The Columbine Shooting
On April 20, 1999, two teenage boys, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, stormed Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, injuring 23 students as well as killing 13 students, one teacher, and themselves. The boys were said to have been part of an estranged group in high school, “the trench coat mafia”; they were picked on by other kids in their school but also hated minority groups and athletes. The nation as well as President Clinton were “profondly shocked and saddened by the tragedy… in Littleton” (Brooke). According to the New York Times article written by James Brooke and released the very next day, “Students said… Members of the group found their way out of anonymity at the school by banning together, dressing in dark gothic-style clothing including long black coats”. These students became easy to notice among the 1,870 students at the school, since every day, regardless of the weather, they wore their coats [Page A17.] (Brooke). As students and faculty scrambled within Columbine High School, many locked themselves into classrooms and closets, hoping and praying that the authorities would come soon.
Little did anyone know that the shooting would be a five-hour siege.
Beginning at 11:30am, the shooters came to school in their trench coats and ski masks and “fired semiautomatic weapons at students and teachers and tossed explosives” (Brooke). The students attending Columbine High School during the shooting had a variety of emotions while being interviewed, ranging between fear, distraught, and despair. While some students had to wait inside the building for rescue, there was opportunity to interview them before releasing the article the very next day. For example, one student, fourteen-year-old Katie Corona said she was trapped in a classroom with her teacher and classmates for hours. “I thought I was going to die,'' she said. ''I really didn't think I was going to make it. We would hear shots, then we heard crying. We had no clue what was going on”’ (Brooke). Trapped inside, some took refuge in classrooms, some in bathrooms and others in a choir room; frantically barricading doors with desks and file cabinets. One cafeteria worker who barricaded herself in a woman's bathroom said, “We could hear them blowing the heck out of the place”. Another student, Jonathan Ladd, said, “I heard gunshots going off, bullets ricocheting off lockers.”’ (Brooke). There were many factors of the shooting that severely impacted the students: the terror they had while running for their lives, the audible gunshots, and witnessing others being seriously wounded or killed.
The psychological trauma experienced by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold has been analyzed for the past decade since they were responsible for one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history. The boys were said to have been bullied and picked on for the group they associated with. In fact, one student described the group as “nerds, geeks and dweebs trying to find someplace to fit in.” while another stated, “[they] weren't really accepted as younger kids and as they got older they were accepted by this group… They got their fair share of being picked on. I could understand that they might have targeted some of the more popular kids” (Brooke). Therefore, analyzing the perpetrator's trauma’s in this instance is necessary to understanding the cause of the event itself. The boys were specifically targeting students that poked fun of their “trench coat mafia group” as well as bullied them personally in high school. One young woman that was interviewed noted, “everyone around me got shot and I begged him for 10 minutes not to shoot me… and he just put the gun in my face and started laughing and saying it was all because people were mean to him last year” (Brooke). While it is understood that mental instability is certainly not the answer to acts of violence, it is clear that the two young men were severely traumatized enough in order to commit such a horrendous crime.
Consequently, the portrayal of traumatic events plays a pivotal role in how we (a society or the audience) react to said event. Therefore, the language in an article can be very telling of how we, as readers, are being lead to feel. While news articles are primarily meant to state events or facts, the rarity in terrible stories such as the Columbine shooting has the author of the article trying to evoke certain sympathies from the audience. James Brooke emphasizes on these emotions particularly through using words of the young teenagers that experienced the shooting while trapped inside the building and while waiting outside for their friends. For example, Brooke quotes Lisa Appleton, a sixteen-year-old sophomore, waiting in front of the Leawood school for news of her best friend, Julie Toms, who had been missing since students began leaving the school, saying “I can't even feel it… There's no way to know whether she's dead or alive”. Similarly, Brooke uses vivid language when describing, “ A sunny spring day turned into a bloody nightmare for this suburb of 35,000 people southwest of Denver, as ambulances ferried the injured from the high school, past tennis courts, a baseball diamond and a packed student parking lot”. The appropriate responses from readers is to be appalled, heartbroken, and even frightened. The language of this article is much less cut and dry and much more heart-wrenching due to the circumstances of the story. On that same note, the photo released during the day of the shooting of a student, bloodied from an injury, breaking out a second-story window, and climbing down into the hands of the police had a similar effect as the mournful language used in Brooke’s article. While some may argue visuals cause a greater emotional response to a traumatic effect, Brooke was able to paint a horrifying picture of the events that took place during the Columbine shooting with just his words. The format of the article also seemed purposefully discombobulated, enhancing and almost embodying the event itself with the chaos and confusion of what was going on. Alternating between quotes of students that were trapped in the school, with quotes from authorities on the scene, and information on the boys and the group they were involved in, Brooke managed to depict the tragedy while taking creative leeway in constructing the story.
However, the analysis into the perpetrator’s trauma in this particular circumstance can be hard for outsider’s of the event to experience. The victim’s, with the exception of the teacher, were just kids but so were the shooters. The boys that committed this crime exhibited traits of depression, suicidal thoughts, and exclusion; how do we displace the fact that the pain felt by these teenagers was the reasoning behind the slaughter of more teenagers? I find that the definition of trauma being seen only by the victim’s end is careless in means of preventing similar events from happening again. While it is foolish to turn everyone into a victim, it is key in understanding the cause of tragedies by delving into the trauma’s on both sides. The language James Brooke utilized in presenting this trauma in the New York Times article, aided in understanding just how disjointed the boys were from their high school and their community in general. Enhancing my definition of trauma meant putting aside the disgust I felt for the shooters that took so many other young lives in order to understand the entirety of this event: the two young boys that committed this atrocious crime were also hurting, lost and confused, in the complications of adolescence and high school.