It was not the first threat for students at Columbine High School. In December, an anonymous caller claimed bombs had been planted inside the school. Police responded, but the threat proved to be a hoax.
During the Columbine High School shooting on April 20, 1999, two students shot and killed 12 of their classmates and a teacher.
The shooting’s aftermath was widely televised, and young people across America continue to be influenced by the symbology of the Columbine shooting and the students who carried it out, according to law enforcement officials, researchers and educators.
In May 2018, a 17-year-old junior in Santa Fe shot his teachers and fellow students with a sawed-off shotgun while wearing a black trench coat and carrying Molotov cocktails, his arsenal and attire inspired by the Columbine gunmen. The 20-year-old attacker who killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012 had compiled materials on the Columbine attackers on his computer. And in his manifesto, the 23-year-old student who shot and killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007 had called the Columbine gunmen by their first names and described them as “we martyrs.”
The killers have achieved dark folk hero status in the corners of the internet where their carefully planned massacre is remembered, studied and in some cases even celebrated, officials say. Their admirers, often known as “Columbiners,” are frequently depressed, alienated or mentally disturbed, drawn to the Columbine subculture because they see it as a way to lash out at the world and to get the attention of a society that they believe bullies, ignores or misunderstands them.
Jefferson County, home to Columbine High School, has spent the past 20 years grappling with that legacy.
Students, teachers, families and law enforcement officers have had to deal not only with the emotional trauma of the shooting, but also with the people who have become obsessed with it and the copycats who have carried out their own attacks.
In an interview last year, the head of safety for Jefferson County schools, John McDonald, said he had often apprehended people who came from around the country to try to enter the school, a major safety concern. These visits — and interest in the shooting — have only increased over time, he said: “I’ve been dealing with this for more than a decade, and it’s never been more of an issue than it is now, 20 years later.”