April 20, 1999, at around 11:19 am, was the fateful day that two teenagers, Eric Harris, and Dylan Klebold went on a shooting spree at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado (Austin, 2003). They arrived in separate vehicles and walked into the school cafeteria. They placed two duffel bags on the tables, which contained twenty-pound propane bombs that were meant to explode at 11:17am. The two then walked back outside to wait for the bombs to explode, but they failed to detonate. That was when they went on their shooting rampage (Austin, 2003).
The shooting incident led to the death of 13 people and injured 20. The shooters then turned the guns on themselves and committed suicide. The offense was the worst high school shooting in the United Sates history which provoked a national debate on a number of issues (Austin, 2003). They included the issue of gun control, safety in schools, emergency preparation, and an investigation on what motivated the gunmen. Speculation was rife that the shooters had been ostracized, bullied, were in a social outcast circle and were deeply entrenched in the Gothic culture. Apparently, the shooting was a means to get revenge for being bullied (Austin, 2003).
After the shooting, investigators speculated that Klebold and Harris intentionally picked out Christians, minorities, and athletes as their victims. It had been reported that one of the students, Cassie Bernall was asked if she believed in God by one of the gunmen. When she replied that she did believe in God, the gunman shot her. The shooters were described as having mental pathologies, owing to their behavioral disorder coupled with the poisonous social environment present in most American high schools (Aronson, 2004). The high school social construct is characterized by rejection, taunting, exclusion, and mortification. Rejection and additional humiliation are the prevailing issues underlying each and every rampage killing in the United States (Aronson, 2004). A videotape that Harris and Klebold had produced just before the killing revealed that they specifically railed against the group that had snubbed and humiliated them (Aronson, 2004).
Emergency Prevention and Planning
In order to encourage a safe and emergency responsive environment for students and teachers in schools, primary prevention mechanisms must be taken into consideration. They include conflict resolution; improved classroom management should be executed (Skiba, Boone, Fontanini, Wu, Strussell, & Peterson, 2000). These efforts are helpful for the general student population and the students at a higher risk of violence. These programs include violence prevention, peer mediation programs, conflict resolution curriculum, social cohesion and classroom behavior management (Skiba, Boone, Fontanini, Wu, Strussell, & Peterson, 2000).
In the wake of a culture of violence in contemporary society, many schools have started to consider making violence prevention and conflict resolution part of their curriculum. These programs depend on continuous teaching and dialog to change the views, attitudes, and skills of students. These curriculum approaches are usually incorporated into a wider program. It includes aspects such as peer mediation, supportive learning, school-wide behavior management, and anger management (Skiba, Boone, Fontanini, Wu, Strussell, & Peterson, 2000). Conflict resolution and violence prevention curricula have in the past shown positive changes in the attitude and conduct among students. Entire school efforts like creatively resolving conflict programs are correlated with many positive results. They include decreases in physical violence, enhanced student cooperation and decreased suspension and drop-out rates (Skiba, Boone, Fontanini, Wu, Strussell, & Peterson, 2000).
Consistency and commitment are very important if the program is to yield effective results. Increasing the chances of achievement for conflict resolution and violence prevention curricula needs a series of planning and training systems (Skiba, Boone, Fontanini, Wu, Strussell, & Peterson, 2000). Since there are few curricula on violence prevention and conflict resolution, it is paramount that the curricula meet the specific needs of the students. Teachers must implement a variety of training approaches like role-play, video tapes and discussion (Skiba, Boone, Fontanini, Wu, Strussell, & Peterson, 2000). Prior to implementation, staff must understand the time and work involved and is trained accordingly. In peer mediation, a group of volunteer students can be taught negotiation, problem-solving, and communication procedures. It helps them to settle disputes with peers to prevent violence.
Emergency Operation Plan
The city of Littleton has an emergency operation plan that involves all institutions in the community to respond accordingly to emergencies. They include the fire department, police, rescue teams, attorneys and emergency medical services (City of Littleton, 2005). When responding to emergencies, it requires the combined effort of these institutions and the community to ensure effective and timely response (City of Littleton, 2005). One of the complaints that were rife after the investigation into the Columbine shooting was that the police and SWAT team were not aggressive and timely enough in their response.
Within the schools, students need to be aware that there is someone or people that they can trust, for example, a favorite teacher, parent or counselor, with whom they can freely share their concerns. Students may need guidance concerning what entails a threat or a sign that is worth reporting. They must be assured of their safety and protection from retribution when they make a report. Parents and teachers should not take it lightly when students come to them with reports of threats or bullying. Responses to threats should be planned in advance to avoid frantic mitigation once a threat has been made good. School psychologists and local mental health facilities can be called upon to carry out a threat assessment (Skiba, Boone, Fontanini, Wu, Strussell, & Peterson, 2000). In selected cases, suspension or expulsion may be on condition. It means that the suspended or expelled student who has made threats can only return to school after they have completed a threat risk assessment to rule out incidents such as shootings and bombings.