On April 20, 1999, two teenage students walked into Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colorado, went instead on a shooting rampage through the school. By the end of the day, 12 students and one teacher -- Cassie Bernall, Steven Curnow, Corey DePooter, Kelly Fleming, Matthew Kechter, Daniel Mauser, Daniel Rohrbough, Dave Sanders, Rachel Scott, Isaiah Shoels, John Tomlin, Lauren Townsend and Kyle Velasquez -- lay dead at the hands of the killers. Two teachers and 22 students were injured. The killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, were also dead of self-inflicted gunshot wounds.
The memory of this terrible day is preserved -- in a sick and twisted way -- by Columbine Paintball, a website that promises a full-scale recreation of the high school where individuals can pay to be a killer, SWAT team responder or innocent bystander in the drama.
The website proudly proclaims:
We painstakingly recreated the Columbine High school layout for you to live the action as closely as possible. Become a powerless teacher, an [sic] fearful student, a latecomer SWAT operative or an all-mighty Trench Coat Mafia gang member on a rampage, and kill without mercy in a bullet-free environment.
They even pride themselves on serving food from the Columbine cafeteria in their snack bar. Hey, it's the small details that count!
Of course, with a little investigation the site turns out to be a fraud, a lark created by some buddies who posted their weird idea of fun to the Internet in June 2001 and were surprised when people got upset.
Buried on one of their letters pages is a disclaimer they once had posted in a prominent spot, then removed: "Columbine PaintBall is a web site for entertainment purposes only. Columbine Paintball is not an actual paintball facility, nor is there any monetary profits related to Columbine Paintball. However, the ignorant mail people send us pathetic [sic]. Apparently people will believe anything, such as believing that a plane actually crashed into the Pentagon on 9-11."
How sad that we can make a light-hearted frolic of tragedy! What's next, a flight simulator that allows you to pilot a commercial airliner into the World Trade Center? (If such a thing already exists, please don't tell me; I don't want to know.)
But our boys up at Columbine Paintball weren't content to quietly fade away, their little joke played on the ignorant masses. No, they decided to use their ill-gotten 15 minutes of fame to promote their skewed views on government conspiracies and cover-ups. Who really blew up the Twin Towers? Why is the U.S. government responsible for autism? Who is intentionally spreading the AIDS virus in vast quantities? The boys at Columbine Paintball have the answers!
I suppose a site like this is the price we pay for allowing children to play on the Internet. It's sad, though, that a tragedy like Columbine inspires this sort of response among those who should know better.