Two Years Later, Lessons Learned From Columbine

Two years after the Columbine tragedy, some believe the continuing spate of school shootings proves the nation has made little progress in preventing or understanding this particularly horrific type of violent behavior.

The most dramatic instance of the continuing problem came on March 5, 2001, when a 15-year-old freshman at Santana High School in Santee, Calif., allegedly killed two classmates and injured 13 others in a rampage shooting.

But some researchers say they have gained significant insight into teen violence in the two years since Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold stormed their Littleton, Colo. high school, killing12 classmates and a teacher and wounding 26 before committing suicide in the school's library.

"There is a lot of information out there about these kids (who commit these acts), but it is not in one place," said Jane Grady, Assistant Director of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

In most cases, including the Santee shooting, parents, friends, classmates and even law enforcement officials were forewarned of the attack. Harris and Klebold had signaled they were in trouble, while Charles Andrew Williams, the accused Santee gunman, had told friends, classmates and even a friend's stepfather of his intentions.

"It may have made a difference if all those groups knew what was happening with the other," Grady said.

Through the center’s Safe Communities/Safe Schools program, which has been implemented in 16 Colorado communities since Columbine, a team representing peers, parents, law enforcement, teachers and counselors are pulled together to share that kind of information.

"This group would be more suited to take action," Grady said. "I don’t think teachers should be responsible for determining who will be a violent offender."

Many researchers also believe the beefed-up security measures schools implement in response to these incidents are typically Band-Aids that treat the symptoms, not the disease.

That message has been taken nowhere more to heart than in Littleton, which hopes to become something else in the American conscience, a community about to put its hard-learned lessons to use by implementing a pioneering comprehensive youth outreach and violence prevention program.

"Every school district in the country addressed their security measures after Columbine, but you need a longer-term solution to reach troubled youth," said Brian Vogt, co-chair of the Littleton Community Task Force.

In the days following the Columbine shooting, the Greater Littleton Youth Initiative, organized to respond to the incident, began holding town meetings, established a crisis hotline, and implemented other programs. But Vogt said the community also immediately recognized the need to dedicate a second track of the program to finding long-term solutions for identifying and reaching out to troubled youth.

Littleton has spent the past two years identifying best practices programs from around the country, learning how to compile, track and interpret statistics, and building a whole-community approach to youth problems. Those results will be put into effect in a variety of programs this summer.

"We needed to do the research to find out the status of the risk factors in the community, and the assets for young people in the area. When you increase the assets, you diminish the risk factors," said Vogt, adding different communities have different issues contributing to youth problems. "We wanted to make sure we were addressing the right issues."