Myths from Columbine, Part One – What You Think You Know

Thirteen years ago this week, twelve students and one teacher were murdered at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. The two students who committed the murders, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, also killed themselves in the attack bringing the death toll to 15, the deadliest high school massacre in American history. Most of us remember the horrible scenes from that day and recall the news that emerged from the tragedy. The facts of that day are now a part of American history, including a book titled Columbine by Dave Cullen.

So, here’s a history quiz.

TRUE or FALSE:

1). The shooters – Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold – were part of a group known at Columbine as the “Trench Coat Mafia.”

2). Harris and Klebold were Goths.

3). Harris and Klebold were fans of Marilyn Manson.

4). Harris and Klebold specifically targeted jocks.

5). Harris and Klebold specifically targeted minorities.

6). Most of the kids shot were on a hit list.

7). Harris and Klebold were gay.

8). Harris and Klebold were both psychopaths.

9). Harris and Klebold chose April 20 for the shootings because it was Hitler’s birthday.

10). Cassie Bernal was killed because she said she believed in God.

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“Bully” week recap

The 5-part series this week on the movie “Bully” has been the best week ever for this blog. That gives me hope that people are serious about fixing this problem.

“Bully” focuses on five stories:


Tyler

“I will go to my grave until a difference is made,” says Tyler’s dad, and you know he means it.


Ja’Meya

“It feels like everybody just turned against me. Nine or ten of ‘em just calling me stupid, and dumb, and they started throwing things at me. One of the guys said what he was going to do to me, and everybody would laugh, and I tell him to be quiet, and he kept talking, and that’s when I got up.”


Alex

Alex tells us he feels good when he’s in his house and with his family. He introduces us to his family, his four younger siblings and Mom and Dad. He introduces himself last and when he says, “and then there’s me.” His voice drops as if he is so ashamed he can barely add himself to his own narrative.


Kelby

You’ll love Kelby’s friends and family. Her friends admit that everyone assumes they are lesbians too but they aren’t, except for one cute petite girl who says she’s “K-gay” which presumably means gay for Kelby. Later in the movie we see Kelby and the K-gay girl walking arm-in-arm.


Kirk Smalley (in baseball cap)

Kirk and Laura Smalley

Ty’s best friend, a chubby cute kid shows where they used to hang out. The friend admits that in the 2nd grade he was a bully himself but by the fourth grade, he decided he didn’t want to hurt anyone. The friend, Tray, says he wanted to hurt the kids who hurt Ty, but Ty didn’t want him to. Ty said to leave them alone, that Tray was better than they were.

“BULLY” – Kirk and Laura Smalley

Ty

(This is the conclusion of a five-part series on the movie “Bully,” which opens today nationwide. Read parts one, two, three and four)

TRAGIC SITUATION

“A tragic situation has shaken a small Oklahoma town to its core,” says a local television announcer.

An eleven-year-old boy turned a gun on himself, taking his own life. “At this time,” said the superintendent of schools on television, “there’s no indication that bullying was a factor.” Ty’s parents disagree.

You see an agonizing shot of a man walking a woman into a funeral, saying, “We’re going to tuck the baby into the bed one more time.”

Kirk Smalley (in baseball cap)

“I believe with all my heart,” says the minister, “that when a child dies, they go straight to be with God. They go straight to His presence.”

If I may insert my own agnosticism here, assuming God exists, he has allowed an eleven-year old to kill himself with a gun, leaving behind tormented parents, friends and family.  As if reading my mind, the minister says, “But what does that leave for us, the ones who are left behind?”

Ty was almost too young to have had a story of his own. His segment of the movie is devoted primarily to his father, Kirk Smalley, and the organization he started, “Stand for the Silent.” 

 Ty’s best friend, a chubby cute kid shows where they used to hang out. The friend admits that in the 2nd grade he was a bully himself but by the fourth grade, he decided he didn’t want to hurt anyone. The friend, Tray, says he wanted to hurt the kids who hurt Ty, but Ty didn’t want him to. Ty said to leave them alone, that Tray was better than they were.

“If I was the king of the United States, I’d make it to where there was no popularity, everyone was equal.” (Uh-oh, the main opponent of bullying is an eleven-year-old socialist monarchist!) “That’s how it should be.”

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“BULLY” – Kelby’s story

Kelby Johnson

(This is part four of a five-part series about the movie “Bully,” which opens tomorrow. Read parts one, two and three.)

FAGGOTS AREN’T WELCOME HERE

Kelby lives in Oklahoma. As with Alex, you immediately we see what’s “wrong.” Kelby is about as butch-looking as a high school girl can be and to her credit, she does nothing to feminize herself. She is who she is. She’s not “flaunting” anything; she’s just being Kelby. But in Oklahoma, girls like Kelby aren’t allowed to be who they are, at least, they aren’t allowed to self-identify openly as lesbians, which Kelby has.

You’ll love Kelby’s friends and family. Her friends admit that everyone assumes they are lesbians too but they aren’t, except for one cute petite girl who says she’s “K-gay” which presumably means gay for Kelby. Later in the movie we see Kelby and the K-gay girl walking arm-in-arm.

Kelby relates a story of being harrassed by six jocks in a car, so she steps in front of the car to confront of them. Instead of slowing down, they speed up and the next thing Kelby knows, she’s flying across their windshield. We don’t hear if charges were pressed – we assume not – or the extent of her injuries. Instead, Kelby deflects by saying she couldn’t get hit by something cool like a jeep, she had to get hit by a mini-van.

Kelby tried suicide three times. She’s cut herself.

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“BULLY” – Alex’s story

(This is part 3 of a 5-part series about the movie “Bully,” which opens nationwide this Friday. Read parts one and two.)

AND THEN THERE’S ME

If the film has a main star, it’s Alex. He’s featured most prominently and his story begins immediately after the opening credits. The opening number is brilliant. As a bus rolls to school, you hear children’s voices sing an arrangement of “Teenage Dirtbag. The bus in this film is a torture chamber. For 12-year-old Alex, in Sioux City, Iowa, that’s not a hyperbolic description.

The first thing you notice about Alex is that he’s not a cute kid. He’s in junior high and just by looking at him, you know. You think, “That kid is really going to be picked on in school.” What this movie does so well, however, is that it shows you the world from Alex’s point of view, what it’s like to be that kid who is picked on at the level of abuse he endures.

Alex tells us he feels good when he’s in his house and with his family. He introduces us to his family, his four younger siblings and Mom and Dad. He introduces himself last and when he says, “and then there’s me.” His voice drops as if he is so ashamed he can barely add himself to his own narrative.

He’s going to back to school. The camera follows him as he waits for the bus. The dreaded bus. You can hear his labored, terrified breathing as he approaches the other boys waiting at the stop, who are already sparring with each other and swearing. When Alex approaches they start to watch something on a smart phone and Alex moves over to see it too. One says, “Don’t even think about watching. I’ll kick the crap out of you, I’ll break your Adam’s apple.”

“Oh okay,” Alex says.
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“BULLY” – Ja’Meya Jackson’s story

(this is part 2 of a week-long series about the movie “Bully,” which opens this Friday nationwide.  Part 1 is here.)

IT FEELS LIKE EVERYBODY JUST TURNED AGAINST ME

In Yazoo, Mississippi, you’ll meet Ja’Meya Jackson, age 14. Ja’Meya’s story is unique among the five young people in “Bully“; she lashes out at her bullies in a dangerous way with negative repercussions.

Her actions surprise everyone. She is a quiet, unassuming teenage girl who, for reasons  not readily apparent to me, became the target of condemnation and ridicule of everyone on the bus. Ja’Meya says:

“It feels like everybody just turned against me. Nine or ten of ’em just calling me stupid, and dumb, and they started throwing things at me. One of the guys said what he was going to do to me, and everybody would laugh, and I tell him to be quiet, and he kept talking, and that’s when I got up.”

Unfortunately for Ja’Meya, her school bus had a camera that recorded her actions and what she did was far more visual than the verbal harrassment she suffered. Ja’Meya took her mother’s handgun and brought it on the bus with her. When she finally had enough, she stood and brandished it in front of everyone. All of this is caught on camera.
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“BULLY” – Tyler Long’s Story

(“Bully” focuses on five young people. I will feature one each day this week. This is part 1 of 5)

The movie “Bully” opens on Friday the Thirteenth, ironic because for many kids, “Bully” depicts the real horror show of their lives. You will not enjoy this movie, but you must go see it. There’s a problem in our country that must be fixed. This movie offers no concrete solutions but it gives you a rare opportunity to see the problem from the perspective of the children.

I KNEW HE WOULD BE VICTIMIZED

The movie opens on the father of a young man, Tyler. “I knew he would be victimized at some point in time,” says Tyler’s dad. (Tyler’s story was also featured in a segment on ABC’s 20/20)

Why is that? Is America so cold and predictable that we just know, and tolerate, certain levels of child-on-child abuse?

Tyler's parents

“Tyler was never the most athletic. When he was in P.E., he was always the last one to be chose. Nobody would be on his team, ’cause they said he was a geek and he was a fag, and they said they didn’t wanna play with him.”

I recounted these words about myself in my memoir and judging from the number of emails and letters I’ve received by men of all ages, this is an emotional epidemic. Stop allowing boys to pick their own teams in P.E., okay?! You know who is going to pick whom so go ahead and make those assignments before class. This system, where Coach chooses the two best athletes, and they get pick their teams was designed with one purpose in mind – to identify the gay boys and the other outcasts. (I’m kidding, but it IS an unintended effect of the process). Did I ever get a chance to force the untalented, unintelligent jerks to stand in humiliation while I chose actors for the school play? Okay…actually I sort of got to do that one time. But it wasn’t the same thing. Just stop this, it’s an easy fix.

Tyler’s dad continues. “The last couple of days we had heard that he had his head shoved into a wall locker. Some kids had told him to go hang himself, that he was worthless. And I think he got to the point where enough was enough.

“If there is a heaven, I know Tyler’s there and all I can do is have the faith that I’ll be able to see him again. That’s what I have to live for and I have to live for my other two kids. I have to make their lives as pleasant, and as comfortable and peaceful as I can.”

Tyler Lee Long, April 25, 1992 – October 17, 2009.

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