Columbine: 17 years ago today



April 20, 1999. I remember exactly where I was, exactly what I was doing. My co-worker at US West, Joe Lopez, turned to me and said “hey Sammy, there’s been a shooting at a school down in Littleton.”

“Find out everything you can,” I said. I’ll go tell Marti. Marti was Marti Smith, our VP, and thus began some of the hardest days those of us in Colorado have ever had to confront.

It was also the moment when I realized that North Carolina, the state I grew up in, was no longer home.

This piece – “Columbine and the Power of Symbols” – chronicles my reaction to the events of 4/20/99 as well as the days that followed, as we all tried to make sense of utter senselessness. It’s still one of the three or four best things I have ever written. And it’s still so very hard to read, even after all these years.


  • yes it was a tragedy, that is why we need to allow armed teachers in schools. gun free zones only attract people that want to do harm without any resistance. in the end disarming the population just leaves them susceptible to harm from criminals and crazies. just as prohibition has never worked in any place in this world, gun free zones unless you can check people like when flying or going to court. the cost being prohibitive. there is truly only one person responsible for your protection and it is not the government. interesting though I believe that business and governments that take that privilege away from you are taking on the responsibility to do so and I hope those people hurt or killed will sue for damages. after all if they take away your ability to protect yourself, then it has to lye with those taking that responsibility on themselves. terrible tragedy and the government and the school system should have repaid the individuals involved. the truth is do not show up to a gun fight with just your own body because you will not be able to protect your students and you will not change the out come unless very lucky.

    • You’re kind of a one-trick pony here lately, aren’t you? But okay, I’ll bite. Why stop with teachers? Don’t the students have the right to defend themselves, too?

    • My wife works with special education high school students. In her field, she works with kids who run the gamut from low IQ to emotionally disturbed to “twice exceptional” (aka kids who are off-scale high in one area yet below norm in others) to suicidal to drug-addled. I don’t know about you, Art, but I don’t want students like hers anywhere near a teacher who is carrying. In a school environment, it’ll be pretty obvious to most of the student body within a few days who is packing and who isn’t, and at that point the teachers who are carrying become targets. And do you want teachers, who inevitably get distracted dozens of times in an average day, to be distracted with respect to the safety of that handgun?

      A person carrying a handgun must be aware of his or her surroundings at all time to ensure that everyone around them is safe. If they’re not that focused, then they have no business carrying a handgun in the first place. And there isn’t a teacher I know who could be that safe with a handgun in school and still be effective as a teacher. Imagine a suicidal high school student pulling a handgun out of a teacher’s backpack and killing himself in class, or a 1st grader who is taking a “time out” under the teacher’s desk accidentally shooting a fellow student with a handgun she found in the teacher’s purse. Does that really sound like a good idea to you?

      Speaking of targets, at this point school resource officers are often the first victims of school shooters will go after, specifically because they’re armed. And how long will it be before someone goes after a resource officer specifically to acquire their handgun (assuming it hasn’t happened already)? Putting more guns in the school just adds the number of soft targets for gangs to mug in the parking lot or steal from during lunch when the teacher forgot to lock the classroom door (and was too harried by his last class to remember to take the handgun with him to lunch duty).

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