Usually, Columbine High School is talked about widely and heavily once a year: around April 20, which is the anniversary of the shooting that happened there. It seems that, along with the rest of the country, my community always takes that day to remember and show respect.
I grew up two blocks from Columbine, so that day might look a bit different in my home-community than in yours.
Sixteen years after the shooting, April 20 is still a big day in Littleton, Colorado. But now, months from that anniversary, Columbine and my sister that was there that day are on my mind.
Last Friday, the school district that I work in brought in local police to conduct a training about violent intruders. This is why Columbine is on my mind.
I knew that Columbine would come up during this training, but I’m saddened to say that our local police force did not handle the subject well. The day began with the showing of a 9 minute reenactment video of what happened in the Columbine library. I protected myself by leaving the room immediately; I will never sit through a video of Columbine.
I may have been the only one that left the room, but afterwards it was clear that many of my coworkers were disturbed by the video and found it unnecessary for our training.
After I suppressed the urge to throw up, and calmed my shaking hands, I thought I was emotionally prepared and ready to attend the afternoon breakout sessions about strategies for staying safe- or getting out- if there is a violent intruder at school.
I know I would have been okay talking about general strategies. But I was not okay, because the police continually threw out references of Columbine to us like they were bread crumbs to ducks. Again, I became upset. The disrespect of the victims bothered me. The objectivity bothered me. The sharing of unnecessary imagery bothered me. The repeating of disturbing dispatch calls bothered me.
I came from a community that knows how to be sensitive about Columbine. Littleton knows what’s okay to say and not say, and how to say it. Littleton knows how to show respect, and knows the full story. Littleton lived this tragedy, and that community understands Columbine in a way that others may not.
I know I wasn’t wrong in expecting the law enforcement officers to show more respect than they did, but I wondered how I could help others understand the perspective of someone who grew up in the Columbine community.
There’s no way I would have felt okay with saying nothing, so I chose to use this as a teachable moment for those who were supposed to be teaching me that day. After taking the weekend to reflect and process why these sessions bothered me so much, I was able to craft a detailed letter to our trainers.
Among other things, I urged them to consider the perspective of those with ties to Columbine, asked them if the tenants of their program require specific examples from the Columbine context, and shared with them what was really on my mind at the heart of this matter:
I agree entirely with the fact that more lives could have been saved at Columbine with a better response plan, and that more people would have felt empowered if they’d known to fight back. Again, I appreciate your time and the valuable knowledge that you provided to us as school employees. But in the future, please give credit and respect to the victims, students, and teachers that were the first line of defense at Columbine, and to the community that still has scars 15 years later.