We would be better off as a country with a longer discussion about the ‘Columbiner’ subculture, and how to prevent teenagers and other young people from falling under its sway.
Yesterday’s shooting at the STEM school in Highlands Ranch, Colo. — only a few miles from Columbine high school — involved two shooters, which is rare in school shootings. The school will be closed for the rest of the week and other schools in the area are adding additional security.
This comes just a few weeks after parents in the area awoke to warnings that an armed 18-year-old woman with an infatuation with the massacre had flown across the country to Colorado; she later was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. And this year marked the 20th anniversary of the Columbine shooting; the date fell on a Saturday with the community marking its third annual “Day of Service” and other events to remember that awful day.
Columbine wasn’t just a massacre; it was a form of ideation, and it cracked open some barrier that made the unthinkable thinkable for many disturbed, deeply troubled, and angry individuals. Some family members of the victims are still getting harassed, two decades later:
Coni Sanders’ father Dave Sanders was the only teacher killed at Columbine.
To this day, Sanders still gets bombarded with messages from what she calls “Columbiners,” people obsessed with every last detail of the massacre that took her father.
“There are hundreds of social media accounts claiming to be the killers,” Sanders said. “Worse, some claim to be my dad.”
Maybe you love more background checks for gun purchases, maybe you don’t, but either way, background checks for gun purchases won’t solve the problem of angry, emotionally unstable young people developing an obsession about Columbine. And when a teenager starts getting obsessed about Columbine, the odds of him attempting a school shooting increase dramatically:
“The phenomenon is feeding on itself,” said Peter Langman, a psychologist who is the author of “Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters” and who runs the website SchoolShooters.info. “It’s gaining momentum, and the more there are, the more there will be.”
Mr. Langman has created a mass-shooter diagram tracking the influence Columbine has had on more than 30 other rampage attacks at schools and elsewhere, from California to Germany. The diagram resembles a corporate flowchart, with lines branching out and intersecting, but all of them flowing out of two names: the Columbine killers.
In the past, we’ve seen past moral panics about cultural factors that are only tangentially related to teen violence — heavy-metal music, Dungeons and Dragons, violent movies, and video games. But the Columbiner subculture is explicitly about school shootings, and almost always portrays mass murder as a form of justice or retribution. If law enforcement monitors jihadist and other extremist groups that have potential for mass-casualty attacks, they should be monitoring this one.
God bless everyone living in the Columbine and its surrounding communities. They just want to live their lives in peace, not be forced into the role of someone else’s symbol.