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Randi Kreiss

The legacy of Columbine: too many people caught up in school shootings


School shootings have become so ordinary that the press is always looking for a fresh hook. Last week, the media found a new lead for an old story when Kendrick Castillo, 18, charged two shooters at a Denver high school and was shot dead. Eight other students were shot and wounded. Instantly, the press hailed Castillo as a hero and the story took off.

The hype and sensationalism surrounding the concept of “student heroes” is disturbing on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to start. This was one young man who took action that ultimately saved lives. But he wasn’t in a war zone or on a mission to Mars. He was a kid going to high school. He should never have had to sacrifice his life on the way to getting a diploma.

Castillo was a victim of a shooting in what has become an increasingly violent America. He is a victim of our gun culture, our political intransigence and the power of the National Rifle Association.

Two other students, Brendan Bialy and Joshua Jones, also rushed the killers, and now get to live the rest of their lives with traumatic memories of the spring semester of their senior year. Three wounded students were still in intensive care at press time.

Kendrick would have graduated three days later. And in a saner America, he would have. He had everything to live for.

His father, John Castillo, said the two had actually talked about the “what if” scenario of a school shooter, and John said he had urged his son not to be a hero. But in the split second that Kendrick had to decide, he moved toward the shooters, who were also students. According to witnesses, his action gave others time to run for shelter.

At what point do we all become complicit? I wonder how all the media hype is being processed by students across this country who may now believe they have to be heroes in a crisis.

The student who runs out the door or hides in a closet or cries in a corner cannot be made to feel that he or she failed in some way. Charging gunmen who are killing people in a classroom is not what we want or expect of our children. We want them to stay as safe as they can, and to know that no one expects victims of school shootings to emerge as heroes.

It is repetitive to call on our political representatives to push back against the NRA and put forward new laws to regulate gun ownership. It gets boring to hear that over and over again. And it’s kind of exciting and new to think of teenagers rushing an armed shooter. But it is also perverse and disturbing to encourage children — and they are children — to risk their safety in a life-and-death scenario over which they have no control.

When shootings in American schools and houses of worship become ordinary, we must recognize that we are in the sway of an aberrant and violent culture.

When a gunman walked into a San Diego synagogue three weeks ago and shot and killed a woman, a man I was speaking with said, “OK, only one.” And I understand his relief, that it wasn’t another Charleston or Orlando or Las Vegas. But what does that response say about our emotional and intellectual tolerance for the wholesale killing of innocent people going about their everyday lives?

The shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 took 13 lives. The shooters were two Columbine students who killed themselves after the attack. In the years since, there have been 228,000 shootings in our schools. In our schools, my friends, where we send babies when they are 6 years old in the hope that they will grow and learn in safety.

Don’t talk to me about heroes. It sounds as if Kendrick Castillo was a terrific kid. We needed him to keep growing up, and his parents needed him, and he deserved to live his life. We failed him, and all the others like him, by not passing gun-control measures and then not passing gun-control measures and then not passing gun-control measures.

Is it really up to the kids to save themselves? Tell that to the 20 first-graders who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

Copyright 2019 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.