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TheCarnageofColumbine

EdwardF.Donnelly
CRI370:JuvenileDelinquency

Frompettycrimestoschoolshootings,juveniledelinquencyisarisingconcernin
America.In2010alone,juvenilecourtsheardoveronemillionjuveniledelinquencycases
throughouttheUnitedStates(NationalInstituteofJusticeOfficeofJusticePrograms[NIJ],
2012).OneofthemostinfamouscasesofjuveniledelinquencyintheUnitedStateswasthe
Columbineshootingsof1999,andtheeffectsofthistragedycanstillbefelttothisday.The
reasoningbehindEricHarrisandDylanKleboldsactionsareahighlydebatedtopic,butthey
canbeexplainedthroughtheuseofastronglyrelateddelinquencytheory.
ItwasApril20th,1999whenKleboldandHarrisdecidedtounleashtheirwellthought
out,preparedplanofdevastation.Thesetwoarrivedtoschoolfullyarmedwithbombs,varying
formsofguns,suchashandgunsandassaultrifles,andplentyofammunition.Earlyintheday,
theyplantedduffelbagsintheschoolcafeteriaarmedwithbombs.Thesebombsweresetto
detonateat11:17a.m.asthefirststageoftheirrampage.Thesebombsfailedtodetonate
however,sothetwodecidedtowalkintotheschoolarmedwiththeirgunsandextrapipebombs.
Theshootingsbeganatroughly11:19a.m.andendedbetween12:05and12:09p.m.Duringthis
hourlongordeal,KleboldandHarrishadkilledtwelvestudentsandoneteacherandmanagedto
injuretwentythreestudentsandoneotherteacher.Attheendoftheshootingspree,thetwo
gunmanturnedtheirgunsonthemselvesandendedtheirownlives(Tran,2015).
Investigationstookplaceafterthisdreadfuldayandauthoritieshadacquiredoneof
Kleboldsmanyjournals.Uponfurtherreviewofthejournal,theinvestigatorsdiscoveredthat
KleboldandHarrishadinitiallyplannedtokilloverfivehundredstudentsandfacultymembers
withthecombinationoftheshootingspreeaswellasthebombsinthecafeteria,andotherbombs
hiddeninsidetheirrespectivevehicles.Luckilyforeveryoneintheschool,thesepropanebombs

hadfailedtodetonateduetofaultywiring.Despitethefaultybombsthough,thiskillingspree
hasgonedownininfamyasthedeadliesthighschoolshootinginUnitedStatesHistory(Tran,
2015).
ManyhaveattemptedtoexplainwhyKleboldandHarrisdecidedtocommitsucha
horrendouscrime.Onetheoryisthelinkbetweenviolentvideogamesandtheirinfluenceon
them.Peoplewhobelievethistheorythinkthatthecontinuousexposuretotheviolenceintheir
videogamesandatsomepointtheywereunabletodistinguishbetweenrealityandthefantasy
worldsofDoomandandWolfenstein.Anotherpopulartheoryisthatthesetwoweremotivated
by,andwishedtocreatealargercatastrophethanthatoftheOklahomaCityBombing(Tran,
2015).
TheproblemwithattemptingtodiscovertherootcauseofHarrisandKlebold'sactions
arehardtocompareduetothedifferentfactorsthatinfluencedtheirbehavior.Through
investigationsitwasdiscoveredthatthesetwohelddifferentmotivesforwantedtocarryoutthis
massacreandbothweresufferingfromdifferentmentaldisabilities(Cullen,2004).Although
thereweremanydifferencessurroundingtheirmotives,theyheldsimilarrootcauses.Thebest
juveniledelinquencytheorytohelpexplainKleboldsandHarrissactionsistheGeneralStrain
Theory.
RobertAgnewdevelopedtheGeneralStrainTheoryasanoverreachinggeneralized
explanationofcrimeanddelinquency.Thistheorystatesthatdelinquencystemsfromvarying
sourcesofstrainexperiencedoverthecourseofoneslife.Straincanbeusedtodescribethe
failuretoachieveonesgoals,theremovalofpositiveincentivesandthustheincreased

presentationofnegativeincentives(Agnew,2001).Thisstrainisthenturnedintodelinquentacts
whenajuvenilelacksthesocialconstraintsnecessarytocontrolthenegativeaffectivestates
commonlyassociatedwithhighlevelsofstrain.Thesestatesconsistofanger,depression,fear,
lackofempathyandmanyotherharmfulemotionsthatareinitiatedastheresultofstrain(Lin,
Cochran,&Mieczkowski,2011).
DylanKleboldcontinuallyexperiencedmanysourcesofstrainduringhistimeat
ColumbineHighSchool.Muchofthestrainheexperiencedwasabusive.Hewasconsistently
pushedintolockers,wasoftengrabbedineitherhallwaysorwhileinthecafeteriaand
experiencedcontinuedharassmentintheformofhomophobicslursbeingdirectedtowardshim.
TheseunpleasantrelationshipswithhispeerscontributedtoKleboldsfeelingsofbeingan
outsider(Levin&Madfis,2009).ThecontinuedalienationthatKlebolddealtwithledtotwo
negativeconsequences.First,Kleboldbecamedepressed,overlyangry,easilyaggravatedand
hadevenattemptedtotakehisownlifeduringhisteenageyearsbecausehebelievedthatitwas
hisownfaultthathewasbeingtreatedthewayhewas.Second,hesearchedforsomeonethathe
couldconnectwith,unfortunatelyforhimthispersonendedupbeingEricHarris(Cullen,2004).
DylanKleboldsframeworkperfectlyfitsinwiththeGeneralStrainTheory.Firstoff,
Dylanwasfairlyunsuccessfulincompletingavitalaspectofateenager'slifecourse,making
friends.BeingalienatedbynearlyeveryoneinColumbineHighSchoolledhimtobefriendEric
Harris.Thisfriendshiphoweverwastoxic.Harrisencouragedtheviolentantisocialbeliefsthat
Kleboldheldandthisultimatelycontributedtotheshooting(Levin&Madfis,2009).Another
issuewasthepersistentpresentationofharmfulstimuli.Thisconsistentharassmentledto

Kleboldexperiencingmanynegativeaffectivestates.HadKleboldnotenduredthesesevere
sourcesofstrain,hemaynothavecommittedsuchaheinouscrime.
EricHarriswasnotinthesamesituationasKlebold.Dylanwassufferingontheinside,
bothmentallyandphysicallyfromhisdepression.Harrisdidnotshowmanysignsofdepression,
ratherheshowedsignspointingtothefactthathewasapsychopath.Hewasnotinjuringpeople
becausehewashurting,hehurtthembecausehewantedtoo(Cullen,2004).Duringhisyouth,
Harriswasoftenalienatedaswell.Hispeersbelievedhewasstrangeandhadplacedastigmaon
him.TherepresentationofadversestimuliledHarristoseekoutrevengeonallthosewhohad
hurthimduetothefactthathenolongerhadanysenseofempathy(Cullen,2004).
AlthoughtheAgnewsGeneralStrainTheoryisquiteeffectiveindeterminingwhat
causesjuvenilesaswellasadultstocommitcrimes,itisfarfromperfect.Oneofthemain
criticismsisthattheGeneralStrainTheorydepictssuchawidearrayofsourcesofstrainthatitis
difficultforresearcherstoaccuratelytestwhichoneiscausingthedelinquency.Eventhoughon
thesurfacethisappearstobeaweakness,itisalsooneofthetheoriesgreateststrengths.Dueto
thefactthattherearesomanysourcesofstrain,itisnearlyimpossibletoprovethatthetheoryis
inaccurate.Ifajuvenileexperiencesanysourceofstrain,nomatterhowminiscule,itcouldcause
delinquency(Agnew).
ThereisnomistakeinsayingthatwhatoccurredatColumbineHighSchoolwasa
nationaltragedy.TheactionstakenbyKleboldandHarrismadeheadlinesaroundtheworldand
werethecauseofmanynewpoliciesbeingimplementedtopreventfutureactionsfrom
occurring.Itiseasytosaythattheywerepsychoticorcrazy,butbothofthemsufferedfrom

seriousillnesses.Hadtheyreceivedthehelptheyneeded,theshootingmayhavenevertaken
place.Juvenilesproblemsareoftendismissedanditsbelievedthattheywillgrowoutofit,but
DylanKleboldnevergrewoutofit.Inordertopreventfutureinstanceslikethis,juveniles
shouldreceivemorecareandbelistenedtoo.IfKleboldhadsomeoneotherthanHarristo
confidein,wouldtheColumbineshootingeverhavehappened?

References
Agnew,R.(2001).Buildingonthefoundationofgeneralstraintheory:Specifyingthetypesof
strain
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Delinquency,38(4),319361.Retrievedfrom
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Cullen,D.(2004).Thedepressiveandthepsychopath.Slate.Retrievedfrom
http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/assessment/2004/04/the_depressive_and
_the_psychopath.single.html
Levin,J.,Madfis,E.(2009).Massmurderatschoolandcumulativestrain:Asequentialmodel.
AmericanBehavioralScientist,52(9),12271245.doi:10.1177/0002764209332543
Lin,W.,Cochran,J.K.,&Mieczkowski,T.(2011).Directandvicariousviolentvictimization
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juveniledelinquency:Anapplicationofgeneralstraintheory.SociologicalInquiry,81(2),
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NationalInstituteofJusticeOfficeofJusticePrograms.(2012).Juveniles.Retrievedfrom
https://www.crimesolutions.gov/TopicDetails.aspx?ID=5
Tran,A.(2015).Columbinehighschoolmassacre.SalemPressEncyclopedia