When the majority of U.S. citizens hear the word “Columbine,” they don’t think of the beautiful flowers that adorn meadows each year.
Nor do they envision a high school with Friday night football games, pep rallies or laughter of students in the hallways. Rather, due to the events of April 20, 1999, there is a horrific visual ingrained in the minds of many.
And if the name alone is enough to trigger images of the shooting, the building stands as a painful reminder as well as something far more nefarious — inspiration. It’s time to tear down Columbine High School.
Jeffco Public Schools Superintendent John E. Glass’s proposal for the potential demolition of Columbine High School has been met with mixed reactions and emotions. But we can’t ignore the fact that Columbine remains the single most referenced mass shooting among school, campus and workplace shooters and those whose plots have been thwarted.
The incident continues to be referenced in manifestos, videos and statements made by subsequent shooters. This is such a common occurrence that the deceased shooters’ fan base has been deemed the “Columbiners.”
With alarming regularity, we hear of copycats’ thwarted plots and completed shootings carried through to fruition by those who spend as much time studying Columbine as the experts — but for darker reasons.
For experts trying to make positive changes from a horrible situation, studying the shooting is challenging and heart-wrenching. But, for those who identify with the shooters, it is fascinating, entertaining and a strong motivator.
It’s not enough for some to read a book or use a search engine to quench their macabre knowledge thirst. Rather, they go to the site of the incident. They know they won’t see the shooters, but they take what they consider the next best thing: an in-person look at “where it all happened.”
Pilgrimages are typically made to religious areas to worship a deity, which is exactly what the shooters have become in the minds of Columbiners.
Twenty years have passed since Columbine, and we’ve worked diligently to prevent similar occurrences.
Experts study the events of the day and those preceding to make change for the good. There are photos, videos, 911 calls, drawings and other pieces of information that are painful to endure, but worth it if even one life is saved.
Post-incident analyses of Columbine have led experts to conclude that the “sit-and-wait” lockdown approach leads to more casualties than necessary, and we now recommend proactive approaches such as Run, Hide, Fight and ALICE.
We’ve also improved our ability to identify and assess an at-risk individual and devise a threat-level specific case management plan. Columbine gave us something to learn from, but it came at a huge cost to those who continue to lose their lives at the hands of copycats.
In addition to spawning copycats, the school is a painfully powerful context cue for survivors, family and community members and first responders.
It is likely the building’s physical presence triggers stress- and trauma-related issues such as PTSD and related suicides. Perhaps the least known tragedies of mass shootings are the suicides of the first responders who never forget the sights and sounds of the day.
Those opposed to the demolition should learn from those involved in planning the permanent memorial to the victims of Sandy Hook. Surviving students and staff never returned to the original building.
Instead, the memorial rests on a beautiful span of donated land adorned by nature. It allows families to envision their children in a peaceful place rather than a place of violence.
Like those impacted by the Sandy Hook shooting, those who lived through the Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) incident want the building and its reminders gone. A conversation similar to that about Columbine took place in regard to Building 12 of MSD.
The difference is, Building 12 of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is going to be demolished. The decision has been made. For now, Building 12 remains as courtroom evidence despite many survivors’ and first responders’ sense of urgency. It will be demolished.
I stand behind Superintendent John E. Glass’ proposal for the demolition of Columbine High School. His actions have the potential to save lives.
This matter is important. It is time to destroy the catalyst for Columbiners and painful context cue for those who remember. There is simply no value in keeping the structure.
Lisa Pescara-Kovach is associate professor of educational psychology at The University of Toledo.