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Columbine killers becoming cultural icons to some, researchers say

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Before 13-year-old Seth Trickey shot and wounded five classmates at an Oklahoma middle school, a psychiatrist testified, he wondered what it was like to be in the shoes of the Columbine killers.When Al DeGuzman was charged with stockpiling 60 homemade bombs to assault a California junior college, police said his Web site listed one of his hobbies as "worshiping Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, as well as other mass murderers."Web sites and chat rooms with names like "thechurchofdylananderic" still dot the Internet, where people post messages like, "I haven't forgotten nor will I get over it."Nearly two years after the Columbine High School shootings, the killers have become cultural icons to some, researchers say.The massacre has been blamed in part for at least four subsequent school attacks and three alleged plots aimed at schools. At least 60 other threats mentioning Columbine have been reported worldwide.Most researchers stop short of saying the Columbine shootings and the public fascination with Harris and Klebold directly inspire more crime.But the gunmen's images have become powerful, said James Garbarino, a Cornell University professor and author of "Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them.""Dylan and Eric set out to become cultural icons for angry, disaffected youth who sought revenge against the nastiness of exclusionary youth culture," he said. "Recent events suggest they succeeded in that."On Friday it will be two years since Harris and Klebold, heavily armed with weapons and explosives, stormed Columbine, killing 12 classmates and a teacher and wounding 26. They committed suicide in the school library.Still pending is a combined lawsuit filed by survivors and victims' relatives alleging that sheriff's deputies and school officials ignored warnings of the attack and mishandled the rescue. Officials with both agencies have denied the allegations.This year, Jefferson County school officials have planned a half-hour observance with a few speeches to mark the anniversary of the Columbine attack.Dave Grossman, a former West Point professor who is a researcher and law-enforcement trainer, said publicity about crimes such as the Columbine killings can influence others."If we recognize and celebrate and immortalize some things we don't want, we'll perpetuate that behavior as well," said Grossman, author of "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society."Trickey, who was convicted of shooting with intent to kill in Fort Gibson, was probably influenced heavily by news accounts of the Columbine shootings, defense psychiatrist Dr. Shreekumar Vinekar testified."He started wondering what he would do if he were placed in the role of the perpetrators that were previously depicted on the TV and media," Vinekar said.Trickey also was obsessed with military tactics and wondered how he would react in combat, Vinekar testified.DeGuzman has pleaded innocent to possession of weapons and explosives. Although the Web site attributed to him referred to "Purification in the form of carnage," his attorney dismisses the idea that he was planning a Columbine-style attack on DeAnza College in San Jose, Calif.Grossman faulted television for encouraging copycat crimes by broadcasting the names and photos of young killers."We know that if we give him his 15 minutes of fame, others will try to repeat the crime," he said. "This is not theory. This is 5,000 years of recorded human history."Garbarino said a fascination with what he called the dark side of culture also helps turn killers into celebrities for some."Thirty-five years ago, if a kid walked into your school with body piercing and black makeup, almost certainly somebody would say, 'We've got to find out what's troubling this kid,"' he said.Today, he said, "Adolescent culture has sort of taken on this foray into the dark side. For troubled kids, this feeds their trouble."Seth Shatsnider, who started an Internet chat room called "ElevenSeventeen" — a reference to the hour and minute reportedly found on Harris and Klebold's Columbine bomb timers— said it is naive to think the Internet can influence someone to commit a crime."There's a difference between wanting to do something like that and doing it," said Shatsnider, 22, of Tujunga, Calif.ElevenSeventeen has drawn 155 members and nearly 5,000 postings since it started eight months ago. Many members' messages express sympathy for the victims and revulsion over the killings.Shatsnider struggles for words when he tries to explain the interest in Columbine."I think it's too crazy to be put into words," he said. "The whole thing. The myth, the excitement about it. It's like nothing else that's happened."Parents are limited in what they can do to protect their children from negative role models because of easy access to the media and the hours children spend away from home, Garbarino said."Parents also need to realize what they can do is not directly as parents, but as citizens, by what they support as social policy," he said.School attacks have multiple causes and cannot be stopped with a single policy, he said.Garbarino was once asked where to point the blame for incidents like Columbine. "The answer is, you need a whole handful of fingers of blame," he said.


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