Columbine: Eight years later, many answers are out of reach
The Associated Press
LITTLETON ” Eight years after the Columbine High School massacre in this Denver suburb shocked the nation, a potential treasure trove of information about what was going on in the minds of teen killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold ” the “martyrs” cited by the Virginia Tech killer ” is hidden from public view.
That’s because U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Babcock decided on April 2 to seal for 20 years testimony given by the parents of Harris and Klebold, who killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before killing themselves on April 20, 1999.
Babcock cited, in part, concerns that releasing testimony about the home lives of the two teens could encourage copycat killers. But his decision stunned and infuriated Columbine families and victims who say the depositions contain information valuable to law enforcement and others.
“Are the people of Virginia going to wait 20 years?” Dawn Anna, whose 18-year-old daughter, Lauren, was slain at Columbine, said of the probe into killer Cho Seung-Hui’s motives.
As Friday’s painful Columbine anniversary approached, the fact that Cho cited Harris and Klebold as “martyrs” in a tape sent to NBC made it all the more devastating, Anna said.
“I felt like I was looking at Lauren’s murderer. It’s as if someone has been cruelly replaying April 20,” she said.
Anna and the parents of other students slain at Columbine have met this week to deal with the shock of the Virginia killings. The judge’s decision dominated their conversation.
“I don’t think you can stop every crazy person. But some of the things Babcock locked up show what these crazy kids did,” said Don Fleming, who lost a 16-year-old daughter, Kelly. “It’s no use to anybody if it is locked up.”
“If society knew, it could possibly prevent future shootings,” Fleming said. “We’re finding out that everything that the latest killer did is similar to what Klebold and Harris did.”
Joe Kechter, who lost a son, Matt, 16, at Columbine, said that anything the Virginia victims’ parents can learn about Columbine “will give them an idea of what to look for” as they search for their own answers.
The Harries and Klebolds will only speak through their lawyers. Michael Montgomery, an attorney who represented the Harris family, said that Babcock “made an absolutely appropriate decision.”
In his ruling, Babcock said: “I am mindful that there is a legitimate public interest in these materials so that similar tragedies may hopefully be prevented in the future. I conclude, however, that the balance of interests still strikes in favor of maintaining strict confidentiality.” He also said he feared the information could lead to copycat attacks.
Babcock refused comment Thursday.
Much information about the Columbine killers is available on the Internet, including video clips of the two practicing their marksmanship, the diaries of Eric Harris, and Web sites dedicated to both killers.
Authorities did learn that Harris and Dylan Klebold played violent games, made violent videos at school, and were the victims of bullying because they befriended the Trench Coat Mafia, a group of students who clashed with school athletes.
Researchers into school-related violence support the Columbine victims’ stand, noting the relative frequency of violent campus incidents. The Centers for Disease Control reported in 2002 that there had been 220 school-related shootings from 1994 to 1999, resulting in 253 deaths.
“The judge said the tapes were incendiary. We have plenty of things already that stimulate violence,” said sociologist Ralph Larkin, author of a recent book on the Littleton slayings, “Comprehending Columbine.”
Katherine S. Newman, a professor at Princeton and author on shooting rampages, said the information should be released.
“A 20-year lag deprives the rest of the country of what might be valuable insight.
Indeed, having done a lot of research with the families of victims, they are left with a big hole in the middle not only by the loss of their children but by the unanswered ‘why’ questions,” Newman said.
Columbine High will be closed Friday, as it has come every April 20.
Invoking the Columbine tragedy, Gov. Bill Ritter asked state residents to join a nationwide bell-ringing and moment of silence for the Virginia Tech victims at 10 a.m. MDT Friday.
“We experienced a terrible tragedy at Columbine High School,” Ritter said. “The people of Colorado will stand in solemn silence on the anniversary of that dreadful day with the people of Virginia as they grieve.”
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