Randy Brown, school and workplace violence prevention advocate, consented to an exclusive interview following the June 2020 publication of his much-anticipated book: The Inside Story of Columbine: Lies. Cover-ups. Ballistics. Lessons. This book recalls Randy and his family's personal and inside experiences concerning one of the worst and in my opinion most preventable massacres in America's history. Yes, "Columbine," which has influenced many subsequent episodes of school and workplace violence down through the years, could have been prevented. I am convinced of it.
Major lessons can and must be learned about the debacle that occurred as Randy and his family's multiple complaints to law enforcement about these killers well before the April 20, 1999 massacre fell on deaf ears. After the tragedy, these complaints were covered up and one of Randy and his wife Judy's sons was even wrongfully accused of being involved in the massacre.
Few have been in a position to do more and have in fact done more as the Brown family has to prevent further attacks on our nation's schools, which are also workplaces for faculty and staff. For me, having the opportunity to interview Randy, a person I have referred to numerous times in the past, has been an honor and an eye-opening experience.
Kathleen M. Bonczyk, Esq.
Workplace Violence Prevention Institute
Randy and Judy Brown: Fighting to prevent school violence, so as to make schools safer for our children to learn and teachers and staff to work. (Photo (c) Brown family collection).
Q: Randy, your book The Inside Story of Columbine: Lies. Cover-ups. Ballistics. Lessons which I’m reading and I strongly recommend everyone should read, was just released in June. I imagine publishing it took a lot out of you. Am I right?
A: Hi Kathleen. The book was taken from journals that I had written over the 20 years since Columbine. I wrote them by hand, and then had a good friend transcribe them for me.
Yes, it was painful and sad and very difficult. I cried almost every time I worked on it. Going through the journals brought back all of the sadness and pain of the loss of life of these innocent children, and the troubles we went through as a family. The pain and sorrow are still there after all of this time, on the surface, ready to be remembered. That is one reason why I admire your work so much. You are trying to stop this violence. You are one of the few that is trying.
Q: The WVPI is all about preventing violence from erupting. One key way to accomplish this goal is for all of us to report any observed “leakage of violent intent” to the authorities rather than ignoring it or thinking nothing can ever happen. Your family reported serious concerns about the Columbine killers well before April 20,1999 to the authorities, yet incredulously nothing was done about it.
If someone today is standing in the shoes you stood in when you noted serious signs of trouble, what do you recommend they should do?
A: Well, looking back I still feel guilt that I didn't do more... but in reviewing what my wife and I did, and what my kids did to try to prevent this, I am no longer sure that my blaming myself is completely valid. We went to the police. We went to the police many times. I think the number is 17 times. We reported these two killers for making pipe bombs, detonating pipe bombs, threatening our son's life, running missions, vandalizing homes, arson, setting off firecrackers on our porch, for shooting out a window in our house with a paintball gun, for vandalizing my son's car, and for other smaller crimes.
My wife actually called the Detective in 1998 and said that Eric was dangerous, and warned him that another Jonesboro could happen here. We were dismissed.
It is a difficult position to be in. At some point, if you keep reporting the criminals, you become labeled as obsessive, and are ignored. I truly believe that if we had done any more, Eric would have killed us. In fact, killing us was in his plans, and written about in his journal.
That said: What would I do now?
The same thing, and even more. I would demand action by the police, in person, and demand that they be arrested, until the police threw me in jail. I would do anything to have stopped these killings. Anything.
Q: In your book, you write extensively about the bullying problem at Columbine and how it contributed to this tragedy.
Do you think America’s schools in 2020 are doing enough to address bullying, including cyberbullying? What could schools be doing better about eradicating bullying?
Randy Brown discusses how to stop school shootings and the bullying effect. Be sure to subscribe to Randy's You Tube channel (above).
A: That is a perfect question. Bullying and humiliation are the root cause of violence, through a process called hypervigilance.
A bullied and humiliated child will, occasionally, become hypervigilant. They will internalize every single act of bullying, and resent it so much that they will become violent. This process is called violentization, and is discussed by an incredible author Lonnie Athens. His books are very difficult to find. I would suggest that people read books by James Gilligan, Paul Mones and Lonnie Athens, and learn about these processes. They really help in understanding it.
But the answer is simple: Stop the humiliation. If you stop bullying and humiliating a child, they will not be angry. They will start to believe that they are protected, and they will no longer be afraid. They will lose their anger, and they will not want to kill. It is called justice. Give the bullied child some justice, let them know they are protected, and they will lose their anger. If one teacher, or one brave young boy, will stick up for them against the bullies, they will learn not to be afraid, and they will not become violent. Of course it is not that easy to implement. If the bullying continues, they fear will continue, and that rare child will want revenge for their perceived injustice of true injustice.
Everyone needs to stop the bullying and humiliation, whether it is in schools or your place of business.
Q: What role do you feel parents and family members play in helping to prevent another Columbine?
A: Wow. A tough one: Mr and Mrs. Harris could have stopped this, by preventing Eric from building pipe bombs and from purchasing weapons. That is an obvious one. They allowed him to build hundreds of pipe bombs in their own house. They failed to search his room. They knew about the pipe bomb building and didn't stop it. That would be the first step.
Second, if the Klebolds had gone to the school and read Dylan's violent paper that he wrote for an English class, they could have seen the violent side of Dylan. He was telling everyone, and they ignored him. Paying attention to the warning signs would be the key. The process of violentization, that Athens wrote about, is obvious. Children start to fight back in small ways. They act up. They act up. They start to develop threatening and defensive behaviors. They start to fight back against the bullying.
Q: You wrote that we parents do not do enough to investigate the schools we entrust our kids to. We spend a lot of time researching consumer goods and not enough to address whether the most precious people in our lives, our children, should be entrusted to the neighborhood school in our absence. What do you recommend parents should do before enrolling their kids in a particular school?
A: We spend more time finding a good mechanic then we do checking out our childrens' schools.
Go to a school and see if it is friendly. See if it is full of love. See if the athletes are revered. Look to see where the trophies are for the football team. At Columbine, the football team was king. The photos of the athletes lined the corridors. The trophy case for the football team was suspended in the middle of the main entry. The debate team had a tiny little cabinet hidden in a back hallway. The things that we revere take center stage. If football is the most important thing in the school, it will be obvious.
You need to find a school that cares about academics, that treats everyone fairly and with respect. Respect for everyone is the key. I read this on your site, and I have written this too: How many kids in a school does it take to report bullying, before you believe them? I used to think the answer was 3 or 5. Then I realized that one child reporting bullying was enough. Then I learned that one child reporting bullying isn't needed. There is bullying of some type in every school. Stop the bullying. Stop the humiliation. Respect all children and teachers.
Q: You’re very critical of the lack of response from SWAT and other members of law enforcement who stood outside Columbine as children were being terrorized, wounded and murdered. We saw some of this similar criticism with recent school shootings, including the February 14, 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School here in Florida. What should police be doing to ensure this cycle stops?
A: The police would have you think that this is all corrected, and that the new First Responder methods are going to work. That is incorrect, and absurd.
Once an angry shooter is in the school, the tactical situation is impossible. At Stoneman, the police chief stated that they worked on mitigating the loss of life. "Mitigating" the loss of life is completely unacceptable. I truly believe that we can stop these school shootings by stopping the bullying and humiliation of the few children that are being bullied. If you take away their anger, they have no reason to kill. Stop them from being humiliated, and they will not be hypervigilant, and they will not become violent. If you treat them fairly and with respect, and stop the bullying, they will not be angry enough to kill.
Q: I have repeatedly discussed if the authorities would have executed a search warrant based on your family’s complaints, Columbine would have likely never happened. Not only was a search warrant never executed, your family was not given proper credit for reporting the killers pre-event and then your son, Brooks, was wrongfully accused of being involved. It took a long time for this wrong to have been corrected, meantime, your family continued to reside in Littleton. How did you do it?
A: Just reading this question brings back the incredible sadness of the days following Columbine.
The police failed to stop Eric and Dylan, despite all of our reports and the fact that we turned in the extremely violent web pages that Eric had written. Then they lied about my son and family. They actually held secret meetings with the County Attorneys, Sheriff and District Attorney to agree to conceal information from the families of murdered children and the press. How did we fight it? Judy and I were in the fight together. We worked together to fight it. We knew the families of the murdered children, and we knew they did not have the strength to investigate, so we did it. We studied the killings and investigated for years. We did it because it was the right thing to do.
Q: Employees and students were terrorized, injured and, in the case of teacher Dave Sanders, killed at Columbine, which makes what occurred on April 20, 1999 workplace violence as well as school violence.
What do you believe can be done in helping prevent both forms of this violence that continues to be a problem in 2020 America?
A: I absolutely agree with you, and with all of the work you are doing to stop violence in schools and in the workplace. I believe that violence starts with unfairness and injustice. If the person who feels wronged cannot find a way to obtain some level of fairness or justice, they can, sometimes, turn to violence. This happens to employees who have a boss who is unfair, and they believe they have nowhere to turn to get help. It happens in a school, where the school-abused child has no way to get some form of justice, without resorting to violence. If we leave violence as the last resort, some individuals will become violent. Others will move on. Some will commit suicide. Some will kill people, and then commit suicide.
All of these examples have hopelessness as their source.
Give people a way to achieve justice.
In real life, our court systems used to accomplish this. But now, with attorney fees being prohibitive, that method is going away.
Small claims court was used for this, but that method has been ruined in many states. There is no way to obtain justice in a school if you are bullied, and the Principal is unavailable, or worse, complicit. This is a problem with our society in general.Perhaps we can start correcting this by teaching non-violence as a way to address our problems and grievances. Perhaps.
And it will take a concerted effort by anyone in power to look at their power, and how they are using it. It is difficult, but if the Principal in a school, or the coaches, would look in the mirror and realize that they are bullies and arrogant, they could change the dynamic of a school in a week.
If the boss at work who is arrogant and unfair would realize it, that boss could take steps to create a more friendly and productive environment. I could write about this for hours. That is probably enough for now. But, please remember this concept: These shooters, almost all of them, are not crazy. They are bullied, humiliated and angry. They want revenge. They have been humiliated and embarrassed by the bullies for years, and they hate them. Once they get a weapon, and enter a school, it is too late to stop them. But you can stop them before that. Take away their anger, and they will have no reason to kill.I would like to compliment you on all of the years of work you have put into stopping violence. I have been trying to do the same thing, in a smaller way, halfway across the Country. Thank you for all that you have done over the years. I hope people will listen.
The modern American active school shooter/bomber era was established on April 20, 1999 in Littleton, Colorado at Columbine High School where Randy and his wife Judy's two children, Aaron and Brooks, were enrolled. Randy and Judy came very close to losing both of their children at Columbine.
Aaron was seated in the cafeteria at the moment when two propane bombs planted there by the killers was set to explode. Thankfully, both failed to detonate, sparing Aaron and countless hundreds more innocent lives on that awful day when 13 innocents were shot dead by the killers who went into active shooter mode after their bombs failed to explode.
Meantime, Brooks was standing outside as he saw one of the killers pull into the high school's parking lot. Brooks walked up to the domestic terrorist masking as a fellow senior. After Brooks pointed out he had just missed a major exam, the son-to-be mass murderer said "Brooks I like you now. Get out of here. Go home." Thankfully, Brooks did leave campus. As Brooks was walking he heard gunshots coming from the school, and shortly thereafter he called the police.
The Inside Story of Columbine: Lies. Cover-ups. Ballistics. Lessons is available for purchase on Amazon as a download and in paperback format.