Kay’s Journal: Columbine

Here’s what I’m thinking about this week!

Every time there is a school shooting — regrettably, that is quite frequently in the United States of America — millions of people in this country are plunged into trauma. Most of them are families, friends and communities of the past-and-present victims, the majority of whom were not yet old enough to vote against a system that continually declares that “this is not the time” to address their murders.

Many of the traumatized are school teachers who know that they could be called upon, on any of the 180 days of any school year, to lock down their classrooms or throw themselves in front of military-grade assault weapons to protect the lives of their students. Many are first responders who are called upon to clean up the carnage, transport the shattered bodies, catalogue the spent cartridges that spell horror — or emergency room personnel who try to repair super-human damage to merely-human bodies — or therapists, who wade into the oceans of grief, shock, rage, despair with teaspoons.

I am one of those therapists. On April 20, 1999, my private practice was four miles up the road from Columbine High School. I had Columbine parents and teachers as clients. We were not yet inured to the horror; it was not yet such a common occurrence that only a school shooting with four or more victims (the minimum for a “mass” shooting) got more than a scroll or chyron at the bottom of the television screen. On April 20, 1999, a school shooting of teenagers by teenagers with 15 dead was still enough to shock the country for more than a handful of days.

At 5:30 on that long, awful day, as the first harrowing reports were still coming in, I had my last appointment. My clients were East Berliners who grew up with the Wall and were on the front lines with hammers when it came down. The couple was here on the husband’s work visa; they lived a few blocks from the school. They came with their 15-year-old twins in tow, not wanting to leave them out of their sight. Their disagreements and conflicts that had brought them to my office were far, far in background. Instead, they wanted to talk about violence in America. Why guns were fetishized in this culture. Why legislators allowed this to happen. What I planned to do about it. Where they could move so that their children, mere months from attending Columbine High School, could be safer. Whether they should move back to Germany. (They did, within 30 days.)

Every therapist I know in Denver expressed the fear that settled on all of us like a thick sticky fog: A bright line has been crossed that we will never be able to walk back.

Nineteen years later, here we are. Miles and, tragically, hundreds of dead bodies beyond that bright line.

Score: School shooters: 208 students and teachers dead and an estimated 150,000* child, teen, young adult survivors. Congress: Zero.

In memorium: A partial list of only the mass shootings, where four or more died (not counting those shot who did not die, although many are permanently disabled), starting with Columbine. Sadly, this list is not exhaustive, nor does it represent anything but school shootings.**

Columbine, CO, 1999 – 15 dead
Red Lake, MN, 2005 – 10 dead
West Nickel Mines, PA, 2007 – 6 dead
Virginia Tech, VA, 2007 – 32 dead
Northern Illinois University, IL , 2008 – 6 dead
Orkos University, CA, 2012 – 7 dead
Sandy Hook Elementary, CT, 2012 – 27 dead
Santa Monica College, CA, 2013 – 6 dead
UCal Santa Barbara, CA, 2014 – 7 dead
Marysville Pilhuk, WA, 2014 – 5 dead
Umpqua Community College WA, 2015- 10 dead
Stoneman Douglas, FL, 2018 – 17 dead

Congressional leaders insist “this is not the time” to talk about this. Pray tell, exactly when is the time? And what will we say? ore to the point, what will  we do?

*The Washington Post, February 15, 2018, byline John Woodrow Cox and Steven Rich: “An ongoing Washington Post analysis has found that more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. That figure, which comes from a review of online archives, state and federal enrollment figures and news stories, is a conservative calculation and does not include dozens of suicides, accidents and after-school assaults that have also exposed youths to gunfire.”

** Westword, a Denver arts-and-culture community newspaper, Oct 2, 2017, byline Michael Roberts: “At this writing, at least fifty people are reportedly dead and hundreds more were wounded after a mass shooting attack by Stephen Paddock during a Jason Aldean appearance outside the Mandalay Bay resort in Las Vegas on Sunday night, October 1. These numbers make it the deadliest event of its kind in U.S. history, but hardly an isolated one. In the five-plus years since July 20, 2012, when twelve people were killed and seventy were injured during James Holmes’s attack at the Century 16 theater in Aurora, (CO), 1,864 incidents like it have taken place, according to online estimates.” (emphasis added).








13 Responses to Kay’s Journal: Columbine

  1. Sister Suze February 20, 2018 at 7:43 am #

    Please submit this to the Denver Post as a letter to the editor, and to The Week as an editorial for their Last Word page.

    • Lynn D. Morrissey February 28, 2018 at 11:00 am #


  2. Peggy Heller February 20, 2018 at 9:10 am #

    My heart is with yours, dear Kay, and with all those who are suffering. I am heartened by your words and the passionate advocacy of the Florida high schoolers. I will send you a link for some advocacy the rest of us can do
    With love, Peggy

  3. Katherine Cox Stevenson February 20, 2018 at 12:10 pm #

    Tears streaming down my face Kay. You mentioned every time there is a school shooting, “…millions of people in this country are plunged into trauma.”

    I live in Canada and every single time there is a school shooting or mass shooting in the U.S. I too am plunged into trauma as are many Canadians I know.

    I don’t have the words to express my sorrow and horror with what goes on. The support for gun ownership, let alone assault rifles is beyond my comprehension.

    I won’t even travel to the U.S. anymore and I know a lot of Canadians feeling the same. I used to love visiting and attending writing retreats and conferences. Not any more. I sure understand the people returning to Germany you mentioned.

    I find this whole situation truly tragic and like a horror story.

    My thoughts and prayers go out to all my American neighbors. And as many have said since the latest shooting, it is way past the time for feeble thoughts and prayers.

    • Lynn D. Morrissey February 25, 2018 at 5:06 pm #

      Dear Katherine,

      I’m so saddened by your post, but I completely understand it! (See my post below). I live in St. Louis MO, and *I’m* afraid to live here or to visit other places in America. I have never been to Canada (well, a very brief daylong excursion to gorgeous Niagara Falls), but I have been to Europe 6 times. I have never been afraid. I watched a women from Dunblane very recently on PBS, I think, and they are afraid to visit the States.

      What are the gun laws in Canada? Do you have many die from gun violence?

      Wishing you all the best, and praying somehow things will change.
      Lynn Morrissey

  4. Cyncie Winter February 20, 2018 at 12:59 pm #

    Kay, thank you for this passionate, eloquent assessment of a situation that is breaking all of our hearts. Katherine, I appreciate your compassionate, reasoned response as a Canadian to a sickness that pervades our country.

    As a former teacher, I am sickened that our beloved students and courageous teachers are put in such peril in a place that should be safe! In 1976, a took a gun away from a student who was pointing it at another student. Through the years, I taught kids who became shooters and grieved over former students who had died at the hands of their fellow students. I remember a young man in my class who used to draw guns instead of working on class assignments. As I was circulating the room to help individual students, he would say, “Get away from me, Miss.” Two years later, when he was a senior, I saw him walking down the halls. He came over an hugged me. I was just glad he was still alive.

    Somewhere around that time, I started to dream that I was watching two young men in trench coats with automatic weapons enter the school. Then Columbine happened.

    I am alternately engulfed by grief and rage over what is happening. The pervasive attitudes that allow this appalling situation to repeat itself must be shifted into action on behalf of the safety of our children. I watch the courageous stance, the eloquent words of the students from Stoneman Douglas, and hope with all my heart that this time, we will finally be shaken into action through their strong hearts. We must find a way to turn this around.

    • Lynn D. Morrissey February 28, 2018 at 11:02 am #

      Cyncie, my daughter, as I wrote in my post below, is studying to be a teacher. She adores children and has truly found her calling. I can’t imagine that she has now chosen a vocation of intrinsic danger (as a teacher! Good grief!), but it’s true. As her mother, who longs for her to fulfill her passion, I cheer her on, trembling….

  5. Sandra Marinella February 20, 2018 at 5:41 pm #

    As a teacher this piece is near and dear to my heart. We have to have voice. We have to stand up. Thank you for leading, Kay.

  6. Lizabeth Smith February 21, 2018 at 12:23 pm #

    What horrifies me today is learning of far right journalists who are accusing the amazingly articulate students from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas H.S. of being actors! Any of you who have done groups with this age group know how verbally strong they can be. I pray that this time will be the last.

  7. Lynn D. Morrissey February 25, 2018 at 5:01 pm #

    Kay, I would agree with the Congress: This is *not* the time to talk about this. People are grieving.


    I’m sick to death of all the talk, all the feelingless talking-point, need-to-exercise-our-Constitutional-rights rhetoric–of all my friends (many of them Christian!) shouting me down on my FB feed when I lament that gun violence is killing our country. These are dear people that I have known for years, and they sound like talking heads for the NRA! I hardly recognize them. How can a right to own and use a gun (automatics of any variety that can wipe out large numbers of precious souls in one fell blast) possibly compare to such horrific loss of life? I am strongly prolife. And if I mean that, then I have to apply that to *all* life. I would just as soon see the Second Amendment repealed. There. I’ve bared my soul. If my friends read that they will think I’ve cracked up. (On its face the 2nd is fine; it’s the gross misinterpretation of it that has caused all this mass-hysteria havoc). I have always hated guns personally (they have always made me feel extremely uncomfortable), but I have also realized I can’t impose my personal repulsion at “killing Bambi” with someone who enjoys hunting. Shooting a deer isn’t a moral crime. And I get why people want a weapon for self-protection in their homes. They have that right. But now I am to the point that I would just as soon see all the guns confiscated and banned, because of all the destruction of innocent life and how fearful we are just to step outside our front doors (or into a church, movie theatre, school, concert venue, shopping mall, baseball field, driving down a highway, etc., etc., all the places where shootings have occurred). I realize that in our gun-crazy, weapon-obsessed society, any kind of amendment repeal will never happen. I’m just telling you what I wish. In the meantime, I think our government (Congress, Senate, president) should do all in their power to tighten gun control to such an extent that people don’t even want to bother getting guns (think Japan). I’m sick to death of hearing about the mentally ill and evil people who kill w/ hand guns, shot guns, automatic and semi-automatic guns. I have great compassion for the mentally ill. But I’m sick to death of people saying that they are really the only reason for the gun violence. There are many reasons, complex reasons. But the point is, that if we know this, then removing the vehicle they use to be violent will lessen their chances of being so. I repeat: It stands to reason. And that is precisely the point. No one is being reasonable. This gun fetish, as you aptly name it, is spurred by fear, prejudice of the “other” (whomever the other is in people’s minds), fear of government: FEAR, FEAR, FEAR. This is generated and enhanced by the NRA (and other groups). So there’s a mass shooting. More fear. And whenever people fear, they go out and buy more guns. Grievously, this is an endless cycle. And, Kay, this is not rocket science. Think of Dunblane in 1996. One school shooting in a cozy Scottish village. Sixteen deaths too many. At least the UK thought sixteen were too many, and the government banned handguns. I talked to a friend who lives there, and she feels very safe where she lives in England. I have felt safe in the UK and other parts of Europe, but not in America… not in St. Louis, where I live (where we have one of the highest rates of gun violence in America–but you will not see this in England, Australia, Japan, e.g., who have dealt w/ the real problem: the guns. And I daresay, America doesn’t have a monopoly on the mentally ill and evil population of the world; we just love our guns!) And for what? What on earth are we ultimately valuing most here? The right to own guns doesn’t trump the right to life, I should think. I’m so sick of it I could scream, but I feel helpless. I have no idea what to do. But somehow these kids, this “mass-shooting generation” (what an appalling appellation!), know what to say, how to say it, and how to apply pressure. Like the MeToo movement, I think the NeverAgainers will really make a difference for saving lives. I think this is the first time that I have felt remotely hopeful. My beautiful daughter, whom you’ve met, is working on her masters in education. She is studying to be an art teacher. She adores children, and they adore her. Her calling is to teach, not to kill. She can’t fathom being armed. No teacher should be. The NRA and the president are not addressing the problem. They are assuming that there will be violence (and they know there will be b/c they won’t get rid of the guns). So they make this pathetic suggestion to arm school personnel to keep the kids safe. THIS IS INSANE. I’m starting to wander here, and likely not making good sense anymore. I just thank you for speaking up and out and for allowing comments on your platform. I do believe in praying. I am. But God also gives us common sense and expects us to do the right and moral thing. Why should He answer our prayers if we won’t heed His conditions?

  8. Kay Adams February 26, 2018 at 2:32 pm #

    Thank you, Katherine, Lynn, Lizabeth, Cyncie (and later, others) for your comments. I wrote that blog and then left for a week of news fasting as I facilitated the women’s writing retreat in Scottsdale. Now I’m back and plugged in again.

    One thing I want to note: Blaming it on the “mentally ill” is not the answer. The extraordinarily vast majority of those with depressive/anxiety/bipolar disorders, or on the autism spectrum, or any other “mental illness” you want to name, are not violent. Some who are subject to thought disorders (psychoses) or who are on paranoid-inducing drugs such as methamphetamines or PCP may have violent impulses or “commands” but the “mentally ill” as a category are getting a really unfair shake.

    It’s just another blame game to distract attention away from the real problem: The US has less than 5% of the world’s population yet owns 48% of all civilian guns in the world; for every 100 US residents, there are 81 guns. (Somebody out there has 17 extras for all the ones my family doesn’t own.)

  9. Lynn D. Morrissey February 28, 2018 at 10:58 am #

    Amen, again, Kay. Perhaps you have just named here another part of your calling to help change lives with the tip of your pen. Maybe you, as surely an expert in psychotherapy and writing for healing, can address the truth about the mentally ill, where guns are concerned. Perhaps your lancing this bubble of misunderstanding (the too-easy blaming of the mentally ill) with your powerful pen, could really help this deadly conundrum in ways you cannot yet fathom. Just a thought . . . 🙂 Thanks for all you do to help in so many ways!


  1. Kay’s Journal: Best of 2018 | Welcome to the new Journalverse! - September 24, 2018

    […] Feb 16 – Columbine […]

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes