Although April 20th is now jokingly considered to denote a certain holiday (if you don’t know what 4/20 is, ask your kids), there are those of us that still remember this day is also the anniversary of something else entirely. Exactly twelve years ago to the day, two disturbed students showed up at their campus in Littleton, Colorado and committed the deadliest high school massacre in United States history. At the time, the tragedy sparked a national debate over school bullying. More recently, however, theories have surfaced that refute bullying was the cause. Some posit that the gunmen were simply kids with serious psychological problems, and that the attack itself was an attempted domestic terrorist bombing, which devolved into a shooting rampage when the homemade bombs malfunctioned.
This theory was staunchly refuted today, when a survivor of the attack participated in a revealing question and answer session on Reddit, entitled: “I am a Columbine survivor named Brooks Brown. I was friends with the killers, a few victims, was scapegoated by the police as being involved, went on to do lots of anti-bullying activism for many years before I gave it up. Ask Me Anything.” During the session, he responded to someone who asked what he thought the contributing factors were to the attack:
“Many. Bullying, the school administration, parents, the culture we live in, etc. Some are bigger factors than others, and they rarely come together just right—that ‘perfect storm’ of factors to allow this to happen. That’s why it is exceedingly rare.
Top two? Bullying and mental health. Eric was on Luvox and wrote about how he’d go on and off his drug often to gain ‘greater self-awareness’. That’s not healthy. Couple that with being the bottom rung of the school shit-list, and it’s a bad thing.”
He went on to clear up many misconceptions surrounding the incident. There was indeed a Trench Coat Mafia. It wasn’t manufactured by the media, but it was really just a bunch of wanna-be goth kids in trench coats. Another common misunderstanding is the concept that bullying could not be a factor since the two gunmen may have been bullies themselves. Brown stated that although Harris and Klebold did treat some kids poorly, everyone did; and that “school was kinda messed up, to be frank.” Many participants brought up the book Columbine, by author Dave Cullen, who was one of the early proponents of the non-bullying argument.
“It’s hard for me to take anyone who dismisses bullying seriously. Immediately following the event there were dozens of well researched and sourced reports (even quotes from the bullies themselves proud of it!). I specifically love the Time article about it. A jock kid talked about how they dressed like ‘faggots’ and that’s ‘why we treated them like freaks’. Not quite sure why you wouldn’t trust that.”
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the discussion today was the lack of prevention taken by the authorities. Brown mentioned that his family had notified the police about death threats made by Harris, and that they also notified the school multiple times. He was certain that the police were the only ones that could have stopped the attack. “The governors report on the incident five years later showed there were 20 contacts to the police about Eric’s psychotic behavior. The police did nothing.” Brown discussed if there was anything he could have done differently:
“My dad and I have talked about this a lot. Seventeen times we reported stuff to the police. We went to Eric’s parents. Dylan’s too. The police even told us they were taking care of it, and I heard through a friend that Eric had gotten in big shit with the police. So we thought it worked. Turns out it was totally unrelated. Don’t know what else I could have done. The good news is that cops take this shit seriously now. So that’s a consolation.”
For a time, Brown was involved in anti-bullying activism, giving talks to various schools. When asked why he stopped these efforts, he stated that he began to recognize a pattern. The schools he was invited to speak at were the ones where he was needed the least. The schools that needed his help the most weren’t interested in having him. “Preaching to the choir is gratifying, at least at first. It feels useless after a while.” Hopefully, with current anti-bullying movements like the It Gets Better Project™ taking up the cause, the schools that really need help will begin asking for it.
Now married and living in San Francisco, Brooks Brown has made a new life for himself. But even hundreds of miles away, he still felt the need to talk about this again today. With over 2,000 comments, the discussion was well received. I, and many others, greatly appreciated the chance to learn more about this tragedy from someone who was there. By discussing the causes, we can try to prevent this from ever happening again.
Thank you, Brooks Brown, for your time and your candor.
I remember that day well.
It is hard to believe that the Columbine tragedy was 12 years ago.
It is, unfortunately, easy to believe that we as a culture and a society continue to look for easy answers to this incredibly complex problem. It is easier to keep our collective heads in the sand if we blame what happened at Columbine on a plot by a “lunatic fringe.” By identifying and “protecting” our kids against “domestic terrorist groups” we don’t have to ask ourselves the uncomfortable, lingering questions that lurk at the heart of the issue.
Programs like the “It Gets Better” initiative understand this. Thankfully.