About Columbine and Littleton

Tom provides some background on the Columbine area as a community

Some of you perhaps have already read plenty about Littleton and Columbine. For those who haven't, and who don't live here in metro Denver, here is a little description. Starting with the fact that Columbine High School is NOT located in Littleton, Colorado.

That's right. Littleton is an older city of over 50,000 people that lies about 10 miles south of downtown Denver. Most of it is in Arapahoe County. To the west of Littleton is southern Jefferson County. This area, southwest of downtown Denver and at the base of the Rocky Mts., has tens of thousands of residents. The area is south of the city of Lakewood but is not within a city. It is an unincorporated area. Most of it was developed in the 1970s and 1980s when it was mostly farm land and open fields. The area stubbornly refused to be annexed or to become an incorporated municipality.

There is no municipal identity, and because it is relatively so young, it hasn't developed the community institutions or strong sense of community of older communities like Littleton. The southern Jefferson County area has a Littleton post office designation, so people often refer to it as Littleton. But it's not within the city limits of Littleton. The area is often referred to as the Columbine area-even more so since the tragedy.

The area is so large it supports three large high schools-Chatfield, Dakota Ridge and Columbine. The area has nice views of the nearby foothills of the Rockies, and from some places you can see the splendor of the distant Rockies along the Front Range. The area contains a large number of subdivisions, with plenty of 6-foot privacy fences and pedestrian-unfriendly cul-de-sacs. It's middle class and upper middle class, mostly white, largely Republican.

Some people outside Columbine are in denial about what happened at Columbine and try to say what happened here was somehow tied to the community itself. Hogwash. That's just a cop out, a way to say it certainly couldn't happen in their own community. But the fact is that Columbine isn't really much different than any other American suburb.

The fact is that gun violence already strikes many communities across America. It's just that shootings usually don't happen as a mass killing in a school--they're usually one at a time. Spouse killing spouse, disgruntled employee killing boss, teen shooting self. The shooting stories in larger metro areas are now so commonplace they're often relegated to small newspaper articles nobody reads. The suicide stories often don't appear because of the shame thought to be brought upon the victim's family. They go unnoticed except for those closest to the victim.

Columbine is different because it is home to the worst school shooting in American history. It has had to endure so much media attention and scrutiny. But in terms of shooting deaths, it isn't much different than any other community in America.

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