Not many 30-year-olds can point to a specific spring day in high school and remember it in vivid detail. But Sam Granillo can.
He was 17 when gunmen killed 12 of his peers at Columbine High School in 1999, and he hasn’t forgotten.
For Granillo and the other members of his generation, mass shootings and the relentless media coverage of them are frequent and, while disturbing, not always surprising – more like unavoidable, if unpredictable, natural disasters than logic-defying anomalies. “It’s pretty inescapable,” Granillo said.
Jeffrey Jenson, associate dean for research at the graduate school of social work at the University of Denver, said these events add an unmistakable level of complexity to growing up. Jenson also serves as the Philip D. and Eleanor G. Winn professor for children and youth at risk.
“As a group, young adults have had a lot of challenges in the last 10 years,” he said. “This generation has certainly been exposed to things previous generations didn’t experience.”
By most counts, the number of mass public shootings has risen in the last 30 years. Prior to 1980, the most frequently mentioned incident was the 1966 clock-tower sniper killings at the University of Texas at Austin. Before that, mostly silence.
But from just before the turn of the millennium, the number of incidents increased drastically. Columbine, 1999. The Amish school shooting in 2006. Virginia Tech in 2007. Northern Illinois University, 2008. Fort Hood, 2009. Tucson, 2011. The list goes on.
Colorado has seen its share of extreme violence at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey in 2006 and New Life Church in Colorado Springs in 2007 – and now, at the Century Aurora 16 theater.
“It can become numbing,” Jenson said. “As it happens three, four, 10 times, young people kind of become used to it.”
Brandon Fox, 24, was a childhood friend of Aurora shooting victim Alex Teves. Fox, who is from New Jersey, said he was surprised by how connected he felt to the Colorado shooting. “It’s very much in your face,” he said. “Previous generations saw senseless violence in war, but it wasn’t random violence. It wasn’t just someone walking in somewhere and shooting people. I feel like that’s a lot more indicative of what’s happening to our generation.”
Jenson said with students sharing so much information online, it matters less where tragedy occurs. Digital media allow everyone to feel a certain proximity.
He believes we’ve fallen short on empathy as a result. “It speaks to the fabric of our culture that as a society we are not doing things we used to do,” he said. “Communities used to be more bonded. We’ve become more isolated, even though we’ve connected in other ways.”