Columbine Shooters are Dark Role Models for Him

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Reader’s Question

My grandson, who lives with me, and is 20, admires Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to the point of having pictures of them in his bedroom. He says that they are martyrs and that they felt exactly the same way he feels toward society. I’m extremely worried about him, and I can’t find the words to explain to him that those two are no heroes, and that what they did is wrong from every point of view.

Psychologist’s Reply

One of the many problems with what happened in Littleton, Colorado on April 20, 1999 is the amazing amount of misinformation about what exactly occurred. Columbine [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK], one of the best books covering the tragedy, was written by Dave Cullen, a journalist who spent ten years researching the event. According to what he found, many people are mistaken about what caused Harris and Klebold to do what they did. Contrary to early media reports, their reasons for murdering their fellow students and teachers had little to with getting even for some perceived injustice; their rationale was a lot more specific. Harris was a psychopath who wanted to kill thousands simply because he could, while Klebold was clinically depressed and wanted to commit suicide by cop.

I mention this book and the misinformation because I believe it is important to figure out precisely what your grandson is feeling. How does he feel toward society? What does he believe makes Harris and Klebold martyrs, and to what cause? It could be that he has been led astray by the inaccuracy of the media, or it could be that he knows more about the event than is healthy. Whichever is the case, it might be helpful for both of you to read the book and then discuss it together.

I would encourage you to discuss specifically the impact on the victims and their families. Helping your grandson feel empathy toward the innocent victims of this tragedy, people who did nothing wrong other than simply be at the wrong place at the wrong time, may go a long way toward him realizing that what they did was wrong.

Another thing I would discuss with him is that violent solutions solve nothing; they rarely even help the violent person feel better. Your grandson may be feeling isolated and angry at the world but there are other ways for him to get his needs met. If you can pinpoint what’s wrong, then maybe you can figure out the solution. Perhaps what he needs are role models who truly were martyrs to the cause, people throughout history who used nonviolent means as a way to improve the world. Bobby Kennedy, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr are all great examples of this. Perhaps your grandson needs to hear words like those that Martin Luther King, Jr said in 1963, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” If none of these suggestions work, then I would try counseling. Your grandson seems like he’s in a dark place and needs to figure out productive ways to step into the light.

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