Tag Archives: columbine series

Why won’t the GOP act on gun violence? Here’s a BIG reason nobody talks about.

It isn’t just NRA money. Congressional Republicans don’t act because their families aren’t at risk.

Did you see this?

‘WTF’: Twitter furious as Florida lawmakers declare porn a ‘health risk’ but block assault rifle ban

The vote comes less than a week after the devastating shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school left 17 people dead

Less than a week after the devastating shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school left 17 people dead, Florida lawmakers rejected an attempt to discuss a ban on assault weapons. The Florida House voted 36-71 on Tuesday (20 February) against a motion to consider the bill that would have banned the sale or possession of automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines such as the AR-15 assault rifle used by the gunman who opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the Republican Party (A Wholly Owned Subsidiary of the NRA) doesn’t care about these children. Your children. Read more

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.

Columbine High School, April 20, 1999, 11:19am MDT: “Go! Go!”

It’s been 15 years since Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire.

I don’t have anything new to say, but I thought that we ought to pause and reflect on that day and all that has transpired in its wake.

Through the years I’ve written about Columbine several times, attempting to make sense of it, perhaps create a bit of context and perspective. The first in this extended series, “Columbine and the Power of Symbols,” which was written shortly after I visited the site a few days later, is still very hard for me to read.

I have compiled the rest of my writings on Columbine here, and invite you to track along with my journey.

So much has changed, so much remains the same.

Life’s occasional symmetry: it was 20 years ago today

August 13, 1993: I woke for my first day in Colorado. I had moved here from North Carolina for grad school. I had a van of everything I owned and barely a penny left after the 1600-mile drive.

It wasn’t the first time I’d put my life in a truck and hauled it across the country to a town where I knew nobody, and as fate would have it, it wouldn’t be the last. Today I sit here surrounded by boxes, taking a break from packing. As I noted a few days ago, I’m now moving to Seattle.

20 years. A generation.

A lot has happened along the way.

  • I earned my PhD.
  • I have worked for large companies, mid-sized companies, small companies, and for myself. Depending on what criteria you employ, my life as a businessman has either been quite successful or an abject failure. There are things I’m very good at and other things I’m terrible at, and you can draw whatever conclusions you like from the fact that I have not gotten rich.
  • I spent an ill-fated year as a professor and have come, at last, to abandon any and all hopes of earning my living in the academy. Ironic, that, since this is why I came to Colorado in the first place.
  • I co-founded The 5th Estate on LiveJournal, then co-founded Scholars & Rogues.
  • I took up photography and founded 5280 Lens Mafia.
  • I wrote a couple books of poetry.
  • What else? Oh, yeah – I met a beautiful, wonderful woman and got married. Then divorced. At this point the hard question is which of the two did more lasting damage.
  • I moved to Boston for a year, then came back. I moved to New York for a year, then back to NC for a year and a half, then came back. Somewhere in there – I think Columbine was the tipping point – I realized that Colorado had become home. North Carolina will always be the place I grew up, but I rarely refer to it as “back home” anymore.
  • And I swore that I’d never leave Colorado again.

In some respects, it’s clear that I have accomplished a great deal over the past 20 years. I was the first in my family to attend a four-year university, so the PhD alone is pretty significant on that front.

But a part of me also feels like I did back in 1993. As I approached my 30th birthday I did a great deal of soul searching and came to conclusion that I had, to that point, talked a good game but I hadn’t done anything. If I died, there would be nothing to signify that I had ever lived. I had made no mark, established no legacy.

I read a lot of Campbell, and this passage hit me between the eyes:

You may have success in life, but then just think of it – what kind of life was it? What good was it – you’ve never done the thing you wanted to do in all your life. I always tell my students, go where your body and soul want to go. When you have the feeling, then stay with it, and don’t let anyone throw you off.

20 years on I’m still not doing the thing I want to do in life, although in my defense nobody will pay you a living wage for the kinds of things I have historically wanted to do. Also, I have meandered. I am interested in a variety of things, and this has too often resulted in a lack of focus that has not served me well. Recruiters look at the winding path that has been my career and…well, put it this way. You don’t want to confuse HR staffing types, who generally have a hard enough time deciphering the complexities of daily life. Things like where on their computer is that damned “Any” key that instruction guides keep talking about.

I’m an idealist in many respects, but I can admit the ways in which I have failed myself.

It has been clear for some time that my life needed to change. Career change, personal change, change of scenery, and then some. I have made a bit of progress, jettisoning activities and commitments that no longer helped me be who I want and need to be. And I have begun filling my life with new things for which I feel a passion – like photography.

So there’s that, and I also have fantastic friends for whom I’m grateful. Beyond this, well, I feel like the guy I was 20 years ago. Standing by the packed truck and looking around one last time. It was home, and I loved it, but it didn’t really love me back. It was time to go.

20 years on, a watershed moment. Looking west, and hoping.

I’ll leave you with a recent photo that I think says something about my state of mind as I look to the future….


Bad journalism: it isn’t just a Manti Te’o thing. Remember Columbine?

Manti Te'o blarneyAs we try to unravel the whole Manti Te’o/”Lennay Kekua” mystery – is she dead? Is she alive? Does she exist? Was Te’o in on it or is he the biggest rube in America? – “sports journalists” (one of my favorite oxymorons, btw) are taking a right kicking, and deservedly so. Everybody out there who reported on the heartbreaking dead girlfriend story is now having to account for the willingness to push the narrative even once troubling discrepancies began to arise. Things like there was no death certificate. And Stanford never heard of her. And the police had no accident records. And shouldn’t there be hospital records? And wait – you’ve never met her? And so on. Read more

Susan Klebold speaks

Susan Klebold, mother of Columbine High School killer Dylan Klebold, has finally, after all these years, decided to speak publicly about her son and the events of 4.20.99. She doesn’t give us anything like the understanding we might want – I doubt such a thing is possible – but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Read it here.

Columbine and the power of symbols

columbine-hillPart three of a series.

In the days following the murders at Columbine High School I visited the school and the grounds of Clement Park. Those walks produced this piece, which was originally published ten years ago today.

We have learned a great deal about the  events that took place at Columbine since  this essay was written (for instance, we now know that the  “Cassie Said Yes” story never actually happened,  and we also know that the whole “Trenchcoat Mafia”  thing was also a media-propagated fiction). But it seemed to me that going back  and revising to account for new information would damage the  fabric of what I wrote in late April and early May of 1999.  I have therefore elected to leave the factual inaccuracies  in place. I do, however, note the spots containing errors with an asterisk (*).

Salon.com and Westword.com provide as thorough and accurate  a picture as we are ever likely to have of the shootings and  the aftermath, and I recommend them highly.


Sunday, May 2, 1999

It won’t stop raining, and nobody seems to care. Read more

Ten years on: was Columbine the rule or the exception?

Part two in a series

How did it happen? Why did it happen? There’s simply no way to measure how many hours have devoted to these questions in the ten years and four days since Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire at Columbine High School, and while we don’t (and never will) have all the answers, we do have some of them. Obviously a good bit of the discussion focuses on the individuals themselves, and other analyses cast a broader net, examining the social factors that shaped the individuals. In a way, the question we’re still debating perhaps boils down to nature vs. nurture. Were Harris and Klebold Natural Born Killers? Or are they better understood as by-products of deeper social trends and dynamics?

The answer is probably “All of the above,” but we can’t simply check C and be on our merry, uncritical way. Read more

Ten years on: the enduring lessons of Columbine

Part one of a series

April 20, 2009: 11:19 am MDT

Ten years ago a co-worker turned to me and said something that I’ll never forget, no matter how long I live: “Hey, Sammy, there’s been a school shooting in Littleton.”

Since that day a great deal has been written and said about Columbine High School and the events of 4.20.99, and like a lot of other people I’ve tried my hardest to make sense of something that seemed (and still seems) inherently senseless. Tried and failed. Now, ten years on, the grief hasn’t fully dissipated here in the city that I have come to call home, and even if we manage to understand the whos, whats, and hows, there’s a part of us that’s doomed to wrestle forever with the whys. Read more

It was eight years ago today

Posted: April 20, 2007: 11:19 am MDT
Denver CO

In 1999 I was the Electronic Communications Manager for US West’s internal comm group, and my team rode herd on several channels used to communicate with 44,000 employees in 14 states and DC. Mornings were usually really busy – we posted things when they happened, but we did a big daily update by noon every day. Sometime around lunch Joe Lopez, who handled a variety of things for us, said, “hey, Sammy, there’s been a school shooting in Littleton.” Read more

Columbine, seven years on: it’s only a matter of time

This week authorities busted up three Columbine copycat plots, at least one of which seems to have been pretty serious. I doubt this really surprises anyone who’s been paying attention (see prediction #5 here), but it’s still pretty disturbing.

Mark it down – some April 20 in the near future, the conspirators are going to be smart enough not to warn anybody, not to IM about it to strangers, and not to post their plans on MySpace. Worse, they may be technically gifted enough to pull off something much larger than Columbine (which was a real fizzle, fortunately – had the bomb gone off in the cafeteria the body count would have been a lot higher). It doesn’t take a genius to make the prediction and it won’t make the predictor a modern-day Nostradamus when it comes true, either. It’s just a case of looking at the situation and realizing that if X leads to Y, more X stands a good chance of leading to more Y.

Seven years ago I lived in Denver, and although I didn’t know anybody involved, anybody who was there can tell you that it felt personal. (I do have a friend who’s a Columbine grad, and if she’s reading this she’s invited to chime in.) I visited the school and Clement Park twice in the days after the shootings, and those visits produced a little essay that attempted to understand what had happened and why. Reading back over it today, I’m struck by the disparity between the tone of the piece and what I know I felt at the time I wrote it. Hunh.

Seven years on, and these arrests indicate that we still don’t get it, I guess. Let’s make a pact to check back this time next year and see if one got through the net…

It was six years ago today

4.20.99: I was at my computer working on something – who knows what. I was a Sr. Employee Communications Manager at US West in Denver, so when Joe Lopez, sitting right next to me, says “hey, Sammy, there’s been a shooting at a high school in Littleton,” my stomach twisted. We had a major facility in Littleton, so we were automatically talking about USW families.

I told him to get everything he could on it, and headed down the hall. I had to interrupt a meeting to notify our VP. I recall her being annoyed with me, because I don’t think she immediately realized what the import was. Then I think I headed around the corner to let our media relations team know. That’s about the last detail I remember clearly from work that day, although I know more or less what we did as the story unfolded.

I visited Columbine High School and Clement Park twice in the week after the shooting and wrote about about what I saw. That piece remains one of the most humbling reminders of how limited we writers really are, because I know what I wrote and I know what a poor job it does of fully expressing what I felt, what I still feel.

For the record, Columbine still hurts. Even now, six years on, I can barely think about it without having to fight back tears….

Columbine copycat plot thwarted in Canada

Boys plotted to hit Saint John High, police say

SAINT JOHN, N.B. – Three teenage boys have been arrested for allegedly conspiring to seize control of a school and methodically murder some of its students and teachers. Police found gunpowder and other material used for making pipe bombs at the boys’ homes and believe the youths had practised making bombs.

[Credit: Thanks to Cody Barstow at Mojo City News for the link.]