photo by Shawn Campbell
Here we are again – looking back at another day in which my home state of Colorado made national news for a mass shooting.
This time, two students entered STEM School Highlands Ranch, a school of about 1,800 kids ranging from kindergarten through 12th grade. They were able to get deep inside the school and shot nine students. The youngest victim was 15 years old. Kendrick Castillo, an 18-year-old senior, was killed at the scene; his last day of school was to be three days later. Reports from other students state that Kendrick lunged at the shooter to allow his fellow classmates to escape.
STEM School is located seven miles from Columbine High School, where two gunmen killed 12 students and one teacher in 1999. The Aurora theater where 12 people were murdered and 58 injured during a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in 2012 is less than 20 miles away. Arapahoe High School, where a lone gunman intent on killing a teacher ended up killing one student in 2013, is a mere 3.5 miles away. The metropolitan area south of Denver is an affluent community, but now it also can be viewed as a murder corridor.
My daughters went to school the morning after the shooting, 30 miles north of STEM School. But they missed school on April 17, three days before the 20th anniversary of the Columbine massacre, when all school districts within a 60 mile radius of Denver were closed due to threats made by an 18-year-old woman who idolized the Columbine shooters. This woman’s threats were serious enough to cripple several school systems. She was found dead, evidently of a self-inflicted wound, by the police.
My daughters also take part in lockdown drills on a regular basis. Lollipops For Lockdown, an initiative to collect lollipops to distribute to youngsters to comfort them and keep them quiet during these drills, has picked up steam in the past few years. At 35 years old, I am too young to have participated in Cold War-era nuclear bomb drills and too old to have taken part in lockdown drills. I was a freshman in high school in Atlanta when the Columbine shooting happened and had already graduated college when the Virginia Tech massacre followed in 2007. I grew up with duck-and-cover tornado drills; we tried to protect ourselves from the inevitability of Mother Nature, not from crazed gunmen. I cannot fathom what it feels like to have to learn how to hide from someone trying to kill children while still a child myself, but this is standard procedure for my kindergartner and eighth grader. And yes, having to type that last sentence breaks my heart.
Many people have proposed solutions to how we, as a country, can fix this problem. Ban all guns; arm teachers; place metal detectors in every school. Each of these suggestions is hotly debated, and the snarl could take years before any law can be passed. But can we wait that long? Isn’t there something simple that we can do in the meantime?
Tom and Caren Teves lost their son, Alex, in the Aurora theater shooting. He was 24 years old, had just earned his master’s degree and died shielding his girlfriend, Amanda, from gunfire. The Teveses were in Hawaii when the shooting happened. In the two days it took them to get back to Colorado, every news source they saw highlighted the shooter’s name and photo. When Tom Teves was interviewed by Anderson Cooper a few days later, he urged Cooper and other news outlets to stop giving the shooter the notoriety he craved, stating, “I would like to see CNN come out with a policy that said moving forward we’re not going to talk about the gunman. What we’re going to say is, a coward walked into a movie theater and started shooting people. He’s apprehended. The coward’s in jail. He will never see the light of day again. Let’s move on to the victims. Never talk to him again.”
The Teveses started the No Notoriety campaign soon after their son’s death, and they have made some headway with the media. Cooper himself refused to say the Orlando nightclub shooter’s name or show his picture in 2016.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern similarly refused to name the shooter who killed 50 people worshiping in mosques in Christchurch in March. She knew the shooter wanted publicity. “That’s why you will never hear me mention his name,” she said in a speech to Parliament. “He is a terrorist, he is a criminal, he is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless … He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing. Not even his name.”
The Teveses and Ardern have a point. Jennifer Murray, an assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at Indiana State University, has found through studying manifestos and diaries of notorious shooters that many of them find inspiration in the perpetrators of earlier attacks. Not only do they associate with their actions, but they relate to them and even try to outdo them. The Virginia Tech killer wrote a paper for his English class discussing his thoughts on committing homicide shortly after Columbine. The Sandy Hook killer had a spreadsheet of 500 mass killings. The woman who recently made threats against Colorado schools claimed an obsession with the Columbine killers, even though she wasn’t alive when that shooting took place.
Jennifer Johnston, a psychology professor at Western New Mexico University, wrote that potential mass shooters develop a connection and a camaraderie to other shooters through media exposure. Johnston says that forming these relationships is easier when the potential shooter sees the culprits’ names and images, and hears details of their lives. Also, potential shooters see that these people receive fame, which they sometimes crave. If their plans were simmering beneath the surface, seeing this information can motivate them to decide to carry out the deed. Removing this inspiration would not be a cure-all, though. Johnston believes that even if the media ceases to name the killers, mass shootings would only decrease by about one-third.
Proponents say that naming the shooters, if they are still alive or at large, can help the public to identify the proper individual and avoid spreading misinformation and possibly misidentifying a suspect. Some media outlets, including USA Today, have argued that demands that they not name the shooter infringe on their First Amendment rights. Mainstream news sources like The New York Times publish articles about these people; they recently published a profile of the woman who threatened Colorado schools. Even if it is necessary to name shooters in order to apprehend them, publishing their inner thoughts, manifestos and motivations is not necessary.
You may have noticed that I have not named one mass shooter in this post. While some of the links I have included name them, I refuse to state their names here. I refuse to make them famous anymore. I wait for a call every day that something bad has happened to my girls. Most of the time, that fear is subconscious. On days like this past Tuesday, my heart hurts and I’m nervous – I’m counting down the minutes until they return safely. Regardless of one’s views on how to stop this mess, everyone can agree that we have given far too much attention to the perpetrators of mass death and destruction and too little time to their victims. So here they are. Remember the names of the Colorado victims in the past 20 years, of the lives cut short by these monsters:
Columbine (1999): Cassie Bernal, Steve Curnow, Corey DePooter, Kelly Fleming, Matt Kechter, Daniel Mauser, Daniel Rohrbough, Rachel Scott, Isaiah Shoels, John Tomlin, Lauren Townsend, Kyle Velasquez, Coach Dave Sanders
Platte Canyon (2006): Emily Keyes
Colorado YMAM and New Life (2007): Philip Crouse, Tiffany Johnson, Rachel Works, Stephanie Works
Aurora theater (2012): Jonathan Blunk, Alexander J. Boik, Jesse Childress, Gordon Cowden, Jessica Ghawi, John Larimer, Matt McQuinn, Micayla Medek, Veronica Moser-Sullivan, Alex Sullivan, Alexander C. Teves, Rebecca Wingo
Arapahoe High School (2013): Claire Davis
Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood (2015): Jennifer Markovsky, Ke’Arre M. Stewart, Officer Garrett Swasey
Thornton Wal-Mart (2017): Pamela Marques, Carlos Moreno, Victor Vasquez
STEM School (2019): Kendrick Castillo