“It still hurts”
For Columbine students, the struggle isn't over
Everyone in the world knows what happened at Columbine High School last April 20, but no one outside the school really knows what it has been like to go through the experience—to survive the shootings, to grieve afterward, and then to try to get on with life. For the past year, Columbine's students have been trying to do all that. It has been painful, and, for many, the struggle continues. To find out how students have dealt with the violence and its aftermath, UPFRONT invited a group of them to participate in a roundtable interview. Here are excerpts from the conversation.
UPFRONT: In this past year, what has it been like inside Columbine? Is it still scary to go to school?
HEATHER CROSS: Whenever I walk by certain spots, it's just creepy knowing what happened there. It's just really creepy. I'm not scared to go there, but at the same time, I'm pretty much paranoid wherever I go. You see people and you're just like, I'm trusting all these people with my life, you know. And it's just like, where's it going to happen next? For me, it still hurts a whole bunch.
ANDREW FRASER: As far as being scared at school, I'm not really afraid for my life or anything. I think partially because I've become just so desensitized to violence after all that's happened in our community. But one thing that does actually kind of scare me is the fact that not a lot has changed in the school itself. I really hate to say it, and I'm not beating on anyone or pointing out any particular people, but for a period of three months or so, and also the first month that we were back at school, the whole school was just pretty much like a big family. All the barriers were taken down, and kids were all friends and just willing to accept each other. And now, l still don't see any physical violence towards any other kids, but it seems like over time, everyone's essentially kind of dissolved back into their own cliques.
MICHAEL LEARY: Being an athlete, we've had a lot of stuff to go through with the media and everything. Like the Eric and Dylan thing, I think everybody blamed it on the athletes, that that's why they did it. When we were freshmen, the senior class used to be able to get away with a lot of stuff that now we wouldn't even be able to do without getting expelled. Like picking on kids. Just pushing them around, teasing them. Just, I think, the same stuff that Eric and Dylan said they had to go through. So, that now has changed.
DEVON ADAMS: There are a lot of athletes at our school, and the majority of them are very, very cool people. I'm friends with a lot of them. There are a couple of guys on the football team or whatever who aren't as nice, but they're not like cruel or anything. They just would rather hang out with the athletes than hang out with other groups. But that's going to happen with any group. I mean, there are people on the forensics team who would rather bang out with people on the forensics team than anybody else.
UPFRONT: Does anybody have any thoughts about why the violence happened at this particular school?
ANDREW: As time's gone on, I pretty much just tried to stop asking myself questions. Because that's just what's been driving me more and more crazy. How it could have happened, and what would have motivated it and stuff. And I really just continue to draw a blank at each of those questions. l think for the most part it was bottled-up rage and possibly psychopathological problems.
RICHARD CASTALDO: I think basically just that, and like they probably had an urge to be famous or something, too. Trying to get on TV. Heck of a way to get on TV, but . . .
DEVON: I think it was a lot of things. I think society had a big part in it, and what Richard just said about them wanting to be on TV. There's a movie, Natural Born Killers, about how these people wanted to become killers because they wanted to be on TV And that was one of their favorite movies. I think it was school atmosphere. They did get teased. They did get persecuted a lot. I'm almost positive that they had some psychological disorder that made them do this. And I think that the communication lines had broken down with their parents. Like, I know that one of them had a very good relationship with his parents, but the communication lines had broken down.
UPFRONT: Do you feel anger toward Eric and Dylan now?
RICHARD: I don't know. It seems like kind of a pointless thing to worry about, since they're dead. I guess if they were alive, I'd be in the court yelling at them pretty good. But, I mean, since they're dead, it doesn't really seem like I should waste my energy over it.
HEATHER: What I think about them now is pretty much disgust. No matter how bad you're made fun of—I mean, I get made fun of all the time, you know—what they did is completely inexcusable. So I don't feel any sympathy for them at all. Because they could have gotten help, and they could have talked to people, and people could have talked to them.
DEVON: This is kind of a tough question for me. I was very good friends a long time ago with Dylan. A long time ago. And I was also friends with Eric my freshman year until I got scared of him. He threatened my life, and I pretty much said, no thanks, you leave now, I don't like you. Prom night, I danced with Dylan because he was one of my best friends. He had been my confidant. I wanted to tell him how much he meant to me, and I said, no, there's tomorrow. And I never told him. And then he was gone and he took all these people with him, including two of my friends. And, every time I think about him and Eric I just... it makes me so mad, it just sickens me, that they would have ever done that. I wish we could go back to before it all happened. And 1 wish I could have done some things differently.
TEENS HELPING TEENS
UPFRONT: Family and friends, but also teachers, school counselors—how have they helped you deal with what you've gone through?
MICHAEL: I don't really express my feelings much. I just keep it inside and don't say anything, and just deal with It. I don't talk to a counselor or anything. I don't think if I did It would help me at all.
ANDREW: I've found that the absolute best counseling I've got from anyone is just from talking about random topics with my friends. You know, as much as I know my parents want to help and just about anyone else I'm kind of ashamed to say that I don't feel as comfortable talking about it with either my parents or counselors. Although they try to understand what you're going through and relate to what you're feeling, they didn't experience the same thing. So I don't feel as comfortable discussing it with them as I do with other kids who are experiencing the same emotions as I am.
HEATHER: I think it kind of sucks how it takes something like this to make you really realize who is truly important to you. You value your relationships so much more. Whenever I get in fights with people in my family or whatever, I'm more willing to talk it out and not just be like, oh whatever, and just leave.
UPFRONT (to Richard Castaldo): Because you're in this wheelchair, obviously people can recognize you. Heather is smiling, so clearly there's some story to be told here.
HEATHER: Every single time I'm like with him, someone will say, hey Richard. I'm like, who's that?
RICHARD: A lot more people recognize me. And for the most part they want to help me. Like, what can I do for you? And, can I get the door? And stuff like that. But other than that, it gets kind of annoying.
UPFRONT: What did it mean to the school when the football team won the state title?
SUNNY DOTY: I went to the game and I was just amazed at how many people there were from every different group in the school. We were just so excited that our pride as the Columbine Rebels had been restored, and that we had done something right and not something wrong. We were reclaiming something good for ourselves, and restoring honor, in a sense.
RICHARD: I don't know. I don't really care about football like at all. So, it doesn't really affect me too much.
SIGNS OF TROUBLE
UPFRONT: What would you tell other kids, or their parents, about looking out for trouble?
SUNNY: I think what you need to look out for is kids that isolate themselves from reality and tend to get depressed, or don't talk to anyone except for maybe two or three people. l think those are the kids that people need to watch out for, because I've been in that situation and I've thought the thoughts that they did.
DEVON: I could say: watch out for the quiet ones who get straight A's. That was Eric. If he hadn't done this, he would have been valedictorian, one of them. I'm not quiet by any means. but I used to be. But I am a straight–A student. I guess it's really hard to say what to look out for
ANDREW: I just think that it's the parents' role to be the ones to kind of probe into their kids' lives. I hate to say it, but to be kind of nosy about it if they're worried. I've had times where I've had my mom go snooping through my room and find something that I really didn't want her to find. I'd say, what did you do that for, how can I trust you? And then she kind of turns it right back in my face and says, well, how can I trust you, you know, with this, or whatever? As much as it ticked me off, it's a good point.
SUNNY: I would have to say that that's kind of a tough deal for parents. Because, I was suicidal a long time ago, and I tried to kill myself about five different times, and my parents know of one. And that was only because I had told one of my friends, finally, that f was suicidal. My parents didn't know because, you know, when you don't want anyone to know, you're pretty good at masking things. So I think it's really hard to decipher who is going to do something.
LOSS OF INNOCENCE
UPFRONT: How have the events of last April continued to shape you and the students around you?
PETER HENDERSON: If anything happens at Columbine, it seems to get blown out of proportion. I think people don't understand that we're real people. They think we're just, you know, the Columbine kids, like it's almost a movie, or not real. But, we're real people and that really does affect us.
ANDREW: I'm just kind of sad to have lost my innocence, so to speak, at such a young age. But for the most part, I'm going to try to keep going on with my life. The whole event itself is something that I don't want to let defeat me or torment my thoughts the rest of my life, but make me a stronger person.
FOCUS: Columbine Students Cope With the Past and Look to the Future
To help students understand how those at Columbine High School view the tragedy that ended with 15 people dead and how students are coping a year after the shootings. Discussion Questions:
- Why do you believe there have been so many "copycat" shootings and threats at other schools in the wake of the Columbine killings?
- Do events like those at Columbine and other schools cause you to worry about violent crime?
Discussion: Andrew Fraser says old cliques have returned at Columbine. Ask if the shootings should have permanently changed the behavior of students. Should cliques be banned, or are they a natural part of school life and growing up?
- What do students think about the value of sharing one's feeling with others? Should they worry about teens who isolate themselves, as Sunny Doty cautions?
- Devon Adams believes a movie—Natural Born Killers—influenced the shooters. Do movies influence behavior?
- Many critics say the killers' parents should have known something was wrong. Are the parents responsible? If so, how should society deal with them?
- Should students be examined to discover violent tendencies? Would this violate privacy? Is it similar to inoculating against disease?
- Some schools report that violence fell after students were required to wear uniforms. Should schools require uniforms?