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Twenty years after Columbine, what’s changed and what hasn’t

Today marks 20 years since the Columbine High School shooting near Denver, Colorado, where two students killed 12 classmates and a teacher before turning their guns on themselves. As members of the community gathered Saturday for a day of remembrance, Dave Cullen, who wrote a book about the massacre, joined Hari Sreenivasan to talk about what’s changed, and what hasn’t, since Columbine.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Twenty years ago when two students opened fire inside Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, a mass murder at a school carried out by students was not something the country or the media had seen. But now we say there has been a school shooting almost routinely. Dave Cullen has followed school shootings for the last 20 years and is the author of 'Columbine' and more recently 'Parkland: Birth of a Movement.' I spoke with him recently about what has changed, what can be learned and how a generation raised in the era of school shootings is responding.

  • Dave Cullen:

    We've learned so much in certain areas and then done nothing in other. You know, police response, dramatic, completely changed, the active shooter protocol saved so many lives. Schools would lockdown drills and some that they've learned to have like stopping some of these ahead of time although that's very hard to do.

    But in other areas we've got nothing. Teen depression is really the great lesson of Columbine because most of these mass shooters suffer from severe depression and we know how to treat depression. But finding it is the issue because it almost always manifests during the brain changes during adolescence. And so parents don't yet realize that their child has fundamentally changed and that this is for good.

    And so really screening for teen depression is so simple to do there are one page screening devices that can be done in a minute or two for almost no cost, pass them out of homeroom once or twice a year would dramatically improve things. And guns we've done nothing until parklet we're finally starting to do something or in the process of it. Really the biggest change though is those kids after Columbine they were also shocked shocked.

    It was really the day after Columbine that really threw me for the biggest loop because the day it happened was kind of what you would expect. It was chaos. Kids hugging, sobbing of course, grabbing their parents. The next day they were completely different. There were almost no tears, no emoting, blank affect. And that really really scared me and I was like these 2,000 kids are they going to get through this? I did not see one blank affect at Parkland.

    So many of the Parkland kids said, I was kind of expecting this. Their whole generation is expecting this. And that's what I think adults still aren't quite getting. We're sending them off to school to die. They know that some of their classmates or other students in the country will die there. And we've just accepted that. OK. You go to school, some of you are going to get murdered. And we're just accepting that as like oh we can't fix that, yeah, big majorities the country want all sorts of changes in gun control but we can't make it happen, that's rough. And the kids are like what the hell!

    But by the way, the Columbine community is doing so much better today than they were a year ago and this anniversary is so different because of Parkland. Because a year ago, they were still distraught and hopeless. I mean they had put their own grief behind them for the most part, you know this is with them forever. But they were trying to move on and most of them had done pretty well with that. But it was bleak and hopeless and they felt like two decades into this nothing happened.

    And now something has happened. Some is not done. But the Columbine community this anniversary finally goes into one of these things with hope. Twenty years out we haven't gotten very far but we finally there's a potential way out of this and that's changed everything for the mood of those families there this year. Thank God for that.

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