Columbine 15 Years Later

Are High Schools Safe?  


Littleton, Colorado. A bedroom community outside Denver. Population 41,737. April 20, 1999. Sky is blue. Colorado Rockies glistening in the distance. 11:19AM. Two students go on a shooting rampage.

Thirteen kids died that ugly day. Twenty-four were wounded. Two senior students – Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold – opened fire inside Columbine High School. They had also rigged 99 explosive devices around the school, and propane bombs in the cafeteria. Luckily, all of these bombs failed to explode.

Harris and Klebold wore trenchcoats and allegedly called themselves the Trenchcoat Mafia. They felt like outcasts, listening to angry music like Marilyn Manson, Rammstein and KMFDM, and playing violent video games like the first-person shooters “Doom” and “Quake.”

The incident sparked a major dialogue over school safety, gun violence, bullying, violence in movies and video games, and the effect of student cliques.

Since Columbine, Harris and Klebold’s legacy (for lack of a better word) lingers.

“Rather than live as nobodies, they’d rather become dead celebrities,” says Ralph Larkin, author of the book “Comprehending Columbine.” And dead celebrities they became. “Still today, there are Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold worship sites on the Internet. Still today many school shootings refer back to Columbine.”

In the past 15 years, we’ve even seen Columbine used as a verb. A shooter named Andy Williams in Santee, CA said ”I’m gonna do a Columbine on you” before shooting and killing two, and wounding 13 others, according to Larkin. Two kids were killed and one wounded.

And new anecdotes about Columbine High have emerged since then. Harris and Klebold were called fags by the wrestling and football team in the middle of the cafeteria while squirting packets of ketchup at them, according to Larkin.

It’s been 15 years since that dark day. Columbine was a school security wakeup call. And unfortunately, there have been many school shootings since. Notable recent ones include Sandy Hook Elementary, in which shooter Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adult staff members. And Virginia Tech in 2007, during which shooter Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and injured 17 others.

But what does this all mean for you? Is your high school safe? Sonic Cereal did some research and talked to some experts to find out. Has security improved?

“I’m not sure that I would use the word ‘improved.’,” says Glenn W. Muschert, who co-edited a 2013 book titled “Responding to School Violence: Confronting the Columbine Effect” He is a professor of sociology at Miami University in Ohio.

“Metal detectors and surveillance cameras don’t do much to increase the peace and harmony among the individuals in the schools,” he says, adding that they are more for a visual security presence and almost cosmetic.

The trifecta of school security has been – surveillance cameras, guards and metal detectors. According to Professor Lynn Addington, Associate Professor, 
Department of Justice, Law & Criminology at American University in Washington, DC, these measures have only seen “limited evaluation” and have an “unknown effectiveness.”

The use of surveillance cameras has spiked 300 percent since Columbine. The employment of security guards has also risen from 31.8 percent to 42.8 percent. All of this according to Addington’s research.

Other methods of security include making it mandatory for students to sign in with student IDs at the front desk. And locking all doors during the school day.

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