Columbine's uncounted victims

Posted on April 21, 2009

21


Following the Columbine High School shootings of April 20, 1999, an Illinois carpenter by the name of Greg Zanis constructed a number of crosses and erected them atop the hill in Clement Park across the street from Columbine. He created one for every victim of the school shooting: Cassie Bernall, Steve Curnow, Corey DePooter, Kelly Fleming, Matt Kechter, Dan Mauser, Daniel Rohrbough, Rachel Scott, Isiah Shoels, John Tomlin, Lauren Townsend, Kyle Velasquez, and Coach Dave Sanders.

And Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.

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The inclusion of the two shooters provoked rage that ultimately ended up with their two crosses being torn down and burned. But Harris and Klebold were victims just as surely as they were murderers. As such, they too were deserving of a level of sympathy that, to the best of my knowledge, they never recivied.

These two profoundly disturbed young men gave warning signs to a world that, for a number of reasons, wasn’t equipped to detect them or to act upon them. Harris and Klebold’s friends missed or ignored the signs. Their families missed or ignored the signs too. As did the Columbine staff. And the police. Everyone who was in a position to do something to stop the Columbine tragedy before it happened failed to do so, and fifteen people died as a result. Another two dozen were injured.

39 injured or dead. But that’s the complete list of victims of the Columbine tragedy. All of the families of the injured and dead are victims too. As were their friends. As was the entire faculty, staff, and student body of Columbine High School. As was a significant percentage of the Jefferson County School District, faculty, staff, administration, students, and all their families as well. As were the two men serving sentences for firearms violations, and their families and friends.

We can count the dead and injured easily enough, but just as with the victims of the 9/11 attacks, the dead and injured represent but a small percentage of the true victims of the Columbine tragedy.

It is perhaps a cold comfort to all the victims that schools are safer today than they have ever been, that the state of Colorado has implemented an anonymous tip line that has supposedly prevented another 27 school shootings, and that the organizational barriers that prevented law enforcement, social services, and schools from sharing information on troubled students have largely been knocked down, at least in Colorado. After all, their nightmares and pain and loss can never be relieved by actions designed to prevent more school shootings.

Contrary to what was being said around Denver in late April and May of 1999, we are not all Columbine. We do not all grieve equally or in the same way or to the same deity(ies). But Zanis still had the right idea. He fought desperately to include Harris and Klebold because he understood that they, and their friends and families, were victims, too. Zanis ultimately failed, and I’m sure that there are those out there today who cannot bring themselves to consider the Harris and Klebold families with anything but derision and hatred.

I would ask that this week, as we read and listen to all the anniversary stories and reminiscences from that tragic day, all of us try to include all the multitude of victims, not just those most directly affected, in our thoughts. All the victims.

Image credit:
AP, from IndyStar.com

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