COLUMBINE: A Dark Anniversary
Between 'The Matrix' and 'The Wild Bunch.'
When it happened on April 20, 1999, the events that unfolded at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO immediately shook the nation. Two students dressed in trench coats and armed with shotguns walked into their school and opened fire. Though the two members of the so-called “Trenchcoat Mafia” killed 13 of their fellow students, their plan was not as successful as they had hoped. It had been their intention to blow up the cafeteria while most of the student body was at lunch, however, their homemade bombs did not go off. The two gunmen had planned to die after their massacre, and though they did not get to steal a plan and crash it as they had wanted to do, they were killed.
The two students’ names will never be mentioned here because they do not deserve a moment of recognition for their horrible acts. I feel terrible for their parents, though, who without a doubt have spent the last 20 years trying to come to terms with how their children could have planned and executed this egregious attack.
In the years since Columbine, there has been no forward action on gun control, politicians continue to offer only “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and their families, and now Columbine doesn’t even rank in the top ten deadliest mass shootings; it used to be number six on that list. The shootings that took place after Columbine are in boldface:
- 58 killed at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, NV on October 1, 2017.
- 49 killed at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, FL on June 12, 2016.
- 32 killed at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA on April 16, 2007.
- 27 killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, including 20 children ages six and seven on December 14, 2012.
- 25 and an unborn child killed at a small church in Sutherland Springs, TX on November 5, 2017.
- 23 killed at Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, TX on October 16, 1991.
- 21 killed at a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, CA on July 18, 1984.
- 18 killed at the University of Texas in Austin, TX on August 1, 1966. This might have been the very first school shooter.
- 17 killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018.
- 14 killed at Inland Regional Center in San Bernadino, CA on December 2, 2015.
- 14 killed at a post office in Edmond, OK on August 20, 1986.
- 13 and an unborn child killed at Fort Hood, TX on November 5, 2009.
- 13 killed at an immigrant community center in Binghamton, NY on April 3, 2009.
- 13 killed at Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, CA on November 7, 2018. The Country Western bar had become a place of refuge for those who had survived the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting the previous year.
- 13 killed at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO on April 20, 1999.
And as I write this article, the schools are closed in Denver, CO as an 18-year-old woman who is “infatuated” by the Columbine shooting is on her way from Florida to Colorado after having bought several one-way airfare tickets to CO. She has also been speaking to several Denver area gun stores about buying guns.
Clearly, the shadow of Columbine looms large, and one can wonder if we will ever be free of it.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting at Columbine, Warner Bros. pulled some of its posters for The Matrix, which had just opened three weeks prior, and showed Keanu Reeves as Neo clad in a cool looking trench coat sporting an array of guns and rifles. At once, pundits wondered if The Matrix caused Columbine, but to suggest so is to willfully ignore the actual reasons it happened and pin the blame on an outside source.
I had just seen Sam Peckinpah’s 1969 movie The Wild Bunch when Columbine happened, and the opening title sequence is one I will forever associate with Columbine specifically and, to a degree, gun culture in general. The scene, which I cannot find in good enough quality to post, features a swarm of fire ants consuming a trio of scorpions as a group of kids look on and laugh. The kids have locked the ants and the scorpions into an arena type of space, and they take turns laughing as they poke the scorpions with a stick, turning the scorpions over so the fire ants can more easily eat them. The opening will serve as a parallel to the final sequence when the Wild Bunch rides into town to rescue a comrade, Angel, who has been taken from them. The bad guys immediately turn the gatling gun onto the Wild Bunch and mow them down, filling their bodies with bullets.
The lesson I took from that first scene, and the later climatic scene, is that of a younger generation (the titular Wild Bunch are a group of hardened, Old West gunslingers) who does not fully understand neither the newer, deadlier technology they have at their disposal, and nor do they appreciate the humanity in their fellow human beings. During the Columbine shooting, it is reported that the two killers were comparing kill ratios the way you might in a video game.
You can read two other takes on the violence of The Wild Bunch here (“The Wild Bunch: blood, bullets and the death of the west”), and here (“The Scorpion and the Ants – A Meditation on The Wild Bunch”).
There is no doubt about it: guns and violence are part of our culture and have been from the very beginning — from Columbus slaughtering the Native Americans, to the gunfights of the Old West, to the mass shootings of today. It seems we are destined to destroy not only ourselves, but others as well.
Is there even a good answer to that question, or is it just the way we are as humans?
“We’re not going to make it, are we?” Young John Connor says to the Terminator in T2.
“It’s in your nature to destroy yourselves,” Terminator replies.
Well, I really hope that’s not true.
Recently, Brooke Baldwin of CNN sat down with a group of Columbine survivors for an interview. It’s a sobering interview that gets into the nature of grief and terror, and how the fear and the stress doesn’t stop when the bullets do. You can see the interview and read the article here: “20 years on, Columbine survivors tell Parkland students: ‘We’re sorry we couldn’t stop it.’”
The parallels between Columbine and MSD are hard not to notice, and they’re terrible.
At 12:59 PM EST, the woman who was on her way to CO was found dead and is no longer a threat, but this incident still serves as a reminder of Columbine specifically, and school shootings (and mass shootings) in general. Is it a gun control issue? Is it a mental health issue? Is it both? How do we as a society handle this in an attempt to insure it doesn’t happen again? New Zealand boldly made any and all types of assault rifle illegal, but America is not New Zealand, and that law could never pass here.
It’s a question for which I do not have an answer to, but I do know this – in order to answer it, it will take from both sides of the gun control issue a willingness to listen to the other. Yes, they will have to talk, but they will have to listen as well. They will have to not interrupt the other, not talk over the other, not shout at the other. They will have to listen.
Also vilified post-Columbine was shock-rocker Marilyn Manson. (Check out this clip from Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine.) His interview with Rolling Stone after Columbine is well worth reading. (Columbine: Whose Fault Is It? In the aftermath of the Colorado school shooting, Marilyn Manson speaks out.) But what really struck me about Marilyn Manson in Bowling for Columbine is the moment when Michael Moore asks Manson what he would say to the students of Columbine and the people of the community. Manson says simply, “I wouldn’t say a single word to them. I would listen to what they have to say. And that’s what no one did.”
And it is exactly the only thing that will help us out of this situation:
Even with the woman found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the Denver area police are hesitant to give an all clear until they can be sure the woman was acting alone.
Here are the names of those who were killed at Columbine (because they deserve to be mentioned), and since they share a terrible connection, here are the names of those killed at MSD, too.
- Cassie Bernall, 17
- Steven Curnow, 14
- Corey DePooter, 17
- Kelly Fleming, 16
- Matthew Kechter, 16
- Daniel Mauser, 15
- Daniel Rohrbough, 15
- William “Dave” Sanders, 47
- Rachel Scott, 17
- Isaiah Shoels, 18
- John Tomlin, 16
- Lauren Townsend, 18
- Kyle Velasquez, 16
- Alyssa Alhadeff, 14.
- Scott Beigel, 35.
- Martin Duque, 14.
- Nicholas Dworet, 17.
- Aaron Feis, 37.
- Jaime Guttenberg, 14.
- Chris Hixon, 49.
- Luke Hoyer, 15.
- Cara Loughran, 14.
- Gina Montalto, 14.
- Joaquin Oliver, 17.
- Alaina Petty, 14.
- Meadow Pollack, 18.
- Helena Ramsay, 17.
- Alex Schachter, 14.
- Carmen Schentrup, 16.
- Peter Wang, 15.