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Previous Encounters: 03.17.00 - 04.01.00 - 04.16.00 



The following installment of Random Encounter was published to the site in April of 2000, nearly one year after the terrible tragedy at Columbine High School, and the letter it references was written a few days after the incident.

In the years since then, we have learned much about Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine killers. They were deeply disturbed young men who had a burning desire to get their revenge on the world. Let by Harris, who was a textbook psychopath, the two of them thought of nothing but getting even with a world full of people that they perceived as being beneath them.

They didn't have an external trigger - not music, not movies, not the goth culture, not video or roleplaying games - nothing fueled their fire other than Eric's psychopathy.

Not even, as it turns out, being bullied. The accounts of Harris and Klebold being bullied and mocked by others were just as untrue as the rest, as testified by teens who barely knew them and a media that was desperate to feed news to a hungry public. The same testimonies brought us the myths of Cassie Bernall's martyrdom, and the killers targeting jocks or nonwhites during their spree. Not only were the boys not bullied, but the reverse was true - they were known to bully others from time to time.

I admit my mistake, and apologize for it. It could be said that I am as guilty as those who jumped to conclusions about popular music, video games, and roleplaying games, and I suppose that I am.

In my defense, I offer this - that at least my conclusion was focused on a real problem, and one that we would do well to confront, rather than engaging in the futile practice of setting up straw men and knocking them down.

- wjw, 10-01-09

April 16th, 2000

An Anniversary...


hursday, April 20th, 2000 marks the first anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colorado.  While friends and family of the victims grieve and remember, news teams will have their cameras rolling and a slew of news stories will appear, discussing what went wrong.A picture from my Sophmore yearbook, circa 1983. Don't I look dashing?

While digging through the files on my hard drive last week, I came across a letter that I had written not long after the incident.  I'm not sure who would be the eventual recipient of this missive, but it never made it there.   Rather than let it go to waste, I thought it would go to good use to post it here, and let everyone know exactly how I feel.

It's an unfinished work, and will always remain that way; it gets the point across, and stands on it's own well enough.  For best results, read it after you have become overwhelmed with sound bites and expert opinions. 

Play nice,

P.S. Lest I forget to mention, my anti-scapegoating campaign, The Black Page Project, is still alive, but not so well.  If you would like to participate, and display a black page on your site this April 20th, go to


Whenever a horrible crime like the Columbine shooting comes along, everyone is quick to trot out their scapegoats, like some kind of bizarre Westminster Dog Show.

The parents of the victims blame the parents of the killers, for not watching their every move, like any good parents without jobs or other responsibilities can. 

Religious zealots are blaming the incident on the removal of prayer from schools, as if the propagation of their religious beliefs is the only thing keeping the entire nation from exploding in a blaze of chaos.

The media blames practically everything else: the Goth scene (of which the killers were not actually a part), video games, movies, and music (which are enjoyed by millions of other teens who somehow resist the urge to waste their classmates), and even role-playing games (which have not even been proven to be a factor in this case, but they are such an easy target…).

No one seems to see the real reason, the reason that even the government is powerless against. And it's right in front of our noses.

When interviewed about the personalities of the suspects, most every one of the teenagers from Columbine High School called them "outcasts" and "loners." Many admitted to teasing them, calling them names, and generally making high school life miserable for them… they are even the ones who first coined the phrase "Trenchcoat Mafia," a term later used by the outcasts themselves as a badge of individuality.

Don't get me wrong; I am certainly not suggesting that anyone "had it coming." While none of us who claim to be of sound mind can ever justify the massacre that was Columbine, it is painfully obvious that a fuse was lit. And the accompanying explosion was devastating. 

I speak from experience. I myself was an outcast, misunderstood by most of my classmates, and as a result, ridiculed constantly by them. I was called most every name in the book, pushed out of lunch lines, picked last for every team in gym class, and embarrassed and humiliated in countless ways. At times, a few of the teachers even joined in. When confronted with their acts by a teacher or the principal, the reaction of my tormentors was always a head-shaking, shoulder-shrugging plea of innocence, followed by even harsher treatment when the backs of authority were turned.

One day, as I stood at the far end of the recess yard, minding my own business, I became the target of a good, old-fashioned stoning. Just like the kind you read about in the Bible, except that I had the chance to duck behind the gym teacher's car for protection.  I didn't bother reporting it.

The fact is, I fantasized about doing something similar in my school; running wild through the hallways, taking out any student or teacher who had ever given me trouble. The fact is, many of us do. The difference between us and the Columbine killers is that we are much more stable, mentally. Our fuses fizzled, to everyone's benefit.

Five years ago, a friend informed me that our class was having a ten year reunion. I was surprised at first that I hadn't gotten an invitation; then, when I read my friend's, I discovered that my name had somehow dropped off of their list. Whether it was forgotten or deliberately omitted will always be a mystery to me, but either way, I'm glad. I'd much rather be forgotten by them. 

And, in a way, that's a damn shame.

What have we learned from Columbine? What can we do to prevent another school shooting? Nothing if we do not make some serious changes, immediately. 

I'm not talking about taking videos off of store shelves, banning video games like Doom or Quake, burning Marilyn Manson records, or instating a nationwide mandatory waiting period for buying a handgun. These are not solutions; they only make us feel better by knowing that we've stopped someone from doing something of which we don't approve.

I'm talking about treating people properly. Tell the people you love that you love them, and treat the rest with the respect that you would like to get from them. And as for the ones that you fear because they dress differently, or listen to strange music, or follow a different religion, or have a different skin color, or you generally can't understand them… leave them alone.

Otherwise, you can never be certain whose fuse you are going to light… or how huge the explosion will be. 

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