Frequently Asked Questions

Tom answers some that are asked or that are no doubt on the tips of tongues.

Do you ever go back to, or even drive by, Columbine High School ? Did your daughter go to school there?

Yes, we have gone back on a couple of occasions, including a 1999 Christmas concert on the grounds, to view work on removing the old library, and to visit the new library when it opened. But that's about it. It's just too difficult for us to go there. It's only a mile away and on a main street, so we do drive by it fairly often. Sometimes when we have a choice we'll travel another route to avoid it, but not that often. The fact is the school is still there.

No, our daughter Christine did not attend Columbine. It would have been far too difficult for us for her to attend Columbine. She attended a Catholic school her freshman year the school year right after the tragedy, and that was a difficult year for her, with all new students and environment. In her sophomore year she switched to Arapaho High School in another county, 8 miles from home. She's now a sophomore in college.

Do the Columbine victims families ever get together?

Yes, as pointed out elsewhere, we formed quite a bond in those first two years, as we grieved together and took on the successful effort to tear out the school library and build a new one. Nobody knows what you've been thriough like someone else who's been through it. We often gathered for holiday events, weddings, summer picnics, and the like. As time has gone on we no longer gather very often.

Why do you blame guns-an inanimate object--for your son's death? Why don't you blame the real killers?

This is a common question I get from mostly pro gun advocates. It's part of their effort to discredit me and to practice the tactic of repeating something often enough that it will be believed. But the fact is that I have never said that guns are to blame for my son's death. Never.

I do hold the killers responsible for my son's death. What I have said, though, is that many factors played a role in my son's death, including easy access to guns, lax gun laws and a lax social attitude towards guns. Other factors played a role, such as poor parental oversight, bullying, hatred, and the failure of many to understand the signals sent out by the killers, to name a few. But the fact is that I do not have the time to address all those factors. Other parents are addressing some of them. I address the gun issue primarily, as addressed elsewhere in this web site, because of Daniel's words to me about guns just before he was killed.

Now that you've had a child murdered, has your opinion on the death penalty changed in any way?

Yes. Prior to Columbine, I considered myself a mild supporter of the death penalty-not liking it, but seeing it as somewhat as a deterrent. My reservations about the death penalty were mostly practical ones-for example, the fact that death sentence appeals cost taxpayers so much.

Since Columbine, I have come to strongly oppose the death penalty. I have come to learn, based on talking with a few other parents of murdered children, that there is little closure in seeing a murderer put to death. I believe that a victim's parent gains revenge with an execution, but not closure. I recognize that some parents say they do reach closure, but I question that, wondering if they merely feel societal pressure to acknowledge they have found closure. I say that because I have observed some in this community who want very much to hear no more about Columbine and to hear us say we're finding closure.

I believe that closure comes with reconciliation, with honoring one's child in a positive way, and with making a closer spiritual connection with God. I believe that only God is entitled to purposely end a life. I believe that murderers should spend the rest of their lives reflecting on the pain they've inflicted. I believe that carrying out a death sentence is a barbaric act. Most importantly, I believe that the death sentence is a sign of a society that is weak in its spiritual faith. That is, I think it represents a lack of faith that God will ultimately provide justice. We must have faith that God will take appropriate action.

Finally, I have to confess that there is one type of exception that still bothers me: I do find it difficult to oppose the death penalty in the case of mass murders, like the case of Timothy McVeigh. However, if Bud Welch, father of a Oklahoma City bombing victim, can forgive and can oppose the death penalty, it is a peace of mind that perhaps I also ought to be seeking. . .

Does Tom ever have any regrets about becoming an activist?

Sure. While it was rewarding to become an advocate in Daniel's name, it has been difficult to become a public person during the grieving process. I was a fairly private person, so it was difficult to suddenly have people recognize me on the street. Some people may see you in a positive and thankful way, but for many you're 'that poor dad whose son was murdered.' In fact, I've noticed that I tend not to look very long towards people when I'm out on the street, for fear of getting that second glance that says, 'that poor dad' or 'he's that gun control guy.' It would have been much easier to be more anonymous.

Worse yet, as mentioned elsewhere, it has not been pleasant to deal with the nasty mail and taunting of certain pro gun advocates. You think that as a dad who's faced tragedy you'd be dealing with a gentler world, but there is an element in the pro gun movement that is rude, vulgar and even hateful. Sure, they are a minority of pro gun advocates. But even those who don't seem to be extremists who have been known to give me nasty looks, flip me "the finger," etc.

In October, 2002 I went to protest Charlton Heston's appearance at a campaign rally for Republican candidates right before the election. I carried the same large sign I carried at the NRA protest right after Columbine, with Daniel's picture prominently displayed. As reported and witnessed by a Denver Post reporter, I was flashed the middle finger by quite a few NRA members as they entered the Holiday Inn parking lot, and others screamed things like "Get a life" and "Tough luck." Gee, what compassion some people have.

Who do you hold responsible for your son's death?

Certainly that responsibility falls on two people: Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, but particularly Harris, as he was the one who shot my son. But as in most human events, all is not black and white. There are usually many factors that contribute to things that happen in life. Some factors are personal, some societal, some cultural. Some factors are more significant than others. Some are direct, some indirect. Few things operate in a vacuum.

Clearly the hatred, dysfunction and alienation of the killers were major factors. But there were other factors: the bullying they experienced; the failure of others to reach out to them or to recognize their deep pain-particularly their parents; the easy access of guns and the willingness of people like Robyn Anderson to obtain guns for them; the failure of professionals to respond to the warning signs.

There are also lesser factors that permeate society: the impersonality of a very large school; the incivility that increasingly demeans us all; the American social attitude that one had better not bother with or intervene on another's behalf.

Did you sue anyone?

No we did not. We felt it would be too painful and drawn out. But we believe suing could be an effective way to get answers that otherwise would have been kept from us and the public.

However, some of the parents of the victims did file suit against the home insurance policies of the killers and those who purchased the guns for the killers. In the end, the insurance companies worked out a mediated settlement with the families of nearly all the victims; the settlement covered more than just those who sued, likely to avoid any future legal action. A good portion of the settlement went to the injured students, some of whom will have life-long care costs.

More to come in the future. Please feel free to ask YOUR questions via the guest page.

Top of page

We are all Columbine!