Ten years later, we now know.
They weren’t goths. They weren’t loners. They weren’t in the “Trenchcoat Mafia.” They were not disaffected video gamers. They hadn’t been bullied. The supposed “enemies” on their list had already graduated a year earlier. They weren’t on anti-depressant medication. They didn’t target jocks, blacks or Christians.
They just wanted to kill.
And so it was that on the morning of April 20, 1999, our world changed. Two seemingly normal, well-scrubbed high school boys went to their school in a prosperous suburban subdivision with the goal to kill thousands. Their bombs didn’t work, so they proceeded to kill 13 classmates, and wound another 24.
Never again would we say, “It could never happen here.”
What have we learned in ten years? By 2002, the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Education Department had completed a study on school shooters and found that no single profile fit them all. What was clear that few simply “snapped” at the time of the attack. They had usually planned it with meticulous detail.
Conclusion? “They are rage shootings,” says David Osher, a sociologist and vice president at the American Institutes for Research.
And the rage continues.
Does the name Byran Uyesugi ring a bell? Robert Hawkins? Mark Barton? Terry Ratzmann? Robert Stewart? In an article titled, “Why are Americans killing each other?,” Ted Anthony writes that “each entered the national consciousness when he picked up a gun and ended multiple lives.” The most recent, Stewart, killed 14 just a few weeks ago at a nursing home in Binghamton, New York.
And these are just examples from a far longer list. Forty-seven were killed through mass shootings in March alone.
As Anthony notes, we now live in a society “where the term ‘mass shooting’ has lost its status as unthinkable aberration and become mere fodder for a fresh news cycle.” But then he asks the pivotal question:
“Why are we killing each other?”
The only answer that could be mustered was the loss of the American dream. Eight years of terrorism angst, six years of war in Iraq, months of recession. He laments that 663,000 lost their jobs in March, and worries how many might be angry about it – and might have a gun.
In truth, the answer is found in a word that an increasingly post-Christian world does not have in its arsenal. In his book Explaining Hitler, Ron Rosenbaum surveys theory after theory regarding the Nazi leader’s atrocities. In the end, all of his explanations fail to confront the “laughing” Hitler, the bloodthirsty dictator who was fully conscious of his malignancy. He didn’t have to kill the Jews; he wasn’t compelled by abstract forces. In truth, he chose to, he wanted to.
Here was simply an evil man.
It brings to mind Jean Bethke Elshtain’s experience on the first Sunday following the attacks of 9/11. She went to a Methodist church in Nashville. The minister, which she describes as having a kind of frozen smile on his face, said “I know it has been a terrible week.” Then, after a pause, he continued, “But that’s no reason for us to give up our personal dreams.” She thought, “Good grief! Shouldn’t you say something about what happened and how Christians are to think about it?” But then she realized that if one has lost the term evil from his or her theological vocabulary, then it is not easy to talk about such a thing.
But talk about it we must. That is, if you want to know the real reason why we are killing each other.
James Emery White
“10 years later, the real story behind Columbine,” Greg Toppo, USA Today, Tuesday, April 14, 2009, p. 1A and 2A. Link to story: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2009-04-13-columbine-myths_N.htm?se=yahoorefer&poe=HFMostPopular&loc=interstitialskip
“Lessons from Columbine,” Greg Toppo and Marilyn Elias, USA Today, Tuesday, April 14, 2009, p. 1D and 2D. Link to story: http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2009-04-13-columbine-lessons_N.htm
“Why are Americans killing each other?,” Ted Anthony, Associated Press, posted Sunday, April 5, 2009. Link to story: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/408/story/644582.html
Ron Rosenbaum, Explaining Hitler
Jean Bethke Elshtain, in the afterword to Evangelicals in the Public Square, ed. by J. Budziszewski (2006).
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About Dr. James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
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