Analysis of school shooting fails to suggest remedies

Vice President Joe Biden has the job of presenting proposals to reduce school violence in the United States. An analysis of one of the most notorious massacres shows that there is no policy change that would be very successful.

The April 20, 1999, killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, has been studied in detail, and the events are well known personally to A.M. Costa Rica editors. The killings by two students of 13 persons and the wounding of 24 fail to suggest any effective remedy.

The case also is instructive for Costa Rican officials.

Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association just suggested in the wake of a similar series of killing at Newtown, Connecticut, that armed guards be placed at all schools. His organization opposes any efforts at gun control.

An armed resource officer was on duty at Columbine when Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, began their rampage. The officer, a sheriff’s deputy, was Neil Gardner, who was outside on the school campus when he was alerted by a custodian that shooting was taking place. Although he engaged one of the youngsters in a short firefight, there were no injuries.

Later investigation showed that the two gunmen, who committed suicide that day, broke a number of firearms laws. They illegally purchased guns while they were under age. They cut down some weapons into sawed-off shotguns so they could be hidden. Two of their friends were convicted later of providing some of the weapons.

The Barack Obama administration seeks to reinstitute what is called an assault weapon prohibition. The measure would prohibit the sale of semi-automatic rifles similar to AK-47s and AR-15s. Such a weapon was involved in the Connecticut shooting.

However, Harris and Klebold did their killings with easily available, although customized, shotguns, a 9-mm. carbine and a handgun.

The U.S. administration also wants to limit what they call high-capacity magazines for weapons. The Columbine killers had plenty of time to reload. The 9-mm. weapon had a 10-shot magazine but was fired 96 times because Harris brought 13 magazines into the school, according to an analysis by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Klebold had a 9-mm. handgun with three magazines, including one that could hold 52 bullets. He fired 55 times, said the FBI.

In fact, the two killers really planned to do much more damage than firearms would cause. They had brought propane bombs into the school cafeteria. They were similar to the tanks many Costa Ricans have in their homes for cooking. Had the tanks gone off as planned, much of the school would have been demolished. The pair also used and ignited many homemade pipe bombs. All of the bombs were illegal. The April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City terrorist bombing that killed 168 persons, including children, was the result of a fertilizer-cleaning solvent concoction.

Harris and Klebold were no strangers to the law. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department tried to hide the fact that one investigator filled out an affidavit for a search warrant for the Klebold residence a year before the Columbine massacre. But for some reason the officer did not file the document and make the search. Had he done so, he probably would have found much of the weapons and material that ended up being used at Columbine.

A Web page on America Online operated by Harris with the help of Klebold generated the effort toward a search warrant because some parents were concerned by what they perceived as threats. The pair maintained the site also to host players of a video game Harris had invented.

Violent video games also are being considered as a trigger for some school violence although the actual impact is hard to evaluate.

Harris had been in the care of a psychiatrist and was on mood altering drugs. Biden’s committee also is looking at mental health as it related to violence.

Both teens had been caught the year before after they stole computers and tools from a parked van. Harris was forced to write a letter of apology to the van owner, although his diary discovered after the killings said he faked his contrition.

A new factor being reported today is that one of Klebold’s elementary school teachers said after the killings that he was always a disruptive youth even when very young and that she expected that he would do bad things. Harris was the son of a retired U.S. Air Force pilot.

There also is some dispute whether Harris and Klebold were objects of bullying at the school or were bullies themselves.

Despite reports at the time, the pair did not seem to have an anti-Christian motive in the shootings. They killed indiscriminately and at times sent away would-be victims instead of killing them.

Although the reason for the Harris and Klebold rampage is still not clear, school shootings in Costa
Rica have been more specific. There have been no massacres, but a school director and students have been murdered inside school properties.

Michael Hernández, 16, a student in the Colegio Venecia in that town near Matina north and west of Limón, was gunned down in May 2003. The Judicial Investigating Organization said the killer, a 15-year-old had a simmering dispute with the victim.

Nancy María Chaverri Jiménez was the school director or principal at the private Colegio Montebello in Heredia. A 17-year-old student took his father’s pistol to school to shoot the women in her office over previous discipline issues, said agents at the time. In response, the education ministry issued orders to resume searching the backpacks students bring to school, but they said they had no authority to impose this rule on private schools. The shooting was July 1, 2010, and the woman died later in Hospital México.

July 18, 2011, 17-year-old Juan Pablo Salazar Calderón was gunned down at his desk at the Colegio Técnico Profesional Ricardo Castro Beer in Orotina. The killer, just short of 18 years himself, shot himself fatally after killing Salazar.

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