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The Evidence Against Media Violence:  Columbine

More on The Evidence Against Media Violence. From the Associated Press, 4/16/01:

Columbine Killers Icons to Some

By DAN ELLIOTT, Associated Press Writer

DENVER (AP) -- Before 13-year-old Seth Trickey shot and wounded five classmates at an Oklahoma middle school, a psychiatrist testified, he wondered what it was like to be in the shoes of the Columbine killers. When Al DeGuzman was charged with stockpiling 60 homemade bombs to assault a California junior college, police said his Web site listed one of his hobbies as "worshiping Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, as well as other mass murderers." Web sites and chat rooms with names like "thechurchofdylananderic" still dot the Internet, where people post messages like, "I haven't forgotten nor will I get over it." Nearly two years after the Columbine High School shootings, the killers have become cultural icons to some, researchers say.

The massacre has been blamed in part for at least four subsequent school attacks and three alleged plots aimed at schools. At least 60 other threats mentioning Columbine have been reported worldwide.

Most researchers stop short of saying the Columbine shootings and the public fascination with Harris and Klebold directly inspire more crime. But the gunmen's images have become powerful, said James Garbarino, a Cornell University professor and author of "Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them."

"Dylan and Eric set out to become cultural icons for angry, disaffected youth who sought revenge against the nastiness of exclusionary youth culture," he said. "Recent events suggest they succeeded in that."

On Friday it will be two years since Harris and Klebold, heavily armed with weapons and explosives, stormed Columbine, killing 12 classmates and a teacher and wounding 26. They committed suicide in the school library. Still pending is a combined lawsuit filed by survivors and victims' relatives alleging that sheriff's deputies and school officials ignored warnings of the attack and mishandled the rescue. Officials with both agencies have denied the allegations.

This year, Jefferson County school officials have planned a half-hour observance with a few speeches to mark the anniversary of the Columbine attack.

Dave Grossman, a former West Point professor who is a researcher and law-enforcement trainer, said publicity about crimes such as the Columbine killings can influence others.

"If we recognize and celebrate and immortalize some things we don't want, we'll perpetuate that behavior as well," said Grossman, author of "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society."

Trickey, who was convicted of shooting with intent to kill in Fort Gibson, was probably influenced heavily by news accounts of the Columbine shootings, defense psychiatrist Dr. Shreekumar Vinekar testified.

"He started wondering what he would do if he were placed in the role of the perpetrators that were previously depicted on the TV and media," Vinekar said.

Trickey also was obsessed with military tactics and wondered how he would react in combat, Vinekar testified.

DeGuzman has pleaded innocent to possession of weapons and explosives. Although the Web site attributed to him referred to "Purification in the form of carnage," his attorney dismisses the idea that he was planning a Columbine-style attack on DeAnza College in San Jose, Calif.

Grossman faulted television for encouraging copycat crimes by broadcasting the names and photos of young killers.

"We know that if we give him his 15 minutes of fame, others will try to repeat the crime," he said. "This is not theory. This is 5,000 years of recorded human history."

Garbarino said a fascination with what he called the dark side of culture also helps turn killers into celebrities for some.

"Thirty-five years ago, if a kid walked into your school with body piercing and black makeup, almost certainly somebody would say, 'We've got to find out what's troubling this kid,'" he said. Today, he said, "Adolescent culture has sort of taken on this foray into the dark side. For troubled kids, this feeds their trouble."

Seth Shatsnider, who started an Internet chat room called "ElevenSeventeen" -- a reference to the hour and minute reportedly found on Harris and Klebold's Columbine bomb timers- said it is naive to think the Internet can influence someone to commit a crime.

"There's a difference between wanting to do something like that and doing it," said Shatsnider, 22, of Tujunga, Calif.

ElevenSeventeen has drawn 155 members and nearly 5,000 postings since it started eight months ago. Many members' messages express sympathy for the victims and revulsion over the killings.

Shatsnider struggles for words when he tries to explain the interest in Columbine.

"I think it's too crazy to be put into words," he said. "The whole thing. The myth, the excitement about it. It's like nothing else that's happened."

Parents are limited in what they can do to protect their children from negative role models because of easy access to the media and the hours children spend away from home, Garbarino said.

"Parents also need to realize what they can do is not directly as parents, but as citizens, by what they support as social policy," he said. School attacks have multiple causes and cannot be stopped with a single policy, he said.

Garbarino was once asked where to point the blame for incidents like Columbine. "The answer is, you need a whole handful of fingers of blame," he said.

Copyright (c) 2001 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

More Columbine copycats
From the Boston Globe, 11/27/01:

Details of Alleged Plot Revealed After a Massacre, Police Say, Suspects Planned To Party

By Brian MacQuarrie, and Anand Vaishnav, Globe Staff

NEW BEDFORD -- As three teenagers pleaded not guilty to charges that they had planned a killing spree at New Bedford High School, details emerged yesterday about their alleged methods and motivation.

To these self-styled gothic "freaks," according to police reports, anger at being slighted by other students helped fuel a desire to mimic the 1999 Columbine school massacre in Colorado. After the killing spree, investigators said, the suspects allegedly planned to rendezvous on the school roof, "party" with drugs and alcohol, and then take each other's lives with gunshots to the face.

The alleged plot was believed to be imminent and apparently had been motivated by hate for "preppies," minorities, and "jocks" at the 3,250-student school, according to police and court documents.

"There were many lives at stake," said Lieutenant Richard M. Spirlet of the New Bedford police. In New Bedford courts yesterday, Eric McKeehan, 17, and Michael McKeehan, Eric's brother, and Steven Jones, both 15, were ordered held without bail pending detention hearings Thursday and next Monday.

The three are charged with conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, and possession of ammunition.

Summonses also were issued yesterday for Amy Lee Bowman, 17, and a male juvenile. They are expected to face the same charges as the three other suspects, authorities said.

Bowman is scheduled to be arraigned today; the juvenile is expected to appear in court tomorrow.

Ed Sirois, chief of staff to District Attorney Paul Walsh, said he could not comment at this time whether prosecutors will seek to have the juveniles' cases transferred to adult court.

Although prosecutors did not discuss their evidence in court yesterday, police reports detailed a painstaking investigation to collect evidence and statements about the alleged plot.

Neil Mello, 16, who is listed in court documents as a suspect but is not under arrest, told investigators last Wednesday that the plan was for him, the McKeehan brothers, and Jones "to come into the school with our black trench coats and skip home-room period and go directly to the bathrooms," according to a report from Detective John R. Ribeiro III of the New Bedford police.

"We would have shotguns and handguns hidden under our coats and [would] wait until the next passing period," when students change classes, the report quoted Mello as saying. "When the bell sounds, we would come out shooting everyone in sight, from thugs, preps, and faculty."

"Thugs" is a term used by some of the suspects to describe black and Hispanic students, police said.

"Neil said the thugs were the blacks and Puerto Ricans that he didn't get along with, and the preps were the people that wear Old Navy, Aeropostale, and Gap clothes," Ribeiro wrote.

In her statement, Bowman told Officer Stephen A. Taylor, a New Bedford policeman assigned to the school, that "the plan was to kill as many students and teachers as possible."

"Amy stated that whoever they saw, they would get shot. . . . Amy continued and stated that they would have walkie-talkies so that they could communicate," according to Taylor's report.

The suspects planned to acquire blueprints of the school and intended to use the school's mounted security videocameras to capture the massacre on tape, Taylor reported.

"After they were all done shooting," Taylor continued, "they would go to the roof of the school and start to smoke [marijuana] and drink alcohol. She also states they would probably take acid."

"After partying for a while, they would all point their guns at each other and shoot each other. Amy stated that then it would be homicide and not suicide," Taylor reported.

The officer said Bowman told him she had second thoughts about the plan and had decided to back out.

The court documents do not mention any specific firearms recovered by police, although a large amount of ammunition was seized from the McKeehans' rooms.

An acquaintance of the suspects told detectives that the plan was to use handguns, shotguns, and pipe bombs in the attack. In a separate interview, Mello told police that Michael McKeehan would stock the arsenal by buying "shotguns from the street."

Spirlet, the New Bedford police lieutenant, said authorities have photographs of suspects with weapons of a "nonmilitary nature." He did not elaborate.

Michael McKeehan, who was identified as the ringleader, allegedly stored a cache of incriminating evidence in his bedroom, according to police. A search yielded an ax, a meat cleaver, various knives, a binder with bomb recipes, duct tape, and wire, along with photographs of Adolf Hitler, dozens of spent cartridges, and a voodoo doll with nails and nooses.

In Jones's bedroom, writings on the wall contained the phrases, "I hate the world," "Everyone must die," and "Kill everyone," according to police reports.

The arrests followed more than five weeks of investigation. School officials received a tip about the alleged plot Oct. 17, when a student informed a teacher about a rumor of the plan. The report was passed on to police.

A week later, a landlord near the school found bomb-making equipment. And last Tuesday, a school janitor discovered a letter with explicit references to the alleged attack.

Yesterday, Jones's mother, Susan St. Hilaire, continued to portray the charges as a misunderstanding that has targeted "great kids." Carol McKeehan, the mother of the other two suspects charged, shook her head when asked if she believed her children were guilty.

At New Bedford High School yesterday, about 40 percent of the students stayed home -- three times the usual absentee rate. Those who showed up walked past reporters and TV news cameras into the sprawling school.

Headmaster Joseph S. Oliver started the day with an announcement bringing students and staff up to date on the investigation. A dozen New Bedford police patrolled the school; Oliver said they will be in place again today.

"Except for the halls being deserted, it was a normal day," said David DeMello Jr., a junior at the school.

Teachers were allowed to discuss the arrests with their first-period classes, but the investigation was the talk of the day. There were even rumors of a hit list of "star kids," students said, but few could tell how seriously to take them.

The mood of students ranged from nonchalance to anger and fear, students and teachers said. About 45 students sought counseling during the day, Oliver said, and about 10 of the school's 260 teachers were absent.

Bob Perry, who teaches social studies and a psychology class, said some of his students doubted that those involved in the plot would be severely punished for it. They also weren't necessarily surprised by the news, he said.

But Donna DeMello, waiting outside to pick her son, David, from school, was stunned.

"After Columbine, I thought, 'This is a little town, all the kids know each other, everyone's safe.' But it just takes one child to think one undecent thought," she said.

Responding to parents' complaints that his department was overreacting, New Bedford Police Chief Arthur J. Kelly said he believes the evidence of a plot is overwhelming.

"Everyone felt pretty comfortable that something would have resulted from this incident," Kelly said.

"Is it my belief something would have happened? Yes, it's my belief."

Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company

And from the NY Times on the same massacre plot, 11/27/01:

The authorities in this gritty seacoast town 58 miles south of Boston began investigating the possibility of an attack plot in early October when a girl in school told a teacher she had overheard boys scheming to bomb the school and shoot students. At that time, two students were charged with making threats; charges were dismissed against one student, but the other was among those charged this weekend in the attack plot.

Later in October, a landlord of a building where one of the boys lives reported a suspicious box in the attic. The police said they found a nearly completed bomb, but because a crucial part was missing they could not file charges.

Then, last week, a school janitor found a note outside a science room that referred to plans for an attack. The authorities said that after executing search warrants at the boys' homes and finding shotgun shells, knives, a notebook with bomb-making instructions and photographs of the boys holding handguns, the police arrested Mr. McKeehan and the two 15-year-olds on Saturday.

Today, parents of the three boys defended their sons and portrayed them as harmless teenagers, somewhat troubled perhaps, but not capable of the violence they were accused of plotting.

"These kids wouldn't hurt any living thing, they just wouldn't," said Susan St. Hilaire, the mother of one of the 15-year-old boys and a kind of surrogate mother to Eric and several other teenagers. Eric had been living in Ms. St. Hilaire's third-floor apartment near downtown since August. The other 15-year-old, Eric's brother, had apparently been living with his mother in south New Bedford.

Ms. St. Hilaire said her son had been going through a tough time in recent months. Last year, Ms. St. Hilaire, a former nurse who is now unemployed and on disability, called the Department of Social Services seeking help handling her son's pattern of taking her car and staying out at night.

She said he failed at a vocational school last year and switched to New Bedford High School, where his grades were "horrible." She said he had gotten "in trouble at school for silly stuff." The hardest thing for her son, she said, was the unexpected death of his father from pancreatic cancer in September.

Harold McKeehan, the father of Eric and the other 15-year-old, said today that the shotgun shells and the photographs with weapons were souvenirs from a family vacation in Ohio.

"Neither one of my children has had any problems," Mr. McKeehan said. "This is way blown out of proportion."

Mr. McKeehan said that Eric's only difficulty was that he had learning disabilities, "and he was wanting to get out in the working world." He said he had ordered Eric to stay in school and graduate.

"He's not a monster," he said. "He's a little kid in a big guy's body."

Mr. McKeehan, who is divorced from the boys' mother and lives in the Boston area, where he is a carpenter, declined to talk about his younger son. Ms. St. Hilaire said he was an honor roll student, and she said Eric worked four nights a week at an Italian restaurant.

Teenagers and adults who were acquainted with the three boys said some or all of them listened to Metallica and other heavy metal music. Eric liked to skateboard, and sometimes brought his skateboard to school. At least one of the 15-year-olds wore a mohawk, black fingernail polish in the Gothic style and sported numerous body piercings. But in interviews today, the boys were not branded as outcasts.

"Everybody wears Gothic clothes," said Trisha Boucher, 14, a freshman at the high school, who showed up at the courthouse, saying she was curious about Eric's arraignment. "He looks like a normal kid every day when I walk by him."

Rob's comment
Many elements of our sick society are present in this story. Perhaps because of troubled homes, the killer wannabes were consumed with rage. Their parents were absent or in denial about their problems. The wannabes sought to outdo Columbine and become media stars themselves. They planned to film themselves on the school's cameras. They had easy access to guns. They were part of the Gothic subculture and listened to heavy metal. They worshipped Hitler and his pogrom against minorities. They hated anyone they deemed inferior (blacks and Hispanics they believed were threatening their status) and anyone who presumed to be superior (the elite students, athletes and intellects, who got the attention they felt they deserved).

Change a few details and this could be the story Timothy McVeigh. Or Osama bin Laden. If you leave out the impulse to act personally, it could be the story of many right-wing conservatives. These people hate the intelligentsia, academics, the media, "liberated" women and minorities, gays, immigrants, foreigners, atheists, secular humanists—in short, anyone who threatens the Christian white males' domination of America.

Related links
Changes since Columbine
Why white boys keep shooting
Teenage violence...solved! (more or less)
Violence in America
Libertarianism = anarchy
Origin of the culture wars
America's cultural mindset

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Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

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