The Faces of Children | JIM FURLONG

I will never understand the 1999 Columbine school shootings. At the time I was just in raw shock. On April 20,1999 two teenagers, aged 17 and 18, who were armed to the teeth, began a systematic massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado. We all remember it because it was the first school shooting really in our time. It was “ground zero” in a pattern of senseless killings that continues to this day. 

Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris opened fire in the school library and 12 students and a teacher died. Then Klebold and Harris killed themselves and took to their graves the answers to a hundred questions. including the ultimate question … why?

That massacre had a profound effect on me. I have never been able to understand it. Klebold and Harris seemed so ordinary. They felt alienated from society but, well, so do lots of teenagers and they do not go around killing people.

What struck me over the years is that at the time I naïvely thought this was somehow an isolated event and could not happen again. I was wrong because that which had shocked us to our core in 1999 has become today in the United States, if not commonplace, then surely not so rare. That country has bubbled over with gun violence at all levels to the point that I cannot even remember the details of the latest massacre last week. 

You turn on the TV and there it is, another drama plays out where someone with a high-powered assault rifle, like an AK47, has become part of the dark side of history.

Consider this. According to the New York Times, 20 years ago the leading cause of death of young people in the United States used to be car accidents. Now it is gun violence. No less than 3,597 young people died last year from guns. Of that number more than 2,500 were murder victims. Think about that for a minute.

It is too easy to write about gun control and the proliferation of weapons but that is just a factor in this awful situation. It is much more complicated than the availability of guns and there are more bad guys afoot other than the American Rifle Association. Here in Newfoundland, when I was growing up, everybody had a gun. For God’s sake, I HAD A GUN! It was a double barrel 303 shot gun. I shot bottles and tree stumps. 

What has happened in our world? That is not to say it cannot happen here but at least it has not happened here. For reasons still unclear the United States has evolved in a particularly unsettling way. How many parties recently in that nation have ended with gun fire and death? What factors are at play and why does it keep getting worse?

Questions without answers and the expression of something gone wrong that I cannot even begin to understand. I still look at pictures of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris and remember and wonder. They raise questions to which there are no answers.