The messages started coming in a trickle Friday afternoon, then a torrent by Monday. They were wrenching, sometimes astonishing, an electronic outpouring of anger and compassion.
These jarring testimonials explained more - a lot more - about Littleton than all the vapid media stories about video violence, Goths, game-crazed geeks.
For a writer, there? s nothing more humbling than to be at a loss for words. I can't do more justice to these stories than to let them speak for themselves.
By last night, I had received thousands of e-mails about life in junior and high school. Few remembered it fondly - none, in fact. Some had unbearable memories. Some are still recovering. Many more are still there, suffering every day.
Many of you wrote asking if you could help these kids. Others wondered if there was any way to get the message about their lives out beyond Slashdot, if these stories might reach the mainstream media in some form.
Don't worry about that. The column and the responses to it richocheted all over the world, via e-mail, mailing lists, links, even faxes. There were scores of requests to reprint. For any others, and on behalf of Slashdot, be my guest.
On the Net, ideas don't need to be pushed. They find their own audience and stand or fall of their own weight. Eventually, I will answer each e-mail, and am grateful for them.
In the wake of the killings in Littleton, Colorado, here are more stories from The Hellmouth, from its current and former children:
From Eric near Littleton, Colorado:
"?I live just a few miles north of the school between the same streets. I'm a geek under the skin. I was a state champ in the high jump, and the leading scorer on the track team, so I was not quite the outcast that some of the geeks are, but I understand what they are going through. I wasn't very popular despite being the big athlete on campus, but I at least had respect.
I am very happy to see you and Slashdot carrying coverage of "the other side" of the story; the side nobody else wants to look at. These outcast kids are now being swept under the rug at best, and prosecuted at worst."
From Josh, a Slashdot reader:
"I was much like those kids when I was in school - weird, cast out, not much liked, alienated, all that sort of thing'I used to imagine bringing weaponry to school and making the fuckers who made my life miserable beg for mercy. (I was never sure what to do then, though. Do I let them go? They won't have learned, and after that, I could never turn my back. Do I kill them? I really just wanted to be left alone'Remember the scene in "Ender's Game.") I think my parents and their support made a lot of difference to me."
From John of Austin:
"?you can probably imagine the emotional scars that I still tote around with me at age 26. I still have yet to go to college, I have shelves upon shelves of books that I have bought, read and committed to memory. From literature to computer programming, there is no one that I can't have a meaningful and informed conversation with.
But to this day, the thought of entering another educational institution to prove that I have the facilities to be a ?meaningful? member of society makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end and turns my stomach inside out.
"I am the father now, and as such I worry about the kind of life my son will lead, too much at times, I'm sure'A few weeks ago I was watching the TLC (The Learning Channel) or the Discovery channel, and there was a special on the social structure within the United States prison system on. While I was watching it, I was thinking to myself just how similar it was to the social structure we find in schools.."
From John, who's 37 years old:
"What this really means to all my fellow young geeks out there? Endure. It may take a year, or two or five, but we will win'All those preps, jocks, etc., etc., will have their Ms. degrees, 2.5 kids, a job at Circuit City as an assistant manager, will be wondering where their life went, when we are coming into full bloom and taking over the world."
"How dare you glorify these scum? They were Nazi thugs, nothing more, nothing less. They are brutal murderers. They planned this on Hitler's Birthday, for God's sake. What kind of creep are you? How dare you compare them to geeks? They deserved everything they had coming to them, and so do you. May they rot in Hell."
From Kevin, a parent:
"I am married, have two wonderful little kids, and am, by conventional measures, considered "successful." I'm also a computer geek, a nerd, and still have painful memories of the emotional and physical trauma I sustained in high school. I still attend counseling regularly. I still take anti-depressants every day and will probably continue to do so for the rest of my life.
"Did I feel hate and rage for my attackers? Oh, yes. But I could never do anything about it and couldn't get anyone to help me. The only advice I got from my parents was to just ignore the bullys and eventually they'd leave me alone. Fortunately, I don't seem to be pre-disposed to violence or was too much of a coward to consider it. I can, however, see how the wrong kid in the wrong situation could go over the edge."
From Peter in Boston:
"I am a geek, and very proud of it. I have been beaten, spit on, pushed, jeered at. Food is sometimes thrown at and on me while teachers pretend not to see, people trip me. Jocks knock me down in the hallway. They steal my notes, call me a geek and a fag and a freak, tear up my books, have pissed in my locker twice. They cut my shirt and rip it. They wait for me in the boy's room and beat me up. I have to wait an hour to leave school to make sure they're gone.
Mostly, I honestly think, this is because I'm smarter than they are, and they hate that.
The really amazing thing is, they are the most popular people in the school, while everybody thinks I'm a freak. The teachers slobber all over them. Mostly, the other kids laugh, or walk away and pretend not to see it. The whole school cheers when they play sports. Sometimes, I want very much to kill them. Sometimes, I picture how I'd do it. Wouldn't you? But unlike those guys in Littleton, I never will. I value my own life much more. When I read these messages, I would ask other geeks to try and remember that, no matter what. And get online and make contact."
From Rory in Chicago:
"Would you bring a kid abused by his family to counseling and call him the problem? If that kid expressed rage and anger toward the world, we would call it a product of his abuse, and try to help him with this rage, treating him as the victim. However when it is other kids abusing each other, we treat the abusees as the problem and ignore the abusers altogether. Hunting down and persecuting the abusees is only going to alienate them further - not only with their peers be persecuting them but so will their parents and teachers."
From Jason, a Slashdot reader:
"Jon, please take these e-mails'and take them to CNN, ABC, NBC, whoever, what ever. Make them heard, and stand up for all of us! Geeks = different, different = okay, if not better! Make my mother understand, sweeping problems under the rug, or simply not dealing with them, doesn't do jack shit! And there's a bigger problem, it's them!
The people who think being different is bad, being geek is bad, TV, Games, the Internet, all bad! It will be hard, a minority against a majority! But please do it!"
From Evan: "I am 24 years old, and a successful professional now, but the, fifteen years ago, I was in the Hellmouth. Just wanted to shout some small form of encouragement out to the kids fighting today. Take your fight for the right to be different to the people with power, and enlist your parents? help. Remember that if you can get your parents to understand your need to be creative, and non-conformist, because your brain is just plain bigger than the small world of middle and high school, your parents can make a fuss to school boards. But if they won't listen, go to the school boards yourself. Peacefully, but forcefully, assert your right to be different by speaking out against fear and oppression. Because that's what it is. It's all about the fear.
People fear what they don't understand, and let's face it, the world of a geek isn't something most people can understand, if only because it's a complicated world filled with smart folks. And most people aren't complicated smart folks. You have GOT to break them of the fear. You gotta explain that it's an outlet, like racquetball or bridge. You have to explain it's not violent, it's colorful. You want violent? Look at football, look at sports.
That's REAL ACTUAL violence, not the simulated, stylized, far from even looking-real violence of video games or D&D (Dungeons and Dragons). And for a real kicker, ask them how many geeks are arrested for violent crimes and misdemeanors when compared to popular athletes."
From Cory, a high school student:
"I go to a private high school and on Wednesday in religion class I told the class, because we were on the subject that I could understand what would drive them (the killers in Littleton, Colorado) to do it. They said that it couldn't happen at our school and I responded by saying that it could because back in my freshman year it was so bad (the jokes, abuse, etc.) that I wished I had had a gun at home. I am a Senior now and 9 days from graduation. News got to the administration and I was suspended until I received an evaluation by a psychologist and was deemed safe to return to school. I have not been back to school since."
From MishtaE: "I've been out of school for awhile (not very long) but I still physically shake, I feel adrenaline go through my system when I think about my own junior high experiences'The feeling of hopelessness, of knowing that you have no one to go to who can or will make it STOP is a very horrid feeling. It makes you consider irrational things, because the rational ones obviously don't apply.
"But make no mistake, the cruelty inflicted on kids doesn't magically go away when you graduate (or drop out and get your GED at 16 as I did). You live with it, you learn to deal with it, but it's still there, and it does change you."
From LHRunkle, a self-described geek Mom:
"?my six-year old wonders why he isn't popular on the block, but does not enjoy racing his bike, or playing soccer. (Soccer is becoming fun.) He also wonders why noone else is reading the books he is. The online community did not exist when I was in high school, but geek culture did. Dungeons & Dragons (the original three-booklet set) and science fiction saved me.
"How many scared parents have taken the time to introduce their child to the items that kept them sane in high school? How many high school libraries are even allowed to stock Theodore Sturgeon, or all of Robert Heinlein? Before we go to Net culture, we need to face local culture. How many schools enforce a respect-for-all policy, and enforce it fairly? I know that I have a budding geek, and if I can get him sane through the next thirteen years, there will be another decent adult on this planet."
"The mainstream is missing the point. All over the world, "geeks" are standing up and saying "This is horrible and I know what cause it" and all over the world people are saying "Oh, my God! Another killer!" I'll spell it out: "The killers are a symptom of the alienation of an unrecognized minority - the geeks." No, that doesn't make it right. No, that doesn't mean a thousand more killers are lurking in the computer rooms of your schools.
"Failure to understand this severely limits your ability to correct it. I read with dismay that geeks are being cut off from the Internet and violent online games so that they "won't become killers."
Follow my logic here:
"Given: The killers were motivated in no small part by alienation. Reducing a persons contact with like-minded people increases their alienation. Reducing a person's sense of identify increases their sense of alienation. Geeks tend to communicate with each other via the Internet and online games.
"Conclusion: Cutting geeks off from each other (Internet access) and their identity (choice of clothing) will increase rather than decrease the likelihood of violence."
"I've been wracking my brain to figure out what stopped me (from hurting someone). I've been asking myself "what can I hand to people to fix this?" The answer is very simple. The faces are very clear in my memory of the few "popular people" who took the time to talk to me and find out about me. There are maybe a half a dozen. They showed me that they were people too.
I heard a report, it may not be true [it is] that one of the killers went and told one of his classmates before the killing, "I like you. Go home." If that happened if you are that person, you know that your attitude saved your life. If there were a few more like you, maybe it would have saved everyone."
" I thought I had put this behind me but I obviously haven't. This whole past week has really torn me up inside because 15 years ago, I was one of those kids. Because HS for me was sheer and utter Hell. I have no single memory that I can recall as being good.
I have no single person who I can recall as a friend. Hell, even the OTHER rejects kicked me around. I feel like I'm seeing this all through the eyes of a refugee from a war, who by some circumstance is rescued, taken off to a land far from the conflict, far from the danger and death and constant fear and destruction.
Years later, after having made some personal peace with the past, if not the people, they hear or see a report that their former home town or village has been bombed and the people they knew killed and it all comes flooding back.
"Why is it that we as geeks, freaks, nerds, dorks, dweebs'have to suffer while the clueless, bow-headed, tostosterone poisoned "normal" people are allowed to get away with murder'I wonder just how many outcasts have been driven to suicide because of just one too many tauntings or practical jokes on a particular afternoon?
"Why do we murder the spirits of our most gifted and talented young people? THEY are the ones that are our future. THEY are the ones that are best equipped to build the world to their hopes and dreams. The prom queens and cheerleaders will have their 15 minutes and then take their places among the teeming masses of consumers. They have already shown they want to be lead around and are more than happy to let society tell them where to go and what to do."
" I'm a junior in high school in a suburb of.... I felt that in light of what happened last Tuesday and your recent article on Slashdot, I should respond. Recently, one of my friends, Chris, was suspended for three days. He's an athlete (football and shotput), but is no means considered a "jock" as he plays computer games, reads fantasy novels, plays Warhammer 40K, etc. One person, Ryan, considered a "nerd" by his peers, mislabeled him [Chris} as a jock and decided to taunt him verbally. Chris is normally a nice guy who's never been in a fight before, as he gets along with most students. This verbal abuse continued for almost the entire school year so far.
Last Thursday, Chris slapped Ryan upside the head due to a particularly nasty thing that was said and Ryan picked up a chair, shouting death threats and swears. They were quickly broken up by the teacher and hall monitors, and were escorted to the dean's office.
Normally, each would only get a 1 day in-school suspension for what they did, but due to the incident in Colorado, each got three days and counseling by the school psychiatrist for the remainder of the year. The deans obviously overreacted, given the circumstances. What the main problem is here is that years of torment in people like Ryan's lives have led to such "classes" -- Goths, nerds, freaks, preps, etc. People form together in cliques where people are distinctly filed into the social pecking order. The high school situation could (and is) leading to a French Revolution-esque "class war" where social outcasts decide to say enough with the years of torment. Unfortunately, this is happening sooner than we think.
"The irony in the current coverage, at least to me, is that I remember my leather-jacketed, spiky-haired, combat-boot wearing friends as being for the most part peaceful, gentle, sensitive types - lots of vegetarians and anti-nuke people. Sure, there were a few who probably could have benefited from some therapy, but most of them were - and are - the nicest, kindest people I knew, despite their rather alarming appearance. After all, we had to be like that - we all knew what it felt like to be shoved in a locker, spit on, have stuff thrown at us, etc. I seem to remember the football players and other jocks as being a lot more violent and given to fits of rage and other displays of aggression.
... I certainly agree that the two shooters in Littleton were deranged boys filled with hate, But it's a fine line between a supposedly "well-adjusted" teenager [who bashes freaks] and a disturbed one."
From Matthew C in Wisconsin:
"I, like many of the Slashdot audience, was one of those those kids in high school, and junior high, and elementary school. I have suffered what those kids suffered, and continue to suffer. I made it through, but apparently not everyone does. The response to your article seems to suggest that there are many of us out there who want to help do something to curb the backlash to focus on the correct issue. I was wondering, in your surely large catalogue of responses to this column, have you found any hints of where we might send letters? Or who we might contact, to start telling people what the real problems are?
I want to help. I want to write, to talk, to help ensure that geeks of today and tomorrow aren't further persecuted for pursuing differences from the norm. We have to spread the word far and wide, teachers, parents and people who should know better than to ban trenchcoats, take away computers, and further drive their kids into depression and isolation. How can we organize something meaningful?"