10 Years after Columbine: What have we learned?

April 20, 1999, for educators, students, parents, and most of the nation, will always be known for what became this nation’s fourth deadliest school massacre. On this day, 10 years ago, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, both Columbine High School students in Jefferson County, Colorado, embarked on a massacre, killing 12 students and 1 teacher, wounding 23 others, committing suicide, and forever changing the way this country views high school security and violence. This single action by the two gunmen provoked political and social debate regarding gun violence in teens, gun control laws, the availability of guns in the US, violence in music, film, and video games aimed towards teens, and the ideas of bullying.

The memories etched in American history from that day echo 10 years later. The students of Columbine High school, at the time 14-18 years old, are now in their mid to late twenties with families, careers, hopes and dreams. The memories of that horrific day burned in their psyche for eternity just as the images from Columbine are burned into the psyche of American Culture.

Sadly, those images of the Columbine Massacre were not the last images of school or world tragedy. In the past 10 years, the world has seen the horrors of September 11th, the War in Iraq, the Amish School Shootings, and the Virginia Tech Massacre to name only a few. Have we learned anything from these tragedies and have we learned anything from Columbine?

We have learned the true definition behind a traumatic event. The events compromise the individual’s sense of safety and leave people feeling insecure and vulnerable. These events are uncontrollable and unexpected. With that, we have learned the definition of traumatic stress. Traumatic Stress refers to the emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and physiological experiences of individuals who are exposed to, or who witness, events that overwhelm their coping and problem-solving abilities.

We have learned violence is progressive and gives off many warning signs. These warning signs are often displayed well in advance of an attack. Most attackers are often bullied, ridiculed or shamed. As a result, the attackers become dehumanized and often justify their killings by acts of vengeance against their bullies. Most attempted or had feelings of suicide. Students often notice something is wrong with the attackers before the events. Most of the attackers had access to weapons prior to the events. Most are male and most are socially isolated. We have also learned that this sort of event can happen anywhere, at anytime, to any one.

The one thing we have not learned is how to prevent this from ever happening again. We have learned so much, but there is so much more we need to know.