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Former Columbine headmaster: 'They didn't come out of their mothers' wombs hating the world'

Frank DeAngelis believes there should be a greater focus on the mental health of young people.

Source: PA

THE FORMER HEADMASTER of Columbine High School in Colorado has said there needs to be a greater focus on the mental health of adolescents if tragedies like the mass shooting at his school 17 years ago are to be prevented.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot dead 12 fellow students and a teacher and injured a further 21 people on 20 April 1999 before turning their guns on themselves.

“There’s a perception out there that they were these at risk out of touch kids,” Frank DeAngelis told TheJournal.ie. “These were two very bright young men, they were in advanced placement classes, higher honours classes, they were planning on going to college.”

Though there was an assumption they may have been victims of bullying at their school, video recordings they made prior to the massacre proved this to be unfounded.

Harris believed in the Nazi regime, survival of the fittest – he thought people should die because they were inferior to him.

“There’s a lot of evidence that these were calculated killers, especially Harris,” DeAngelis.

They fooled everyone.

Columbine Shooting 1999 An aerial view of the scene shortly after the shooting spree inside Columbine High School. Source: Ed Andrieski/AP

The Columbine effect

Comments by other killers involved in mass shootings about being inspired by what happened at Columbine worry DeAngelis.

“There have been 74 attempted shootings or shootings that have occurred that have made mention of the Columbine shootings,” he said.

“It worries me that when that happens, it keeps promoting it because we keep talking about it. If I went out and asked people to tell me the names of five of the kids that were killed, they can’t do it. But they could name Harris and Klebold. In their videos, they said they were going to live on forever, and they were right – 17 years later we’re still talking about them. That’s what they want.”

Source: Statista

He also finds it “frustrating” when people shift the focus of these shootings to gun control laws in the United States.

In Columbine, some of the guns were purchased illegally anyway. Gun laws might be a part of it, but there are other components of this too. You have to talk about what is causing it, part of it is mental illness and if you look at some of the recent shootings there has been a history of problems with some.

‘What happened?’

Over the last 17 years, the former school principal has been asking why this terrible tragedy happened and looking at how communities can stop it from happening again.

SCHOOL STANDOFF DeAngelis, right, pictured in 2006. Source: David Zalubowski/AP

“What we don’t hear about is how many [shootings] have been stopped because of things in place that were not before,” he said.

These killers “do not come out of their mothers’ womb hating the world”, DeAngelis pointed out.

Something happened. I saw pictures of the boys when they were much younger, in soccer uniforms or boyscout uniforms. On that day they were different people. What happened? You think: ‘Is there something you could have done to prevent this?’ That mental health piece is huge.

The prevalence now of social media has made it even easier for children to hide things from their parents and the other people in their lives.

That’s an important thing, parents tell me: ‘I got a high school student, they have their rights’, but you have to make sure things are going right in you child’s life. You have to step in and be a parent.

School Shooting Fran Allison, right, comforts her daughter Brooke, left, after they were reunited after a shooting at Columbine High School. Source: Ed Andrieski/Ap

He said parents, teachers and anyone in a community who has interaction with children needs to take responsibility.

“We need to realise that they’re all of our kids, we need to come together as parents and community members and be involved in their lives. We can’t give up hope,” DeAngelis said.

“We need to say these senseless deaths have to stop.”

Frank DeAngelis will be speaking at an event centred around adolescent mental health in Dublin on 14 September. The event, hosted by Jigsaw, will take place at the Mansion House and tickets can be purchased here

Read: Jeff’s story: A worried little boy in care – quiet, kind and deeply troubled>

Read: Bressie to head up youth group on mental health>

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