Columbine Study Questions

The eighth anniversary of the Columbine shootings is rapidly approaching. So is the moment of decision for U.S. District Judge Lewis Babcock, who plans to rule on the fate of a trove of court-sealed documents dealing with the massacre's last remaining secrets.

The materials include medical and psychiatric information about gunmen Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, depositions of the killers' parents, and more. Babcock has suggested he might shitcan the whole package — which is what the Klebold and Harris families have sought — or pass it along under seal to the National Archives and Records Administration, where it would gather mold on a shelf for the next couple of decades and might eventually be destroyed. Several parents of teens killed at Columbine, as well as survivors such as Mark Taylor (see his story here ), want the stuff studied and made public.

Key arguments in favor of releasing Columbine's darkest lore were explored here . Recently, Babcock announced he's decided to read the documents before making his ruling.

Good idea. Here are some study questions the judge can use to test his reading comprehension as he plows through the assignment:

1. Who were Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and what were their families really like?

2. What level of supervision is required for two high-school kids to assemble homemade napalm, pipe bombs, propane tanks equipped with timers, semi-automatic guns, knives and assorted other weapons, explosive devices, and instruments of death and mayhem, right under their adoring parents' roofs?

3. Exactly how many times did law enforcement officers visit the Harris home to discuss possible criminal acts by Eric prior to April 20, 1999, and what did Wayne and Kathy Harris do as a result of those visits?

4. How many advanced degrees does it take for a mental health professional to recognize a potential public safety risk in an adolescent client who claims to be homicidal and suicidal? Does the type of insurance the client has affect the outcome of the case?

5. What effect did various outside interventions — including the Jefferson County juvenile diversion program, the aforementioned police contacts, calls from school officials, and other hush-hush contacts between the families and local authorities — have on the presumably "tough love" offered to the two boys by their parents?

6. If, as has been suggested, the environment in the two homes was quite different, why was the outcome the same?

The answers might be textbook, or maybe not. The only thing that's certain is that they can be found in the documents in question. We've been waiting eight years to hear them, and maybe Judge Babcock thinks we ought to wait until the day after never. But this is the kind of information that can shed light on the worst high school shooting in American history and could well help prevent other tragedies.

Which is a pretty good reason for keeping it around. —Alan Prendergast

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun