Tuesday, June 02, 2009


I grew up in Colorado, in a suburb of Denver. My parents and I went to church about 3 miles from my house, in yet another suburb. That church was and is 2.5 miles as the crow flies from Columbine High School. When I was in high school in the late 70s and early 80s, many of the other teens at my church went to school at Columbine.

So, on April 19 20, 1999, I watched with the same profound shock and horror as the rest of the country as two boys destroyed any shards of any feeling of safety we had left about our country's schools. The acrid icing on that poisonous cake was that I knew alumni, I knew the community, I knew the places the national media was talking about: Swedish Medical Center (I was a candystriper there), Clement Park (teen hangout), Ken Caryl Ranch (lots of our church members lived there), and so on.

Knowing the area, of course, didn't make the event any more comprehensible. The explanations that the media quickly began to promote didn't make a lot of sense either. And that school's architecture is forever etched in my brain as a building I don't want to be near. Ever.

In 2001, we went to visit my family (who now live elsewhere in Colorado) and stopped in Denver for a couple of days. One of those days was a Sunday, so we went back to "my" church. There were a few discrete items in the building and moments during the service where the presence of the killings loomed large, even two years later.

The next day, we went to visit all the family graves (most of my family is in two large cemeteries on different sides of the city). As we drove through the cemetery looking for my father's burial site, we slowly approached 13 crosses standing in an "island" in the roadway. My father's resting place is about 25 feet from the official memorial for the Columbine victims. I believe those crosses were wooden at that time. They have since been replaced by 8'-tall black granite crosses. (If you watch the virtual tour here, you'll see the crosses at the end, briefly.)

Aside: my father built the original mortuary at this cemetery in the mid-1960s. He was paid, at least in part, in kind: four burial plots.

ANYWAY. I'm reading the book pictured here--Dave Cullen's "Columbine." It is very detailed, easy to read...and I've been trying hard not to read it at bedtime so that it doesn't affect my dreams too much.

I am about 2/3 through the book. I may have to stop reading it. I spent part of today compulsively Googling factoids, drawings, schematics, and photos since the book itself is all text. And I came across a photo today that I never should have embiggened. I knew when I saw it small that clicking on it would be a bad idea. And I watched my hand as the index finger banged down on the left mouse button anyway. Now I can't get the image out of my head, and it only fueled my compulsion to do more research.

I know that what I'm looking for is twofold: 1) Why did Harris and Klebold do what they did? and 2) How can I be sure that my son will never, ever, be involved in something like this? I know that reading this book is not going to answer either of those questions. It's the same quandary I had in 1999 immediately after the shootings happened, and after 9/11, and all the other times when I've wanted nothing more than to go far away from the world and protect my son from Everything Bad. The panic will pass. In the meantime, I can't help but look at every passing teenager with the thought "This could be the one. Or that one could be...."

The mission trip in a week--where I'm surrounded by 60 high school kids 24/7--could be fun if I don't get over this tout de suite. Anxiety + paranoia is not a great frame of mind to be in anyway. It makes for difficulty in concentration among other things. There are no answers, and eventually I'll get back to accepting that fact.

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