Families Won't Get Answers In Lawsuits

By Leonard Pitts
Here’s the scenario. Your son was a troubled teen-ager. Used to make videos of explosions. Once said his favorite drink was vodka. Claimed in his America Online member profile that his hobby was “chasing the ladies with guns.”

“Death will take us,” he wrote, “so don’t fight it.”

One day, he snaps.

With his friend, another disturbed teen-ager, he goes on a shooting and bomb-throwing spree at school. When it is over, 12 innocent kids, a teacher, your son and his friend all lie dead.

So what do you do? You sue the sheriff.

As another columnist is fond of saying, I swear I’m not making this up.

It’s all right there in recent news reports commemorating the six-month anniversary of the bloodbath at Columbine High in Littleton, Colorado. The parents of Dylan Klebold have filed notice of their intention to sue Sheriff John Stone.

The reason? He supposedly knew that Klebold’s friend, Eric Harris, was a disturbed kid, yet didn’t inform them. If he had, the Klebolds say, they would have forbade their son from associating with Harris and -- who knows? -- maybe the whole tragedy could have been avoided.

Which raises a bunch of fascinating questions. Do the Klebolds actually blame the sheriff for what happened? Do they consider it law enforcement’s job to inform parents whenever a child is hanging out with unsavory characters? Isn’t it actually the parents’ job to know these things?

I tried to put those questions to the couple’s lawyer but a spokesman said that he – perhaps wisely – would have no comment.

Not that we need an attorney’s perspective to know that things have gotten a little strange in Colorado in the wake of last spring’s massacre.

Consider the inexplicably tawdry behavior of the parents of Isaiah Shoels, a black student whose race may have played a role in his murder at Columbine. They’re asking minority communities to boycott United Way, which acted as a clearinghouse for money donated to families of the victims.

It’s not that the Shoelses didn’t receive the same amount --$50,000 – every other family did.

It’s that they reportedly want MORE, enough to relocate and pay for counseling for their two remaining children. The Shoelses are said to feel they’re entitled to extra cash because they and their son had to endure racial hostility long before the shootings.

And then, of course, there are the wrongful-death lawsuits – as many as 18, according to reports – now pending against not just the parents of the two killers, but also the gun makers and even the school district.

One is loath to second-guess any of these families. They are intimate with an agony most of us have never known, nor would ever want to.

And yet, it’s difficult to escape a feeling that these people are searching, in their legal papers and their boycott, for something they are not apt to find. A way to tease reason from insanity, to impose order upon emotional chaos. A way to make it all mean something, make it all make sense, make somebody pay.

If that’s the case, I’m sorry for them. This never will make sense, never will be more than it is: an inexplicable slaughter of innocents by two disturbed, nihilistic and unfathomable wicked young men.

It’s hell to accept that, I know. Soaked in sorrow, our outraged hearts insist that there must be a larger resonance to this story, a lesson to be learned, a truth we can find that will lend us some measure of comfort.

But there’s no comfort here. Never will be. The sheriff didn’t do this. Bad parenting didn’t do this. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris did.

I’m reminded of a song Billy Preston once sang about a story that “ain’t got no moral.”

If this is one of those stories, then all this maneuvering amounts to little more than futility. It will impart no comfort, shed no light, do no good.

Yet, even as you criticize, you understand. And sympathize.

Heartsick, hurting and drained, the parents of Columbine have simply found another way to cry.

Leonard Pitts writes for the Miami Herald. Message him by e-mail at elpjay@aol.com or call (800) 457-3881.

Reprinted with permission of the Miami Herald.

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