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School Shootings: The Columbine Generation Copes

A Columbine survivor speaks out about shool shootings and their impact on youths.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Once again, school shootings are in the headlines. And in recent years, those headlines have become all too familiar to students.

"It's affected the generation dramatically," Marjorie Lindholm, a survivor of the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colo., tells WebMD. "If you notice the pattern of the school shootings, they were high schools and now it's moving into colleges, which kind of means it's following the age group."

Lindholm was in a classroom where a wounded teacher died before a SWAT team got the students out.

After Columbine, "I dropped out of high school, and it took a lot of years to get courage to go to college, and I still can't do it," she says. "I was trying to do a biology major, but you have to go to the classroom, and last semester I quit going again because there's been so many shootings." She is now pursuing a sociology degree online "so that I don't have to walk into a classroom anymore for the remainder of my bachelor's."

Years later, school shootings bring back painful memories. "Every time something like that happens, you kind of relive what you lived through," says Lindholm. "On those days, you do need to find comfort in something. My thing is ice cream ... cookies and cream," she says.

But it's not just about food. Lindholm reaches out to school shooting survivors through her MySpace page. "Anyone can contact me, and other Columbine victims are also available to talk. There's a network of people that are ready to help if they reach out and look for them," says Lindholm.

Columbine Generation?

Students who were in elementary, middle, or high school when Columbine happened are now teens or young adults.

"These young people have been exposed to more violence than perhaps any other previous generation just because of [its prevalence] in television, movies, and actual coverage of violent incidents," Scott Poland, EdD, tells WebMD.

Poland is the crisis coordinator at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He's been involved in crisis work at 11 school shootings, including Columbine.

"Columbine sent shock waves through every school in America," says Poland. "My daughter, Jill, was an eighth-grader in Houston at that time. She didn't want to get out of the car the next morning because she was afraid."

Researchers haven't yet studied the impact that the string of school shootings has had on the teens and young adults who have grown up with such crimes.

"I think if there's a cumulative effect, it's because we don't talk about things the way we should," says Poland.

"You can run a theory that says they'd be more fearful because they've had more of these incidents in their lives and so it seems that life is more unpredictable, and if you add 9/11 to that, it's even been a stronger part of their lives," Patrick Tolan, PhD, director of the Institute for Juvenile Research at the University of Illinois at Chicago, tells WebMD.

"On the other hand," says Tolan, "these kinds of things have been in their lives in a such a way that it may not be as shocking as much as it is for people who grow up not hearing about these things."

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