TOPICS > Education

Life After Littleton

May 5, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you all very much for being with us. I want to know what’s changed in your schools and in your lives since the killings at Columbine. How about you Summer, you go to a school here in Denver, not a suburban school. What’s it been like at your school since what happened in Columbine?

SUMMER DEON ROPER, Denver: Pretty much it’s been the same. Our security has always been tight. We’ve had to wear ID’s. We’ve been checked. Security doesn’t know who you are. You don’t get to come in the school. We’ve only been able to come in one door. So everything is pretty tight at our school. Other than that, we’re getting back to normal. It was pretty tense. A lot of people were pretty scared.

MARK WHITNEY, Lakewood: We’re about seven miles away from Columbine, and we are their biggest rival in basketball. And we — I’ve talked to several kids who go to our school because it was such a traumatizing thing for them, and a lot of them aren’t necessarily scared of the stereotypical people that were brought up with the trench coats and everything. They’re just scared because they don’t — they know it might happen in our school.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Why? What’s happening in kids lives that this could happen?

CALEB WILLIAMS, Highlands Ranch: I think everybody’s– everybody looks at it as an isolated incident, but I mean, all of the shootings that have happened recently in other states, I mean, at the first killing that happened, why didn’t we decide this is incredible, what are we doing wrong? Kids are going through things they’re not talking about, that they’re bottling up inside. Kids are taking their anger out on other people and through weapons and through guns because of whatever reason, and I think they needed to realize that then. I think — I don’t think this is very isolated.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay, so realizing this now, Maggie, in your school, what’s your responsibility to try to make sure that this doesn’t happen in your school? What can you do?

MAGGIE YOUNG, Denver: Well, the only thing I think I could do is if I heard something was going to happen is to go tell a teacher or an advisor. I don’t really think there’s much else I could do.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Some of you have actually intervened to stop things. Rita, you have.

RITA NUNEZ, Denver: Our main concern -

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Tell us that story.

RITA NUNEZ: — is, like, gang activity. And there’s a Burger King right across our school, right across the streets. It’s just a few steps away. And we were driving through it, and we saw two kids walking. They were walking through the back parking lot, and all of a sudden, this car just rushed out, just kids jumping out of the trucks, jumping out of cars, some with metal bats, wooden bats, chains. And I just sat there, and I’m like, “Oh, my God, they’re going to kill them if they get a hold of them,” you know. “They’re going to kill them.” And my first reaction was I got in the car, and I turned the car back on, and I just like drove into the crowd, because I figured you know they’re not going to want to get run over, so they’re going to get out of the way. And they did. And as soon the kid who was going to get hurt, as soon as he saw that he, he got up, and he started running, and I caught up to him, and my friend was like, “get in the car, get in the car,” and I took him home.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think that now, we’re still talking about danger, trying to act to prevent something bad happening, do you think that people will act more quickly now?

MATTHEW CLARK, Littleton: It depends on the type of danger. If it’s something like — well, if it’s something they feel they can prevent, probably. If it’s something like somebody running through with a gun, I — if the kid has their back to them, and they’ve got the gun -

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How about if you just hear? You hear a threat?

MATTHEW CLARK: Well, lately, since this happened, you’ve heard tons of threats from — not direct threats, but things from people about, “well, the school’s going to blow up on April 16,” and you have to try to distinguish what’s just talk and what’s actual fact.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How do you do that?

NATHAN BLACK, Englewood: Well, I think distinguishing between talk and fact, I think it’s really hard. I mean, there are two things we have to realize about teenagers. Number one, we’re not all-knowing. We don’t know every weirdo at our high school. And number two, we’re not police, and we can’t say you know that somebody’s perfectly harmless and distinguish someone from someone like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. And so I think any time there’s a situation that is potentially dangerous to someone else or dangerous to yourself, I think we need to be really careful and blow the whistle if there’s any, even slightest suspicion that something’s getting serious.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But I sense that you’re saying that there’s just a limited amount that you all can do; that other people have got to really step in here and do something about this. All right. Let’s pursue this. Do you have people to go to? Let’s say you do hear a threat or you have a sense that somebody’s in trouble? Can — is there somebody that you can go to that you trust?

KYRA GLORE, Arvada: No, I honestly don’t think so.


KYRA GLORE: There are certain teachers at our school who do care a lot, but there’s some, because they’ve been teaching so long and have seen so much or for whatever reason just would rather not deal with it. Then, of course, you know, the administration’s not supposed to deal with the problems like that, so they hand it over to the counselors, and the counselors are never there to talk to you. If you’re lucky and you have a problem, what you can do is fill out this pretty little pink slip, and then maybe, just maybe, within three days they’ll get back to you.

SUMMER DEON ROPER: I believe you can talk to your parents. You can talk to a family member. You can talk to friends of the family. It doesn’t always have to be in the school. Most of the time, things that you talk about in the school are overlooked, like at Columbine, so talking to your parents might get things out more. If you have communication with your parents or other people outside of school, things might get taken care of.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you feel like your parents know what’s happening with you; that they understand the conditions of your school and your life?

RITA NUNEZ: At my school, we don’t have that much parent activity unless it’s report card pick-up night. That’s — that’s the only problem at my school. Other than that, that’s the only time. Well, my mom, she knows what happens with me because she talks to my counselor. She goes and checks up on me. “Is she — is she in school?” She goes and checks to make sure I’m in school. And she talks to them. Well, with my mom, she knows what’s going on in my school, and I have a relationship with her. She’s like my friend. I could tell her, you know, if — if someone’s picked on me, I could tell her. If I’m picking on someone, you know, which I don’t anymore, but, you know, I go and tell her, “yeah, I was, you know, picking on this one and this and that,” but she — she knows what’s happening. But I feel that many of the parents at my school don’t know.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you agree with that, Caleb?

CALEB WILLIAMS: I don’t know if parents really know what teenagers are like to see any kind of warning sign. I mean, you know they’ll say on the news, they’ll put a list of warning signs, and you can see that and say, you know, most teenagers act like half of those, you know, half the time, and so I think as far as — you have to — I think it comes down to personal responsibility– parents and for kids. If you know your kid, then you know what’s going to be going on. Be in your kid’s life; be in his life. Don’t just — don’t just sit back and say, you know, “he’s a teenager; he’s going to do stuff.” If something occurs to where you know somebody is going to hurt somebody or you know somebody’s going to hurt themselves, then you need to take it on yourself and find somebody to tell. I don’t think — I don’t think you can sit back and say, “You know, if there’s nobody to talk to, I’m just going to let it slide,” because, I mean, in any kind of situation, especially something like this, what — what are the consequences? What is the price that you pay for sitting back and not — and not doing anything?

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mark Whitney, you play sports; you’re also what’s called a peer counselor. What responsibility do you have to intervene to prevent harassment of kids? Now, apparently some of these kids at Columbine had been picked on. People said that athletes picked on them. Do you have a responsibility to stop that?

MARK WHITNEY: Before I would have said no, because it — well, I never saw it as that big of a problem. I mean, it does — it happens in every school. I was talking to a kid who just transferred to my school second semester from Columbine, and this was the day, two days after the tragedy happened. And he was talking about how he felt guilty because he was one of the kids that really, really harassed Dylan and Eric, and it made me think that if I can stop, because a lot of my friends are the people that do it — we’re the jocks. We — I mean, I’m not proud, and they’re not — I don’t know if they’re proud of doing it or what, and I don’t know why they do it, but it gives me more of a responsibility to step in to say that’s not right, to ask them why they’re doing it, to stick up for the kid that they’re picking on. I never thought of it as a responsibility before, and I don’t know if that’s necessarily the whole reason that Eric and Dylan did that, but I can at least now try to stop something from happening by stepping in.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I mean, it happens at all your schools, right? This happens. Do you all have this feeling that if someone is really being picked on, you’ll just — you’ll do something about it?

MATTHEW CLARK: Depends kind of who they’re being picked on by.


MATTHEW CLARK: If you’ve got, like, four guys going after some freshman and they’re all big football players, wrestlers, and then you’ve got me, there’s not much I can do except run my mouth and run away from them and hope they chase me instead of him.

MARK WHITNEY: I think you could at least make them aware, though. You don’t necessarily have to stop them, because — yes, we are big, football players, but a lot of us are not going to take actions as far as someone’s telling another person to stop. Even if they keep on doing it, at least they know that someone else is out there caring about that person, and that person that’s getting picked on knows that someone cares about them.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Those of you who have been picked on, give us a sense of what it’s like.

SUMMER DEON ROPER: I was going to say I was picked on throughout middle school, and I think it just takes a different type of person. It depends on how strong you are. For me, I was very strong. If I got picked on, I would try to brush it off. But it was always in the back of my mind.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What’s been your experience?

KYRA GLORE: I have gone through not in recent years, but in my past, heavy name calling and ridicule from my peers. People wouldn’t even, didn’t even want to be seen around me until about fourth grade when I actually did start getting friends, because I would try to make friends, but nobody wanted anything to do with me. And being a social outcast like that at that early an age, especially to the point where some of the teachers even ridicule you and go along with the what the rest of the children are saying, it gets to you and it makes you cold and bitter to the point where, yes, you don’t care about it anymore when you’re older, but it leaves – you know — in the way you think, in your reactions to things, it desensitizes you to a point where I don’t think any media or any song or anything else can ever do. And I still feel it today, but I brush it off. But it’s an intricate part of what made me the person I am today.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you had some understanding of the kind of anger that the Klebold and Harris had.

KYRA GLORE: I do. Because it rips people up differently, and it affects everybody differently. And there is a point for everybody where you will snap. For me, I never reached that point, and I probably never will but for them, they did. And something had to be going on there that really, really pushed the right buttons, you know, to get them to do this because you don’t just one morning wake up and say, hey, I’m going to go shoot my classmates; I’m going to go pipe bomb up the school. You don’t just wake up one morning and figure that out. Something has to develop over years and years and years. That leads up to something like that.

CALEB WILLIAMS: You know, I think people make the mistake of thinking that it’s just kids of the alternative cultures or whatever that do feel this pressure in high school, but I can — I think it’s safe to say that anybody in high school feels extreme pressures on all sides of the media, on all sides of their friends and on all sides of anybody going to high school — anybody — even the most popular kids in school.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is this true, is everybody agreeing with this?


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You feel lots of pressure?

RITA NUNEZ: Life is hard, but we have to deal with it. We don’t have to go take it out on anyone. We have counselors in school. We have our parents at home.

MATTHEW CLARK: Yes, but that doesn’t help when someone decides to start taking stuff out on you, and you can brush it off at the time, but then when you go home, you’re like, “what’s so wrong with me that nobody really wants to with around you?”

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Finally, do you get the feeling, Kyra, let me ask you, that there will be some real changes because of what happened at Columbine? Or do you get if feeling it’s something that there’s a lot of interest in now and it will just disappear?

KYRA GLORE: I have the feeling that it will die down, because this is human nature to mourn for it and to go through it and folks appearance it while it’s happening. And then as soon as it’s gone, it’s gone.

MAGGIE YOUNG: I think that in Colorado it won’t die down. I think that there’s always going to be this security how it is in schools where you can only get in through the main doors and all the other doors are locked. I think throughout the country it won’t, though. I think it really has to hit home for you to realize how serious it is. And I mean, like it’s not just with the schools like locking the outside doors. It’s with, like, parents, like, paying attention to their kids and kids not picking on kids. I mean, it goes a lot further than just security and things like that.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Well, thank you all very much for being with us.

JIM LEHRER: Tomorrow night, Elizabeth will have a similar discussion with some Denver-area parents and teachers.