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The Terror at Beslan

My name is John Giduck, author of The Terror at Beslan, and Senior Consultant & Instructor at the Archangel Group ( The summary of the 2004 Beslan school massacre in Russia in your book on School Shootings (page 275) is no doubt based on what came out at the time, but I traveled there personally days after the tragedy, did hundreds of hours of research and interviews, and I believe I can add clarity. For anyone wishing to know the entire story in detail, please refer to my book. For now, here are my updates on your section addressing Beslan:

1.  There were 49 terrorists.  The news media (and even the Russian
government) reported 32, as there were 31 bodies at the end, and one
captured alive (Norpasha Kulayev).  Fully 17 escaped in the chaos of a ten
hour long gunbattle, which saw dozens and dozens of armed citizens running
up to the school, entering the school behind the military teams, carrying
hostages and wounded out. One 13 year old girl was being carried up the
street on a stretcher, and when it was put down she saw the man who was
behind her head, and he was one of the terrorists.  He disappeared into the
crowd before she could alert anyone.  The Russians have assured me that they
identified, hunted down and killed all 17 (which they tend to be good at),
but I don’t know that I believe they’ve gotten them all.

2.  Only two women with belt bombs.  All others were male, who did not wear
belt or vest bombs.

3.  The best list of hostages I’ve been able to find makes it 1,215.


4.  The supposed floor boards were in an ante-room to the library.  It was
only about 10′ by 10′.  All the rest of the ground floor was concrete or
flagstone, with the exception of the gym, but even that was hardwood laid
over concrete.  Nothing was hidden in advance of the attack.  First, the
space underneath was very shallow and they could not have fit much under
there.  Second, all of the men who did the remodeling were townspeople and
school employees (in Beslan everybody knows everybody).  One teacher had a
brother who lived on the east side of Chechnya in Dagestan.  When reporters
heard “someone came from the east” to work on the school, that east became
Chechnya, then it became Chechens, then it became a Chechen construction
crew was hired to renovate the school.  Absolute crap.  Ethnic hatreds in
that region are real.  The Christians of Beslan and North Ossetia hate,
despise, fear and are terrified of Chechens.  They would no more hire a
Chechen crew and give them access to a school, than the Israelis would hire
a Hezbollah construction crew and let them into one of their schools.  The
terrorists would never cache weapons and leave them unsecured, not knowing
if they were going to be ambushed when they arrived.  And, for weapons to
have been hidden under the floorboards, those boards would have to have been
replaced during the remodeling.  Yuri and I pushed all the books and papers
aside (as we were already hearing this ridiculous theory from reporters) and
took photos to show that it was the same 100-plus year old wood that had
always been there.  Finally, the male hostages who were made to do it, all
reported that the terrorists gave them picks and made them pull a few boards
up so they could look under and make sure the special forces weren’t
underneath, as they had been at the theater two years before.

5.  A dozen teachers and parents weren’t killed trying to protect anyone.
At first 16 men and teenage boys (the largest) were killed upstairs.  Then
another five.  They were selected due to their size and executed.


6.  Once the military began arriving (first the 58th Army then a special
forces unit called Rus) the police had no role any longer.  Not that they
had done anything up to that point.  Russian police are untrained,
unequipped and not tactically capable of dealing with anything like this.
Russia is Russia, whether it’s the tsarist era, communist era, yeltsin style
democracy or Putin’s new version of a totalitarian democracy (like that
phrase?), and it never allows for the decentralization of power.  All the
power and ability is vest in the center, which is why they have to let these
things turn into sieges so the military has time to deploy.  The police were
in the crowd and sometimes as much a part of the problem as the rest of the

7.  They began removing bodies from the west side of the school (the gym is
on the east) at 1:05 pm, not in the morning.  The bodies were outside, not


8.  After the first bomb went off a second one detonated, anywhere from 7 to
22 seconds later.  Then a third a short time after that.  The Russians
believe the second and third were intentionally set off by the terrorists
and were not sympathetic detonations.

9.  The numbers of dead hostages has changed numerous times over four years.
First it was 339, then 338, then 331 then 332.  Finally after all three
commissions and one trial concluding their factgathering, they said 334.  As
of a few months ago they said, “no we didn’t mean 334 hostages, we meant 314
plus 20 soldiers (actually there were 21 soldiers killed).”  So the final
number of dead hostages seems to be 314.  The one number that never changed
was that of the dead 186 were kids.  The number of wounded has never been
certain.  I’ve been told as many as 761 were wounded or injured requiring
medical attention.

Don’t know if this was of help or not.  Good luck with your project.

Danny Ledonne speaks out

My name is Danny Ledonne. In 2005 I created a videogame called “Super Columbine Massacre RPG!” — an interactive look at the shooting at Columbine High School. Yes. I am that guy. Maybe you hate me already. Maybe you have never heard of me. Or maybe, just maybe, you know that my creation is helping to reshape the discourse on videogames, school shootings, and the potential for interactive electronic media (“games”) to confront cultural problems. At any rate, you are probably wondering why I am writing about Joseph Lieberman’s “SCHOOL SHOOTINGS.” Truth be told, he and I are actually seeking to accomplish some of the same goals but have used different mediums to do so. We touched base after he read about my game in the Washington Post and we soon found that we have surprisingly much in common.

I found “SCHOOL SHOOTINGS” to be an excellent examination of the school shooting crisis. I read it very carefully; so much of the press on school shootings is incredibly reductive and reactionary. Mr. Lieberman’s writing is thorough and shades the complexity of our world for the reader to better understand the nature of school shootings on one’s own terms. One of the central reasons for making “Super Columbine Massacre RPG!” (SCMRPG) was to critique the mass media’s vilification of videogames, rock music, and “Goth culture” in the soul-searching aftermath of Columbine. With his book, Mr. Lieberman seeks to dispel the caricatures of the school shooter and take a step back from the desperately reductive scapegoatism that nearly always occurs after such a tragedy. The author offers up a balanced, thoughtful examination of what cumulative factors collide into the day it all seemed to fall apart.

While speaking with Mr. Lieberman before the printing of his book, we talked often about the “true causes” of school shootings. On this matter, I explained that I believe the apple falls quite close to the tree. While we can quickly write off these kinds of tragedies with dismissive finger-pointing to that which the mainstream cultural canon does not embrace anyway (“Marilyn Manson,” “Doom,” “evolution in the schools”), it is seldom that we are willing to acknowledge that there is something profoundly broken in our culture; the truth is that people want cheap, packaged solutions to our deepening problems. In my artist’s statement on, I wrote:

Citizens can no longer afford to believe the necessary illusions of modern society. In an age when hastily-formed scapegoats and false dichotomies of “good” and “evil” run rampant, SCMRPG dares us into a realm of gray morality with nuanced perspectives of suffering, vengeance, horror, and reflection. In the words of Harris’ friend Brooks Brown, there are “no easy answers” to such a socially indicting tragedy. As humanity teeters precariously on the threshold of collapse—politically, ideologically, and environmentally, the days of comatose media coverage and a subservient populace cannot remain. [These school shooters] can be understood as the canaries in the mine—foretelling of an apocalypse soon for those remaining to ponder their deeds. … Are we willing to look in the mirror?

So often the cultural pundits and soccer moms will ask, ‘Why did they do it?’ but the truth is that they do not really want an answer. This question is not being asked with genuine concern but rather because they wish for this problem to be “fixed” as neatly as possible. This means, unfortunately, that the real answer must be averted at any cost. In my experience, what makes people uncomfortable with my words is that when I have an attentive audience, I open up the scope of criticism to the fundamental tenants of our society (those which extend beyond the videogames our kids are playing). Ergo, the real answer implicates the core pillars of our collective identity and so to even begin to acknowledge it is to tacitly indict society—not some expendable or correctable aspect of society (ratings on media, restrictions on firearms)—but the totality of society. This is more difficult work, of course, and in his book Mr. Lieberman has shown the courage to undertake it.

What, then, are the real causes of these shootings? I believe the sources of such rage is as varied as freeways, shopping malls, formula films, commercial television, state-sponsored compulsory education systems, the ultimately empty pursuit of materialism, and the ever-expanding technofascism of modern civilization itself. Far more than violent videogames alone, the entire system reduces empathy for other human beings. Insomuch as videogames are a negligible part of that larger dehumanizing force, they are culpable—though they bear no more responsibility than any of the other numbing palliatives of the consumer lifestyle obsession.

Having said this, we must concede that if videogames can teach kids the principals of geometry, they can also teach kids how to aim a firearm. In a free society, these are all risks we must be willing to take. However, the “risks” that videogames present have been heavily exaggerated by the 24 hour cable news networks and opportunistic politicians. Remember a generation ago when kids would take toy guns and run around in the back yard “shooting” each other for hours? When did this activity—now fitted into digital means for the 21st Century, become such a heavily-studied, often criticized form of play? Could it be, perhaps, that videogames are about as eroding to our moral fabric as Elvis, jazz, or gangster films were generations ago?

Essentially, there is little qualitative difference between games like “Halo 2” and a pinball machine. Both are created for the expressed purpose to be “fun,” which ultimately means to passively amuse and to disengage audiences from their current state of affairs. For my part, I think SCMRPG goes quite beyond the idea of providing escapist entertainment or “training” would-be shooters; it is a game that confronts the conventions of gaming and the recent societal bastardization of videogames. SCMRPG was an inadvertent throwing of the gauntlet on that front. Much of the ire it draws can be explained by McLuhan’s mantra, “the medium is the message.” The controversy is not about the content of the game but rather its very existence. All in all, it has been strange being a “digital celebrity;” I get autograph requests and death threats… all for an 8-bit videogame. While some will take my words more seriously than others, I am nonetheless quite willing to share them.

As Mr. Lieberman’s extensive research indicates, parents need to get more involved in their children’s lives and, more importantly, help them to make informed decisions about their own financial, emotional, academic, reproductive, and spiritual lives. While framing the debate on this month’s most shocking musician or violent entertainment shifts the examination quite comfortably away from ourselves, it leaves us only to react to “the usual suspects” instead of the kind of introspection that has been long overdue.

Years ago I made a short film animated with Lego blocks called “Ship of Fools” (it can be found on Google Video). I have often said that I view school shootings such as those at Columbine, Thurston, Paducah, or Red Lake as one of the major icebergs our Ship of Fools crashes into but most are set on convincing themselves that this was a special case rather than a general foretaste of the trajectory we have set. Surely, we tell ourselves, these are “bad apples” and once we “install metal detectors” or “close the gun show loophole” or “ban the sale of ‘Grand Theft Auto’ to minors” it will all go away. It won’t. We’re headed toward even rougher waters ahead and nothing short of a drastic change of course will keep us from more frequent, destructive collisions.

In SCMRPG, Eric and Dylan look over downtown Denver and say, “I live in Denver, and God damn it, I would love to kill almost all of its residents.” These words were originally written in Eric Harris’ journal just months before the shooting. While games like “Doom” may have taught the shooters how to strafe around corners while holding their shotguns, they certainly did not create in them the desire to destroy the whole world. Rather, we all have done this; we have created a society in which a tremendous number of young people do not feel connected, valued, or driven by a sense of purpose in their lives. That is why shootings like the one at Columbine is a painful look in the mirror—a taboo subject that gets people’s blood boiling when I approach the issue from new ground.

I once got an email from a student claiming to go to Columbine High School today—saying that the situation with the elite students who bully the rest, the cliques and ostracism, the unwillingness to address kids who are isolated and depressed is much the same. The email concluded that another school shooting at Columbine was quite possible. Clearly, this problem is not going away.

From my work with youth in my community at a Boys & Girls Club, I have learned a thing or two about what really works with regards to empowering troubled young people to make healthy decisions: give them a voice. Give them opportunities to self-actualize on their own terms instead of imposing a set of cultural expectations they must adopt. Let them write the poetry, sing the songs, design the games, draw the pictures, make the movies, and create the music that reflects their identities and experiences. Every generation is entitled to its own form of expression and it is quite likely that their elders will not understand or appreciate this expression. Embrace it anyway. No school shooter has said, “I like myself, I feel understood and appreciated for who I am.” This fact should be instructive.

A school shooter killed my husband.


Mr. Lieberman’s book helps us to understand the unthinkable – the reasons why a disturbed teen’s behavior was overlooked and signs of impending violence were missed. My husband, Principal John Klang, was a victim of a school shooter on September 29, 2006.

Mr. Lieberman’s book gives valuable insight as to how this can happen – that school shooters are master manipulators and are able to convince counselors, school staff, administrators and even law enforcement that they are not a threat. The making of a school shooter begins at home WITH THE PARENTS.

Eric Hainstock (who murdered my husband) was referred time and time again by several different schools he attended for counseling, but his father would not allow it. He was afraid the county would remove Eric from his “home” and there would go his meal ticket (his ex-wife paid child support for Eric). Therefore the abuse continues and the teen becomes more and more out of touch with reality. Eric Hainstock never gave a thought to murdering his own worthless, abusive father, but instead shot my husband who was the very person trying the hardest to help him.

Mr. Lieberman’s books point out again and again how the shooters manipulate people to believe there is nothing wrong. I don’t know how we will ever be able to prevent school shootings in the future when the parents and their disturbed child are so intent on hiding the fact that there is a problem. These children and their abusive parents should not be able to refuse counseling. Many school shooters are obviously very mentally disturbed, and they get to the point that taking up a gun and murdering innocent people is the only way they can see make to themselves feel better. 15b-eric-hainstock

Mr. Lieberman’s book helps people to understand how these school shooters think so that hopefully we may be able to foresee a potentially dangerous individual and stop them before there is more bloodshed. Eric Hainstock told three of his friends that, “he didn’t think Mr. Klang would make it through Homecoming.” He then brought two loaded guns to school the morning of Homecoming and used one to take my husband’s life. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about what might have been if just one of those kids had reported what Eric told them. If Mr. Lieberman’s book contributes to preventing even one school shooting, then it is a priceless piece of work. - Susan Klang