.