The question came from the New York Times, a teaser for their story, but was repeated several times by other news outlets.
“Officials say that Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., has remained “a source of inspiration” for potential gun violence. Should they tear it down and start anew?”
In 1999, I lived about five miles from Columbine High School. I knew Columbine students, most of who were at school on April 20, 1999. I may not have an immediate vested interest in the school itself, but I do have an opinion.
Though people have a fascination with the Columbine shooting, the elimination of the school itself will not prevent those who study the massacre will always have to which to hold, especially with the advent of the Internet and the ability to search for information concerning almost any subject of which you choose.
In an open letter discussing the demolition of Columbine High School, Superintendent Jason Glass, the superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools wrote, “School shooters refer to and study the Columbine shooting as a macabre source of inspiration and motivation.” Whether or not the school stands will not make a difference. The site itself will continue to be a mecca for those who wish to “study” the event of 20 years ago.
Case in point: Hitler’s vision of world dominance was destroyed over 74 years ago, yet the neo-Nazi movement still exists and people study the works of Hitler with fervor to emulate his disdain for non-whites, the dominance of his so-called Aryan Race. Even an initial search for the Third Reich called up over 56 million hits on a Google search.
Columbine was not the first school massacre in the United States. It was, however, the one we saw live on television as it unfolded. According to K12 Academics, the first recorded school shooting was “Pontiac’s Rebellion school massacre on July 26, 1764,” in which nine to ten people were killed and two students survived. There were 17 incidents of school shootings between 1900 and 1939.
They further report that the number of school shootings continued and increased from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s. Firearms were prevalent in the schools well before Columbine.
“According to the U.S. Department of Education,” they wrote, “in the 1998-1999 School Year, 3,523 Students (57% High School, 33% Junior High, 10% Elementary) were expelled for bringing a firearm to school.”
Those were just the ones that were caught bringing firearms into schools.
From 2000 until 2010, there were some 240 students killed in school shootings, from K-12 to post-secondary.
Jason Glass, wrote in an open letter that people have been coming in record numbers. That tearing down the building would halt such visits.
But taking down the building will not stem the curiosity of the “Columbiners,” those that are obsessed with the shootings at the Colorado high school. They will visit the grounds and the memorial in Littleton. They will research the shootings on the Internet and make their own plans to immolate the massacre. Most will be satisfied with the visit. A small percentage will not.
Former Columbine student Will Beck, 36, recently took his children to the school. According to a National Public Radio report, Beck showed his children where he hid during the rampage, where a teacher saved his life and the fence he scaled to escape the carnage.
He does not want to lose the school. “Revisiting the school shortly after the shooting, and even now with his children, helps him conquer the trauma.”
Other school districts have either replaced or are planning to replace their schools where mass shootings had taken place. Sandy Hook Elementary was torn down in 2013. There are considerations of taking down the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Yet the shootings are still studied, even with the physical building destroyed.
Tearing down the building will not change the story of Columbine, to somehow make the massacre any less destructive for the survivors or a curiosity for those who seek inspiration.
The cost for the demolition and construction will range from $60 million to $70 million. I can think of more useful uses for those funds, not only in Colorado but nationwide. Better and accessible mental health facilities. Better training for teachers and police. Better gun control laws preventing the sale of firearms to underage buyers and felons. Better laws concerning the storing of firearms in a home with children. Universal background checks concerning all firearms purchases. And the list goes on.
Leave Columbine High School as it stands today. It is a reminder of the attack on April 20, 1999. It is also a source of healing for many who survived the mass shooting.