After Columbine: How People Mourn Sudden Death

By Fast, Jonathan D. | Social Work, October 2003 | Go to article overview

After Columbine: How People Mourn Sudden Death


Fast, Jonathan D., Social Work


In April of 1999, two students, seniors at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, came to school armed with an assortment of guns and bombs and killed twelve of their classmates and a teacher before committing suicide themselves. While this was the sixth of such school shootings in 18 months, it riveted the attention of the nation because it involved well-to-do suburban children, had the greatest number of victims and "because it played out on television" (Belkin, 1999 p. F61). In fact according to a Pew Charitable Trust survey, the Columbine High School shootings became one of the most closely followed news stories of the decade (The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 1999).

During crises such as this, the Office for Victims of Crimes (OVC), a part of the Department of Justice, helps mobilize state and community based crises assistance. This often involves recruiting social workers and other helping professionals from neighboring communities to provide short and long term counseling and other services (OVC, 1999). In a kind of ripple effect, social workers around the country--school social workers in particular--go into high gear, helping school administrators develop crises plans, trying to anticipate copycat crimes, reassuring students nervous about attending school and assuaging parental anxiety.

This article attempts to increase our understanding of how people respond to multiple sudden deaths. The author begins by reviewing Bowlby's theory of attachment (1977), the stage model of mourning as described by Worden (1991), and the differences between mourning an anticipated death and a sudden death. The next part of the article, the case study, examines how people responded to the Columbine killings nationally, as a community, and as individuals and family members. The final part, practice implications, suggests that many grief projects are best understood within the context of Worden's task model of grieving (1991).

The mourning strategies described in this article suffer from a selection bias; media and scholarly sources that were available to the author reported externalized efforts, the decoration of fences and shrines, the creation of art objects and websites, the organization of social action efforts, and so forth. Art is meant to be shared and offers "photo-ops" for the news media. Social action efforts are also meant to be publicized. The internal struggles that people endured, the sleepless nights and days of despair, remain a private matter. Those who processed the pain through art or decoration, or by organizing for social change are known to us and discussed in this article; the others ate not.

Attachment Theory, Mourning, and Sudden Death

Current thinking on the topic of loss and mourning rests on foundations constructed by the British psychiatrist, John Bowlby. Using examples from animal and human behavior, Bowlby (1977) posited "attachment theory" as a means of understanding the powerful bonds between humans and the disruption that comes when the bonds are jeopardized or destroyed. The bonds are formed because of a need for security and safety, are developed early in life, are long enduring, and are directed toward a few special individuals. In normal maturation, the child becomes ever more independent, moving away from the figure of attachment, and returning periodically for safety and security. If the bonds are threatened, the individual will try to restore them through crying, clinging, or other types of coercion; if they are destroyed, withdrawal, apathy, and despair will follow. Bowlby also examined topics such as the stages of grief, and the difference between normal and pathological grief (1980).

Mourning for the loss of a figure of attachment has been likened, in course and treatment, to a disease. As a severe wound or burn is traumatic to the body, so loss of a loved one is traumatic to the psyche. Mourning is analogous to physical healing and requires time and often the help of one or more facilitators, be they friends, family, clergy or grief counselor (Engel, 1961). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

After Columbine: How People Mourn Sudden Death
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.