I had been at my new job at the Littleton Independent office for only two weeks April 20, 1999. My desk was right by one of the huge streetside …
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I had been at my new job at the Littleton Independent office for
only two weeks April 20, 1999.
My desk was right by one of the huge streetside windows looking
out on Main Street from our newsroom. The police scanner from which
I heard the first reports of the Columbine High School shootings
was a few desks behind me. None of it seemed real until the
seemingly endless stream of ambulances, police cars and SWAT trucks
began blazing past that window toward Columbine.
There is a surreal nature to all tragic events, but I’ve never
experienced anything like this. Not in a day, or in the weeks and
months that followed.
And the grieving evolved into action.
Law enforcement tried to learn from Columbine so it could better
respond to events like this in the future. School security changed.
Task forces were formed to better understand the things kids deal
with day in and day out. The term bully-proofing was born. There
was a collective promise to never forget.
A decade has passed. Have we kept that promise? By that, I’m not
referring to license plates, scholarship funds, bumper stickers and
occasional memories. Don’t get me wrong, they have their place. But
I’m talking about the meaty part of the promise proved by real
change among those parts of the community that rallied behind the
cause in the early days.
As the grim anniversary approached again, our news editor, Chris
Rotar, worked with reporters Holly Cook and Chris Michlewicz to
take a look at the changes to school policy and law enforcement
that have come about in the past 10 years.
What you’ll read in their work is that a lot has happened, but a
lot still needs to happen. You’ll read a fair amount about budget
cuts. You’ll read about good intentions, but also how urgency slips
away with the passage of time.
What hopefully becomes clear in these stories and the reflection
that comes with the milestone of a 10th anniversary like this is
that the promises of never forgetting and making lasting change for
the future can’t be institutional. Those things have to come from
us as individuals.
That’s where the meat of the promise will be kept. They happen
in the way we deal with society, children, violence, safety and all
the other factors that were in play with the Columbine shootings.
And they happen quietly and manifest themselves in safer times to
I’m not one who subscribes to theories of absolutes. I don’t
think Columbine was the result of some sort of societal dysfunction
for which we’re all to blame.
I happen to think that some people are just plain evil and they
can wreak havoc on the rest of us when we least suspect they will.
But in my heart of hearts, I don’t think that explains it all,
either. As is usually the case when I look at these things, I find
the truth somewhere in the middle.
For the part we can or should take responsibility to change, we
need to do our best as individuals to carry through with the
changes that dominated our thinking when Columbine was fresh in our
Ten years later, it’s harder to do than it was then. But if we
do that, that promise will be kept.
Jeremy Bangs is the managing editor of Colorado Community
Newspapers. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I don’t think Columbine was the result of some sort of societal
dysfunction for which we’re all to blame.
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