Tragedy in Colorado
What happened and what can you do?
When Julie Naslund, a student at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, heard popping noises outside her classroom, she didn't worry.
"Everybody thought it was a joke, a senior prank." But it was no joke. Two students wearing black trench coats and ski masks were shooting guns and throwing bombs at their classmates. For four hours, students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold terrorized students who could not escape from the school. They killed 12 students and one teacher before killing themselves. Twenty-three people were injured. It was the deadliest U.S. school killing in recent times.
Why Did It Happen?
Why did the two boys commit these horrible acts? Some students said the boys belonged to a group that was often picked on and that they may have felt rejected. Many experts also say the fact that there are 200 million guns in the U.S. makes it too easy for teens to gain access to them. Others say that the teens may have been influenced by rock music with violent lyrics.
These may have been contributing factors, but they do not fully explain what happened, says psychologist Adele Brodkin. "Millions of kids feel left out or have problems at homeand they don't kill anybody," she says. "We can never excuse murder."
How to Keep Safe
After the shooting, some U.S. students were worried about going back to school. But most schools are "reasonably safe," says Pamela Riley of the Center for Prevention of School Violence. Nine out of 10 schools experience no serious crime.
What can students do to help prevent violence? Brodkin says that one thing kids can do is tell a trusted adult if a student is acting in a very disturbed manner—such as making threats or doing other things that "send a chill up your spine." She cautions students to take reporting seriously—and never give a false report as a prank.
Healing May Take Time
For students in Littleton, healing may take months or even years. Students in other schools may also be troubled. What should you do if you feel upset? Says Brodkin, "What seems to work best is reaching out to other people." She suggests talking to someone you trust. Some students may also want to participate in antiviolence programs.
Psychologist Phyllis Cohen says that students should make sure they show compassion for each other. "People need to be aware that when they participate in ridiculing or scapegoating, it can escalate into violence." She adds, "The responsibility [for the violence] is on the kids that perpetrated it. But what makes schools safe is people caring about what happens there."