On March 11, 2009, a disturbed 17-year-old named Tim Kretschmer killed 16 people at a secondary school in Winnenden, Germany wounded another 11 people, and then committed suicide. On March 13th Denver Post columnist Mike Littwin wrote a poignant article capturing the frustrations most of us feel over these school shootings. His words are worth repeating:
“We are coming up on the 10th anniversary of Columbine, and you can expect new pages filled with tear-stained memories of that horrible day. After 10 years, the old questions will inevitably be asked anew. And we’ll struggle again to discover some kind of meaning from that day.
“But it turns out the story won’t hold, not after a week of fresh horror. Instead, the old unanswerable questions are being asked in other places. …
“And if there is one lesson to take from Columbine, it is that whatever happens, we never seem to learn anything. That’s how we come to meet again at the intersection where disturbed young men turn into psychopaths with access to guns.”
“Years later, after too many massacres, the killings are treated more like natural phenomena—they come, like tsunamis, and then drift from our consciousness, leaving death and sorrow in their wake.
“In each new town, the story line emerges—the flowers, the poems, the candles, the turn to religion, the questions about a just God, the young people learning far too young the meaning of tragedy, the photographs of the faces twisted in disbelief, the lives of the victims burned into memory.
“And I go to Virginia Tech, where the warning signs we had supposedly learned were ignored so completely that looking for answers seemed beyond hope.
“At Virginia Tech, we saw a student with serious and documented mental-health issues, who thought that Klebold and Harris were martyrs. Still, he was able to get guns and, as they say, do a Columbine. And those of us who covered Virginia Tech wondered again, if we were contributing to the next one—and what we could possibly do about that.
“In this story (Virginia Tech) if you remember, the killer had sent a video manifesto to NBC-TV, which had to decide whether to run it. The video gave voice to a killer who barely spoke at all. It was chilling, and it was disturbing and it gave voice, too, to the problems of the modern media.
“By now, we know too much and too little. Do video games make killers? Not likely. Do would-be killers find a home there? Of course. Do we know enough about guns and disturbed young men and tragedy? Sure. Did we decide in the ongoing culture wars, not to fight about guns anymore? You know the answer.” (To be continued)