Eric Harris, left, and Dyland Klebold, right, in a security tape still from the Columbine High School shooting.
"Out here in the fields
-The Who/Baba O'Riley
I fight for my meals
I get my back into my living
I don't need to fight
To prove I'm right
I don't need to be forgiven
Don't raise your eye
It's only teenage wasteland."
-The Who/Baba O'Riley
Since Elvis Presley squirmed his way onto the scene in the fifties, mass media has been a scapegoat for the world's problems. The King's reign ended slumped over on the toilet after too many downers, but rock 'n roll and the fear it inspired lived on.
Not only did it live, it thrived.
After Elvis came Alice Cooper, KISS, Black Sabbath, (Ozzy Osbourne's debut band,) the Rolling Stones, Iggy Pop, and John Lennon declaring that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ. These bands, with their makeup, (KISS, Cooper,) reckless abandon, (Pop, the Stones,) and arcane albums titles, (the Stones caught hell for 'Goat's Head Soup',) struck a sliver of fear into the heart of parents everywhere. The children embraced it, and kept it going.
Music is not the only medium that is blamed. Books such as J.D. Salinger's 'The Catcher in the Rye' were banned. Films such as Stanley Kubricks's disturbing 'A Clockwork Orange' were also singled out, along with the Dennis Hopper vehicle 'Blue Velvet' and the Robert DeNiro film 'Taxi Driver'. (Anyone remember John Hinckley, jr?)
Music, TV, films-none of these cause murder. No matter how many times you listen to an album, watch a movie, tune it to a TV, it does not force you to kill.
Right now our country has been bombarded with kids killing kids. We see junior high school boys sniping their classmates. We eagerly take it in when two social outcasts drive to their homicidal rampage, not to mention their own deaths, in a BMW. We blame all that is around us, and countless articles have been written about what is causing these explosions of violence. Parents and authority figures nationwide are looking for answers in all the wrong places.
People see, and have seen, teenagers as easily influenced, follow-the-leader types who have hair triggers. In the aftermath of the Columbine H.S. shootings, people blamed music, TV, the Internet, the parents of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. The newspaper and news shows trumpeted both facts and rumors, a mishmash of half-truths. "They listened to _____ band and watched _____ TV show and liked ____ movie, that is why they went over the edge." "Their parents had to know what they were planning! It's their fault."
The fact is, if a child does not want anyone to know of a secret, the secret will be harbored for a very long time and may never show its face. If you really wanted to build bombs, if you really wanted to commit mass murder, not a soul would have to know about it.
I believe that some children cannot be saved. Some people are born with unsalvageable psychological damage, and will act out no matter what. However, some people could be an otherwise stable person, and one day blow up, after a slow boil.
If parents would teach their children to respect and accept others, our problems would be solved. Cruelty and humiliation are by no means exusces for heinous crimes-murder is outright inexscusable except maybe for in self-defense, when it goes into a whole other moral ballpark-but if we would teach our children they are not 'above' or better than anyone else, we could probably avoid violence. Being tormented and made fun of day in and day out makes for deep mental scarring. Let's be honest-at every school in every city in America, there is an obvious 'in' crowd and 'out' crowd. For those not accepted into the academic limelight, life can be Hell. Pure, unadulterated Hell.
I could go on for hours about all this, but for now, here is the opinion of a very famous scapegoat, Marilyn Manson, ne' Brian Warner. You may hate his guts, but in this essay he wrote for Rolling Stone magazine, Manson makes some good points. (He was a social outcast himself all through school.)
So next time anyone decides to raise a child, raise it right. Youth does not equal stupidity. Parents must show their children that underneath, all of us are put together the same way. No one person is worth more that another simply because their clothes are newer, more expensive, and they drive a shinier car. People come in all shapes and sizes.
Unfortunately, so do murderers.
Brenda Spencer: On January 29th, 1979, at the age of sixteen, Spencer opened fire on a school across the street from her home. Firing from windows and doorways, her weapon of choice was a .22 sniper rifle, a Christmas gift from her father. Her twenty-minute spree left the school principal and custodian dead, one policeman, and nine children wounded. Her calm, collected explanation was, "I don't like Mondays." Brenda was sentenced to twenty-five years to life for two counts of murder, along with a concurrent forty-eight year sentence for assault with a deadly weapon.
Luke Woodham: Overweight and mocked relentlessly by classmates, Luke Woodham chose October first, 1997, to murder his mother with an aluminum baseball bat and a butcher knife. Although he could not drive, he then made his way to his suburban Jackson, MS school, where he gunned down two young girls and wounded seven other students with a .30-.30. Though an attempt was made at pleading insanity, Luke was found guilty on all counts, and received a long list of sentences: For the brutal murder of his own mother-life in prison with no chance for parole for sixty five years. For the murders of two classmates, along with seven counts of aggravated assault-two life sentences, to run consecutively with seven twenty-year terms for the assault charges. The sixteen year old stated to a friend, "I am the epitome of evil. I have no mercy on humanity."
Michael Carneal: Carneal, a five-foot, two-inch high school freshman, lugged a mini arsenal consisiting of two double-barrel twelve-gauge shotguns, two .22 rifles, a .22 semiautomatic pistol, and over one thousand catridges, to a school prayer meeting. On that first day of December, 1997, he gunned down three female students and wounded five others. He was sentenced as a juvenile, receiving the maximum of life with no possibility of parole for twenty-five years. When Michael turns eighteen, he will return to court for resentencing as an adult.
Andrew Jerome Wurst: The eighth-grade student attended a school dance on April 24th, 1998 armed with a .25 pistol. During Celine Dion's hit 'My Heart Will Go On', (made famous by the film Titanic,) he opened fire, killing a teacher and wounding two students. Nicknamed 'Satan' by his classmates, he was arrested and charged with homicide, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, unlawful possession of a firearm, drug possession, physical menace, and attempted murder. He received a thirty to sixty year prison sentence, and will not be eligible for parole until the age of forty-five.
Kipland Kinkel: The clinically depressed fifteen year old chose May 20th, 1998, to fatally shoot his own mother as she entered their home. His final words to her were, "I love you, Mom." When his father returned home, he murdered the man execution style, with a shot to the back of the skull. After spending the night in the woods, he showed up at the school he attended and blew away two students, wounding several others. On June 16th, he was charged with four counts of aggravated murder, twenty-six counts of attempted aggravated murder, six counts of first degree assault, eighteen counts of second-degree assault, and several charges stemming from homemade bombs found in his home.
By all accounts, Richard Chester Jahnke was not a very nice man. The extent of his cruelty was not fully realized until after his murder....a murder committed by his son, Richie.
Richard Jahnke was proud of his career, and made sure everyone knew it. A former Army seargant, he made a comfortable income as a criminal investigator for the Internal Revenue Service. However, he squandered his paychecks on payments for a $125,000 home and an obssession with guns, and was also fond of letting people know he could make tax trouble for them. His liking for his job went so far, the man would copy down the license plate numbers of cars nicer than his, saying that anyone who owned such a vehicle must be cheating on their taxes.
His mean-spiritedness did not stop at the workplace. At night he wandered about the family's yard with a gun, hoping to stumble across a prowler so could 'blow his head off'. He brutally beat his daughter, son, and wife. Leaving water faucets running, coughing, breaking toys, chewing with an open mouth, and scraping silverware on plates would warrant a beating. Deborah Jahnke, Richard's daughter, was also sexually abused by her ill-tempered father. Visits to the bathroom would cause Jahnke to stand outside the door, counting down the minute his family members had to use the restroom. He also moved his family often, for no reason other than his employers were 'assholes' and he would go nowhere working for them.
It was the beatings, the molestation, and terror Richard Jahnke inflicted on his family that caused Richie to kill his father. On the fall of 1982, the sixteen year old hid in the garage with a pump-action twelve gauge shotgun loaded with deer shot. Earlier in the evening, there had been an argument between Richie and his mother, Maria, and the boy's father had demanded that Richie be out of the house when he and Maria returned from dinner. The argument had been so violent that Richie was afraid his father, who always carried a firearm, would kill him.
Richie's parents pulled their Volkswagen into the driveway, and got out of the car. Richie fired through the garage door, the three-quarter inch bullets slamming into his father's chest, back, and hip, spinning the two hundred pound man around and driving him into the side of the car. As Maria Jahnke knelt over her dying husband, screaming, Richie and Deborah fled from the house.
Police and paramedics arrived shortly afterward, racing Richard to the Memorial Hospital in nearby Cheyenne, Wyoming, where he died less than an hour later. Police confiscated thirty-three guns from the home, along with several hunting and skinning knives. They also began searching for Richie and Deborah.
Richie was apprehended later that night, and Deborah was taken into custody the next day. It was then that the horror stories of abuse began to unfold, and the police-and press-changed their tune about who the victims in the case were.
Deborah told of her father lying down with her for 'naps'. He would then sexually abuse the girl. She also recounted her father grabbing her in a hammerlock and brushing her teeth until her gums bled, and scrubbing her face so roughly that it also bled. He called his only daughter a 'bitch', 'slut', and a 'whore', and did not allow her to even use the family china, saying she wasn't 'good enough' to use it. He also degraded her appearance, pulling the girl's hair, slapping, and punching her with his fists.
Richie opened up about the abuse he was subjected to, also. His father beat the child about the head, back and ribs, called his son a 'bastard', and, when the boy suffered childhood asthma, beat him for coughing. Richie also recalled an incident that occured while he and his father were out hunting. While standing on a high bluff, the elder Jahnke spied two hunters below them. An expert marksman, he fired shots alarmingly close to the two men below, causing them to scream "Don't shoot!" and throw themselves to the ground. Richie also told of trying to get help for the abuse, going to his ROTC instructor. Doctors concluded that the massive bruises on the boy's body were from beatings, and child protective services visited the Jahnke home. Richard was informed that if the abuse continued, he would be charged with child abuse.
Richie never asked for help again...and life at home grew even worse.
Maria Jahnke, Richard's wife and the children's mother, also told her story to authorities. He beat her with a belt, and once the woman tried to take away the strap from her husband. She was much smaller than her violent husband, though, and quickly overpowered. He held his wife of twenty years facedown in the bathtub, viciously whipping her across the spine, shoulders, and backside. By shooting to death his father, Maria said Richie had freed her.
Nonetheless, Richie was charged with first degree murder. His sister was charged with aiding and abetting first degree murder, and the two went to trial seperately.
The jury deliberated for six hours following Richie's trial, and returned a verdict of guilty of voluntary manslaughter. The judge sentenced the boy to up to fifteen years in the Wyoming State Penitentiary.
Deborah was found guilty of aiding and abetting manslaughter, and sentenced to three-to-eight years in a women's prison.
The public was enraged that these two children, who had suffered years of brutal abuse at the hands of their own father, had been judged so harshly. Phone calls poured in, newspaper editorials criticized the judge, and outrage at the verdicts-and sentences-exploded into a firestorm.
Appeals were fruitless. The governor of Wyoming was asked to intervene, and, at first, remained silent.
Shortly before Richie's eighteenth birthday, however, Governor Ed Herschler stepped in. He commuted Richie's sentence to two to four months in a mental hospital for evaluation, preceeding a stint in the Wyoming Institute for Juvenile Offenders. Under the order, Richie would be free by his twenty-first birthday.
Governor Herschler also commuted Deborah's sentence to one year of probation. Another pleasant surprise followed-Richie was ordered released from the juvenile facilty on parole.
Only days after his release, Richie and Deborah attended their mother's wedding to a Cheyenne, WY businessman.
The sentences handed down to Deborah and Richard Jahnke were an insult to justice. The person who should have stood trial for the ferocious abuse he subjected his family to was Richard Jahnke. Unfortunately, his victims-Richie, Deborah, and his wife, Maria-slipped through cracks in the system, and Richard was never called upon to answer for his actions.
Governor Herschler should be commended for reducing the children's sentences. Yes, they did commit a crime, but in reality, the only way to stop their suffering was to cause the death of their father. Richard Jahnke was so cruel, so cold-blooded, that this story could very well have ended differently. It could have ended with the deaths of Deborah and Richie, at the hands of their father.
Parents are supposed to love and care for their families. When they do not, this is just as heinous a crime as murder. Richard Jahnke was an insult to parents everywhere. The lack of action by Child Protective Services was an insult to the abused.
Can those who face abuse at the hands of their caretakers trust 'the system' to protect them? Too often, the answer is no. Child and spousal abuse is something that will never disappear. It has been lurking beneath the surface of apple-pie America for years.
I do not approve of killing anyone, but I do hope that if there is a Hell, Richard Jahnke has his own special place in it.
It is cases such as this that no justice can be served. All we can do is work hard to send abusers to prison, and help their victims rebuild what those who were supposed to love them destroyed.
Today reveals the bloody details of last year's Columbine High School massacre. The equivalent of 700 written pages, the shooting is broken apart second by second on a CD-Rom.
Some may be weary of hearing about the April twentieth, 1999 shooting, but even to those sick of the whole incident, we still turn our heads at the release of this once 'classified' information.
The CD is not the first account of the shooting to be released to the public. An hours-long videocassette, available for twenty-five dollars, includes shots of the bloodstained library, yellow police markers where bullet casings were found, and the cafeteria security tape. Although the video does not show any actual deaths, it is bizarrely set to a pop soundtrack. Platinum pop songstress Sarah Maclachlan is featured on the 'soundtrack'. She appeals to a broad audience....including young people. Was this an attempt to sell videos? Or was the song deemed meaningful to the tragedy? (It is a track called 'I'll Remember You'.)
One cannot help but question the integrity of those who released these detailed, horrific accounts of the worst American school killing in history. Are we giving the public information they have a right to know?
Or are we simply selling murder?
-Pink Floyd/Another Brick in the Wall: Part 2