Minnesota plot: To foil another Columbine, be nosy neighbors, parents

Hats off to the lady in Minnesota who spotted this teenager acting in a way that 'just didn't seem right'

Just how long will the ghost of Columbine haunt this country?

This week, thanks in part to a tip from an observant citizen, police in Waseca, Minn., apparently foiled yet another teenager bent on a Columbine-style massacre.

The details of the 17-year-old’s alleged plot are all over the Internet (I won’t give his name; the L.A. Times does not name juveniles in criminal proceedings unless they are charged as adults.)

But to say that the story makes for chilling reading is an understatement. Suffice to say that police reportedly found the boy had homemade bombs, an assault rifle, other firearms and lots of ammunition. Some were kept in a rented storage unit and some, amazingly, in a locked gun safe in his room.

Oh yeah, and seemingly everyone interviewed agreed with this description of him: “He was normal in every aspect.”

Except, of course, that he obviously wasn’t. Unless it’s normal for a teenager to plot to kill his parents and sister and then as many classmates as possible.

On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado. Twenty four other students were injured; the two gunman committed suicide.

And this terrible event continues to resonate with society’s disaffected and disturbed. Adam Lanza, who killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., was obsessed with Columbine, investigators found. He had “hundreds of documents, images, videos pertaining to the Columbine H.S. massacre including what appears to be a complete copy of the investigation,” the official report on the Newtown shootings said.

As my colleague Matt Pearce reported in the wake of that investigation:

“In an analysis of school rampages between 1999 and 2007, Professor Ralph W. Larkin of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at City University of New York found that eight out of 12 shooters ‘directly referred to Columbine….’

 “ ‘Rampage shootings since Columbine have gone international, with school shootings modeling Columbine in Canada, Sweden, Bosnia, Australia, Argentina, Germany and Finland,’ Larkin … wrote in American Behavioral Scientist in 2009. ‘Prior to the Columbine shootings, the only other country to have experienced rampage shootings was Canada,’ in 1975 and 1989. (Six out of 11 shooters in non-U.S. school rampages referenced Columbine, Larkin reported.)”

Which — not to be an alarmist — is just plain scary.

OK, you say. But what can we actually do to protect ourselves, our children and our fellow citizens from the crazies?

Well, let me suggest a few simple things (and no, I’m not forgetting the professional help that is available; that’s always the best avenue for those dealing with very troubled kids).

First of all, we can be nosy neighbors. Hats off to the lady in Minnesota who spotted this teenager acting, as she said, in a way that “just didn’t seem right.” Most times, the kid will just be sneaking off to have a smoke or a beer. But it pays to be alert, and cautious, and yes, nosy. And to say something.

Second, we can be smarter and, yes, nosier parents (and here I’m going to get in trouble with the 2nd Amendment folks). Some parents bond with their kids over guns. (Recall that Adam Lanza’s mother went shooting with her son.) But maybe it pays to be cautious, to go slow. A gun safe is a good idea, for example, but does the child have to have his own? Why not a family gun safe, with an adult having the key?

And here’s the nosy parent part: If you are going to give your kid his own gun safe, you sure ought to know what’s in it. It’s not a diary; it holds deadly weapons.

Third, and perhaps the hardest area, the Internet. Policing kids’ activity on the Internet is every parent’s nightmare, at least in part because the kids are usually far savvier than the parents. And just because your son is downloading porn doesn’t make him a pervert, or a potential mass killer. But repeated visits by him to bomb-making websites should be a danger sign.

How do you find out? Well, sorry, but you have to be nosy. If you’re at all worried, you demand to see the kid’s computer, and you search its history of searches.

I know, I know, it’s hard being a parent. We all love our kids. We all believe in them, want the best for them.

What I’m suggesting isn’t fun. But it’s better than waking up one day to find that your kid is in jail, and you were going to be one of his targets.


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