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School Violence and Heartbreak: Columbine from an Insider's Perspective

Posted by Barbara Greenberg, PhD

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a 25-year-old woman who is my daughter's friend. In 1999, when this young woman was 12 years old and in 6th grade, she lived in Littleton, Colorado, the location of the horrifying tragedy where two teenage boys shot, wounded, and killed several kids who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time at Columbine High School. Actually, those teens were at the right place (school) but they certainly were not expecting to be victims of a horrible crime. Both they and their parents could have never anticipated what would happen at their school, a place that was supposed to be safe.

This young woman filled me in on several details that I hadn't known about before. Apparently, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the two boys who shot up the school on that dreadful day, were not totally cut off from their peers. In fact, they are reported to have been members of a group of teens referred to as the “Trench-coat Mafia,” a group of teens who did not fit into the mainstream but were nonetheless part of a group. This woman, who asked not to be named out of respect for the kids who were actually in high school at the time, also remembered that these teens had gone to their prom. They were, in fact, three weeks away from graduating high school.

“Why,” she asked, “couldn't they have waited three weeks, moved on to the next phase of their lives, and dealt with their anger without destroying so many lives?” She knows friends and neighbors who were directly affected by this tragedy. She recalls that her friend's sister was shot in the hand while in the library. A member of her church was also killed. The older brother of a girl on her cheerleading team was injured. Her sister's basketball coach was shot and killed during this spree. And on and on her list goes…

Meeting this thoughtful and bright young woman made an impression on me and affected my thinking about the Columbine tragedy. “We all deal with slights and rejections throughout our lives,” she said, “but we don't respond by injuring or ending the lives of others.” She is an advocate of teaching our kids how to handle both perceived and real rejection.

I have to say that she left me thinking that this is something both teens and their parents need to learn more about.


About Barbara Greenberg, PhD

Barbara is a Ph.D. clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of adolescents and their well-intentioned but exhausted parents. She is the co-author of Teenage as a Second Language-A Parents Guide to Becoming Bilingual with Jennifer Powell-Lunder PsyD and the co-creator of the website

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