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Prosecutor still weighs Columbine tragedy

Speaking in Tampa, a Colorado district attorney says he wants to know what drove the killers.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2000

TAMPA -- Nearly a year after the school shootings in Littleton, Colo., the local prosecutor said he still is searching for answers to the tragedy and still looking for ways to prevent another one.

District Attorney David J. Thomas said he will soon seek to have psychological profiles prepared on Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the students who stalked through Columbine High School on April 20, killing a dozen classmates and a teacher, and wounding two dozen others.

Thomas, who spoke Tuesday in Tampa at a conference sponsored by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, said he wants the profiles for his understanding. Normally, he said, criminals are propelled by simple motives such as love, but these killers are not so easily classified.

He said he viewed videotapes the killers made of themselves just before the shootings and was mystified by the boys' attitudes.

"They laughed at what they were going to do. They talked about it with a glee and an excitement that's hard to understand. It's hard to accept."

Also surprising, Thomas said, is that Harris and Klebold did not have the qualities of many at-risk youth, such as poverty, single-parent homes and poor academic performance. Instead, they were bright, grew up with both parents, and played soccer and T-ball as kids.

All this makes it difficult to explain how two teens could be so alienated, violent and angry.

Thomas does not claim to have all the answers. But he said he does believe we live in a society where violence "is not only accepted, but it's glamorized."

In his jurisdiction, he said domestic violence is one of the most prevalent crimes, and also the most difficult to prosecute.

He also said it is troubling that civic groups seem to be on the decline. Thomas, 51, said that whenever he speaks to Rotary, Kiwanis or other civic groups, he asks people to raise their hands if they are older than him. Most do.

Given nearly a year to ponder the shootings, Thomas listed several ways of reducing violence. Not all would have applied to Harris and Klebold, he said.

Among his suggestions: Work to prevent illegal possession of firearms, including by children; expand school mentoring programs; increase early identification of at-risk youth; speed up termination of parental rights in cases of abuse and neglect; increase the civil liability of parents for their children's actions; promote early childhood development programs; vigorously enforce child support; increase government partnerships with religious institutions for youth programs; and increase affordable after-school programs.

Also, create hotlines so students can report possible school disturbances; increase parental participation in classrooms; develop crisis plans for schools; make physical changes to schools to make them less vulnerable to an attack; increase truancy programs and youth counseling; promote anti-bullying programs for students, maintain controls on youths' Internet usage and increase the law enforcement presence at schools.

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