Roger writing the LAWmag

The Ghost of Columbine

Teenage years can be difficult. All of a sudden, a youth who has only recently come to grips with the fallacy of Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, Easter Bunny and perhaps God, now must face the reality of an independent existence in a complex world.

For many, their desire to take their place comes in the mild forms such as a propensity to defer to profanity to express themselves; so quick and ready are many teenagers to "fuck this", "fuck that" and "fuckin' A". Such conduct is always harmless and usually transient although many, including an inordinate number in the legal profession, continue to live adult lives with frequent resort to obscenities and foul language.

Some teenagers and young adults, many from poor or dysfunctional families, resort to petty crime such as graffiti, vandalism or bullying.

ColumbineOthers struggle not only with every teenagers angst, as they face what they believe to be significant hypocrisies in the structure of society in which they will live their pending adulthood, but also with mental or emotional challenges. From that small group of teenagers we unfortunately hear from too often as their expressions of frustration can be both heinous and murderous.

On that very small group of vulnerable teenagers preys the ghost of Columbine, for which the video images have marked a generation (see photo, left, taken by cafeteria camera during incident).

To most North Americans:

"Columbine is clearly a reference to the tragic events at Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colorado, where two young men entered that school and randomly shot students and threw pipe bombs. Larger bombs placed in the cafeteria did not explode. By the time the two perpetrators took their own lives they had killed 12 students and one teacher, and left 24 students wounded."1

In one 2006 Ontario case, a high school student was suspended and when he stormed out of the vice principals office, he said "I'm going to do another Columbine".

The words were reported to the police and the young offender was charged with uttering a death threat.

At trial, two adults testified to having heard the statement. The young man testified but he denied having said the words. He even suggested that he did not know what "Columbine" was. This, of course, would suggest that the vice principal and the other adult witness, a school secretary, had lied under oath.

This stupid strategy failed but in the legacy of it, this young man was not just convicted, he was found to have lied under oath - perjury - and seemed well on his way to a life of deception.

In Canada, judges are quick to shield even young offenders from adverse notoriety. This does a great disservice to the community but the politicians argue that in the grand scheme of things, it is better to salvage the convicted young offenders reputation then warned the public at large of the propensity of this individual to commit the types of crimes for which he has been convicted.

In the United States, Andrew Osantowski was convicted in 2005 for plotting a Columbine-style massacre at his Chippewa Valley High School, of which he bragged in an Internet chat. Police investigators had found bomb-making materials and in videos, Osantowski, then 19, was seen showing off hidden weapons. Ostrawski served a 4 1/2 year prison term.

In Vermont, Robert McMillan faces charges of making a false public alarm for posting this on his Facebook page, in the context of a complaint about his welfare payments:Andrew Osantowski & Daniel Shana

"[I]f people don’t get their benefits and I find enough people, let’s just say, Columbine was nothing."

Daniel Shana was suspended from Lynn University at Boca Raton, Florida and charged with making death threats after posting this on his Facebook account:

Columbine take 2 hahahahaha. Just purchased the ruger SRc 9mm. Now I got 2 targets hahahahaha.”

In England, Matthew Swift and Ross McNight, then 18 and 16, made the mistake of putting in writing their fantasies of blowing up their high school on the 10th anniversary of the Columbine massacre. They spent six months incarcerated until their case was heard in a two week trial before a jury in September of 2009, which acquitted the pair, equating the reference to Columbine as simply a perverse symptom of teenage angst. Swift's evidence included that he had seen the movie Bowling for Columbine in school and that it had inspired him.

According to the London Times, which covered the trial, there was no evidence that explosive devices had been procured by either of the two although they did have in their journals some detail of their planned massacre including giving it a name: Project Rainbow.

The ghost of Columbine, it seems, lingers on the spirit of youth. Two Australian twins, Kristin and Candice Hermeler shot themselves in a bizarre suicide pact, using firearms they had rented at Family Shooting Range in Denver, Colorado on November 15, 2010. In their belongings down at the scene, were packages of research they had done on the 1990 Columbine tragedy. There had been no evidence of any suicidal tendencies or of any other form of distress in their past that appeared able to explain the pact.

Law it seems is no different that the society which it attempts to regulate in requiring but one tonic to the ails that afflict it. Time - and with the passage of time alone will the ghost of Columbine be finally escorcised from the minds of our young adults.

REFERENCES:

  • Daily Telegraph, Columbine Clue in Twins Suicide, Nov. 20, 2010 (http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/columbine-clue-in-twins-suicide/story-fn6bm6am-1225956862910)
  • Ferretti, Christine, Mom expects release next week for son convicted in Macomb school plot, The Detroit News, Nov. 26, 2010, (detnews.com/article/20101126/SCHOOLS/11260385/Mom-expects-release-next-week-for-son-convicted-in-Macomb-school-plot#ixzz16VfZohL1)
  • Hemingway, Sam, "Man Angry With Vermont State Offices Cited Columbine on Facebook, Police Say", Burlington Free Press, Nov. 24, 2010
  • Jenkins, Russell, Teenagers Matthew Swift and Ross McKnight cleared of 'Columbine plot', The Times, 17-SEPT-2009 (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article6836860.ece)
  • Rourkem B. and Naylor, D., "Barrington Man Charged After Columbine-style Threats at Florida School", Rhode Island News, Nov. 19, 2010
  • R. v B., 2007 CarswellOnt 110, Ontario Superior Court of Justice (; Note 1)

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