“For decades, terrorists and mass shooters trod their separate paths. Then Columbine. Eric and Dylan fused them. School murders had been done; Eric envisioned a school catastrophe.
A new template was born. The spectacle murder. Performance without a cause. Just demonstration of personal power.”
-David Cullen, Columbine
I was a freshman in high school when Eric and Dylan made Columbine an international headline. Their intention was to kill hundreds. They managed 13. In total, 188 shots were fired that day. In addition to the four firearms they carried, the killers came prepared with five different variety of bombs…they had 95 altogether. In the course of 49 minutes, two students transformed Columbine from an ordinary high school into an American catastrophe.
Over a decade of misconstrued information would be passed along by the media and other sources, and soon the story of Columbine would be about bullying, trench coats, and white baseball caps. But it wasn’t. Instead, it was exactly what Dave Cullen described above: spectacular murder. Nevertheless, amidst a flurry of scrutiny and misconceptions, one truth emerged more clearly than others: the way in which police were trained to respond to an active assailant situation ultimately costs lives that fateful April day…. and so did the frantic teacher in the library who did the best she could when screaming at students to get under the tables.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
Now it’s been nineteen years since a terrorist attack on a high school changed the way law enforcement responded to school shootings. For some reason, though, school districts haven’t had the same urgency to change their active shooter protocols. 19 years later. 216 school shootings later. And students are still hiding under desks. Untrained. Uninformed. Unempowered.
But it won’t happen here are the sentiments echoed most clearly as we stare at a television screen, desensitized and watching yet another tragedy unfold and yet another unlikely target become a household name. Ordinary schools one day. Abdominal catastrophes the next. Names like Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and Stoneman Douglas now seem more synonymous with the media’s perpetuation of a casualty count than of scholarly institutions: 32. 26. 17. We seemingly forget the victims… their names always seem at the tips of our tongues, but as for the shooters… Well, the news coverage ensures we know their names: Harris, Klebold, Cho, Lanza, Cruz. The competition silently stirred by the media who throw around words like “worst” and “most” as if arbitrarily declaring victims as a number to beat.
What follows is typically the same: thoughts, prayers, condolences, arguments. And while the students of Stoneman refused to be silenced, a clear certainty remains as a stark reminder that change is slow… nineteen years slow. Because our schools are still targets and our teachers are still uninformed. Because our students are still under desks and huddled in groups and cowering in corners and paralyzed by fear.
Of course, there are no easy answers— and certainly not ones that can be articulated in a solitary blog post… but there is one resounding point that needs to be shared: passively waiting to be rescued is fatal. We have to empower our students, faculty, administrators, and staff to actively pursue survival. To fight back. To survive.
12 students and one teacher were slaughtered 19 years ago today in a small town called Littleton, Colorado. 24 others were injured. 61 of the 188 rounds were discharged in the library. 10 of the 13 victims died there…hiding under tables.
Today… let us remember them.
Today… let us do more than offer thoughts and prayers.
Today…. let the deaths of those students not be in vain because while laws and procedures may be slow to change, the empowerment to stand up, to run, and to fight back is now.
This post is dedicated to Dave Sanders, a beloved teacher and coach. Mr. Sanders saved countless lives on April 20, 1999. He was shot and should have survived… but help came too slow.
DISCLAIMER: Kristen Iannuzzi is a guest writer for this blog. The statements and opinions expressed are entirely her own. They are not a reflection of the beliefs, thoughts or opinions of her employer or district.
Cullen, D. (2016). Columbine. New York, NY: Twelve.
Columbine Report. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2000/columbine.cd/Pages/TOC.htm