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  • Rita Gleason

Exploitation of Tragedy- Series 1

As if the brutal killing spree of 12 young people and their teacher was not senseless enough, in the months and years after Columbine there have been those who have compounded this tragedy by engaging in egregious conduct of their own. People have used this horrific act as a springboard for terrorizing an already victimized population, presumably for their own twisted amusement.


Misty Bernall lost her daughter, Cassie, to a bullet from Eric Harris’ gun. While still dealing with tremendous grief, several months after Columbine someone left an ominous message on the family’s answering machine. The caller spoke in a slow whisper, repeatedly stating, “You’re a killer, you’re a killer.” Unfortunately, his identity was never discovered.


Following the attack on Columbine, several acquaintances and friends of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were suspected of having foreknowledge of their intentions or, worse yet, were accused of participating in the destruction. Joe Stair, a former Columbine student, was one such individual. Stair was an original member of the Trench Coat Mafia, the group misidentified early on as being involved in the assault.

Despite ample evidence pointing to Stair’s innocence, his tangential acquaintance with shooters Harris and Klebold made him a target of not just the Littleton community, but also the world.

In August of 1999, Stair contacted police to report death threats he had received via e-mail. The writer, David, claimed to be the brother of one of the students slain at Columbine and said that he had selected Joe Stair for death in retribution for his brother’s murder. In his initial contact, David indicated that Joe had only 50 days left to live, and then sent messages almost daily in a morbid countdown towards Stair’s impending death. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office investigated these threats and determined that none of the victims at Columbine had a brother named David. With the help of a search warrant and the cooperation of AmericaOnline, the police were able to trace the messages to a computer in the offices of an international property consultancy firm in Great Britain. Investigators had no way to determine which of the company’s numerous employees had been sending the e-mails.


At a time when communities and people should come together and find ways to heal, there are those among us who would prefer to compound fear and loss in order to suit their own ends.

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