Friday, October 8, 2004

BUENOS AIRES — The deadliest school shooting in Argentine history came days after students were shown the Michael Moore film “Bowling for Columbine,” prompting nationwide soul-searching over violence in popular culture.

A 15-year-old boy, known to the public only as Rafael S., stood up in a classroom in the town of Carmen de Patagones last week and fatally shot three classmates and wounded five others. He used a 9-mm pistol that belonged to his father, a policeman.

News that students at the Isla de Malvinas school had seen the documentary days before the shooting prompted one newspaper to run the headline “Bowling for Patagones.” The term now has made it into the global Internet culture, posted on blogs and on Web sites.

“I think there was a lot of influence from Columbine,” says Mirta Beirro, 28, a hotel worker in Buenos Aires. “He was listening to Marilyn Manson and was into that culture. Many young people here are influenced by what they see on the television.”

Suzanna Murillo, a former grade-school teacher, refused to place the blame entirely on the documentary film about the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, in which two students killed 13 persons and injured 21.

She said the film was only part of an excessive consumption of all types of violent programming.

“Unfortunately, children are getting to a point where they think everything is violent,” Miss Murillo said.

The young Argentine shooter had shown signs of emotional problems that had not been addressed.

He was steeped in popular Goth culture and was a fan of heavy-metal acts Metallica and Marilyn Manson.

For a recent school project, Rafael S. chose to write about “the suicide attacks of students in American schools,” said a friend interviewed in the nation’s main paper, El Clarin.

Columbine has become a part of the national vocabulary in a country that is grappling with a rise in crime in and out of schools.

Few press accounts of the shooting fail to mention Columbine.

One newspaper in the capital, Pagina 12, published an interview with Rick Kaufman, an official for the Jefferson County, Colo., school system who worked with the Columbine survivors.

Mr. Kaufman recounted for the Argentine readership how parents, teachers and students tried to retrieve a semblance of normalcy after the killings.

Roxana Murduchowicz, author and director of the schools and media program for the Argentine Ministry of Education, said children should be taught how to digest films like “Bowling for Columbine.”

“Many people have noted that these children watched ‘Bowling for Columbine’ just before the shooting,” she said. “I believe these kinds of films should be watched in the school because it is much better for children to see it together and discuss it than to watch it alone.”

When the film first was released, education officials in Buenos Aires arranged for 10 schools to view it free of charge at local cinemas, Miss Murduchowicz said.

Rafael S. is being held in custody as a judge decides his fate. Because of his age, he cannot be tried for murder under Argentine law.

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