Batman killings revive nightmares in Columbine

by Leila Macor, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jul 22 2012 06:04 PM | Updated as of Jul 23 2012 02:04 AM

COLUMBINE, Colorado - The shooting which left 12 people dead in a Batman movie screening revived nightmares this weekend in the nearby town of Columbine, infamous for a school massacre 13 years ago.

But some who live near Columbine High School, where two students killed 13 people on April 20, 1999, are reluctant to see similarities between their town and Aurora, the scene of Friday's killings only 20 miles (32 km) away.

"I feel it's a mistake to draw the comparison between Columbine and Aurora," said Jeff Jablonski, 28, after playing volleyball in a park across the street from the notorious school.

"The Columbine shooting was student on student, and this is stranger on stranger. That parallel can be taken too far," the IT specialist, who went to the school, told AFP. "We were kids, and this one is an adult."

One similarity, he admits, "is the mental illness of the shooters ... I believe there should be more emphasis upon mental health, identifying and assisting people with mental health issues."

"It was another system shock. However, would it be less tragic if it happened in another state (than Colorado)? ... It's arbitrary that it happened here. Drawing comparisons could hurt," he added.

The subject were revived early Friday when a black-clad gunman in full body armor, burst into an Aurora movie theater showing "The Dark Knight Rises" and opened fire, killing 12 and injuring 58.

"I don't think it's (a problem) designated to Colorado," said Frank De Angelis, who was in his fourth year as principal at the school when the massacre took place.

"All around the world there are people who are losing their lives in senseless deaths," he told AFP. "I think what's wrong in our society is that people just do not value life."

But he acknowledges that the Aurora killings, allegedly carried out by 24-year-old post-graduate student James Holmes, have stirred up old nightmares for some in Columbine.

"The people who were affected by Columbine... they were retraumatized by the events yesterday," he said, warning that for those affected in Aurora, the path to healing "is a marathon and not a sprint."

"That event was 13 years ago, but it's something that we will never forget, so it was devastating for our community.

"At Columbine 13 years later we are very strong because of all all the support we had and that support will be given to the citizens of Aurora and the families who tragically lost their loved ones.

At the Aurora Mental Health Center, over 200 people had come for help in barely one day after Friday's massacre.

They included those affected by the attack, and those evacuated in the middle of the night from the buildings where Holmes lived, and left a booby-trapped apartment only cleared late Saturday.

Its deputy director Kathie Snell, who is also a therapist, worked to give psychological counseling to victims and loved ones after the Columbine shootings.

"The similarity... is the shock the community is facing. We are focused on providing the immediate assistance our community needs," she told AFP.

"They're very different groups we are treating," she said, stressing that the evacuees "are very anxious, and the people who were in the center or community members are shaken by the tragedy ...

"People who had friends or family members in the theater are another group. And they obviously have intense reactions depending on whether their loved ones are safe or not."

In Columbine those affected were primarily the students. "In this particular incident it involves people from throughout the community, not a particular group," she said, suggesting that makes the help needed more difficult.

"There's not anything easy about any disaster response, but there are folks showing a variety of problems. the impact was very broad throughout the community."

Mike Freidman, a 52-year-old software company executive who also lives near the Columbine school, says his sister studied there at the time.

"The case of the Columbine kids, they at least had a reason why they did it," he told AFP, referring to the killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who by some accounts took revenge on former schoolmates after being bullied.

"But this other guy doesn't seem to have a reason at all," he added.

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