Do We Blame the Columbine Parents?

Do We Blame the Columbine Parents?


shutterstock_115854331Where were their parents?

That was the thought I couldn’t shake ten years ago as news broke from Littleton, Colo., and all cameras were aimed at Columbine High School.

It was my first national tragedy as a parent, and my perspective took me by surprise. A few years earlier I would have put myself in the shoes of the terrified students, huddled in classrooms, hiding under tables in the library. But on April 20, 1999, I felt for the parents. Racing toward the school building, stopped by police tape and SWAT teams, learning their kids were safe — or not.

Most of all I thought about two sets of parents — the Harrises and the Klebolds — who learned in one cleaver of a moment that their children were killed, and also that their children were killers. As terrifying as it is to find yourself the parent of a victim, what separate hell must it be to discover you are the parent of the shooter? To lose your child, and also any illusion that you knew your child, to layer guilt over grief?

The question of guilt — were the parents guilty? should we blame them? — led me to write a cover story for the New York Times Magazine six months after Columbine, at a time when polls showed 85 percent of Americans held the parents responsible for the shooters’ acts, and when lawsuits were being filed against the families of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold by the families of the 12 students and one teacher who the boys killed, and the dozens more that they injured. READ MORE