Doom Rules

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Blasted from all sides, the school district is now trying to appease both the no-more-intolerance and the too-much-tolerance factions. They're scrambling to "bullyproof" the schools and provide what Kaufman calls "diversity-type training" for athletes and their coaches and at the same time vowing to purge the schools of disruptive elements. To date, their efforts have failed to impress their critics. "This isn't a question of love and understanding and everyone will get along," says Rohrbough. "This is a question about what are the boundaries and what happens when you cross them."

To find an effective cure, though, one must first have a grasp of the disease. Many of the proposals kicked around by the school board and a community task force formed in response to the shootings seem to derive from popular impressions of "what went wrong" at Columbine, with little effort to separate fact from media myth. Yet much of what we think we know about Columbine, much of what was reported in the frantic first days of coverage and repeated endlessly since, is wrong. It's a product of overreaching and often sloppy reporting, hysterical and sometimes unreliable sources, misinformation from official sources, or just plain tabloid luridness. Examples:

* Hours after the onslaught began, an ace investigative reporter at Channel 9/KUSA announced that the Trenchcoat Mafia was a tight-knit "hate group" with national ties.

* The day after the killings, the Washington Times reported that Klebold and Harris "admired the Gothic scene and Satan worship, sometimes donning makeup in the style of one of their heroes, shock rock star Marilyn Manson. Sometimes they wore swastikas."

* Two days later, building on a sketchy report in the Denver Post, the New York Post announced that the killers "rehearsed their rampage in a morbid video they made for school," in which a trenchcoated Harris and Klebold pretended to shoot jocks.

* Just a couple of weeks ago, the Denver Rocky Mountain News reiterated that during the massacre, "Klebold and Harris said they were targeting athletes because they felt they ruled student life and needed to be brought down."

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. And wrong.
Klebold and Harris were not leaders of a close-knit hate group known as the Trenchcoat Mafia. They didn't make videos of themselves roaming the hallways of Columbine, shooting jocks. They didn't openly sport swastikas, and such attire would hardly have been permitted in their homes--Eric's father, Wayne Harris, is an Air Force veteran, and Dylan's mother, Susan, is Jewish. The boys' allegiance was to the German techno-rock band Rammstein, not Marilyn Manson or the goth scene. And while eyewitness accounts do indicate they made remarks about jocks during their killing spree, it's hard to credit the notion that they were targeting anyone in particular on their apocalyptic suicide mission, which investigators believe was supposed to end with a fireball consuming hundreds of lives.

The carnage of April 20 is not a simple parable of humiliation and revenge, nor is it a cautionary tale of a permissive society gone mad. The mass homicide may have more to do with the special culture of Columbine, the world its students inhabited on a daily basis, than school officials will ever acknowledge. The high school that Klebold and Harris sought to destroy was a place of long-simmering resentments and pathology, wrapped in a bright lie of communal achievement and mutual respect. It's a place where teachers and parents were nominally involved but ultimately irrelevant, since adults were easy to fool or ignore. A place where teenagers were encouraged, even badgered, into straitjacketed notions of success, while others plunged into a realm of violent fantasy. A place where, as if by magic, what was considered cool and daring became unspeakably cruel and grotesque.

"People want to find the blame," says parent Victor Good, who knew both killers and their families. "They're not going to find it in any easy place."

Like a lot of gawky freshmen, you wonder where you fit in at school. You are a Columbine Rebel, proud and true, but what does that mean?

You lack your brother's bulk and stature. Three years your senior, Kevin is a tight end on the football team, an A student and a varsity man, popular and easygoing. You're nobody. Larger, more confident Rebels shove past you on the way to class, strutting in their letter jackets and white caps, high on hormones and victory. You used to love baseball, but your interest is waning. This is a problem. At Columbine the jocks rule.

You suspect you are smarter than they are. But so what? Every day you still have to wade through that mass of muscle crowding the hallways--plodding, arrogant, contemptuous. So you rant about it on your computer. "YOU KNOW WHAT I HATE? When there is a group of assholes standing in the middle of a hallway or walkway, and they are just STANDING there talking and blocking my fucking way!!!! Get the fuck outa the way or ill bring a friggin sawed-off shotgun to your house and blow your snotty ass head off!!"

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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