Why don’t other school shootings stand out as much as the Columbine High School Massacre?
This question is something I have been pondering over for a long time. Why did Columbine make such a huge impact when school shootings just like it happen so often? What made Columbine so unique? I have some theories as to why this could be.
1. The Duo: I believe the relationship Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shared is one of the biggest factors. The fact that there was not one shooter, but two, truly captivated so many people. How often can a person find someone willing to go through such heinous acts alongside them, and at such a young age? These two grew up together for many years and shared an intense hatred for the world around them. They knew what they wanted to do and began planning many months before the event took place. Because of this, the Columbine Massacre played out like no other. While most shootings have just one culprit acting on a short spurt of passion or anger, Eric and Dylan had been hellbent on revenge for a long, long time and worked together to make it happen. Neither one of them got cold feet or chickened out at any time, which proves how dedicated they were to each other and their plans.
2. The Trend: Both of them knew how the world would react to their story, that they would gain a large following and a series of copycats. In the journals they wrote and webpages they created they stated many times how they knew society would allow their names to live on forever. They knew 100% that the media attention they would get after they died would cause a domino effect in the years to follow, and they couldn’t have been more right. Since 1999, the number of school shootings has skyrocketed and are even beginning to become a trend. There were 17 major shootings in 2012 alone. Eric and Dylan hated everyone and wanted them all to die, and they were aware that by going through with the Columbine massacre, people would continue to die because of them through proxy, even after they themselves were long gone.
3.The Warning Signs: Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold left a staggering amount of clues and raised many red flags in the time leading up to the massacre, but it still never occurred to anyone how two young boys were capable of doing such a thing. It never even crossed anyones mind. It’s like they left a trail of breadcrumbs that no one noticed until it was too late. The two boys intentionally left bombs and guns in desks and drawers in their rooms like it was a game, and anyone could have found them and prevented the whole thing… however Eric and Dylan both knew no one was looking. They left everything out in the open so that the world would feel the guilt after the tragedy.
4. The Reasoning: The two of them documented their journey and their thought patterns leading up to the day for the world to find after the damage had been done. They wrote their plans and what they were thinking in great detail on webpages and in journals, even taping or recording themselves talking about it. No matter how many times we look at their explanations or reasonings or justifications behind their actions, we will never fully understand why they did what they did, however Eric and Dylan really did try to make it so.
5. The Making of an Icon: The way they looked, the clothes they wore, everything they did became absolutely iconic. You see a black t-shirt with WRATH written in red lettering or a white t-shirt with NATURAL SELECTION written in black and you know straight away where it’s from. The names Reb and Vodka will forever belong and make you think back to them. The black trench coats and suspenders and combat boots, the pair of gloves they shared on the day of the crime. It all seems like one big movie scene and it all links back to them. Nowadays you see the ‘new’ school shooters idolising and copying everything Eric and Dylan did, like wearing their own t-shirts with edgy phrases such as 'Humanity is Overrated’, all trying to stand out in the way the Columbine killers did so easily.
6. The Timing: The 1990’s and 2000’s were a very significant time in our history. Eric and Dylan were a part of the first generation of people to grow up with revolutionary technology such as computers and the world wide web. In this time, media was really beginning to flourish like never before and while there have been school shootings prior to Columbine, none of them ever received such an astronomical amount of attention because the means for it had never really been there to that scale. Columbine was revolutionary and Eric and Dylan, both having an above average knowledge on computers, media and the internet, knew that it was the best time to make the attack. “Producers will be fighting over our story.”
Of course, there is no right or wrong answer to this question. No one will ever really know why Columbine stood out so high above the rest. Our society works in mysterious ways and with so many tragedies happening somewhere in the world every day, there’s no way of knowing what one will make the headlines next.
Sabine Radmacher was the perpetrator of the 2010 Lörrach hospital shooting. The attack took the lives of three people and injured as many as eighteen. Residents of Lörrach, a city located in Baden-Württemberg, Germany with a population of approximately 49,303, were shocked by the rampage, mainly due to the fact that Radmacher was described by those who knew her as “quiet”, “nice” and “sincere”. However, friends and neighbors of Radmacher noticed a change in her behavior weeks before the massacre. On September 19, 2010, after a possible child custody dispute, Radmacher shot her ex-husband with a legally owned small-calibre pistol before smothering her 5-year-old son. Following this, she set off an explosion at the appartment complex she had been living in for the past months. Armed with a knife and a pistol, she crossed the street to the St. Elisabethen Hospital, severly wounding two pedestrians on her way. When she arrived at the hospital, she murdered a male nurse. She was killed in exchange of fire with the police. Although the actual motive for the rampage was never determined, authorities believe that a custody dispute escalated between Radmacher and her ex-husband. It remains unclear why Radmacher decided to go to the St. Elisabethen Hospital. However, a miscarriage there in 2004 may have sparked her decision to go on a rampage.
Tim Kretschmer’s rampage through his former school in Winnenden and its end outside a Wendlingen business complex, which left 16 dead, including himself, influenced a copycat threat by a 21-year-old Lower Saxony resident from Schnerverdingen, who was arrested two days after Kretschmer’s shooting for writing in an online chat, “I’ll kill 16 students tomorrow. I have a gun and will kill everyone.” He claimed it was only for fun and police determined the targeted school didn’t exist in the area, nor did the man have access to weapons. Coincidentally, an unnamed 17-year-old in the North Rhine-Westphalia town of Ennepetal was planning a deadly attack of his own. On March 12, 2009, a day after Kretschmer’s spree, the Reichenbach-Gymnasium student, who usually fashioned a long black coat and fingerless gloves, was led out of class and taken into custody. The arrest came following a report from a female classmate’s mother three days prior, who stated he threatened to blow up the school on April 20, marking the tenth anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting. These threats were corroborated by fellow students, and they added he made comments about not living to see his 18th birthday, while another shared they saw him looking at a webpage on the construction of explosive devices in the school library. He had also received psychiatric treatment in 2007 for threatening a teacher. A search of the student’s home revealed the means to carry out his plan. Contained in a metal briefcase, investigators found glycerin, hydrochloric acid, and 30 grams of black powder paired with nails and other materials. Among the weapons recovered were knives, daggers, and swords, as well as several imitation guns and an air gun. Although the 17-year-old faced charges of unauthorized arms possession and disturbance of public peace by announcing a criminal offense, he was immediately placed in a psychiatric institution.
Richard Scott Baumeister was a spree killer who murdered 5 people in April, 2000. The crime spree was heavily racially motivated. Baumeister’s first victim during the spree was his jewish neighbour, who he shot and killed before setting her house on fire. He left that site in his Jeep and continued on to his neighbours synagogue, where he shattered the windows and spray painted red swastikas on the walls.
His next target was an Indian grocery store where he shot and killed a customer who was picking up groceries on his lunch hour, and then shot the store manager in the neck, paralysing him. From the he went on to another local synagogue, committing more vandalism, and continued on to a chinese restaurant where he would fatally shoot two asian americans, the manager and the cook.
His last target was an african american who was exercising in a Karate centre with a friend. While Baumeister initially pointed the gun at this friend, who was european american, he hastily changed his target and shot 22 year old Gary Lee, instantly killing him.
After his arrest the previous extent of Baumeister’s racism became evident. Police discovered a document in his home that was similar to manifesto, which outlined how european americans were being outnumbered by ethnic minorities. A website that he ran was also found, which called for an end to non-european migration to the states.
Despite a lengthy psychiatric history Baumeister was found guilty of five counts of murder and received five separate death sentences, with an additional 112 years.
The following is an excerpt from Kaitlin Roig’s book, Choosing Hope,
describing the moment Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School on
December 14, 2012. She was the first grade teacher in classroom 12, the
one adjacent to Victoria Soto’s:
“First comes the initial blast of gunfire, then the sounds of shattering glass. The hair on my arms stands up. I know right away what I am hearing. Columbine is happening in the place we called Pleasantville. How can it be? Someone with a weapon is shooting their way into our perfect school. My classroom is the first one in the building. We are in grave danger, I think, sitting targets. I jump up, run to the door, pull it closed, and switch off the lights. Thank God for the piece of dark blue construction paper I taped to the door window months ago in preparation for a lockdown drill and forgot to take down. I can’t lock the door. My keys are clear across the room, on top of my desk, and there’s no time to fetch them. For what? A locked door is no match for a magazine of bullets. If we’re going to live, we have to find a hiding place. Fast. I look around the classroom. My students don’t seem to understand what is happening. One, the little girl I call our fashionista, because she wears things like leopard prints and leggings, stands there smiling. I can’t tell if she is somehow oblivious to the sounds or scared frozen. The windows don’t open wide enough for a first-grader to climb through, and who knows what or who is waiting outside? Evil is coming for us and there’s nowhere to go.
Where can we hide? Where can we hide? There’s only one place. The bathroom - a tiny, tiny first grade-sized lavatory with only a toilet and a toilet-paper dispenser inside. Its dimensions are about the size of two first-grade desks pushed together. Maybe three feet by four feet. There is so little space that the sink is on the outside, in the classroom. I have never even been inside of the bathroom before. An adult wouldn’t fit comfortably. How in God’s name will I get sixteen of us in there? It is our only chance. The impossible will have to become possible.
Everything is happening so quickly. We are under siege. I turn to my students, who look up at me with pleading eyes. ‘Into the bathroom! Now!’ I say.
At first they protest. ‘In there?’ ‘How?’ ‘Why?’ ‘What do you mean, Miss Roig?’
‘Bathroom! Now!’ I say, repeating myself. They understand that the teacher means business. I rush them toward the back of the classroom. Shots are being fired outside our classroom door. There’s no time. ‘Hurry!’ I say, pushing them into the tiny space with the toilet in the center. ‘Hurry!’ But I know that no matter how quickly my students respond, it will still take two or three minutes to get everyone inside, minutes I feel sure we don’t have.
We all push into the bathroom, and when there isn’t a millimeter of space left, I begin lifting my students and piling them inside. I place one student, then two, then three on top of the toilet and hoist up my littlest girl and sit her on the toilet-paper dispenser. We are all crushed together with not even enough room left to take a deep breath. I reach out to pull the door closed, but the door isn’t there. Oh my God. In my rush to try to save us, I didn’t even notice. The door opens into the bathroom. We are blocking it with our bodies. I feel myself beginning to panic. Here we are, stuffed into a room, with a madman bearing down on us, and the door that is supposed to hide us is obstructed by us and can’t close.
My heart pounds against my chest, but I cannot afford to lose my composure, not if we are to have a chance of getting out of this alive. First-graders model their teacher’s behavior. If I panic, they’ll all panic, and we’ll be dead. One by one, I pick up the students who are blocking the door and move each one behind it until I am finally able to push it closed. But just before I do, I reach outside for a large storage cabinet on wheels that is nearby and pull it as close as I can to the front of the bathroom door, hoping that maybe it will conceal the door. ‘Now,’ I say, ‘We have to be absolutely quiet. We can’t say a word.’ I can’t help but wonder if, by trapping us in the bathroom, I have just sentenced us to certain death. What if the shooter realizes that the storage cabinet is a ruse and shoots right through it?
Someone shouts, ‘Shooter! Stay put!’ Is that our principal? The school nurse? Another teacher? The sounds are too muffled to tell. Then, ear-splitting, rapid-fire shots, like a machine gun - di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di - over and over and over. We hear pleading. My students stay perfectly quiet. First-graders are black -and white. They understand that someone very bad is searching for us and in order for us not to be discovered they stay perfectly quiet. In our silence, we hear voices, although whose is unclear. They are muffed voices. People are pleading for their lives. ‘No!’ Please, no! Please! No!’ If my students are to keep even relatively calm, they must not know that my insides are shaking and I’m sure we are all about to die. It’s a very difficult thing, putting on a cool front in the midst of what I know is life and death. With the inescapable sounds of carnage happening all around us, my little ones are feeling desperate. ‘What is happening?’ one of them whispers. My fashionista begins to cry. I cup her face in my hands and look into her teary eyes. ‘We’re going to be okay,’ I promise. I never make promises I can’t keep, especially not to children, but this is a matter of life and death. The boy who straddles the top of the toilet is shaking so hard that he accidentally flushes. Once, then again. We all hold our breath. Shhhhhhhhhh!!!!!Did the shooter hear? I look at the boy and his face says it all. I’m scared and I’m sorry and I don’t know what to do. ‘Miss Roig, I don’t want to die today,’ one of my students whispers. ‘I just want my mom,’ another one says, fighting tears. ‘I don’t want to die before Christmas,’ says my student who has been talking about the holiday for months. We are squeezed together like fingers in a tight fist. My kids want out of this sweltering, sealed-up box we’re in. ‘I’ll lead the way!’ one of the boys whispers. ‘I know karate,’ says another boy. Hadn’t it been only moments ago that he told us the story of finding a dollar under his pillow for his two front teeth? ‘No,’ I say gently. ‘There are bad guys out there and we need to wait for the good guys to come.’ I can’t bear to think that their last moments will be spent this way: in fear. I must reassure them, even though I don’t believe my own words. ‘It’s going to be okay. We’re going to be okay,’ I say. Then, because I believe that death is imminent and I want to do whatever I can to make them feel safe, I tell them how much they have meant to me. ‘I need you to know that I love you all very much,’ I say. In comforting them, I have also brought comfort to myself. ‘Anyone who believes in the power of prayer needs to pray right now,’ I say, ‘and anyone who does not needs to think really happy thoughts.’ I put my hands together and start to pray. The kids are too crammed together to move their arms, but most of them close their eyes and I assume they are following my instruction. The shooting continues. Now I am prepared to die.”
On the 1st of December 1997 in Kentucky, Michael Carneal walked into Heath High School with a rifle and shotgun, which he passed of as an arts project. Carneal then shot at a youth prayer group, 3 people were killed whilst 5 were injured. After the shooting, Carneal surrendered his weapons and said, “kill me, now please. I cant believe i did that”
It’s believed Carneal was severely bullied, leading him to have paranoia. Months later he was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and was hospitalised.
The victims parents believed porn, The Basketball Diaries and Natural Born Killers had an influence. Also in Carneal’s locker was a copy of Rage, by Stephan King. A novel in which is about a school shooting.
In the week following Kip Kinkel’s May 21, 1998 rampage at Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon, several threats were made at schools in the surrounding area. One teenage boy from Klamath Union High School was arrested for calling in a phony bomb threat. Then, a 14-year-old middle school student was suspended for threatening to kill his enemies and caused the entire Bend - La Pine district to be placed on lockdown for the remainder of the day. Another 18-year-old boy was suspended from Malisca High School and forbidden to return until he completed and passed a psychiatric exam for expressing an even more severe threat. While listening to radio reports on the shooting in his third period art class, he exclaimed to fellow students, “That’s what I would do, man! Just shoot everyone!”