Columbine should have provided a wake-up call
The images are too familiar. Seven years has done very little to dispel the terror our generation still feels when words and phrases like “Columbine” and “school shooting” are used in conjunction with breaking news. Wednesday’s shooting at Platte Canyon High School wasn’t a textbook case of a school shooting, with a 53-year-old man wreaking the havoc instead of a sad and angry teenager, but the sum of the events is the same: nothing has changed.
Sure, the SWAT team dispatched to the scene had been trained in school shooting protocols because of Columbine, according to the Denver Post. But why was Duane Morrison, a scruffy-looking, clearly older man, allowed in the school in the first place? Why was he allowed to enter a classroom and take hostages? Why wasn’t this the very first thing that high schools changed after Columbine?
Giving SWAT teams special training is a good idea, but taking preventative measures is a better idea. Tightening security and preventing visitors from entering and exiting the school at whim may have made a difference at Columbine. And it would have stopped Morrison.
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold burst into the halls of Columbine, wielding their guns and their pipe bombs, well after the first bell of the day rang. And they were not stopped. Now, Morrison has done the same thing. He entered the school in the middle of the day–around noon, according to most news reports–and carefully selected his hostages: six high school girls. And then he tormented and terrorized them for nearly three hours, threatening to kill them, releasing them slowly one by one, and sexually molesting them until he killed himself and a young girl around 3:30 p.m., according to the Denver Post.
Students said that Morrison was out in the halls talking to them before he even began to threaten anyone. Of course there was no way to know for sure what he was planning. Maybe administrators thought he was a father or an uncle and overlooked his presence entirely. But he raised enough red flags that anyone could have asked questions. Students have said that he was out in the hallway during passing periods, holding a list of names and asking students where certain kids were. Some students told the Denver Post that he was in the parking lot, in his car, about an hour before his rampage, drinking alcohol.
Polk County Sheriff Fred Wegener called Morrison a “coward”. Someone-anyone-could have asked him what he was doing, why he was in the school, if he needed something, and then perhaps his cowardice would have overcome him. But no one did.
High schools today are so concerned with keeping their students in that keeping strangers out has never been a priority. Administrators spend so much time afraid of lunchtime ditchers, afternoon class skippers and parking lot stoners that they have no time to fear the real threats: the students so heartbroken and angry and disturbed that they think the only way to stop it is to kill their classmates, and the deranged older men who burst into high schools and take blonde girls hostage for reasons unknown. From the start, Morrison had a better chance of getting into a school with his guns and weapons than a student in that school had of getting to McDonald’s for an illicit lunch.
Now, 16-year-old Emily Keyes is dead. She is dead because of a school system, a public education system and a nation that failed to keep her safe. The very first school shooting is all it should have taken to wake up school administrators across the nation and shock them enough to lock the doors and keep the kids safe. But it wasn’t enough: not enough for Columbine, not enough for any of the other victims of school shootings, and not enough for Keyes.