Massacre Rubs Old Wounds at Columbine
It should surprise no one that news of this week's Virginia Tech massacre has rubbed old wounds like Brian Rohrbough's raw.
It's not that the killings rekindled grief over his only son, Daniel, who was shot dead eight years ago this Friday during a bloody rampage by fellow Columbine High School students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.
"Those feelings [of grief] never really go away," Rohrbough says. "They're something you just learn to live with."
Rather, Monday's hauntingly similar killings by Cho Seung.Huia deeply troubled student whose hostile behavior was well known to fellow students, school officials, and policesent Rohrbough into a seething funk because he has spent much of his life since his son's murder fighting to prevent another campus slaughter.
"What we're seeing in Virginia so far is the same exact pattern," Rohrbough says in frustration. "And the likelihood is that it probably could have been avoided."
Convinced that lessons gleaned from tens of thousands of pages documenting the events of April 20, 1999, could do just that, Rohrbough and other Columbine parents have waged a seven-year battle to make public a dense collection of police, medical, and school records, as well as interviews with the killers' parents and video and audio tapes Harris and Klebold made before the shootingsall of which they believe could help others better understand the witch's brew of risk factors that can send young people over the edge. Yet from the earliest days of the investigation into the Columbine killings, they say they have been stymied by a woeful combination of tight-lipped officials, overly protective privacy laws, and judges so wary of copycats that they have kept a wealth of details about the killings sealed from public viewa fact some believe has not only undermined prevention of future attacks but has also left people like Rohrbough unable to move on.
Though the healing has begun in Virginia, the continuing struggle to understand what until this week was the worst school shooting in U.S. history serves as a cautionary tale of just how long the recovery process can take, especially when information is withheld from those who can most benefit from it. Indeed, many involved in the Columbine case say that fuller disclosure of information could have quelled a years-long firestorm of suspicions and conspiracy theories that at one point pushed Rohrbough to claim that his son had been killed not by Harris or Klebold but by a police officera belief that took nearly three years and a follow-up investigation to finally disprove.
"That's a hard lesson we learned," says Dave Thomas, the former district attorney who revisited Daniel Rohrbough's death. "There's something inherently healing about having full information. In traumatic deaths, human nature wants to know exactly who, why, and where it happened. It helps the process of moving on."
Yet even when information is made available, it can sometimes take years before it's put to good use. Take the findings of a Colorado state commission issued a year after the Columbine tragedy, which, among other things, recommended that information-sharing agreements be mandated between police, schools, and others who deal with troubled kids. Although signed into law in 2000, legislators failed to provide the necessary funding to ensure it was put into practice.