I was young, in the fifth grade. I remember hearing the news stories. Some kids decided to take guns into Columbine High School and kill their classmates.
In one of my first stories for EHS Today, I sat in a session at the National Safety Congress and Expo about the tragedy.
Don Moseman, who presented a session at the 2016 event, was the fifth officer on scene on the day of the Columbine shootings. At the time, law enforcement officers were instructed to stay out of the building. The tragedy was a turning point, a “cultural shift” for how active shooter situations are handled.
Thirteen students were murdered, 21 were wounded. In addition, 99 homemade explosive devices were placed around the school building and facilities, but only three detonated.
“The intent was to kill every student, teacher and first responder,” he said.
One major change in the way responders handle active shooter situations was immediately implemented throughout the country.
“Law enforcement’s job now is to go in and face the gunman. That’s what changed after Columbine,” he said.
The sad fact is there always is going to be someone who wants to hurt others, and no matter what, whether you ban all guns, video games or try to disable any factors that might be perceived to be causing the issue, the sad fact is that people who want to do these things are going to continue to do them.
Whatever the cause, Moseman told attendees, shooters already make the decision to commit the act and plan ahead of time.
“Once they’ve made that decision, that person is like a train on a track – they’re very hard to derail,” he said.
A shooter will scope or plan out the incident. In mass shooter situations, researchers have found that the perpetrator reads about prior active shooting situations in order to learn from past mistakes.
“We now know that shooters are learning from previous shootings,” he said.
In safety, we talk about preventable measures. The United States, as a reactionary society, seems to have tons of opinions but never implements any solutions.
So, now that this has happened again, what are we going to do? The issue cannot be boiled down to mental illness, or access to guns, or breakdown of a family. In fact, it’s all of those and more. However, we’ve spent too much time arguing that one problem or circumstance is the main culprit rather than working together to reduce the chance of another shooting or act of violence and, furthermore, saving as many lives as possible when an incident occurs.
The fact is, there is not one correct answer, and sharing posts on social media is just causing more fear and misinformation to spread. However, we need to be vocal and take steps to implement measures of protection so that children, workers and average citizens can go in public without fear and arrive home safely every day.
When Sophie Scholl, a German student during the Third Reich, spoke out against Nazi atrocities and openly said people needed to stop being apathetic, she was sentenced to death. People still remember her unwillingness to step down when she was being told she was treasonous, even when the naysayers remained silent even if they agreed.
We all need to learn to stop arguing and start taking care of one another, no matter if we share different political views or values. And we need to do it without using computers as a crutch. Social media can only aid, not solve.
Next time you sit back and you’re about to click ‘share,’ instead think about volunteering at a school so a child can feel safe in a learning environment, or petitioning your congressperson about better mental health care or stricter gun laws. Take training courses.
Whatever your beliefs are, sitting behind a computer will only breed apathy, but showing you care could change how society prevents and reacts, one person at a time.
Most importantly, we must not forget when school shootings and acts of violence occur, because history inevitably repeats itself. Because when that happens, we need to be able to recognize what we need to do to move forward and stand strong, together.