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Title: Slain teacher's family launches suit aimed at media violence

Source: Denver Post, April 21st, 2000

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Slain teacher's family launches suit aimed at media violence
By Kevin Simpson
Denver Post Staff Writer

Saturday, April 21, 2001 -  Just hours after many Columbine victims settled legal claims against the parents of the shooters, two other families sent strong messages to the violence-filled media that they say made Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold more willing and efficient killers.

Linda Sanders, wife of slain teacher Dave Sanders, and two of his stepdaughters filed a multibillion-dollar, class-action lawsuit Thursday against 25 media companies, most of which manufacture or distribute video games.

And on Friday, the family of injured student Evan Todd had their lawyer fire off a letter to the co-creator of the game "Doom" - a favorite of Harris and Klebold - asking that he stop selling adult games to kids.

The Sanders' suit, filed hours before a two-year statute of limitations expired, claims that if not for violent games and other media images - in particular, a school massacre scene from the movie "The Basketball Diaries" - the rampage by Harris and Klebold wouldn't have happened.

The suit asks for $5 billion in damages, plus damages of $5,000 to $10 million for individual parties in the class action.

"But money may be the smallest part of the goal," said John DeCamp, the Sanders' Nebraska-based attorney. "This is a class action that says that, ultimately, money ain't gonna do it."

The suit contends that the $20-billion-a-year video game industry will not effectively regulate itself, and that court intervention is necessary to keep violent games out of the hands of minors.

Without those controls, "it is guaranteed that more monsters will be created and more school killings will occur," according to the lawsuit.

"Generally, I'm 100 percent on the side of the First Amendment, so I find myself in a strange position here," DeCamp said. "However, the (entertainment industry) establish their own rules that these are dangerous for children, and yet had a systematic program to make sure that's exactly who they marketed to at an early age."

The Sanders family declined to comment on the filing.

The public relations firm representing Nintendo of America, one of the defendants, had no immediate comment.

The suit closely resembles a federal action filed against dozens of entertainment companies after the Paducah, Ky., school shooting in which 14-year-old Michael Carneal shot eight classmates, killing three, in 1997. Florida attorney Jack Thompson helped file that lawsuit, which was dismissed but is being appealed.

Thompson said Columbine victims might have an even better case, and called the suicidal rampage "the Pearl Harbor of America's culture war."

On Friday, Thompson made public a letter he has sent to John Carmack, one of the original "Doom" creators and founder of Texas-based id Software, on behalf of the Todd family.

He called on Carmack to prohibit the sale and distribution of all video games rated for mature audiences to children under 17 - and to do it by April 30. The letter did not specifically threaten a lawsuit, but the statute of limitations for Evan Todd won't expire until he turns 18 in June.

Carmack couldn't be reached for comment.

Dale Todd, Evan's father, said he hooked up with Thompson through research he did on violent video games. He even obtained a copy of "Doom" and played it himself. He was appalled.

Then he asked Thompson to write Carmack a letter, "just to let him know we're on his trail." Although he doubts the software icon will change his ways, Todd said he may consider other options.

"We need to wake up," Todd said. "These kids don't need to be playing violent games. But corporations don't have social consciences. You have to force them through economics."

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