It’s been more than 15 years since Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 classmates and a teacher before taking their own lives at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. But it’s still too soon for some to view the shooting tragedy as entertainment — especially one that might sympathize with the so-called “Trenchcoat Mafia.”
Coni Sanders, whose father Dave Sanders was among those gunned down on April 20, 1999, is speaking out against an upcoming off-Broadway play written from the killers’ perspectives. Nathaniel Sam-Shapiro’s “The Erlklings” is scheduled to open Nov. 9 at the Beckett Theatre in New York City.
“I heard he’d written the play several years ago, but thought it was too appalling to ever make it to the stage, let alone to the nation’s leading theater district,” Coni Sanders wrote in an op-ed for the New York Post.
According to KDVR, the play features words from Harris and Klebold themselves, taken from diaries, home videos, chat room conversations and other materials. The title comes from a German poem (“Die Erlkonige”) found in one of their journals.
Sanders argues getting in their heads could encourage empathy for the teen killers and inspire copycat mass murders, according to the Daily Mail.
“Many killers idolized the very boys who killed my father, and used their journals and notes to perpetuate their own plans to victimize and murder others — the same materials that Shapiro used to draft his script,” Sanders said. “This play will sadly only perpetuate our culture of violence and feed into society’s larger fears about mass shootings.”
Sam-Shapiro, a New York native who was 9 years old in 1999, explains on the play’s website that he intends to educate audiences about gun violence and warning signs for future attacks.
“…with these kinds of mass killings becoming somewhat of an epidemic, refusing to understand their causes is akin to refusing to research a cure for a deadly disease,” he wrote.
Sanders suggested the play remove the Columbine connection to avoid giving the killers more notoriety.
KDVR points out other works have used real-life violence to tell stories, but not actual source material. Gus Van Sant’s indie movie “Elephant” was based in part on Columbine, and William Mastrosimone’s play “Bang Bang You’re Dead,” based on three school shootings, won two Daytime Emmys when it was adapted into a film in 2002.
Sam-Shapiro funded the play through $30,000 in Kickstarter donations last month. He says that he was inspired by the project after the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and wanted to understand how Columbine happened — and why similar tragedies occur repeatedly in the United States.
“I hate Eric and Dylan sometimes,” the playwright adds on his website. “Especially Eric, whose searing anger towards all people other than himself and a couple friends disgusts me. I am so mad at them for what they did and for what they could have done with their lives instead. Other times I want to run away from them. I want to forget all the pain I read in these boys’ messy handwriting…”
“What they needed was to be reached. They were too afraid to do it themselves; others were likely too afraid or self-interested to take a step towards them. But I hope that ‘The Erlkings’ comes close.”