Columbine: Clean It Up

July 9, 2010 at 12:55 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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The Columbine Memorial adjacent the high school is a powerful place. Becoming enveloped in the stone structure at Clement Park can be a learning experience, and an emotional one too. Although any other number of personal journeys surely take place there.

Memorials such as the one for Columbine also have economic stories. They need time and money to be built, and the path to the Columbine Memorial has been well-documented in The Denver Post and now defunct Rocky Mountain News (where I worked for 10 years). And even when the finishing touches are completed, the work is not done. Memorials, like any other structure, need to be maintained.

So it should be no surprise that I got an e-mail the other week from Kirsten Kreiling, president
Columbine Memorial Foundation. She is soliciting volunteers (for as little as an hour) to help maintain the memorial.

One of my first thoughts, however, was “Can I just show up and start doing stuff?” I figured that is the kind of situation that makes a government official like a park worker or police officer cringe.

Kreiling assured me that the park staff is aware a call has been put out for volunteers to show up. I tried it out myself the other week; the only problem I had was dealing with the afternoon heat (bring a bottle of water). And if the idea of volunteering for a cause isn’t enough to motivate you, you might appreciate eavesdropping on the comments of visitors.

This is the list of work Kreiling sent out:

Deadheading perennials in all the flower beds; including the columbines
Cut back the spring bulb growth (ie cut off the wilted green stalks from the tulips, hyacinth, etc.)
Weeding under the pine trees on the hill
Weed whacking around the rose bushes up above the fountain (and weeding as needed)
Weeding of the flower beds
Sweeping of the entire Memorial
Trash pick up along the hillsides
Clipping / pruning of dead growth on trees
Spraying of weeds with Round Up in any of the sidewalk areas

You can contact Kreiling at:

Foundation@ColumbineMemorial.org

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Columbine and the End of Journalism…TIME Mag and LA Times miss the mark

April 21, 2010 at 11:34 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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The lesson on this Columbine anniversary that hit April 20 may not come from the shootings themselves. But rather, how the media has covered the shootings since the ten-year anniversary last year.

I previously discussed shortcomings in Newsweek’s coverage of Columbine’s ten-year anniversary. But they were not the only ones who wrote as if they were unaware of the twists and turns the Columbine story had taken.
Writing in TIME magazine, Lev Grossman’s ten-year anniversary story was titled “The Meaning Of Murder.” The first line in TIME’s big piece tried to reach for news and said of the killers, “They weren’t gay.”
Grossman doesn’t say why that is new, and it’s not clear the (false) notion that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were gay ever gained acceptance in the mainstream media. On May 2, 1999, just less than two weeks after the shootings, the Rocky quoted someone who knew the killers with the same words Grossman used: “They were not gay. They did not wear makeup,” Dustin Gorton told the paper. “There’s so much information coming out about them that just isn’t true.” Stories on the “basement tapes” made by the killers often note their anti-gay rhetoric, including a TIME magazine story published in 1999.
The next line in TIME magazine’s big ten-year piece announces that the killers “weren’t part of the Trench Coat Mafia.” (Probably true, although long a topic of debate.)
For Grossman “maybe the most surprising thing…is how quickly it all happened.” He is in awe that Harris and Klebold ended their lives 49 minutes after the shooting began and “All the murders happened in the first 16 [minutes].” Well, that’s the same information released in May 2000 in the sheriff’s official version of events.
Yet TIME seems to take a swipe at the media saying that “the stories that have already been told” have to be untold. Now TIME’s story can be untold.
Although Grossman is insightful in opining that we should focus on Klebold, not the more fiery Harris: “If there is a lesson here, it lies in Klebold’s story, which is the more disturbing because he was, at heart, like us. He was capable of love and sympathy, and he discarded them. Some killers are natural born. Klebold was made.”

* * *
Los Angeles Times book editor David Ulin began a review of a Columbine book by saying, “Forget everything you thought you knew.” Ulin goes on to herald the revelation that student Cassie Bernall was not shot dead in the library after saying “yes” she believed in God. (Another girl, Valeen Schnurr, did say she believed in God, and after being shot. She survived.) The false Bernall story did go worldwide in the months after Columbine and Bernall’s mother wrote the book, She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall.
But five months after the shootings, on Sept. 23, 1999 (yes, 1999), the Denver Post, citing Salon.com, noted “‘key investigators’ doubt the widely reported story that 17-year-old Cassie Bernall was slain because she told the killers, as a gun was held to her head, that she indeed believed in God.” The next day the Rocky ran a story with the headline, “ACCOUNTS DIFFER ON QUESTION TO BERNALL COLUMBINE SHOOTING VICTIM MAY NOT HAVE BEEN ASKED WHETHER SHE BELIEVED IN GOD.” The next month the Washington Post reported, “Cassie probably never said yes, or anything else.”
Misinformation early on wasn’t necessarily due to sloppy reporting. Ten of the thirteen victims were killed in the library. Investigators needed time to sift through information and correct errors. Despite the many valid criticisms of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, it seems to have done an able job in debunking the Bernall myth long before the ten-year.
To be sure, many in the public still seem to have genuinely believed such myths of Columbine. As did journalists. But journalists should proceed on what is known, not their perception.
Yet Ulin chides “the misreporting of the media, which at its worst resembled nothing so much as an enormous game of telephone.” He adds that the media “parachuted into Columbine, asked a few questions and then parachuted out.” But a simple spot check on the Bernall issue shows the Washington Post, Denver Post and Rocky quickly got it right. The Denver Post and Rocky, meantime, never parachuted in. Then again, they never left. They also filed lawsuits, as did victims families, that freed up valuable information. A Denver Post lawsuit that took four years resulted in the release of nearly 1,000 pages of key writings by the killers and Harris’ father.
Ulin (and most other reviewers) never mentions that. Nor do they mention the Denver Post won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news, in the words of the judges, “for its clear and balanced coverage of the student massacre at Columbine High School.” (Nor, if that Pulitzer wasn’t warranted, do reviewers criticize the Pulitzer judges. Do the reviewers even know about the Columbine Pulitzer?) The Rocky also won a Pulitzer that year for breaking news photography of Columbine.

Columbine Memorial

April 20, 2010 at 10:45 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I have been blogging this past week about Columbine media coverage, but today is the 11th anniversary of the shootings. This posting is dedicated to the 13 innocent victims who died on April 20, 1999.

Rachel Scott
Dan Rohrbough
Dave Sanders
Kyle Velasquez
Steven Curnow
Cassie Bernall
Isaiah Shoels
Matt Kechter
Lauren Townsend
John Tomlin
Kelly Fleming
Daniel Mauser
Corey DePooter

Columbine Memorial Web site.

Columbine and Virginia Tech school shooting memorials

June 15, 2009 at 1:47 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I visited the memorial to the Virginia Tech school shooting victims today, just over two years after I followed a Columbine parent there.

April 20, 2007 was the eight-year anniversary of Columbine and four days after the Tech shootings left 33 dead, including the killer. Tech is the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. Columbine is the deadliest high school shooting.A terrible torch was passed on that day when Michael Shoels, the father of slain Columbine student Isaiah Shoels, traveled to Blacksburg, Virginia with his traveling gospel of grief counseling and civics lesson.

As I visited the Tech memorial a little after noon today, a few things struck me. After the shootings, 33 thick squares of pale ‘Hokie Stone’ (named for the school nickname) ringed the crest of the central grassy quad area known as Drillfield. One controversial stone, it seemed clear, was for the shooter. Similar things happened after Columbine, such as when at least one person posted crosses for the Colorado shooters.

School shooters may be in anguish, but I think most people believe it is inappropriate to memorialize them alongside the victims.

The permanent memorial at Virginia Tech is an arc of 32 square stones. Each is about the size of an ice bucket, near where the original stones were placed. Each stone is engraved with the name of a victim, and a sprig of fresh flowers leaned against each stone. (I wonder if they are changed every day.) The Tech memorial is powerful, but smaller and more low-key than the Columbine Memorial, which has written remembrances to the victims, quotes from community members, and envelops people with stone walls as they walk inside. The Columbine Memorial more fully shuts out the rest of the world. That Tech even has a memorial also differs from Columbine: It took several years to raise the money for the Columbine Memorial.

Tech today was certainly quieter than the day I was there. No satellite trucks. The dozens of reporters, and hundreds of mourners, were gone. But the memories were still there. And that’s how it should be.

talk radio

February 24, 2009 at 4:32 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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An hour on talk radio goes pretty fast. At least it did for me when I was on Denver’s KHOW 630 AM Monday with host Craig Silverman.

In some circles, talk radio has a bad connotation as too much hot air. But I must say Silverman (a former Denver prosecutor and astute legal analyst) steered me through an even-handed hour, and the callers were pretty good. Indeed, one caller said he knew Columbine shooter Eric Harris’ dad, and another woman said she babysat for fellow gunman Dylan Klebold when he was in elementary school. Their comments were interesting not only for the content, but the fact that they even called in. It’s often a bear getting information from people on Columbine, especially those closest to the killers’ families. Maybe it was the relative anonymity that made them comfortable talking. Maybe it was the distance of ten years. Maybe they just wanted to set the record straight.

I also appreciated that Silverman (co-host Dan Caplis was out that day) actually read the review copy of the book, and marked it up with questions. And I thought it was powerful that he read the book at the Columbine Memorial next to the school.

This is the link to KHOW, where you can listen to the interview.
http://www.khow.com/pages/caplisandsilverman.html

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