Cynthia Coffman’s Columbine Tweets blasted as ‘ignorant,’ ‘insensitive’
Cynthia Coffman doesn’t get it.
That’s one Columbine dad’s response to Colorado’s Attorney General’s office deriding one of the killers’ mothers for speaking publicly about the massacre.
Ted Zocco-Hochhalter — father of a student who was paralyzed in the 1999 rampage — didn’t know what he’d feel when he learned that Sue Klebold, mother of Columbine shooter Dylan Klebold, was coming forward after 17 years to tell her family’s story.
Ire? Disgust? Outrage?
After having watched Sue Klebold’s interview, Zocco-Hochhalter’s response was yes to all of the above – though not toward Sue Klebold, he notes, but rather toward Coffman for weighing in with comments he describes as “incredibly ignorant and insensitive.”
In two Tweets posted February 13, the day after the “20/20” segment aired on ABC, the Attorney General’s office chastised Sue Klebold for speaking out. One Tweet called the interview “irresponsible and inflammatory.” The other called Sue Klebold “#selfish.”
— CO Attorney General (@COAttnyGeneral) February 13, 2016
“Shooter’s mom doesn’t get it. Decision to talk now doesn’t prevent #SchoolShootings. Instead could have very negative consequences,” read one of the AG’s two Tweets.
— CO Attorney General (@COAttnyGeneral) February 13, 2016
Nonsense, counters Zocco-Hochhalter, who lauds Sue Klebold for her candor about the guilt and responsibility she feels about the shootings her son helped carry out before he fatally turning his gun on himself. Sue Klebold spent much of her “20/20” interview acknowledging that she missed key signs of her son’s depression and urging families to learn how to spot kids’ mental health problems before desperation turns to violence. Those are the main points of her book, “A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy,” the proceeds from which she’s donating to mental health causes.
“Here we have an Attorney General’s office publicly criticizing Sue Klebold for talking about mental illness as a factor in school shootings. That’s not only insulting to our intelligence, but it’s also flat-out wrong – showing a remarkable lack of knowledge and professionalism about the issue,” Zocco-Hochhalter tells The Independent.
He ought to know. He has been a school safety advocate since his daughter and son were students at Columbine when Klebold and his friend, Eric Harris, riddled bullets throughout the Jefferson County high school in 1999. Then 17-year-old Anne Marie was eating lunch outside when she was struck in the back and chest. One of the bullets cut through her spinal cord, leaving her permanently paralyzed. Six months after she was shot, her mother, Carla – who had a history of depression – bought a gun in a crowded pawnshop, pulled the trigger and killed herself.
Zocco-Hochhalter now trains parents on how to respond to crises. What he has learned above all else in the past 17 years, he says, is that clamming up about mental health is far more dangerous than talking.
“That’s why the Attorney General’s Tweets were so idiotic. It’s a basic premise when these atrocities occur — and it’s a basic premise in emergency management — that the more conversation you can have about feelings and mental health issues, the better it is for all involved,” he says.
“My family is an example of what can happen when you don’t talk about these things. The Klebold family is an example, too.”
In Sue Klebold’s public reckoning with her son’s and her own mental health issues, Zocco-Hochhalter says he found a surprising affinity.
“Listening to her, watching that interview, it gave me a sense of knowing that someone else kind of experienced the same thing – that perhaps I’m not alone in this.”
He adds that Coffman’s office, as a state agency that works with first responders, should be “encouraging productive conversation about the factors that lead to school shootings, not trying to shut them down.”
“They really had no business sticking their noses into this with that kind of disingenuous, disrespectful and borderline unethical reaction to real lessons that can be learned from this atrocity,” he says.
Coffman’s office is keeping notably mum about its messages.
“The Attorney General has no additional comment; the two Tweets speak for themselves,” spokesman Roger Hudson wrote in an email to The Independent.
Hudson refused to say whether he, Coffman or another member of their office wrote the messages, simply stating that they came from the Attorney General’s Twitter account.
“They have public affairs officers who are supposed to be trained and sensitive to the information they put out to the public. You’ve got to wonder who’s handling that for Coffman and what’s going on inside that office,” Zocco-Hochhalter says. “No matter who actually wrote them, it’s a direct reflection on the Attorney General herself. Somebody needs to call her out.”
Zocco-Hochhalter isn’t the only one calling out Coffman’s office for its Tweets.
Eileen McCarron, president of Colorado Ceasefire — a group working to reduce gun violence in the state — questions what kind of “negative consequences” could come from a remorseful shooter’s mother urging other parents not to repeat her mistakes.
“For us to avoid discussing school shootings and the effects on communities and the effects on families because we believe keeping quiet is some sort of prophylactic is misguided,” McCarron says. “If anyone doesn’t get it, like the Tweet says, I’m pretty sure it’s Cynthia Coffman herself.”
Photo credit: Cynthia Coffman’s campaign ad, “No Higher Calling.”
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