Springtime has filled Columbine with excitement. Everyone is looking forward to summer, and seniors—80% of whom, according to Columbine’s superb statistics, will go on to college—are looking forward to the next steps in their lives. Cullen describes the cafeteria, which is known as “the commons” by members of the Columbine community. Lunch is divided into shifts, and “A” lunch is the most popular. The commons are always packed for a few minutes at the beginning of lunch before students settle down or trickle out to go off-campus for lunch.
Cullen describes the logistics of Columbine in the weeks before the attack, in order to fully set the scene for his readers and to demonstrate that it was a seemingly normal place, unaware of and unprepared for the violence that was to come its way.
Mr. D is on lunch duty—he loves the task, seeing it as a chance to really engage with his students. He is a stickler for cleanliness—so much so that he has surveillance cameras installed in the commons to monitor student activity and look out for those who disrespect the environment of the commons. A custodian reloads the tapes each morning just past 11am. The cameras record “banal” footage each and every day.
Cullen uses the cameras as an unsettling example of dramatic irony. He and his audience know what the cameras will witness in just a few weeks, but students and school officials do not.
Meanwhile, a “terrifying affliction” has stricken America: school shootings. Many have already been widely reported on in newspapers and on TV since the phenomenon “materialized inexplicably” in 1997. Shootings in Alaska, Mississippi, Kentucky, Arkansas, and more states have rocked the nation. The violence is worst in the springtime, which is referred to by the media as “shooting season.” The perpetrators, Cullen notes, are always “white boy[s],” and each attack ends relatively quickly—TV news “never [catches] the turmoil [live,]” and the country sees only the aftermath. During the 1998-99 school year, there has not been a single shooting. As chaos erupts in Central Europe in March of 1999, America is at “war,” and no one is thinking about “the suburban menace of the school shooter” for the time being.
Cullen sets up the atmosphere of the moment in time surrounding the Columbine shooting. Though school shootings had been bad enough in recent years to be deemed an “affliction,” the rate at which the incidents are occurring has died down. If Columbine had never happened, Cullen leaves his audience to speculate, perhaps the incidence of school shootings would never again have risen to its present-day numbers.