More Messages: Back to School

If there was any doubt about the continuing resonance of Columbine on this planet of ours, it was quickly quashed by the call made to Westword as the Platte Canyon High School hostage drama was unfolding yesterday. The person on the other end of the line was a representative from a radio station in New Zealand, who wanted someone/anyone from Colorado to go on the air and talk about community reaction to the situation at a time when shock and confusion were the only identifiable responses. And New Zealand wasn't the only country that reached out. A staffer from a media outlet in Toronto phoned a short time later with pretty much the same request.

This degree of interest was hardly surprising. After all, the helicopter-shot footage of students fleeing from a Colorado high school couldn't help but push the same buttons in viewers across the globe as it did for locals. But as we're learning, the situations had little in common with Columbine. Duane Morrison wasn't a disgruntled student seeking vengence against fellow classmates, but a 53-year-old creep who was recently in custody in Jefferson County (the mug shot seen here was snapped in July) and reportedly compounded the trauma of kidnapping with sexual assault. These elements, not to mention the tragic death of student Emily Keyes after a SWAT team burst into the classroom where Morrison had holed up, would have gotten some national attention, at least. But the shadow cast by Columbine lifted the incident to another level. Headline News ghoul Nancy Grace sunk her teeth into the tale like Bill Clinton went after Chris Wallace, CNN and Fox News instantly made it the main stories on their home pages, and the three major network morning shows all led with it this a.m. Student Cassidy Grigg was the main student making the rounds; those who want to see his conversation with new Today hostess Meredith Vieira (and are willing to sit through a commercial for Listerine Whitening Pre-Brush Rinse beforehand) can do so by clicking here.

The city is unlikely to be inundated with national and international correspondents flying on one-way tickets; fortunately, the body count wasn't high enough to justify agencies setting up camp. For the foreseeable future, however, any violence in a Colorado school is sure to spur another round of long-distance dialing, and long-distance voyeurism. That's yet another sorry legacy of Columbine. -- Michael Roberts

Update: Now we know why Cassidy Grigg, mentioned above, wasn't too traumatized to appear on every national news program that would have him. In this Rocky Mountain News article, Cassidy's mother, Lorena, reveals that he lied about being ordered away at gunpoint by shooter Duane Morrison because he "wanted to be a hero" -- which is precisely what Meredith Vieira called him on Today.

A startling turn of events? Hardly. Rather, it's a devastating comment on the effects of media lust in the U.S. of A. -- MR

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts