Everyone  knew that seniors  Eric Harris  and Dylan  Klebold  of Columbine  High School  in Jefferson County, Colorado were social  outcasts,  but no one ever suspected  the severity  of the damage caused by their peers’ bullying and harassment. April 20 marked the 15th anniversary of the day in which 14 students and one teacher lost their lives to guns shot by the two boys before they killed themselves. Most adults who knew the boys expected them to be very successful after high school. But  even  though  no  one saw  them, signs  of Harris  and Klebold’s  instability were there.
Graffiti death threats showed up around the school, but no one took them seriously. Harris had a website  that  provided  guides  to  making  pipe  bombs  and  a  blog revealing  his  desire  to  kill  his tormentors – but no one saw it in time. Harris and Klebold had been convicted of a felony after breaking into  a van  and stealing  electronics – but they were released from juvie  early for good behavior. Harris had  expressed his  anger  and suicidal thoughts to  a  psychiatrist who prescribed anti­depressants  –  but  no  one  worried.  Harris  and  Klebold  were from  good families. They  had stable homes. They were responsible employees. They were smart.
After Columbine, the question everyone was left asking was “why?” What had possessed these boys, causing them to massacre their peers, and why had no one noticed the red flags?
While Columbine succeeded  in  calling  America’s  attention  to  issues  of  bullying  and  mental health, it was only the beginning of a series of school shootings and other acts of violence. Just this month,  a high schooler in Murrysville, Pennsylvania went to school with two large kitchen knives, stabbing 22 students and staff members. Much like Harris and Klebold, no one suspected the student, Alex Hribal, to be capable of or motivated to commit such violence. Everyone is still searching for answers.
It is important to understand the cause of such violence to gain closure for those affected and to work  toward  preventing  future  tragedies.  Humans  are  not  wired  to  harm  others  unprovoked  – particularly not dozens of classmates and teachers. A “normal,” healthy person does not desire to end the lives of those they interact with everyday, nor do they desire to end their own existence.
When events such as the Columbine shooting or the Murrysville stabbing take place, it is because someone has been pushed over the edge, past regular human behavior. As  a society,  we  claim  to recognize  the seriousness  of  bullying,  mental  illness,  and  unstable homes, the most common causes of school violence. Clearly, our awareness has not stopped the attacks. In a nation where the quality of life is thought to exceed that of many countries around the world, American youth habitually find themselves in circumstances so severe that they abandon the social protocol of civilized humanity. If we are ever to decrease such violence and tragedy, we must recognize the reality of this fact.
Just  because  someone  comes  from  what  is  thought  to  be  a  good  family  doesn’t  mean  they haven’t  been subject to  abuse  or struggled with  a mental illness. Just  because someone  doesn’t seem to be bothered by bullying doesn’t mean they’re not suffering.
On the flip side, just because someone has a rough home life or gets picked on at school doesn’t mean they’re dangerous. Likewise, just because someone takes medication to improve their mental health doesn’t mean they’re violent.
One  must  remember  that  everyone  handles  the  stress  of  life  in  different  ways.  There  is  no stereotypical school shooter or any neighborhood that is either safe from adolescent violence or bound to contain it. Paranoia about these facts is not the answer. No amount of school security or fear of suspicious  individuals  will solve  the  problem. We must  address  the  issue  as something preventable instead of treatable.
Recognizing the power our behavior has over others and the influence of hurtful action is vital to hindering school violence. Likewise, taking an interest in the lives of those around us, recognizing signs of suffering, and supporting those that are struggling through our own care or outside help, is necessary to prevention. While it is unrealistic to expect that needless violence will ever cease to exist, it is up to us to determine its place in the status quo.



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