Wednesday 21 February 2018

'If you are struggling, get help'- Principal of Columbine High School says Ireland can learn from the massacre

Eric Harris (L) and Dylan Klebold. Photo:Getty Images
Eric Harris (L) and Dylan Klebold. Photo:Getty Images
Catherine Devine

Catherine Devine

The principal of Columbine High School in Colorado where 12 students and a teacher were shot dead by two classmates, is urging Irish people to look after their mental health.

Frank DeAngelis was the principal of the high school where two seniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on a mass shooting spree before taking their own lives on April 20 1991.

Frank DeAngelis will be a guest speaker at a public talk on mental health
Frank DeAngelis will be a guest speaker at a public talk on mental health

Frank told RTE Radio One that April 20 started as an ordinary morning and “it was a beautiful Colorado spring day.”

“All of a sudden my secretary knocked on my door and said there was gunfire. I thought this couldn’t be happening. It has to be a joke or a senior prank. This can not happen at Columbine High School.”

Frank said his worst nightmare became a reality when he saw a gunman running towards him and a group of young girls.

“They were unaware of what was happening and so my initial response was to get to them immediately to make sure that they were not in harm’s way and to protect them. There were about 30 girls and we were able to get down a hallway.”

Frank made a narrow escape from the building but said that it took him a long time to process the tragedy.

“I knew the seriousness of the tragedy when I saw SWAT teams come out with teary eyes and they said they had never witnessed anything like that. It was very difficult. You would never expect anything like that to happen in a community.

“We’ve witnessed tragedies time and time again, we’re all vulnerable. There is nothing I can do to bring those 13 kids back.”

Frank said that the experience taught him to “seek help when struggling”.

Columbine High School Photo: Getty
Columbine High School Photo: Getty

“If you were to break an arm would you allow a friend or spouse to surgically fix it? Of course not, you’d go to a doctor. Then why would you not seek professional help?”

He said Ireland can learn from Columbine that parents need to play a pro-active and monitoring role in the children’s lives, especially now with social media.

He said that the two gunmen didn’t “come out of their mother’s womb hating”.

“What happened between that day when they were sweet smiling kids to the two calculated killers that walked into the building? What happened to their lives? That’s the thing that’s so difficult for us to understand is what creates this mind set of these killers?”

Frank said the perception that the two killers were “outcasts” and “disenfranchised from society” is wrong.

“They were two well educated men, two calculated killers. They were very smart. They were in advanced level classes.

“They did not wake up on the 20th and say we’re going to blow up the school or kill kids. This is something that they had made detailed plans off for over a year. Their intent was never to come into the school and shoot kids. Their intent was to place two propane tanks and blow up the school at the busiest time in which 700 people would be in the area and the students who did escape and run  out of the school would be shot.

“It wasn’t a successful shooting, it was a failed bombing. They were calculated and they knew once they went into the building they were never going to walk out.”

Frank said in a time where there are gun shootings all across the world, we should be talking about mental health instead of gun control.

“These kids have access to social networking and parents are unaware of where these kids are going as far as the internet. My plea to parents is that you need to be parents. You need to be involved in your kid’s live and you need to know what’s going on. If you are struggling you need to get help.

“Maybe if the parents had been a little bit more involved we wouldn’t have had the Columbine tragedy. By taking an interest in your kid’s life you might be saving it.”

Frank DeAngelis will be a guest speaker at a public talk on mental health at Mansion House, Dublin, on Wednesday, September 14th, 6.30-8.30pm. See for more details.

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