First learning of Columbine campus with television coverage. My take on what I saw.
It was a long drive from Southeast Georgia to Vermont. Tired and out of touch, I just wanted to catch the news. I saw a young girl identified as Bree Pasquale, sobbing, telling an unbelievable story, and I thought it was news from Kosovo.
Her father was close behind with fear and grief on his face as she raced to say: "I told him 'don't kill me. Please don't kill me. I have a family, I have a fiance,' and then he shot the girl next to me," all in one clip before giving in to sobs. She wore a ring through her pierced eyebrow and many earrings lined the outer shell of her ears. What was this story about? I wondered.
I'm sorry now that my immediate reaction was so critical, but my prejudice against body piercing is strong and I'll admit, I rushed to judgment. This girl was the victim. What will the killers look like? I didn't have to wait long to see clean-cut and smiling boys on one side of a split-screen while the other side showed bodies beneath the capable hands of horrified paramedics. These all-American kids, neither high on drugs nor low on alcohol, with no body piercings or home-made tattoos, had just committed the worst school shooting in history and did it calmly ... with joy aforethought.
My turnaround was swift. Watching interviews from the school grounds, I heard teens articulate the morning's devastation with eloquence, stage presence and ... if you will ... grace under fire. I noticed many with ears pierced to the point I'd call mutilation, yet they spoke of the courage in fellow students and teachers who, though wounded, reached out to help others. At a makeshift shrine this first night of the massacre, many hands folded in prayer had rings on every finger. Some fingernails were polished blue. In a personal little rite of passage I realized how unimportant these things are.
It's just a matter of style when your internal clock strikes 13. Like the mother in Littleton who sewed her daughter's Goth costume, I once washed my son's jeans every night so he could wear them more worn and torn the next day. Hems ragged edges became worse as the extra-long bell-bottoms dragged through the dirt, gravel and asphalt. When they were new, we soaked them and slammed them against a brick wall to make them old.
It was the style. It was cool. Soon, the GAP mass produced torn ragged jeans but teens want to set their own style, not find it on the shelf. You can expect Goth dresses on the racks at Sears any day now. They look bad. And, as for long, black trench coats, well, just wait and see. Bad is in. The sale of white Ford Broncos soared after the O.J. Simpson chase.
Classmates spoke in many interviews of playing soccer together in early grades and these were nice kids ...then. No one saw the subtle changes, at least not until last year when Erik's plans surfaced. The police were made fully aware of his devious plots but didn't have anything to arrest him for, nor charge him with. And, who would think........?
Media coverage came under fire. There was a school shooting in Taber, Alberta, Canada a week after Littleton's. A student armed with a semi-automatic rifle shot two highschool juniors, one fatally. Peter Menzies writing from the scene for the Herald, quotes Dr. Paul Hasselback of the Chinook Health region as saying:
"Media coverage is known as a potential contributor to copy cat behavior," alluding to the speculation that the shooting was influenced by the slaughter at Columbine. Menzies further reports the general feeling at the scene was when this is over, and the satellite trucks have been sent to the next cataclysm, we will be left to ask what the media contribution was.
Columnist Ellen Goodman asked the question: "What are we going to do about it?" Answering it, she wrote: "There is no one thing. There is everything."
While we examine possibilities of why some people go berserk, let's examine why the overwhelming majority do not. Let's look again at Columbine High School's student body, easily representing America's best and brightest. These are who we are and who we will be.
Columbine's Principal, Frank DiAngelis, told his students: "we're all hurting, it's a situation I wish I could tell you it was going to go away and time was going to heal all, but it's not."
During uninterrupted coverage of the Open Air Memorial in Littleton, CNN's cameras spanned the flower covered fence where banners flew and teddy bears nestled among cards, hearts, crosses and balloons. Reporting live from the scene, Martin Savidge observed that "people make their way to the memorial site, not to gawk, but to find understanding. Then, they seem to walk away with more than they came with."
High School senior Amber Burgess, eloquently, reverently, eulogized her best friend Cassie Bernall. She used the words martyr and angel quite appropriately for young Cassie who strongly declared: "Yes, I believe in God," before being killed for that belief. Amber continued her remarks without pause, praising the goodness of Cassie, Steven, Corey, Matt, Danny, Kyle, Rachel, Isaiah, John, Lauren, Daniel, Kelly and her coach, William Sanders. Before leaving the podium, she led 70,000 mourners in a cheer acknowledging they have the stuff to carry on. "We are Columbine, we are Columbine, we are Columbine."
I was so taken with her that I didn't even notice her many earrings. Having listened to her, I'm confident all those fad piercings will close up before her first resume is sent out, fading away, leaving no scars. Her pierced heart, though, is another story. That scar is a keeper.
I watched the memorial for the same reason the mourners traipsed along the wall of flowers -- asking questions, seeking answers, and coming away with more than I went for.