The Columbine Shooting Helped Inspire Dozens More

by Chris Tognotti

It's a particular hallmark of America's grisly history of violent crime — the school shooting. They've occurred with alarming frequency throughout the United States since the '90s, with scores taking place after the 1998 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. And several of the deadly attacks appear to have been tied to the Columbine tragedy: the Columbine massacre helped inspire at least 17 other school shootings, as detailed by an ABC News report Tuesday.

ABC's report gives a telling glimpse into the perilous nature of infamy, violence, and potential copycat killings. In short, it seems like the Columbine shootings, carried out by Colorado teens Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, held a potent sway over the minds of a number of wannabe imitators.

Harris and Klebold killed 13 people: 12 students, and one teacher. And, as seen through some of the physical evidence future killers have left behind — journals, videos, and photos among others — the shooting has had a long-term influence. Beyond the 17 school shootings that were carried out, the ABC News report found similar links between the Columbine massacre and 36 other incidents or plots.

Wrote ABC:

A months-long investigation by ABC News has identified at least 17 attacks and another 36 alleged plots or serious threats against schools since the assault on Columbine High School that can be tied to the 1999 massacre.
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While there's too many to detail in full (and that's upsetting in itself) here are a handful of incidents in which ABC News found the an attacker influenced by the Columbine massacre.

  • In San Jose, California in 2001, a 19-year-old was arrested after discovery of his plot to plant pipe-bombs around De Anza College. The only thing that ultimately stopped the attack from taking place was the awareness of a local photo processor who received a roll of film featuring the bombs with nails attached to them, as well as several firearms. The would-be bomber was sentenced to 80 years in prison, but killed himself in 2004. Authorities also found the telling indicator on his website — what ABC describes as a "tribute" to Harris and Klebold.
  • In Hillsborough, North Carolina in 2006, another 19-year-old mounted a violent attack against Orange High School, wounding two students with firearms featuring pictures of the two Columbine killers. While he was mercifully unsuccessful in killing anybody at the school, he did fatally shoot his father before the school attack began. In subsequent personal materials discovered by the police, the young man professed an adoration for Harris and Klebold, even possessing a video of a trip he made to Columbine High School.
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  • In Littleton, Colorado in 2010, just miles away from Columbine High School, an armed 32-year-old started firing in Deer Creek Middle School, injuring two people, but luckily failing to kill anybody. After being arrested, the man's journal was found to contain references to the 1998 massacre, as prosecutors reportedly told ABC News — in an unhinged passage, he wrote: "Where I come from they, or I should say, respect life 100%, but what do I do when I'm the only one who understands that way. Are they going to listen, probably not. Like Columbine H. S. Do they ever think that some of us just ain't playing?"
  • And, of course, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut back in late 2012. Sandy Hook became one of the highest-profile school shootings since Columbine, and the horror of it — shooter Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults during his rampage — actually focused the nation's attention on gun control reforms for a few months, until it largely fell apart in the face of Republican and NRA opposition. Lanza was reportedly in possession of "Several video clips pertaining to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold," as well as "hundreds of documents, images, [and] videos pertaining to the Columbine H.S. massacre including what appears to be a complete copy of the investigation," according to the ABC News report.
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The report seems to back up the recent suggestion by the FBI that a copycat mindset may be driving mass shootings in recent years. Its recent study found that mass shootings had gone up over the last decade, and FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit member Andre Simons told the AP that people may have been drawing inspiration from killings gone by to fuel their homicidal intentions.

The copycat phenomenon is real. As more and more notable and tragic events occur, we think we’re seeing more compromised, marginalized individuals who are seeking inspiration from those past attacks.

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