Hiding in Plain Sight

Are Columbine's remaining secrets too dangerous for the public to know -- or too embarrassing for officials to reveal?

Written only weeks before the massacre, the essay wasn't Klebold's first foray into violent revenge fantasies. He wrote about killing sprees in his own journal, as well as thoughts of suicide, depression and his dream of ascending to a higher state of existence. The sheriff's report provides only brief references to this material, which has been more tightly guarded than the Book of God.

When the sheriff's office finally got around to releasing thousands of pages of Columbine material, a cover sheet for one section was titled "Klebold Writings." But the writings weren't released.

The High Priests

One proposed solution to the question of the killers' tapes and writings, advanced by Ken Salazar before he left the post of Colorado attorney general for the U.S. Senate, was to turn over the materials to a "qualified professional," who would author a study about the causes of Columbine while keeping the primary materials in strict confidence. The proposal soon fell apart, though, after the killers' parents refused to cooperate with Salazar's anointed expert, Del Elliott, director of the University of Colorado's Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence.

It's just as well. The notion that only the high priests of social science are qualified to handle the gunmen's toxic waste, that only the academic elite have the training, the lengthy resumés, the godlike self-awareness to process this information without becoming hopelessly contaminated, is absurdly creepy. It's Kleboldish.

Besides, there's no data to suggest that qualified researchers are any better at keeping a secret than the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. Lack of access to the basement tapes, the Harris and Klebold journals and the green steno book hasn't discouraged amateurs and experts alike from producing "psychological autopsies" of the killers, but there are two researchers who've had unique access to all those items. The only catch is that they can't talk about it.

In the course of defending one of the Columbine lawsuits, Solvay Pharmaceuticals -- the manufacturer of an anti-depressant prescribed for Harris -- retained the services of two expert witnesses, Park Dietz and John March, who were allowed to examine confidential discovery materials, including the tapes and writings seized from the killers' homes. Dietz and March were subject to the same suffocating non-disclosure agreements imposed on parties to the lawsuits against the Klebolds and Harrises. But after the Solvay case was settled, the pair sought permission to publish their findings in a peer-reviewed journal.

Lewis Babcock, chief judge of Denver's federal district court, denied their request. In a scathing order, he pointed out that March and Dietz had made conflicting arguments about why they should be allowed to go public. On the one hand, much of the material had already leaked out; on the other, the pair claimed to have "important scientific evidence of the motives and reasons" for the massacre that had not yet come to light. If the first assertion were true, Babcock reasoned, then the experts' report would be "of no interest to the public" -- but if it contained new information, it could endanger "potential victims of those who might take encouragement" from what it revealed.

In other words, damned if you do, damned if you don't. Babcock was also unconvinced by the idea that the experts were in a better position to grasp the essence of Columbine's remaining mysteries than a layman would be. "The public is equally adept at comprehending the depravity under which Harris and Klebold labored," he wrote.

But the public's adeptness depends on having access to the facts -- not just bits and pieces of the story, but the whole ugly package. That hasn't happened with Columbine. It's been a sorry tale of lies and coverups, of stonewalling, cover-your-butt officials and oblivious parents and suffering without end. Harris and Klebold relied on just such a climate of denial and deception to allow them to plan their massacre and practically advertise it, without fear that they would ever be seen for who they were.

It's been seven years since the pair walked into Columbine for the last time, guns blazing. The world has other monsters on its mind now. Yet there are people who still contend that the words the killers left behind are so powerful, so evil that the average citizen must never hear them.

The truth hurts. But the lies can be lethal.

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