Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy
Crown Publishers, 2016
A Mother’s Reckoning is written by the mother of Dylan Klebold who, along with Eric Harris, killed 12 students and a teacher, wounding at least 24 others before committing suicide in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colorado.
I read it this past summer because Amy said I must, during a discussion we were having about the safety drills required at the elementary school where she teaches; they have to prepare the kids for the advent of a school shooting, practicing the steps they would follow. Sounds sinister but unfortunately real. In the last week there have been at least two school and two other mass shootings in the US, it’s more or less par for the course nowadays. A quick check on the internet brings up a sadly long list of shootings since the year 2000: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_school_shootings_in_the_United_States
It feels like Russian Roulette, when will it hit someone I know, someone in my family?
But ultimately more important, what can we do about it?
When tragedies like Columbine or Virginia Tech or Sandy Hook happen, the first question everyone asks is always “Why?” …I have come to believe the better question is “How?, states Klebold.
Klebold’s struggles, years of hell and heartbreak, blaming herself and trying to figure out what had gone wrong, what she could have done differently, what signs she should have seen, are discussed at length.
Almost 20 years after the tragic event, she concludes that as a society we need to be more mindful of brain illness linked to suicide and suicide killings, media coverage and, although not discussed in any length in the book, gun availability.
Mass shooters typically take their own lives. Public awareness around the issue of suicide and brain illness is insufficient and often motivations are oversimplified. Klebold presents research showing suicide is a brain disease, including the work of psychologist Dr. Thomas Joiner: the desire to die by suicide arises when people live with two psychological states simultaneously over a period of time: thwarted belongingness (“I am alone”) and perceived burdensomeness (“The world would be better off without me”). Those people are at imminent risk when they take steps to override their own instinct for self-preservation, and therefore become capable of suicide (“I am not afraid to die”).
Regarding media coverage, a growing body of research suggests that the rising number of mass shootings in the United States is inextricably linked—along with the easy availability of high-capacity guns, and a lack of knowledge about and support for brain health issues—to the way the media cover these events.
The following guidelines for media reporting (including individuals sharing on social media) are based on research, and aimed at avoiding copycat killers:
Don’t make a hero out of the killer by publishing details.
Don’t show images of the shooter, especially with weapons used, or in the outfit he wore .
Don’t publish videos or manifestos made by the killer(s).
Don’t compare the killer to other killers, or emphasize how many people they killed.
Don't oversimplify motivations.
There is noticeably little discussion of guns in the book, although Klebold mentions an NRA conference held in nearby Denver 2 weeks after the shooting which the organizers refused to cancel in spite of requests from the town. For more details see link : http://edition.cnn.com/US/9905/01/nra.protest.01/
She also says that her son did not do what he did because he was able to purchase guns, but if we are serious about preventing violence, we must also recognize the cost to society when we make firearms so easily accessible…there is tremendous danger in having these highly lethal tools readily available when someone is at their most vulnerable. These risks are demonstrated and we must insert them into the equation when we are talking about how we can make our communities healthier and safer.