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There May Be No Stopping the Unstoppable

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The mass shooting in Virginia has drawn inevitable comparisons to the Columbine school shootings of 1999. Governor Bill Ritter made the reference himself in a letter sent to Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine:

Dear Governor Kaine, On behalf of the people of Colorado, please accept my deepest sympathies for the unspeakable sorrow you and every Virginian are now experiencing. You all are in my thoughts and prayers in this time of great pain and despair. Colorado still struggles beneath the weight of the Columbine High School shootings. I extend to you and to the Commonwealth of Virginia the benefit of our experiences and lessons learned. As a member of the Columbine Review Task Force, I believe we in Colorado can provide you with guidance and advice in the days ahead. I believe we had particular experiences in dealing with the witness and victim family members that may inform you as you go forward. Please do not hesitate to call on me for assistance. God bless you, and God bless Virginia. Sincerely, Bill Ritter, Jr. Colorado Governor

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The Columbine massacre affected me personally like few other major news stories in my life. Though I didn’t attend Columbine High School, I grew up in the general area and a younger cousin was in the school on the day of the shootings. I was finishing my senior year of college at the University of Missouri at the time, and I still vividly remember how dazed I was as I saw the news coverage unfold. In the weeks and months after Columbine, we heard a lot about what could have been done to prevent the killers from unleashing their anger on fellow students. There were things that perhaps could have been done better in terms of the response to the shootings – many law enforcement officials will probably always regret that they didn’t enter the school sooner – but in terms of preventing the shooting from happening altogether, I felt at the time the same way that I do now. I don’t know that you can do anything to stop it. From the news reports coming out of Virginia, it appears that school and police officials might have erred in not doing more to inform students and faculty immediately following the first reports that shots had been fired. But much like Columbine, I don’t know that there are any answers as to what could have been done to prevent the Virginia attack altogether. It’s natural to want to search for answers after a terrible tragedy, and it’s not easy to come to the conclusion that perhaps there just aren’t any to be found. If somebody is intent on randomly killing others and isn’t concerned about their own life, what can you do to prevent that? The silver lining, if there is one, is that perhaps colleges around the country will be better prepared to respond to such tragedies in the future. Law enforcement officials in Colorado learned from Columbine, and those lessons I think helped make the decision to enter Platte Canyon High School when a gunman held students hostage last fall; one student, Emily Keyes, was killed, but perhaps the actions of the SWAT team that day prevented further deaths. Perhaps colleges will take a new look now about how to warn other students and faculty if an attack like this happens again. There are lessons to be learned, but there aren’t always answers to be found. Sometimes there isn’t much more you can say than, in the words of Gov. Ritter, “God Bless Virginia.”

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