Associated Press
Brad and Misty Bernall hug as they visit a memorial in Littleton, Colo., Wednesday, April 20, 2005, for their daughter, Cassie, and the twelve other students and a teacher who were killed in the massacre at Columbine High School.

Look at the photos of Joshua Hoggan and Dallin Morgan and you see faces not unlike countless young people you may have known in your life. The features are young and inexperienced, perhaps tinged with a bit of the childish arrogance that often inhabits teenagers who think they have begun to master life's puzzles.

There is nothing there to indicate anything inhuman beneath.

But if the case Ogden prosecutors are building is true, the faces are hiding something sinister enough to plot a mass murder in a repeat of a story that keeps playing across the adolescent landscape like some grinding, irritating song on the radio.

It is a cultural oddity that American students will struggle, as they always have, with mastering the dates, details and causes of history as taught in their classes, but that details of the murders at Columbine High School outside Denver, which took place 13 years ago this spring, are handed down in vivid detail, like some sort of putrid heirloom, despite society's wishes they would go away.

And they inspire admiring attempts at duplication by people we assign the childish label "copycats."

These attempts largely tend to involve students who claim the need for revenge against persecutions, bullying or other wrongs. But that is too simple an explanation. It would be difficult to find many adults who weren't on the receiving end of such behavior in school. What turns some of these kids into killers while most simply endure and go on?

It is one of the troubling questions of our age.

Thirteen years ago, Elissa Benedek, a professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Michigan, told Time magazine the Columbine murders had given troubled kids a new way to get noticed. "Most kids aren't interested in this stuff," she said. "But there are lots of unhappy ones who want their moment in the sun, and this is one way to do it."

And yet there is evidence that some of these killers haven't been mistreated as they claim. That has led some to label them simply as terrorists without a cause; young people who somehow have lost the feeling of empathy for others.

But for all the analysis, the enduring siren call of Columbine continues to puzzle the rest of the world.

The notion of a copycat criminal has existed for more than a century. There is evidence many people copied the horrors perpetrated by Jack the Ripper in 19th century England. In modern times, cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules in 1982 led to many similar crimes. The 1994 film Natural Born Killers led to claims it inspired crimes, even prompting a failed lawsuit.

But these all tend to fade away with time. Why does Columbine persist?

The copycats started immediately and, while their pace slackened, they have never faded away.

Hoggan and Morgan were mostly unoriginal. They allegedly had plans to blow up a student assembly, then steal an airplane to make their escape. They went to lengths to plan the crime. Hoggan even traveled to Colorado to interview Columbine's current principal. It appears the siren song had become an obsession, only with a slightly different verse.

I drove by Columbine High about a year after the crimes. At the time I described it as smaller than I had expected, given what it had come to mean. It was a normal, average-looking place, in stark contrast to the complicated questions it had aroused.

Then, as now, there were questions about lessons learned. Valuable insights about the role of religion in reducing delinquency were brought forth, as cited from a 1998 study by Duke and Vanderbilt universities. There were serious discussions about a popular culture that indulges base instincts. But there has been little else.

Of all the questions asked back then, only one seems to have been answered with any degree of success. Have we learned to recognize warning signs?

To some degree, yes, and the students at Roy High School should be thankful.

But hoping to catch all future Columbines is not the same as erasing the allure of that awful day from the minds of the vulnerable.

Jay Evensen is a Deseret News editorial writer. Email: [email protected]. For more content visit his web site: www.jayevensen.com.