Sympathy For School Killers?

Columbine AP

Each new school shooting brings back memories of the nation's worst such event: the slaughter at Colorado's Columbine High School.

As CBS News Correspondent Sandra Hughes reports, the two teens behind the incident have captured the imagination of some young people around the country.

The San Diego district attorney says Andy Williams, the suspect in last month's killings at a Santee, Calif. high school, was obsessed with Columbine.

Williams is not alone. Two years after the horrific Colorado high school massacre which left 15 people dead including the gunmen, the Internet is buzzing with Web sites and Web postings commemorating the killers: ""Tears For Eric and Dylan" is the name of one site filled with poetry memorializing the teens. Another says "Sadly, we couldn't honor you in life, so we honor you in death."

The massacre has been blamed in part for at least four subsequent school attacks and three alleged plots aimed at schools. At least 60 other threats mentioning Columbine have been reported worldwide.

Most researchers stop short of saying the Columbine shootings and the public fascination with Harris and Klebold directly inspire more crime.

But the gunmen's images have become powerful, said James Garbarino, a Cornell University professor and author of "Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them."

"Dylan and Eric set out to become cultural icons for angry, disaffected youth who sought revenge against the nastiness of exclusionary youth culture," he said. "Recent events suggest they succeeded in that."

It's too much for the father of slain Columbine student Danny Rohrbaugh. "To have people going around glorifying the criminals and promoting more criminal activity, it's very disturbing, it is such a huge tragedy," said Brian Rohrbaugh.

Another page quotes the sympathetic lyrics of a new song by rapper Eminem. And then there is the following Web posting: "I admire your genius and your strength."

Psychologist Robert Butterworth finds it upsetting.

"These Web sites are like magnets; they draw the angry kids. Getting on the Internet, someone in Iowa, Massachusetts and New York, all of a sudden bond together. They become a lot more powerful, and it can become a lot more frightening."

But the authors of the "Tears for Eric and Dylan Web site" claim they're doing teens a service. In an e-mail to CBS News the Web hosts said "...kids have told us over and over again that the site, instead of encouraging them to commit murder, is a comfort...."

Rohrbaugh isn't buying it. "We should draw the line somewhere between freedom of speech and endorsing criminal activity."

Dave Grossman, a former West Point professor who is a researcher and law-enforcement trainer, faulted telvision for encouraging copycat crimes by broadcasting the names and photos of young killers.

"We know that if we give him his 15 minutes of fame, others will try to repeat the crime," he said. "This is not theory. This is 5,000 years of recorded human history."

Garbarino said a fascination with what he called the dark side of culture also helps turn killers into celebrities for some.

"Thirty-five years ago, if a kid walked into your school with body piercing and black makeup, almost certainly somebody would say, 'We've got to find out what's troubling this kid,'" he said.

Today, he said, `"Adolescent culture has sort of taken on this foray into the dark side. For troubled kids, this feeds their trouble."

In the last two years, authorities have thwarted dozens of Columbine-like plots. The suspects may have had feelings of violent rage despite Columbine. But experts warn that the proliferation of Web sites like these that memorialize the killers, might only encourage some vulnerable teens to seek the same sort of immortality.


  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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