My Son Admires the Columbine Killers

Question: Help! My son says he admires the Columbine shooters because they felt the same way he does toward society. I’ve read that a lot of young men feel this way which is pretty scary. I’m worried for my son but I don’t know what to say. How can I explain that what they did is wrong?

Answer: One of the many problems with what happened in Littleton, Colorado on April 20, 1999 is the amazing amount of misinformation about what exactly occurred. Columbine, one of the best books covering the tragedy, was written by Dave Cullen, a journalist who spent 10 years researching the event. According to what he found, many people are mistaken about what caused Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to do what they did. Contrary to early media reports, their reasons for murdering their fellow students and teachers had little to with getting even from some perceived injustice; their rationale was a lot more specific. Harris was a psychopath who wanted to kill thousands simply because he could while Klebold was clinically depressed and wanted to commit suicide by cop.

I mention this book and the misinformation because I believe it is important to figure out precisely what your son is feeling. How does he feel toward society? What does he believe makes them martyrs and to what cause? It could be that he has been led astray by the inaccuracy of the media or it could be that he knows more about the event than is healthy. Whichever is the case, it might be helpful for both of you to read the book and then discuss it together.

I would encourage you to specifically discuss the impact on the victims and their families. Helping your son feel empathy toward the innocent victims of this tragedy, people who did nothing wrong other than simply be at the wrong place at the wrong time, may go a long way toward him realizing that what they did was wrong.

Another thing I would discuss with him is that violent solutions solve nothing; they rarely even help the violent person feel better. Your son may be feeling isolated and angry at the world but there are other ways for him to get his needs met. If you can pinpoint what’s wrong, then maybe you can figure out the solution. Perhaps what he needs are role models who truly were martyrs to the cause, people throughout history who used nonviolent means as a way to improve the world. Bobby Kennedy, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. are all great examples of this. Perhaps your son needs to hear words like those that Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1963, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” If none of these suggestions work, then I would try counseling. Your son seems like he’s in a dark place and needs to figure out productive ways to step into the light.

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