We all knew them in high school. Sullen, smoldering, and determined to be different. Their dress, their hair, their attitude a sign of protest. They scoffed at athletes and cheerleaders and brains and people they considered nerds.
Sometimes there were clashes: a shouting match with a jock, a rude remark to a prom queen, an angry encounter with a teacher.
They were just part of the high school landscape. They wanted to be seen as rebels. We figured they would get over it. We never thought they would come blasting into our midst, gunning down their supposed enemies, revenging every real or imagined slight.
It must be the same in every high school in the country now. Students, teachers, parents are peering furtively at the different ones and wondering if they are about to flip out. We devour newspapers and television programs, searching for clues to what happened in Littleton, Colorado. We seek out ministers, psychologists and education experts trying to make sure we recognize danger signs in our own neighborhoods. And frankly, no one seems to have any answers.
In a country that cherishes freedom and nonconformity, do we really want to crack down on everyone who seems a bit odd? We read that the two alleged killers were obsessed with virtual violence, avid players of computer stalking games. But lots of people play those games without any thought of translating them into reality. We learn that the alleged killers liked to dress as "goths," part of a techno-music, pseudo-gothic culture that seems to attract plenty of kids with no plans to blow anyone's brains out.
The New York Times quotes the next door neighbor of Eric Harris, one of the purported shooters, as seeing Harris and his accomplice, Dylan Klebold breaking up bottles in a sack for 15 minutes. "Apparently," the neighbor says, "they were making shrapnel. I would never have figured in a million years that bomb-making activities were going onÂ…" Indeed.
In Littleton, students who survived the massacre are overcome with emotion. We believe the young are resilient, but fear that few could really recover from a tragedy this profound.
Parents look numb and hollow-eyed. They will never feel totally safe again.
The killers are dead now, so no one will ever fully understand what went on in their disturbed minds. But as horrible and sickening as their brutal attack was, it seems almost impossible to draw any universal lessons from it, to construct a roamap to protect other communities from similar atrocities.
And we are all forced to confront the depressing and foul truth that evil can flourish, uncontrolled and undetected.