Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Saturday, April 24, 1999 Published at 05:06 GMT 06:06 UK

World: Americas

Bloodshed in the shadow of the Rockies

A spring storm leaves a memorial shrouded in snow

By James Wall, a Briton based in Denver

It has snowed the last few days in Denver, as winter breathes its last in the Rocky Mountain West.

Usually a big spring storm would be headline news in the Denver papers - The Denver Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post - but three days after the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, pictures of weeping teenagers again adorn the front pages.

[ image: The town has been frozen in shock]
The town has been frozen in shock
For the last few days, the city of Denver and its suburban environs - Littleton among them - have stood still.

The only people really working have been the law enforcement officials and local and national media.

The latter have been like a militia, drafting in retired reporters to help out with the myriad of stories surrounding the shootings.

At the public relations firm where I earn my living, two colleagues were conscripted by out-of-town media. One, a former TV reporter, is working with Entertainment Tonight, a prime-time Hollywood-oriented show which is covering reporters' emotional reactions to the killings.

The other, an ex-scribe for The Rocky Mountain News, has been recruited to write a series of investigative pieces for the Philadelphia Inquirer. And me, well I am writing for the BBC.

Emotional coverage

[ image: The shootings traumatised all involved, including reporters]
The shootings traumatised all involved, including reporters
With the slaughter being so close to my Denver home, local TV coverage has been some of the most hard-hitting I've experienced.

A reporter I know conducted one of the most harrowing interviews - with a teenager who'd witnessed the point-blank shooting of her friends in the school library.

Another accomplished local reporter and mother of two broke down on camera. She witnessed and reported on the seriously wounded receiving first aid on the lawns of a nearby primary school.

Lessons from tragedy?

Are there any lessons to be gained from this grisly event? One perhaps is: "Don't laugh at the class geek - he may have large calibre weaponry and a pipe bomb or two in his school locker."

[ image:  ]
And that's why the gun issue should not be overlooked in favour of cultural navel gazing.

In the words of a London journalist friend: "These trench-coat clowns are in no way unique. There are plenty of adolescents who have intense feelings of rebellion and alienation, and plenty suffer bullying and intimidation at school.

"The difference is that in the Rocky Mountain West, as in many parts of America, such disaffected youths can go to Daddy's gun rack, take their pick of firearms and set off on a magical murdering tour.

"Pimply British youths don't enjoy that outlet for their frustrations, thank goodness."

Right and wrong. These youths did not have such access to firearms. According to reports in the Denver Post, their parents were not gun-owning rednecks, but affluent professionals who stayed away from shooting sports.

Nonetheless, these teenagers acquired two shotguns, a semi-automatic pistol, and a high calibre rifle. Plus, they built a bomb arsenal that the local weekend-warriors would've been proud to possess.

The glut of weapons available legally and illegally in the US means that such acquisitions are a lot easier here than in many other countries.

Armed America

In a bizarre twist of fate, the National Rifle Association (NRA), America's powerful pro-gun lobbying group, is due to meet in Denver next week for its national convention.

Picketing and demonstrations are expected. Undoubtedly, Hollywood cowboy and NRA president Charlton Heston will be hounded wherever he goes.

Another interesting fact is that in the weeks leading up to the massacre, state legislators debated and passed a controversial bill that would have allowed law-abiding Coloradans to carry a concealed weapon. The legislation was quickly and quietly quashed by its sponsor after news of the killings emerged.

Whatever the reasons, and these will be debated ad infinitum in the coming weeks, America's parents are fretful. In an e-mail to my boss the day after the killings, a Hollywood screenwriter recalled a conversation with his son.

"Lucas and I had a discussion about the appalling rampage in Colorado. A little later I asked, 'So how was school today?' His reply: 'Actually, it was pretty good. No-one was shot'."

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia

Relevant Stories

22 Apr 99 | Americas
In pictures: A community mourns

22 Apr 99 | Americas
Massacre 'could have been prevented'

21 Apr 99 | Americas
School bombers' Internet links probed

21 Apr 99 | Americas
Timetable of terror

Internet Links

Denver Post

Columbine High School

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

In this section

From Business
Microsoft trial mediator appointed

Safety chief deplores crash speculation

From Entertainment
Taxman scoops a million

Violence greets Clinton visit

Bush outlines foreign policy

Boy held after US school shooting

Memorial for bonfire dead

Senate passes US budget

New constitution for Venezuela

North Korea expels US 'spy'

Hurricane Lenny abates

UN welcomes US paying dues

Chavez praises 'advanced' constitution

In pictures: Castro strikes out Chavez

WTO: arbitration in EU-Ecuador banana dispute

Colombian army chief says rebels defeated

Colombian president lambasts rebels