Raising A School Shooter
Murder, Mystery And My Family
Few things could be more dull, you’d think, than watching a man unpacking his weekly shopping. A complete stranger dusting family photographs in silence. Or a middle-aged woman putting on her make-up.
But now imagine these people have lived with a crushing burden of guilt and grief for decades.
For they are the parents of murderers: some of their teenage children committed multiple killings, walking into school with guns and opening fire indiscriminately.
Suddenly, their parents’ mundane activities seem almost miraculous. You wonder how anyone can carry on, finding the strength for years to perform everyday routines after such devastating events.
Raising A School Shooter (BBC4) consisted of wordless vignettes, showing Sue (pictured) in Colorado, mother to one a Columbine High shooters, Dylan Klebold, going on with her life
Raising A School Shooter (BBC4) consisted largely of these wordless vignettes, showing a mother and two fathers going on with their lives in the U.S.
Sometimes they stopped and spoke of the weight of regret and self-recrimination they carried.
Sometimes they recalled the horror of learning about the atrocity committed by their own sons.
Mostly, though, they just kept going. In Ohio, Jeff Williams visited the car wash. In 2001, his beloved boy Andy, who was 15, took a revolver from the family gun cabinet and killed two classmates.
Jeff recalled his disbelief. When they were younger, Andy had been ‘like my best friend. We would do a lot of things together’.
He knew his son was unhappy at school but Jeff, a single father, didn’t know how to talk to the boy about it.
In Ohio, Jeff Williams (pictured) visited the car wash. In 2001, his beloved boy Andy, who was 15, took a revolver from the family gun cabinet and killed two classmates
Forgiveness came instantly, and naturally, the moment he saw Andy crying at the police station: ‘The first time I can remember telling him I loved him was that day.’
Another single father, Clarence Elliot, lives for the weekly phone calls to his son Nicholas in a Virginia prison.
Nicholas has been incarcerated since he shot and killed his teacher, in 1988 — he is now serving a 114-year sentence.
Parole has been refused six times but Clarence clings to the hope that he will one day be able to take a bus ride somewhere, anywhere, with his son beside him.
The third and most eloquent of the parents was Sue in Colorado, mother to one of the two Columbine High shooters, Dylan Klebold.
In 1999, 17-year-old Dylan and his friend Eric Harris massacred 12 fellow pupils and a teacher before killing themselves.
Sue talked fervently about her emotions, from her initial reaction that she hoped her son was dead when she heard what he had done.
It was many months, she said, before she could believe the slaughter was premeditated and not ‘a moment of madness’.
Her need to talk publicly was so intense that it contributed to the break-up of her marriage.
There is more information in Murder, Mystery And My Family (BBC1), a history programme in which two barristers re-examine a long-forgotten case. Pictured: Jeremy Dein and Sasha Wass
That saddens her, but she cannot be silent: the best hope of preventing more shootings, she says, is to forge connections by talking about our feelings.
Such expressions of mourning and courage take time to sink in. The film’s technique, of showing us people doing the most unremarkable things, gave us space to think about what they had said.
There is far more information in Murder, Mystery And My Family (BBC1), the daily history programme in which two barristers re-examine a long-forgotten case.
Although details are supplied in full, this is a more superficial treatment of tragedy. It isn’t helped by graphics that look like a 20-year-old videogame.
This episode recounted the story of the ‘Manchester Martyrs’, three Irish rebels hanged in the 1860s for the murder of a policeman.
It was mildly interesting, but the gimmick of a ‘retrial’ emphasises how trivially the crimes are regarded.