Lessons of Columbine


News staff writer

April 15, 2006

Most students at Hood River Middle School were the youngest of elementary schoolers on April 20, 1999. Current sixth-graders weren’t even in kindergarten yet.

But the entire student body seated in the HRMS auditorium Thursday morning raised their hands when guest speaker Craig Scott asked if everyone knew about the Columbine High School shooting that took place on that awful spring day seven years ago. Many students said they remembered where they were and what they were doing when news of the tragedy in Littleton, Colo., hit.

On that day two students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, came to school with homemade bombs and several high-powered weapons. After planting bombs in the cafeteria that failed to explode, the pair rampaged through the school — starting with killing a girl having lunch on the grass near the school’s entrance — shooting students and teachers and tossing explosives. The most devastating scene occurred in the library, where 10 students were killed and several wounded. Harris and Klebold eventually killed themselves in the school.

In all, 12 students and one teacher were killed, and 24 students wounded, making it the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.

Craig Scott, who was in the library that day, survived, even as two of his friends who crouched with him beneath a table were brutally shot and killed. The girl having lunch by the school entrance — the first victim of the day’s horror — was Rachel Scott, Craig’s sister.

Scott spent Thursday at HRMS delivering a message to students and teachers about compassion. The message, part of a program created by Scott’s family after the Columbine shooting called Rachel’s Challenge, was part history lesson of that horrible day and part action plan for avoiding a similar situation.

“Columbine was a day where teachers and students began asking, ‘What is going on in our schools?’” Scott said. He began his presentation by showing video footage of that day’s events both from security cameras inside the school and from television news clips.

Over the next hour, Scott interspersed video footage from Columbine, old home movies from his and Rachel’s childhood and other relevant images with straight talk about what led to Harris and Klebold’s unspeakable final act.

“We all know the two shooters were very influenced by violence through media,” Scott said. “I’m not saying this made them do it, but it affected them.” Scott also talked about bullying, about how small acts of kindness can make a huge difference in someone’s life, and about Rachel’s uncommon compassion for others. (The Rachel’s Challenge program is based on an essay Rachel Scott penned shortly before her death in which she wrote, “I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, then it will start a chain reaction of the same.”)

Scott also related his own story from that day, those horrible minutes in the Columbine library when he thought he, too, would die.

One of the two friends crouched next to him was Isaiah Shoels, “one of the few black kids at Columbine,” Scott said. When Harris and Klebold found Shoels with Scott and another friend, Matthew Kechter, under the table, they began taunting Shoels with racial slurs.

“The last thing (Isaiah) said was, ‘I want to see my mom,’” Scott recalled. “Then they shot him in the head. And then they shot Matt.”

Each portion of the program led to a “challenge,” which Scott asked the students to accept. In all, there were five: choose your influences wisely; write down your goals; little acts of kindness go a long way; eliminate prejudice; and tell those you love how much you appreciate them.

“I want to leave you with Rachel’s Challenge,” Scott said. Learn what that word compassion means … If you do, you will be a person who makes a difference.”

Thursday afternoon, Scott held a “training” session for more than 50 leadership students, with the goal of carrying on the program’s message. Students talked about problems at the school, like bullying and cliques, and possible solutions. Scott’s theme again was compassion.

“There are some students in this school who are drowning,” he said. “When I say drowning, I mean they are not in a stable, good place.” Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, he said, were drowning. “They needed someone to show them some compassion.

“I challenge you to risk your reputation, risk not being cool, to jump into the water and save someone from drowning.”

Scott presented the Rachel’s Challenge program at Wy’east Middle School on Friday. Both schools were provided curriculum and activities for use throughout the year to keep the program’s message on students’ minds.

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