Longform

Doom Rules

Page 13 of 14

Ron Aigner, the man who's proposed building a fifteen-story memorial to the victims in the shape of a cross on land he owns within Roxborough State Park, complains to a Westword reporter about a recent illustration on the cover of the newspaper depicting a tennis player with horns. "You represent the devil," he says.

Schweitzberger has his own plans for a memorial at the school's back door. A former Denver mayoral candidate, Littleton real-estate investor and a Columbine parent--his sixteen-year-old daughter, Sara, escaped unharmed on April 20--he's vowed to devote the next year of his life to raising funds to help the victims' families and to erect a permanent shrine on Rebel Hill, the mound in Clement Park across from the school where thousands paid their respects in the weeks after the massacre. His plans call for a single cross and a visitors' center in the shape of a Columbine ribbon. So far, though, his efforts to purchase the hill from the county have met with a less than enthusiastic response from local officials.

"I moved out of Denver because I was tired of the city council," he says, "and now it's the same thing--people with attitudes who won't even give me a call."

Like a lot of conservatives stirred to action by the massacre, Schweitzberger sees the violence of April 20 as symptomatic of a larger breakdown in social values rather than a reflection of the bully-boy jock culture at Columbine. "The two killers had a perfectly good coach available, Coach Sanders," he says. "They chose Coach Hitler. We've been preaching tolerance. Why should we have to tolerate something like that?

"From what I know, the school was doing its job. But you take a little poison from Howard Stern and a little violence from Jerry Springer and this stuff on the Internet--I'm not for censorship, but how much of this are we supposed to take? Sure, there ought to be some local heroes who aren't capable of throwing the ball sixty yards. But how do you pick Adolf Hitler as a role model?"

The killings, he believes, are a watershed event that will prompt parents and students nationwide to become more involved in shaping the values of their schools. "We are no longer Generation X or Y," Schweitzberger declares. "We are the Columbine Generation, people of all ages who will not apologize for our faith, who will pay more attention to what's going on in the schools. Whenever a Columbine student has something to say for the next three years, the class that my daughter is in, the world will tune in."

Yet there seems to be little consensus within the community about how to stem the plague of school violence. Some grassroots groups are pushing gun legislation; others want increased security, a battery of checkpoints to protect students from enemies foreign and domestic; still others promote hug-a-thons and diversity clubs as ways to defuse hatred before it explodes. The school district has moved cautiously, tightening security policies--for example, allowing staffers to "interrogate" students without a parental presence if parents can't be reached--while denying that the moves have anything to do with the massacre.

A community task force has devised a bolder set of recommendations for Jeffco schools, but several of the more sweeping proposals, including a strict dress code ("underwear may not show...no camouflage") and closed campuses, have been greeted with skepticism by many of the group's own members. (At one recent meeting of the task force, Principal DeAngelis pointed out that Columbine couldn't close its campus and still feed all of its 1,900 students without extending the school day substantially.)

"I'm hearing from the schools [an emphasis on] 'tolerance and inclusiveness,' and I'm hearing from the parents 'character and respect,'" says Don Lee, the state legislator who organized the task force. "There seems to be a philosophical difference there."

Some parents believe that the Jefferson County school district, the largest in the state and one of the largest in the country, is simply too unwieldy and bureaucratic to be responsive to their concerns. Randy Brown, who recently called on the school board to resign, would like to see the district dissolved into several smaller, more locally accountable agencies.

"The bureaucracy doesn't bend, and apathetic parents like me let them get away with it," he says. "You want to stop the public anger over this, so you break into eighty committees and have them do nothing until things quiet down."

Brian Rohrbough supports some of the measures that have been discussed, such as an anonymous tip line for students. "The kids need to have some kind of board of independent parents that they can contact when they see things going on that shouldn't happen," he says. "There has to be some way for accountability to take place."

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast