Doom Rules

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Yet Rohrbough, too, believes that the district has been expending more energy on ducking criticism than on making positive changes in response to the shootings. He points to the emotional issue of whether to reopen the Columbine library, where ten victims died. The district had drawn up plans for some minor changes in the site and was preparing to show them to the public when victims' families protested; the question of what to do with the library remains on hold.

"The decision of what to do with that location should be left up to the parents whose kids were murdered or wounded there," Rohrbough says. "But this was like everything else they've done. They've left the parents out of the process."

Columbine students are feeling left out, too. Security at Chatfield during the final weeks of classes was so airtight that some students scribbled "Chatfield Prison" on their IDs and grumbled about being treated like cattle. Students have only minimal representation on Lee's task force, and that's alarming to those who see the proposed crackdown as a threat to their privacy and their rights of free expression. Some fear that Columbine could become a more hostile environment than it ever was before.

"We hardly have a voice on this task force, and we're going to have to endure this, not them," says Sarah Bay. "This is mostly for the parents to feel safe, not for us. I know people who are afraid of going back to school because of the way they're going to be treated."

More than any survey or research study, the tragedy at Columbine has exposed the uneasy gulf between parents and their children in middle America. Anonymous tip lines, monitoring of reading materials and other traditional tools of the thought police are being pressed into service as parents seek to find a way into a secret world of adolescence they no longer recognize.

"They ought to be focusing on kids who are violent, not just different," says one goth sophomore, who asked that her name not be used. "I may go to school in my black lipstick, and the people in the halls part like the Red Sea. But I've never physically threatened anyone in that school. Why should I be singled out?"

Today you are the poster boys of Satan, leading examples of gun craziness, symbols of the virus racing through our blood-soaked culture. You made the cover of Time as "The Monsters Next Door."

But your moment of infamy is passing. Tomorrow it will be someone else. A racist in Illinois. A handyman in California. A day trader in Georgia.

Your legacy is fear and grief and nightmares. Parents in mourning. A brave teacher slain as he sought to save kids. Young lives cut short. Others scarred and savaged by the attack, some trapped in bodies that no longer work right.

It is all so horrific that some people would like to erase all trace of you, dreading that you will attain cult status--especially in cyberspace, where there is something for everyone. Yet it seems best to remember your cruelty as proof of what raw-boned boys can do when they put their damaged minds to it. People may loathe you or forgive you, attempt to explain you or dismiss you, but the cruelty is a revelation to us all.

How to honor the people you murdered and injured has become a matter of paramount importance. It has sparked an outpouring of compassion and financial help and a ring of Web sites pledged to "Remember Forever." Some of the tributes are tacky. Some celebrate the dead as heroes and martyrs. These are easy labels that those who knew them best have resisted--not just because, like all of us, they led imperfect lives, but because they deserve to be remembered for who they were, not simply as victims.

Something to remember: They were at school that day because that was where they went to learn and work and grow. Until the moment you arrived, they relied on the kind of unwritten contract that makes civilization possible. They thought that their school was safe, that adults knew how to deal with injustice and violence in their midst.

They were under the impression that, whatever accommodations they had to make to get along at Columbine, the rules didn't include mass murder.

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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