By Julia Wick, contributing writer
It was the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history, until, of course, it wasnt.
The legacy of Columbine loomed large in speeches and conversation among students on Friday.
But none of them had yet been born when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered their classmates and teacher, shocking the world. So what does Columbine mean to a generation of students who dont remember a time before the normalization of school shootings?
“Columbine is relevant to our culture,” Kyla Mitchell, a senior at Summit High School in Fontana, said. “We know the name. And with making posters and informing students, were learning more about what happened on that day.”
For almost two decades, the Columbine massacre stood as titleholder in a wrenching tally that no one ever wanted to see surpassed: Twelve victims killed by two shooters on a single spring day in Littleton, Colorado.
Two months ago in Parkland, Florida, a single shooter killed 17 people in six minutes and twenty seconds. That death toll marked a grisly new record, etched from 17 abrupt endings and the unimaginable anguish of everyone those victims left behind.
But tragedy also turned the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School into activists. They are at the forefront of a national student-led movement against gun violence.
On Friday, students across the country walked off campus en masse for the second time in as many months to advocate for stronger gun legislation.
April 20, the date of Fridays walkout, was chosen to mark the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting. Thousands of students across the Southland participated in the walkouts, and organizers estimate that roughly 150,000 students protested across the country.
“These two guys, right, they showed up and they started shooting,” Catherine De La O, a 16-year-old from South Pasadena, said. “Thats the basis of it. I dont really know details.”
De La O wasnt sure whether Columbine had changed anything. “I do know Im always kind of on edge when I go to school,” she said. “Not just because it could happen to me, but guns are just everywhere.
Many students recalled learning the history of Columbine in the context of other mass shootings. They cited Orlando, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, and Parkland, among others. They named locations that have become a kind of mournful shorthand, where geography alone is enough to conjure a death toll—and to rocket you back to where you were when you first heard what had happened. These teenagers might not remember Columbine, but they have their own mental maps of gut-wrenching, commonplace calamity.
Riziki Mbugua, 14, said her parents talked to her about Columbine in the aftermath of the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting. The South Pasadena High School students parents emigrated from Kenya. Mbugua said they told her that Columbine shocked them. America, they had been told, was supposed to be safe.
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“I think it was around the time when Sandy Hook happened,” Natalie Gonzalez, a 16-year-old Larchmont Charter School student said. She learned about Columbine at school, in the discussions immediately following the Newtown, Connecticut shooting.
Claire Ali-Khan, 15, said she learned about Columbine in her 7th grade history class. She thinks it was after another shooting, but she cant remember which one. They blend together.
Several others said they learned about it after Parkland, from the news or teachers or parents.
For some students, it wasnt until the planning of this very walkout that they first heard about the Columbine massacre.
Coco Adams, a 15-year-old Immaculate Heart student, said she only learned about Columbine a few days ago. She was in Biology class. Her teacher was talking about evolution, but she was thinking about the upcoming walkouts. She started researching on her phone, sitting in the back of the classroom.
“I think my heart just dropped,” she said. “It was so upsetting.”
With additional reporting by Brian Whitehead