Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Massacre by Students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado

On April 20,1999, two senior students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, entered their high school and began shooting their fellow students.  Klebold and Harris also planted 13 bombs throughout the school and rigged themselves with explosives.  When the smoke cleared, 15 people were dead; 12 students, one teacher, who tried to protect other students, and the two perpetrators, who had committed suicide. Many others were left with physical and emotional wounds which may take a lifetime to heal.

Since Harris and Klebold are dead, there is no one to tell us for certain why this tragedy occurred.  The Internet and the media are full of responses to the horror in Littleton.  Some articles blame the tragedy on the lack of gun control legislation in the U.S.  Others are convinced that young children are exposed to too much violence in the media.  However, most of the comments I read point to the trauma caused when young people are bullied and excluded from their peer group. In fact, a suicide note left by Harris blames teachers and parents for the exclusion that the teen experienced at school. 

There were several warning signs leading up the incident at Columbine High school which law enforcement personnel, educators and parents unfortunately ignored.  In early 1998, Harris began to commit acts of petty vandalism.  The police were involved and told parents to keep an eye on their son.  Later, Harris and Klebold were  arrested for breaking into a van.  They were released on probation and told to seek counseling.  Harris began a web site in which he gave details of his eventual assault on the school.  His neighbors, the Browns, turned over printed pages from this site to the police but there was no response.  In addition, teachers of Harris and Klebold independently spoke to their parents about excessive violence in projects the students had submitted.  In the fall of 1999, Harris and Kleblod joined the trench coat mafia, a group of marginalized students.  One of the members, not involved in the shootings, told a CNN reporter that “if you tease and harass people, you can expect a bullet too.”

The Columbine tragedy clearly indicates that educators as well as law enforcement personnel and parents all need to work together to prevent such tragedies from occurring again.  One teacher called Columbine “the Pearl Harbour of school violence.”  The responsibility lies with educators to pay attention and develop programs, which will help teachers and parents support students who are at risk in school.  An independent review of the events in Littleton, published in May 2001, “urged schools to work harder to break the students code of silence and develop better plans for coordination and communication.”

A report by The National Association of School Psychologists published before April, 1999 “found that isolation and teasing or bullying by other students was a common thread among teens involved in five other school shootings."  Another nationwide study cited in the summer of 2001, reported that “people who were bullied as children are prone to depression and low self-esteem as adults.” Tonja Nansel, a researcher for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, has said that school based intervention programs can reduce violence among students by 30-50%. 

Littleton, Colorado is among the many communities in North America that is paying more attention to the issue of violence in schools.  At the beginning of the current school year, teachers and administrators in Littleton went to three days of workshops that will prepare them to identify children who are at risk and implement anti-bullying programs in their schools.  It is a good beginning but when the pressures of preparing for classes and evaluating students become overwhelming, some teachers may not be able to pay enough attention to peer interactions, to watch for troubled students, or to be proactive rather than reactive in their interventions.

The many students who were injured and killed at Littleton should be remembered by all of those who work with students and educators.  The memory of this tragedy will hopefully continue to be another way we can encourage school systems to train teachers to implement effective anti-bullying programs and offer students the means to address their experience in their peer group in ways that are safe and healing to all those involved.


Cullen. Dave “Outsiders, Even Among the Outsiders”,, 2000

Hanson-Harding, Alexandra “Ending School Violence” Junior Scholastic,, 4Oct 1999

Janofsky, Micheal “Columbine Panel Blames Lack of Action for Deaths” The New York Times on the Web, May 18, 2001, 27 Oct. 2001

Moore, Stephanie (2001) “Student Bullying Widespread” North Carolina Parenting Education Network, (3) 3

St Augustine Record and Morris Digital Works “The Care Club is Trying to Stop Violence Before It Starts”

“Monsters Among Us: The tragedy at Columbine High”,, 27 Oct. 2001

Prepared by Miriam Zachariah (OISE/UT)

November 2001

Citation: Zachariah, Miriam (2001). 1999: Massacre by Students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. In Daniel Schugurensky (Ed.), History of Education: Selected Moments of the 20th Century [online]. Available:  (date accessed).

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