hope from ashes of pain
hope from ashes of pain

It’s been 20 years since the Columbine High School shooting. It was a day nobody will ever forget: two seniors gunned down twelve students and one teacher before committing suicide in the library.

People have been searching for answers for years. Were they on drugs? Were they bullied? Were they influenced by violent movies and video games? People have been exploring these possibilities for decades without ever finding satisfying answers. A complete picture of “why” will never emerge from a singular source. Answers must come from a collection of voices, including those who were directly involved in the shooters’ lives. Despite all who have been speaking out, the parents of the shooters have remained silent – until now.

On February 12, 2016, Sue Klebold broke her 17-year silence by publishing her book A Mother’s Reckoning. Sue Klebold’s son was one of the shooters. A prolific writer, Sue bears her gut-wrenching journey to the world in her book. She describes the little boy she raised and shares who he was before that fateful day. She acknowledges being in denial for years about what her son did and shares her difficult journey of finally accepting that her son willingly participated in the massacre. It’s heartbreaking, yet full of insight any parent can identify with.

Everyone is quick to ask, “how could you not know?” Yet Sue’s book is a stark reminder of just how easily teenagers hide their lives from the world.

Her biggest mistake, she admits, is that she never truly listened to her son. She did what all of us have been taught to do when someone has a problem – listen long enough to try to fix it, tell them what to do, and give them ten reasons they shouldn’t feel that way. That lesson has become her message to the world, and it’s one that undoubtedly will save lives.

Sue Klebold is Courageously Speaking Out

Seventeen years after the nation’s most heartbreaking tragedy of the 1990’s, Sue began courageously speaking out to share her experiences with the world. Her intention is to prevent future incidents of suicide and mass shootings. And her message advising parents and friends to listen to their teenagers without an agenda is spot on.

Sue Klebold’s voice is courageous and strong, yet her eyes reveal immense pain. If you don’t understand how to help a suicidal teenager, her voice, speaking the wisdom of hindsight, can help you understand.

In a touching and raw interview with 20/20’s Diane Sawyer, Sue shared her experiences with raising her son. She shared what her life has been like as the parent of someone who chose to kill others before committing suicide.

Sue’s voice is imperative in discovering ways we can prevent these tragedies, provided we choose to listen.

And that begs the question – how can we actively and compassionately listen to someone we have a natural inclination to blame? Most kids don’t grow up to become school shooters. Shouldn’t she have known what her son was planning? Didn’t she know her son’s friendship with the other shooter was reinforcing his desire to violently end his own life? How can a parent not know their own child is stashing guns in their bedroom, preparing for mass murder?

When you’re on the outside, it seems like it should be obvious to any parent if they’re actually doing their job.
But what if there’s more to it than that? What if it’s not the parents’ fault? What if teenagers are incredibly good at hiding their lives from their parents?

Blaming The Parents Lets us Off The Hook

If we keep blaming the parents of school shooters, it lets us off the hook from having to investigate why kids are choosing to become violent. Blaming the parents means we don’t have to dive into the minds of people who are suicidal and homicidal for answers. We can just blame the parents and call it a day. After all, our kids would never do anything like that because we’re not bad parents. That is, until the next school shooting happens and the next wave of parents cry out, “we never saw it coming! We never thought it could happen to us!”

Changing Your Perception Reveals Solutions

For years, the world saw Sue Klebold as “the ignorant mother of a killer who should have known what her son was planning.” And, from that point of view, no answers are possible. Whether or not you think it’s true, you’ll never find answers from that perception.

I invite you to consider a more empowering view of Sue Klebold; a view that will reveal the answers you seek.

Whether you’re a parent or not, I invite you to see a piece of yourself in Sue—a woman who lost her youngest son to suicide. A woman whose life was turned upsidedown by Columbine yet was unable to grieve with the rest of the parents who lost their children, too.

She wasn’t just denied the ability to grieve with the other parents, she was shunned by the entire community and a nation as if she was the one who committed murder. Two years after the incident she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Then, the stress of everything tore apart her marriage. Sue Klebold isn’t a survivor – she’s a warrior.

Now that she’s gone public with her message, how we choose to see Sue Klebold will directly define how much value we can extract from her message.

Listening Can Save Someone’s Life

For further study on what authentic listening is, check out the book Just Listen by Mark Goulston. Most of the time, people are waiting to talk, and not listening. Goulston’s book distinguishes this from authentic listening and provides real world examples of how anyone can learn to listen, and the positive impact listening has on others.

To join a radically new, solution-oriented conversation on school violence prevention, please visit Conversations For Solutions.

In Memory of:

Cassie Bernall
Corey Depooter
Daniel Mauser
Daniel Rohbaugh
Isaiah Shoels
John Tomlin
Kelly Fleming
Kyle Velasquez
Lauren Townsend
Matthew Kechter
Rachel Joy Scott
Steven Curnow
William Dave Sanders

Books written by survivors:

They Call Me Mr. De: The Story of Columbine’s Heart, Resilience, and Recovery (by Frank DeAngelis, former Columbine principal)

I Asked God Answered – A Columbine Miracle (by Mark Taylor)

No Easy Answers: The Truth Behind Death at Columbine (By Brooks Brown and Rob Merritt)

A Columbine Survivor’s Story (By Marjorie Lindholm)

Healing the Invisible Wounds of Trauma – A Columbine Survivor’s Story (by Kristen Krueger)

Over My Shoulder: A columbine Survivor’s Story of Resilience, Hope, and a Life Reclaimed (by Kacey Ruegsegger Johnson)

Article originally published on Awakening-Warrior; republished with permission.

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