Tag Archives: Columbine High School

Interview With Adam Lanza’s Father Makes Clear: We Need a New Approach to School Shootings

I’ve been thinking a lot about this interview with Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter Adam Lanza’s father, Peter Lanza, since it ran in the New Yorker a couple of weeks ago. I read about it before I read it, in various articles attempting to summarize its more shocking elements: Peter describing Adam’s crime as “you can’t get any more evil,” or saying he sometimes wishes his son had never been born. But if you read the whole piece, you come away with a much more complex and nuanced picture of what happened in this family, and in a situation which has no easy answers or living scapegoats.

We can speculate — at length — about whether Adam’s parents should have paid more attention or done more. Much has been made of the fact that Adam was prescribed different therapies and even antidepressants, and the fact that both Adam and his mother, Nancy, appeared to be uncomfortable with these options and failed to stick with them. Plenty could also be made of the fact that Nancy kept Peter at a distance after their divorce — a distance he didn’t appear to fight.

But the more I write about these topics, the more I think it’s impossible to determine which one of 100,000 troubled adolescent boys (to pick a random number) — autistic or no, depressed or no, schizophrenic or no, angry or no — is going to plan and commit a mass shooting in a school or elsewhere. Obviously, there are the rare instances where one of them posts or emails a warning, or divulges his plans in a fit of confidence or attention-seeking. But in most cases, even in hindsight, the “warning signs” aren’t clear — or aren’t common only to other fellow perpetrators. They’re qualities other people have, too.

We’re coming up on the 15th anniversary of the Columbine High School killings, and the narrative surrounding that incident is still very similar to the one surrounding Sandy Hook: wayward, perhaps emotionally disturbed teens. Angry music and violent video games. Access to guns. A lack of comprehensive mental-health options. Parents who didn’t recognize the signs that their child might be turning violent, either because the signs were well hidden or because it was difficult to tell those were the ones that would obviously lead to murder. The narrative hasn’t changed because we still don’t have answers, and we may never have the answers we’d need to actually identify potential perpetrators and prevent more school shootings.

Given that, what COULD we do to minimize the number of these incidents, or protect students and school staff if they happen? Much better mental health services, sure. De-stigmatization of mental health issues. Massive amounts of education and outreach for parents of troubled kids. None of this would be aimed at singling out potential perpetrators, but to make sure any kids in this category have a broad and comforting safety net, which is something pretty much all teens need, but particularly those who might otherwise be prone to extreme acts of violence.

What about the guns? Whether or not guns are allowed to minors is almost irrelevant; Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had an over-18 friend purchase guns for them. Adam Lanza learned his way around firearms from his mother, but he was also 19, a legal adult able to purchase his own weapons, when he committed his crimes. There are Constitutional issues associated with limiting access to guns, and there are varying opinions on gun control, but I think someone who is willing to go into a school and open fire is going to find a way around whatever gun laws we have. We could turn schools into gun-free zones, but there’s likely ways around that.

At the end of the day, the New Yorker article suggests we — Americans, parents, educators, and journalists all included — need to think and write differently about school shootings, the ones that have happened and the ones that have yet to happen.

So. Where do you think we should start?

Throwback Thursday: Columbine ‘Goth or not?’

While digging through old articles a couple of weeks ago, I came across one from the Associated Press, written in the days following the Columbine Shooting in April 1999. Written by Michael Fleeman, it’s titled, ‘Goth or not? High school massacre puts spotlight on dark sub-culture.’

The article echoes the conventional wisdom of the day — that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were involved with goth culture somehow:

Columbine students described the suicide assailants, Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, as part of clique of about 15 students who looked to their classmates like Goths. They dressed the part with their black trench coats, rain or shine. Harris belonged to a Web group featuring Gothic lore.

However, it also (surprisingly) gets many things right, such as pointing out that goth culture is predominantly peaceful. Fleeman also interviewed folks in the scene, including a publicist for Cleopatra records and a gothic-magazine editor. This quote is particularly smart:

“I think for kids Goth is a source of power, a source of community,” said Kirk Olson, an associate with Minneapolis-based Iconoculture, which does market research on cultural trends. “Kids who feel alienated are searching for power in something else. One way of doing that is to differentiate themselves as much as possible from the mainstream.”

Follow this link to read the whole thing.

Why do you think this reporter was able to achieve such balance and good information, while so many others were sensationalizing goth culture as a cesspool of violence? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

I’d like to start regularly posting older pieces like this one. If you’d like to recommend a throwback article, please email me.

It’s time to listen to the moms of violent young men


Suspected Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter Adam Lanza.

Thirteen and a half years ago, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold brought guns to school, killing 13 classmates and faculty before turning their guns on themselves. When President Bill Clinton solemnly addressed the nation after the shootings at Columbine High School, he said, “Amidst all the turmoil and grief … perhaps now America would wake up to the dimensions of this challenge, if it could happen in a place like Littleton, and we could prevent anything like this from happening again.”

Did we wake up?

Since then, frankly, as a nation we’ve done fuck-all to stop another one from happening. And they’ve kept happening.

While we’ve been listening to the “researchers” like Craig Anderson, Doug Gentile and Brad Bushman, whose hundreds of studies have permanently embedded in our brains a correlation between video-game violence and real-life aggression, young men have kept shooting. While we’ve been listening to the nightly news blame the occult, heavy metal, and goths, young men have kept shooting.

Within hours of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, one of Fox News’ talking heads was already laying it on about video games — without knowing whether suspected shooter Adam Lanza played them. CNN and Sen. Joe Lieberman — also on Fox News — were not far behind.

In the past two days, the Daily Mail has run at least two articles linking Lanza with goth kids, as though that simple fact would have made him a killer. If anything, goth kids — who are about as non-aggressive as kids get — would have taken him in because he was different, he didn’t know how to get along, and they were able to make space in their social group for someone like him.

We don’t know, precisely, what Adam was like. The two people who probably knew him best — himself and his mother — are dead. His mother, who apparently quit her job at Sandy Hook Elementary a few years ago so she could take care of him, even though he was almost an adult. What was going on with Adam? In the coming days and weeks, we may know more. For now, all we know now is that, for whatever reason, his mother felt he needed full-time care at an age when most young men are getting ready to leave the nest.

The thing is, I think a lot of moms know — parents know — when their kids are teetering on the brink of violence. Or when they’ve gone way over the brink. One of the pieces circulating today is by mom/blogger Liza Long, who wrote a post Friday that’s now being called, “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother.” She isn’t — but she is the mom of a violent 13-year-old whom she fears:

On the intake form, under the question, “What are your expectations for treatment?” I wrote, “I need help.”

And I do. This problem is too big for me to handle on my own. Sometimes there are no good options. So you just pray for grace and trust that in hindsight, it will all make sense.

I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am Jason Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.

According to Mother Jones, since 1982, 61 mass murders involving firearms have occurred throughout the country. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map). Of these, 43 of the killers were white males, and only one was a woman. Mother Jones focused on whether the killers obtained their guns legally (most did). But this highly visible sign of mental illness should lead us to consider how many people in the U.S. live in fear, like I do.

After James Holmes shot a dozen people in a Colorado movie theater this summer, didn’t his mother say she knew he’d done it? How many other moms have had that conversation with police — they felt helpless to protect their sons from those violent feelings, and they knew it was only a matter of time before their sons hurt someone else?

I know it’s tough to talk about mental health here without stigmatizing huge swaths of people who battle mental illness but aren’t dangerous to themselves or others. But we need to try. Note that most of the perpetrators in mass shootings wind up killing themselves at the end of the event. I’ve heard such massacres called elaborate forms of suicide. Something, temporarily or permanently, has gone very wrong in their minds. And in most cases, there seems to have been adequate evidence that they were capable of such violence. There were signs and plans leading up to the event. There were caring people who tried to intervene, but for whatever reason, these boys and men slipped through the cracks.

Their moms: are they asking for an end to violent video games? To goth culture? To paganism? To heavy-metal music? No, they aren’t. They’re asking for something American society is loath to provide: adequate mental-health care. Treatment. Protection, for their boys and for themselves. And for society. Caring for others, especially potentially dangerous others, is contrary to our “everyone has the freedom to make his own choices”/”everyone can pull himself up by his own bootstraps” philosophies. But at what cost?

So while the debate rages on about gun control, video games, and goths, what are we doing for moms like Liza? What are we doing to actually prevent this from happening again?

So far, nothing.

Young opera singer proves goth culture can nurture


Is it so surprising that a young goth man could have such talent?

The country is abuzz about Andrew De Leon, the 19-year-old who wowed the judges during an audition in Austin, TX this week on “America’s Got Talent.” Two things about De Leon have gotten people talking: his impressive, self-trained falsetto opera voice, and his goth-rock look.

The entertainment press is making a big deal of the fact that someone with his looks and style would sing the way he does. In fact, his look is making headlines everywhere, as though there weren’t tens of thousands of kids who dress similarly, inspired by the same shock-rockers who meant so much to De Leon growing up. This singer’s shy, isolated, outcast upbringing is typical for goth kids, both in the sense that he didn’t feel like he fit in, and in the sense that he turned to music and culture that nurtured him. Clearly his self-directed interests paid off, giving him the time and space to practice his talent — and knock the socks off everyone when he finally shared it. Here’s what he said about his adolescence:

“Growing up, I was a huge fan of Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie and all these different rock stars. They really became an escape for someone like me, who felt that I was an outsider. Growing up, I was alienated because I was never interested in athletics or what everybody else in my family was interested in. Singing was always an escape. It was always a comfort zone. Being on ‘America’s Got Talent’ is a huge step for someone like me, who’s never sang in public before, never sang in front of even my family. I think my days of being shy and of being an outcast have reached their end, and I’d like to be able to really show what I can do.”

Getting on that stage was clearly a moving experience for him — and for the audience. When Howard Stern asked him what he was thinking after he sang, he said, “I’m just so used to being rejected, and I’m not really good at anything, so this is amazing.”

(I have to wonder what was running through Sharon Osbourne’s mind, watching him, recognizing that the bloodlines of her husband’s work led directly to this young man singing before her. She had to have been proud.)

Here’s the thing: listen to him talk. He knows what he likes. He knows what he’s into. He knows why he got into it, and he knows why it was good for him. He’s not a 40-year-old with 25 years of hindsight; he’s 19, and he knows. Clearly, he amassed some confidence, enough confidence to get up on that stage and reveal his talent and ability, something he’s obviously worked on.

In a culture where some believe “Goth Will Destroy Your Child” or “God Hates Goths,” where people still believe Marilyn Manson is still somehow responsible for the Columbine High School massacre, De Leon is living proof that goth culture can be profoundly nurturing, too.

EDIT: A new video has surfaced of Andrew performing “Ave Maria” a capella — probably in his bedroom — in corpsepaint, a Misfits shirt, and skeleton gloves. Maybe he’s less pure goth and more shock-rock. I suspect we’ll find out more as he performs on AGT. Check it out:

Smithsonian: even violent video games are art


Sony’s M-rated psychological thriller “Heavy Rain” is included in the Smithsonian’s “Art of Video Games” exhibit.

There are still plenty of people in the world who say video games — particularly violent video games — are, at best, a waste of time, and, at worst, a form of homicide training.

And then there’s the Smithsonian American Art Museum, whose new exhibit, “The Art of Video Games,” firmly says otherwise.

Here’s their introduction to the exhibit, which runs through September:

“The Art of Video Games” is one of the first exhibitions to explore the forty-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on striking visual effects and the creative use of new technologies. It features some of the most influential artists and designers during five eras of game technology, from early pioneers to contemporary designers. The exhibition focuses on the interplay of graphics, technology and storytelling through some of the best games for twenty gaming systems ranging from the Atari VCS to the PlayStation 3.

The show features 80 games, selected from a ballot of more than 240 titles by 3.7 million video-game fans across the world. Among those games are a number of controversial and M-rated games, such as:

Doom II
Fallout
Diablo II
Metal Gear Solid
Halo 2
Fable
Bioshock
Mass Effect 2
Fallout 3
Metal Gear Solid 2
Heavy Rain
Brütal Legend

These are, to be clear, games that have been demonized and reviled in the public eye, particularly a game from the Doom franchise, which many have (mistakenly) blamed for the Columbine High School shootings in 1999.

These games offer more than senseless violence. They offer rich stories, characters, and a chance to explore other worlds and experiences. They are a chance to understand an alternate reality, and bring that understanding back with you.

As game developer Mike Mika puts it in the show’s trailer:

Your skill while watching a movie might be eating popcorn. Your skill while playing a video game night be that you’ve succeeded at learning something, and you’re GOOD at it.”

The show also comes with a calendar of exciting live events, from a Gamer Symphony Orchestra to a live talk from curator Chris Melissinos.

Will the Smithsonian help video games gain recognition as a form of art? Why or why not?

Ohio shooting: What’s “goth” got to do with it?


One Chardon High School student told reporters Thomas “TJ” Lane “got into a gothic phase” before Monday’s shootings.

It’s not often that we get two stories like this back to back, but just days after I blogged about goth culture erroneously linked to a UK stabbing, it’s also now being connected with a school shooting in Ohio yesterday that killed three students.

Reporters began combing the Internet and interviewing classmates and neighbors as soon as the gunman’s identity, Thomas “TJ” Lane, was leaked. It wasn’t long before MSNBC rounded up one of Lane’s fellow students who said Lane “got into a gothic phase” before the shootings. Does he explain? Well, sort of:

“He kind of got into the gothic phase and kind of silenced himself from his friends,” Nate Mueller said. “But I mean, he still had friends. He was still a nice kid … I don’t think anybody really ever expected it to be him. We didn’t think he would hurt anybody.”

Here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Mueller says he was one of the shooting victims. A bullet grazed his ear. That’s not to say he’s lying about Lane, but people tend to distort or exaggerate facts when they’ve just been through a trauma.

2. What Mueller describes as “gothic” actually translates to “solitary.” These two concepts are not synonymous.

At this point, the term “goth” has become so distorted in mainstream culture — which is a product of the way it’s been linked to violent crimes, and the way outsiders view goths as depressed, lonely, alienated kids — that it no longer holds meaning when reporters use the term. It’s pretty much become a euphemism for a certain kind of outcast, violent-prone teen. But what does that mean for the millions of actual goths who are happily ensconced in their social scene — and who are decidedly peaceful, pacifistic people?

Of course, the link between “goths” and school shooters was popularized in the aftermath of the Columbine High School massacre, when a source claiming to be a Columbine student (he wasn’t) described Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold’s penchant for black trenchcoats and industrial music as “goth.” But those boys weren’t anything like almost all goths — teen or adult — you will meet. And, so far, I don’t see any evidence that Lane is, either.

That said, people who knew Lane differently are tending to describe him pretty differently. One of his friends told CNN:

Haley Kovacik said she’s in “complete shock” that Lane — whom she described as a “a very normal, just teenage boy” — could be behind the shooting. “He did have a sad look in his eyes a lot of the time, but he talked normally, he never said anything strange,” Kovacik told CNN. “It was a really big shock.”

And, as police revealed Lane’s identity, and a lawyer took up his case, they told reporters:

Thomas “T.J.” Lane … came from a violent family. His father was arrested numerous times for abusing women, including Lane’s mother, according to court records cited by The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Students say that Lane was shy and targeted by bullies. Although the shooting took place at 7:30 a.m. in the Chardon High cafeteria, Lane was enrolled at Lake Academy Alternative School, an institution for “at risk” youths.

It may be years before we get an accurate picture of this boy — as accurate a picture as we can get, filtered through the lenses of trauma, law enforcement, legal defense, and journalism. If we can learn something about Lane that will accurately help the right people identify the next school shooter, great — but so far, there doesn’t seem to be any one single “shooter trait” present in all these young men.

And certainly, “gothic” isn’t it.

Fear leads to anger — and goth-bashing


Thirteen-year-old Casey-Lyanne Kearney was stabbed to death. Her accused killer has been called a “goth.” Not likely.

On Valentine’s Day, Casey-Lynne Kearney was crossing Elmfield Park in Doncaster, England when a woman allegedly stabbed her and left her to die.

Police, who called the assault random and isolated, arrested 26-year-old Hannah Bonser, a Doncaster resident, for Kearney’s murder and and for possession of two knives. Her trial is scheduled to begin July 2.

Even before Bonser appeared in court to defend herself, neighbors described her to the UK’s sensationalism-prone Sun as a goth:

… neighbours in Doncaster described her as having the look of “a Goth” — sporting dark hair and dark-rimmed glasses. She was said to be “addicted” to computer games.

One resident, who asked not to be identified, said: “The police were round here and they took some boxes of stuff from her flat. She was like a rocker, gothic type. She was very quiet.”

Talking to the neighbors is one of the oldest tricks in the reporter’s book. There are a variety of good reasons for this practice, but what neighbors say must always be taken with a grain of salt — these days, many people don’t know their neighbors particularly well, or may even have conflicts with them that drive them to say things they shouldn’t.

Not only are those descriptions very vague and patched-together, they don’t really describe an actual goth. (And, you can see in the court link, Bonser doesn’t look particularly goth.) Most of the time, it takes more than dark hair and “dark-rimmed glasses” to identify a goth. (Also, nice how the slipped in the “video games” angle too, eh?”)

More than that, though, these flimsy descriptions reinforce the false idea that goths are a remotely violent group. This idea, popularized after the Columbine High School killings in Colorado in 1999 (committed by two young men who were also falsely identified as goths), has been tough to shake. People outside the goth culture see the black hair, theatrical makeup and clothing, piercings and studs, and assume their fear of such an off-putting appearance must mean goths are aggressive. In fact, the most aggressive thing about goths is probably their appearance. Religioustolerance.org notes, “Goths tend to be non-violent, pacifistic, passive, and tolerant.”

Often to a fault. In fact, goths are much more often the victims of violence, as in the cases of Sophie Lancaster and Melody McDowell, both of whom were coincidentally assaulted in England.

In some ways, the comments made by Bonser’s neighbors constitute another kind of attack on goths — and reveal the layers of misunderstanding and discomfort that exist against them in modern society.

When someone on UK Yahoo Answers asked why goths are so stigmatized, another responded:

Unfortunately a lot of people (especially those who live in small towns & don’t have a lot of life experience, or even those of a low level of intelligence) will always feel threatened by something that is outside their own experience and/or they do not understand.

Or, to quote a certain wise green muppet, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

When will we stop being so afraid of one another?