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To Name, or Not to Name

When Eric and Dylan were planning their attack on Columbine, they wondered what kind of impact their actions would have, not just on the community but on the entire world. In the Basement Tapes they discussed their beliefs that one day there would be a book or movie made about them, even trying to decide if Spielberg or Tarantino should direct it. Klebold commented, "I know we’re gonna have followers because we’re so fucking God-like." Being remembered, being feared, being respected- Eric and Dylan felt that their act of terror would bring them everything they wanted but had never been able to get. 

Nineteen years later and all that they spoke of on those videos in the weeks before April 20,1999 has come to pass. There are a host of books and films on Harris and Klebold as well as countless followers who believe that the horrors the two committed were justified and admirable. They achieved their goal and even though both are dead and can't revel in their notoriety it rubs a lot of people the wrong way that Eric and Dylan were essentially rewarded for their atrocities.

Since Columbine we have seen this scenario play out time and time again. Mass murderers, whether it be other school shooters, terrorists, or someone holding a grudge, kill and maim others and the media focuses on every minutiae of the butcher's life. We learn their names and every particular of their childhood and families. We hear from their friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Sometimes, if he/ she doesn't perish at the scene, we even hear from the killer. Our daily lives our saturated with details of the crime and information about the murderer.

Statistically we know that a decent percentage of people who go on to commit similar acts of violence have studied the crimes of those that came before them. Many subsequent school shooters have even referenced predecessors, like Harris and Klebold, as inspirations for their own killing sprees. This has led many to suggest that as a society we should stop releasing the names of individuals who perpetrate such violence on others. The theory is that by withholding that attention and notoriety from a killer, we're depriving him of the attention he craves and sending a signal to the next potential murderer whose motivated, in part, by becoming a household name. The ALERRT Center at Texas State University, in conjunction with the FBI and the I Love U Guys Foundation, has started a Don't Name Them campaign (dontnamethem.org) to encourage police and the media to refrain from reporting on the attacker and to instead focus on the crime victims and those first responders who came to their aid.

What is the right thing to do? Obviously, we don't want to encourage those seeking notoriety nor do we want to reward those that have committed heinous acts. But if we fail to identify the perpetrators do we then miss an opportunity to study why those people chose to act as they did? If by evaluating individuals that commit acts of violence we can learn to recognize particular patterns or early warning signs, wouldn't this help prevent future tragedies? What is the lesser of two evils? I don't know.