On Thursday morning—two days after the shooting—the Denver Post runs a headline which reads: HEALING BEGINS. The “rush to closure” is not well-received in Jeffco, and in the weeks to follow, the survivors will find it difficult to move on despite “grumble[s]” that it is time for healing to indeed begin in earnest.
One of the major issues in the wake of Columbine—for survivors and for the families of victims alike—is how long the half-life of healing is. For some, it will be just weeks—for others, it will take years and years.
On Thursday, the families of the victims have their loved ones’ bodies returned to them. Heroic but false tales of the victims’ bravery begin to spread—Brian Rohrbough is “irritated” by the narratives, believing that his son’s death was “tragic enough.”
Misinformation and sensationalism continue to pervade the coverage of Columbine.
In Clement Park, next to Columbine, students gather in a “prayer mosh.” One young girl invokes the presence of The Enemy—Satan is in their midst, she says. Another official gathering is organized at another nearby megachurch, and again Frank DeAngelis is called upon to speak. Counselors advise him that he is “the key” to letting students know that it is okay to show emotion. As Mr. D takes to the stage, his students chant “We are Columbine,” and he begins to cry. He assures them “keeping [emotion] inside doesn’t mean you’re strong.”
The secular and religious gatherings for mourners in the wake of the attack have very different vibes. The religious gatherings are focused on the presence of a lingering enemy—the secular events, still housed in churches, focus on solidarity and healing.
The school considers how they will finish out the year. The building will not be opened for months, and so administrators decide to follow a split-day schedule with Chatfield, a nearby rival high school. Figuring out a “long-term solution [proves] trickier.” Some want the school to be demolished, while some worry that losing the school will traumatize some students even more deeply.
Officials and members of the community are unsure of whether it will be more traumatizing to force students to return to the site of unspeakable violence, or whether erasing the place they once felt at home will be even worse for them.
Victims’ funerals become a chance for Evangelical ministers to decry the presence of “Satan” and urge communities not to let “hatred be repaid by hatred.” The “boys with bombs” are not the enemies, these preachers claim. Satan is the only Enemy. One such preacher, Reverent Kirsten, believes—and passes on to his congregation the belief—that the “Great signs of the Apocalypse” are under way.
As members of the community struggle to understand how such unspeakable violence came to pass, many of the religious leaders in Jeffco attempt to highlight and sensationalize the presence of a greater evil, and use the horror of the event as a predictor of the apocalypse and the rapture.
Reverend Don Marxhausen disagrees with the Evangelicals—he recognizes that Eric and Dylan are the symptom of a larger societal ill. Marxhausen and other non-Evangelical members of the clergy begin to realize that all the new “members” of their congregations are not coming to church to be saved, but rather to be comforted. Kids continue to “pour into churches,” many of which offer free snacks and warm drinks. In nearby parks and at makeshift memories, Evangelicals distribute pocket-sized Bibles and Scientologists hand out pamphlets.
A struggle between opportunism and empathy begins to emerge in the religious communities of Jefferson County. While some religious entities attempt to blame the attack entirely on Satan, others recognize that there are real problems in schools and society that can only be remedied through listening, understanding, healing, and change.
Detectives work the angle of the “physical evidence”: primarily the ordnance the killers left behind. They find that the propane bombs were a “mess,” constructed by someone who didn’t understand anything about how bombs worked. Detectives attempt to track the boys’ guns to their origins, but the shotguns do not have serial numbers and are “impossible to trace.”
Though the shooters’ attack was meticulously planned, their materials were not at all sophisticated or even functional.
Robyn Anderson confesses her role in acquiring the guns to the cops, who press her heavily for even more incriminating information. She insists that she had no idea that Eric and Dylan were planning an attack, and that they even “assured her they would never hurt anyone.” The investigators press her about the pipe bombs, but she “holds her ground” and insists that the boys never told her about their experiments. She maintains that their actions never aroused her suspicions that they were planning something violent.
Robyn Anderson is one of the shooters’ many friends who noticed odd behavior but failed to anticipate their violent plans. The shooters reassured Robyn, and several others, that violence was far from their minds, when in fact the opposite was true.
Bomb squads, after combing the crime scene, find almost one hundred explosive devices. The unexploded propane bombs would have killed “five hundred people” in a few seconds, and the discovery of those devices “changed everything” for investigators as they began to realize the nature of the attack—it was a failed bombing, not ever planned as a shooting. Though officials announce the discover of the bombs, the media does not “grasp the implications,” and continues to filter all new developments through the lens of the shooting as “outcasts targeting jocks.”
As the nature of the attack begins to change in the eyes of investigators and officials, they attempt to correct the narrative in the public and in the media. The media, however, is so deeply entrenched in the narrative they spun of the attack as a shooting which targeted certain social, ethnic, and religious groups, that they are unable to untangle themselves from it and rewrite the story as what it truly was— a failed bombing that targeted all human life indiscriminately.