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In the designated classroom, twelve rows of desks face a projection screen up front, and the ceiling’s ancient fluorescents give off a wan, spectral glare.
I find a seat among my colleagues, and though we have come to this university from places as varied as Togo, Korea, and New York, we are all in our late twenties or early thirties, and thus share a common history. As people who came of age during this epoch of hysteria, all of us are naturally a bit jittery about the seminar. Then someone brandishes a smartphone and tells us it was Heaven’s Gate.
That such actions could so effectively conceal the bellwethers of psychosis probably says more about the credulity of the judge than it does the guile of the two boys, but perhaps that is a cruel opinion, one that can only be leveled in hindsight.
It’s possible the boys’ guilt did seem genuine at the time.
A year before Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris stormed into Columbine High School and gunned down their classmates, they were arrested for breaking into a minivan.
Though they filched several hundred dollars’ worth of the owner’s belongings, the boys’ parents, as well as the local authorities who arrested them, ultimately saw the act as nothing more than a blip of childish malfeasance, hardly a precursor to bloodshed.
In third grade a close friend of mine slipped and fell while scrabbling up a tree in his backyard, and his neck got snagged on a lattice of rope that had been tangled in the tree’s lower branches.
Finally, another colleague responds in a dutiful tone that we’re on the sixth floor of the Humanities Building. “But better yet, does anyone know what room we’re in?
Our sheepish expressions seem to reflect the solemnity of this charge—or perhaps simply the absurdity of the premise: that we have been entrusted with something so tenuous and elusive as the maintenance of anyone’s safety.
When I was young, the specter of violence was always loitering around the corner or visiting neighbors up the street.
The next photo presents a bedraggled homeless man using a Styrofoam cup to mooch for spare change.
Almost uniformly democrats, we uphold our good liberal bona fides and intone, again musically: Finally, we are confronted with an image of a North Face backpack sitting desolately at the end of a dormitory hallway, against a carpet that is the color of industrial exhaust.