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In the Wake of the Theater Carnage in Aurora, CO

The theater killings in Aurora, CO, bring back memories of Columbine in 1999.

Out and about this afternoon I noticed that Dark Knight Rises is playing at our local , and the parking lot was packed.

What these two facts might mean, I don’t know.

The front page of the Variety section of this morning's Minneapolis Star Tribune gave the film four stars (out of four). This places the Strib in an awkward position this afternoon.

One has no doubt what the lead story on tonights news—all channels—will be. It is yet another tragedy, certainly not the first, and is certainly not the last in this country of ours.

Waking to the breaking news this morning caused me to think back to an afternoon on April 20, 1999.

I was returning to St. Paul from a day-long meeting in Brooklyn Park, and along I-94 somewhere heard the announcement about school shootings in Littleton, CO.

This elevated my concerns. My son and family had lived in Littleton for more than 10 years, and Lindsay, my granddaughter, was 12 and in a Littleton school.

Those were the days when few had cell phones, and I couldn’t make contact till I got back to my office. There was an e-mail. All was OK with our family.

I learned the school was Columbine, which didn’t relate to me since no one had mentioned it before. I looked it up on the then fledgling version of mapquest, and found its location, which was misplaced on the computer map.

Turned out Columbine High School was about a mile straight east of where my kin lived, and Lindsay’s school was in a different attendance area in the massive Jefferson County Public Schools.

About a week later I was in Littleton—it had been a previously planned trip—and together we hiked up “Cross Hill” in the rain, and with hundreds of others, including pastor Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral and his film crew, silently remembering and witnessing. Cross Hill was simply a pile of construction dirt, but it did overlook Columbine just a little to the east.

It had its own controversy.

The builder created and planted the crosses to each of the victims of the massacre at Columbine, including crosses to the killers, who had committed suicide after the deed. Someone else had come in and cut down those two other crosses….

Such is how grief works its way through, and in one way or another it will play out this way in the latest tragedy.

(It turned out that last night Lindsay, now married and living in the same neighborhood as in 1999, was at the midnight opening of Dark Knight Rises, but at another theater 20 miles away from Aurora.)

One never knows.

In the wake of Columbine I dug out an old handout from some workshop I had attended back in the early 1970s. (See the illustration with this column; hopefully you can enlarge the photo). It was one of those pieces of paper that seemed to be worth keeping, and I have kept it in its original somewhat primitive condition.

A psychologist used the graphic to walk us through the stages of response to Crisis situations we might face in our own organization work.

The stages of a crisis, in essence, and their approximate duration, are these:

IMPACT – Hours
RECOIL-TURMOIL – Days
ADJUSTMENT – Weeks
RECONSTRUCTION – Months

This is what “normal” response to a crisis looked like to some psychologist in 1972.

How will this latest tragedy be dealt with? How will it be used? The following days and weeks will tell the tale.

A good friend, a retired prosecutor in a major city, sent an e-mail this afternoon with an observation which occurred to him:

“Every mass shooting in the United States has not occurred in a large city. They have all occurred either in rural areas, such as the Red Lake Reservation school shooting, or in suburbs such as Littleton (Columbine high School) or Aurora Colorado and the school in a small town outside of Cleveland, for example. What does that prove, what does that mean? I have no idea. Nor have I read of any analysis of this phenomenon, and I have searched for one/some.”

May we all seek non-violence as a solution to our problems.

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