The Spark that Started School Shootings

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The year of 2018 had the worst record for school shootings. There were 94 school shootings and fifty-five deaths in just that year (Lopez, 1). Where did this all begin? It all started on April 20, 1999 at Columbine High School when two seniors boys went to their school with guns and started shooting (Thomas, 1). Although the Columbine Shooting affected many lives for the worse, it helped schools and the police learn how to better respond in situations like that (Pearl Harbor, 1). The shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, took violence to a whole new level and unknowingly sparked a wave of other school shootings (Thomas, 1).

At 11:14, April 20, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris walked into the school cafeteria and set down their duffel bags. Inside those duffel bags were propane bombs that were wired to go off at 11:17. Klebold and Harris then went back outside to the parking lot, waiting for the bombs to detonate. When the bombs didn’t go off as planned, they started the shooting (Gimpel, 24). At 11:19, they headed towards the West Entrance of the school; the entrance that leads to the library, which is right above the cafeteria (Attack, 1). Rachel Scott and Richard Castaldo, who were eating lunch outside near the entrance, were both shot. Rachel was killed and Richard seriously injured. Harris and Klebold then shot three students walking up the stairs. Of these three students, Daniel Rohrbough was killed. When they reached the top of the stairs to the entrance, Harris and Klebold shot at some students on the soccer field, hitting and wounding two (Attack, 1). Anne Hochhalter was also hit by Harris as she ran inside trying to escape. Harris and Klebold were then approached by Patti Nielson, a teacher who came to tell the boys to stop their nonsense. She had misunderstood the situation and thought that they had toy guns. Brian Anderson was with Patti and was trying to escape as he was instructed to do by another teacher. When Patti and Brian reached the doors, they were both shot. They then ran into the library, where Patti called 911 (Gimpel, 29).

The school deputy was alerted and told that he was needed in the south parking lot. He was told that a woman was down and assumed someone had been hit by a car. When the deputy arrived, he and Harris exchanged shots, but no one was hit (Attack, 1). Klebold and Harris then entered the building, looking for more people to shoot. Inside, Sanders, a teacher, had been telling students to leave school out of the opposite entrance. At 11:26, Klebold and Harris met Sanders in the halls and shot him. He later bled to death (Gimpel, 30). Then, at 11:29, Harris and Klebold entered the library. Inside the library Harris taunted, “All jocks stand up!” In just seven minutes they killed ten of their fellow classmates. They also shot from the windows at police who had arrived and at the students who were fleeing. The boys then left the library at 11:36 and wandered the halls to look for more students. At 11:44, Klebold and Harris went to the cafeteria and tried to make the propane bombs go off. After wandering the halls and realizing they found no more pleasure in killing, Klebold and Harris took their own lives at 12:08.

The shooting was finally over (Attack, 1). It was only after the shooting that the police investigated and figured out their plan. Klebold and Harris spent most of their time planning the shooting. Their first plan of action was to set a bomb in a field three miles south of the high school. The bomb was put there to distract emergency personnel. The bomb only partially detonated and was put out quickly by the fire department (Background, 1). They also planned to put two 20 pound propane bombs in the cafeteria at about 11:09. They then planned to go back to their cars and wait for them to go off at 11:17 (Gimpel, 24). If the bombs had gone off, the bombs would have killed up to 600 students and could’ve potentially made the ceiling collapse, killing more students (Cullen, 1). In their cars, more bombs were set to go off at 11:18. These bombs were set with the purpose of killing any fleeing students, news reporters, and emergency personnel. They also planned to wait outside the school with guns, shooting everyone trying to flee (Gimpel, 22). Evidence in videos that Klebold and Harris recorded of themselves show that they had knives, guns, cans full of gunpowder, and over 100 bombs (Kohn,1).

In journals that have been found, Harris and Klebold wrote that their attack would rival the Oklahoma City Bombing, which took place on April 19, four years earlier. It is thought that they planned it so close to its anniversary so that they could make that bombing look small and insignificant compared to their attack. It is also thought that they planned it for the 110th birthday of Hitler (Gimpel, 14). While the boys may have planned the shooting around this time on purpose, each one had a different psychological motive for taking part in the shooting. Some people mistakenly think that Dylan and Eric planned the shooting so that they could pay back fellow classmates that bullied them. Other people yet think that the shooting is just unexplainable.

Both of these conclusions are wrong. Each of the shooters had different reasons why they did it. Dylan was depressed and had suicidal thoughts. He was hot headed and blamed himself for his problems (Cullen, 1). Eric, on the other hand, was a psychopath. He was deceitful and violent even though he never showed it. He sought revenge on the whole world and wanted to hurt people. Some people think that because he was a psychopath, his actions should be excused. But it is not an excuse for what he did. He knew exactly what he was doing (Cullen, 1). “Klebold was hurting inside while Harris wanted to hurt people,” said Fuselier, a psychologist who investigated the case. While Klebold blamed himself for all of the problems in his life, Harris wanted to hurt everybody in the world and show them how much power he had. One incident in 1998 shows just how deceitful Harris was. Harris and Klebold were caught trying to steal tools and other equipment from a van. They were both required to attend certain counselling sessions. Harris later wrote a letter to the owner of the van apologizing for what he had done.

But at the same time, Harris wrote in diary that he should’ve had the right to steal from the van if the man left it lying around. He also wrote that the man should’ve been shot (Cullen, 1). Because of both of the boys’ problems, they made a “good” team. “Cold calculating Harris calmed down Klebold when he got hot-tempered. At the same time, Klebold’s fits of rage served as the stimulation Harris needed.” When Klebold’s anger came to the surface Harris would keep him calm while at the same time enjoying his need for violence. Both of them fed off of each other. Psychologists have also come to the conclusion that Harris was the mastermind. Most psychopaths end up as serial killers, but because of Klebold, he restrained himself for a long time, before they went into action. Klebold couldn’t have pulled it off by himself. If Columbine hadn’t happened and Klebold had received help, he may have gone on to lead a normal life and never committed the atrocity that has drastically changed many people's lives today (Cullen, 1). One of the many students whose life was changed forever is Anne Hochhalter. A bullet that hit her back left her paralyzed from the waist down. Another bullet in her arm caused severe nerve damage.

She had to relearn how to do many tasks because of the loss of the use of her legs (Dawson, 1). She also had to learn how to deal with seeing many other shooting happening later. Anne’s memories of the shooting are triggered by seeing pictures and hearing sounds from other shootings (Jackson, 1). Even though her life was drastically changed, she has chosen to forgive both Eric and Dylan. She posted a letter to the Klebolds facebook stating that she has forgiven them (Dawson, 1). Heather Martin and Missy Mendo are two other people who were also affected greatly by the shooting, even though neither of them were physically hurt in the attack. During the shooting, Heather was in a room hiding. The whole time she and the other students were hiding the fire alarm was going off. To this day, her memories are still triggered whenever she hears a fire alarm. After the 2012 Aurora theater shooting, Heather started a survivor’s support group called the Rebels Project. Missy’s life was also changed by the shooting. The Las Vegas shooting was a big emotional setback for her. Missy now works as a volunteer for the Rebels Project (Jackson, 1). Rachel Scott was the first victim killed in the shooting. Rachel’s brother had a hard time dealing with his anger after the shooting. About a year after the shooting, Craig visited Africa and talked to a man who lost 17 of his family members in a Rwandan genocide. Craig said that the man told him that “forgiveness is like setting a prisoner free and finding out that prisoner is you.”

Craig learned to let go of his anger and move on with his life. He and his family later started a program called Rachel’s Challenge. The main focus of their program is to teach forgiveness. Rachel’s family goes across the country speaking to people about forgiveness and compassion and have reached more than 22 million students (Jackson, 1). Someone else greatly affected by the shooting is Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan. Many people blame her and the other parents of the shooters for the shooting. Sue has had to deal with the accusations that the attack was partly her fault. But Sue is sorry that the shooting ever had to happen. She said that she would even give her own life to reverse what happened on that horrible day. Sue says that it is hard to know that if she had just known what signs to look for that everything could’ve been different. She struggles to share her story with others, but does it so that people can see the signs of depression in their children before it is too late to help them. She helps with mental health awareness, research, and suicide prevention. She wrote a book called “A Mother’s Reckoning” to share her story with others. After all the necessary expenses were covered all of the rest of the profits went towards Mental Health America, National Alliance on Mental Illness, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Association of Suicidology, and Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (A Mother’s Reckoning,1).

Although the attack had disastrous effects on certain people's lives, it helped the police to know how to better learn how to respond in those types of situations. The public was outraged by videos showing the police sitting in the parking while people were being hurt inside. At the time, police were supposed to respond to situations like shootings by setting up a perimeter, feeding intel, and then waiting for SWAT teams to show up. The police at Columbine did exactly as they were trained to do. After the attack police were trained to enter high risk situations ('Pearl Harbor’, 1). School protocol also changed after the attack. Many schools started requiring students to wear school uniforms. They also installed metal detectors and security cameras. Some schools even require students to bring clear backpacks to school ('Pearl Harbor', 1). Schools also started practicing lockdown drills and other similar drills in which SWAT teams actually came in to practice what would happen in a real situation (Sutter, 1). The attack also changed society as a whole.

Although all of the guns Klebold and Harris had were acquired illegally, many people started standing up for tougher gun control laws. Many organizations and foundations have been started to help prevent school shootings from happening (Jackson, 1). Others promote mental health awareness, hoping that parents will be able to recognize the signs in their children so that what happened to Dylan can be stopped (A Mother’s Reckoning, 1). The attack helped to change police and school protocol, and in turn helped to protect the public. Although this traumatic incident has disastrous effects on many people’s lives, it helped the police and schools learn how to better respond to these attacks (Jackson, 1) (‘Pearl Harbor’, 1). It also made the public realize how horrible these attacks are and made them stand up against gun violence and for tougher gun control. Shootings such as Columbine bring to attention the safety of the students to the parents, administration of the schools, and the general public.

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The Spark That Started School Shootings. (2020, Aug 20). Retrieved December 1, 2023 , from

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