It might take several years for students at Santana High School to get over the shock caused by the recent shootings there, said popular teen speaker Mary Beth Bonacci. And she should know. When Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot and killed 12 students at Columbine High School two years ago, Bonacci, who lives nearby, saw its devastation up close. Two days after the Santee shootings, Register staff writer Brian McGuire spoke with Bonacci about the causes and effects of school violence.
McGuire: What effect do these shootings have on the students who survive them?
I live about a half-mile from Columbine High School. It's hard to grasp how awful it is for these kids. It's traumatic enough for teenagers to lose someone and then when you combine that with the fact that it happened violently and that it happened in their own atmosphere, where they expect to be safe — it rocks their worlds to a level where you can't really comprehend.
So these pictures that come out of the shootings — the group huddles on the lawn, the tears — this isn't theatrics?
No. It's for absolute real. They are teenagers. They are not adults with a defense mechanism to deal with it. It's not something they'll get over in a week.
Why do you think these shootings are so numerous
One of the factors I see is that it's a copycat deal, where these kids want to be Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold — a desire for attention. They are angry, they see it [violence] glorified on television and the copycat element puts it into place. And don't underestimate the demonic. You have these angry, vulnerable, alienated kids, and then someone else does it. That's the wedge for the demonic to enter.
Why don't these students fear the consequences of murder?
We are not dealing with the most stable element here. I don't think risk assessment is their strong suit. They are thinking short term. It's popular culture glorifying this [violence] combined with an inner rage that comes from family situations — from not having basic needs met. And then combine that with how they see things expressed in popular culture.
What did you tell the students at Columbine? What would you tell students at Santana?
The message we learned is that love always triumphs. God always wins. On the first anniversary we had a big discussion group and I was shocked to see the depth of the pain they still had and then I looked at the cross and I said, “Does that look like he won?” God was executed. That's the ultimate loss.
Yet that was the moment of our greatest triumph and you can see a reflection of that in Columbine. What happened was awful and can never be erased. But the explosion of faith and the sense of urgency that life is short and that what counts is the life that lasts forever — those teens saw in a very clear way that this life is short and the afterlife is what counts, and as long as we follow Christ, to live for him and to live as followers of him, nothing can hurt us.