Exactly 10 years ago on Monday, the world woke up to learn that two more unhinged American teenage misfits had snapped after years of bullying at the hands of the "jocks", the sporting overlords of their universe, and gone on a murderous rampage with semi-automatic weapons through their suburban high school.
Or that's the version we were told, anyway.
The teenagers were called Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and their school was Columbine High, an idyllic sounding place nestled between the Denver metropolitan area and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. What is indisputable is that Columbine quickly became a byword for the nightmarish phenomenon - now seemingly a worldwide contagion - of school shootings. It was the bloodiest, creepiest, most vivid school attack anyone at the time could remember and remains, to this day, the episode the American popular imagination just can't seem to shake.
Harris and Klebold did not just gun down their victims in cold blood. They laughed and hollered while they were doing it, as though they were having the time of their lives.In contrast to previous American school shootings, which had unfolded in hard-to-reach locales such as West Paducah, Kentucky, or Jonesboro, Arkansas, this one happened half an hour's drive from a major media hub. Denver television crews got there while the horrors were unfolding, and the cameras did not stop rolling for a week.
So starts Andrew Gumbel's Guardian article The Truth About Columbine in the Friday paper. In the article he discusses the role of the media, the echo-chamber that established the mythology, and the more and less horrible truth about what actually happened that day 10 years ago.
The stand-off? Didn't happen. The shooting was the SWAT team moving through the building looking for Harris and Klebold--who were long-dead and lying in the cafeteria. Cassie Bernall, asked if she believed in God and was shot when she said "yes"? Just shot. Another girl, Valeen Schnurr, asked if she believed in God, said "yes" and was spared. And the boys as Marilyn Manson-worshipping losers? Not so. Reasonably popular, the boys didn't listen to Manson at all. Really, an article worth reading. And then think about media complicity,our complicity, in generating myths instead of dealing with what really happened.
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