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One year after Columbine: Lessons we have learned

April 19, 2000

Today marks the first anniversary of the killings of 13 students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, an event that capped a year's worth of shooting incidents at schools around the country.

Because the Columbine killings took place in an upscale suburb, and because the perpetrators lacked for nothing (in the material sense, anyway) the massacre forced the nation to confront the fact that what was unthinkable 20 or 30 years ago is all too possible now, and that crossing one's fingers and saying "That'll never happen here" was not sufficient protection.

Reactions took two forms, the first of which were in the legal arena. Legislatures across the country considered new restrictions on the possession and manufacture of firearms while some schools installed metal detectors and surveillance cameras, and hired security guards or deputies to patrol the halls.

"Zero tolerance" policies against schoolyard threats of any kinds were enacted, to the point where students at one elementary school were recently disciplined for forming their hands into the shape of guns as they played cops-and-robbers on the playground.

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But there's also been a recognition that by themselves, the law and school rules won't get at the heart of this problem, the crux of which was defined by Knight-Ridder columnist Froma Harrop. In a 1999 commentary, Harrop made the point that the perpetrators in all these cases had become isolated - from their families, from the school community and society at large.

In recognition of that, many schools are taking pains to make contact, through counselors and teachers, with those students who seem to be on the fringe and alienated from the rest of the student body. And as detailed in a column elsewhere on this page by Amanda Frey, the Columbine massacre has sparked a spiritual movement as well.

But it would be a mistake to assign the job of dealing with Columbine's aftermath only to the schools and churches. Making sure that no youngster feels so disconnected from society that mass murder seems is credible option is the entire community's job.

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