By Dave Cullen
My Rating: 4 / 5
I read Heather’s review of this book back in December 2010, and it’s been on my TBR ever since. Here is the Kobo store’s summary:
On April 20, 1999, two boys left an indelible stamp on the American psyche. Their goal was simple: to blow up their school, Oklahoma-City style, and to leave “a lasting impression on the world.” Their bombs failed, but the ensuing shooting defined a new era of school violence – irrevocably branding every subsequent shooting “another Columbine.” When we think of Columbine, we think of the Trench Coat Mafia; we think of Cassie Bernall, the girl we thought professed her faith before she was shot; and we think of the boy pulling himself out of a school window- the whole world was watching him. Now, in a riveting piece of journalism nearly ten years in the making, comes the story none of us knew. In this revelatory book, Dave Cullen has delivered a profile of teenage killers that goes to the heart of psychopathology. He lays bare the callous brutality of mastermind Eric Harris, and the quavering, suicidal Dylan Klebold, who went to prom three days earlier and obsessed about love in his journal. The result is an astonishing account of two good students with lots of friends, who came to stockpile a basement cache of weapons, to record their raging hatred, and to manipulate every adult who got in their way. They left signs everywhere, described by Cullen with a keen investigative eye and psychological acumen. Drawing on hundreds of interviews, thousands of pages of police files, FBI psychologists, and the boy’s tapes and diaries, he gives the first complete account of the Columbine tragedy […] A close-up portrait of hatred, a community rendered helpless, and the police blunders and cover-ups, it is a compelling and utterly human portrait of two killers-an unforgettable cautionary tale for our times.
This book was fascinating. I was 15 years old when the Columbine shooting took place, and I remember the media’s coverage, and what I believed were the causes: two outcasts, bullied by jocks until they snapped and shot up the school.
This book turns everything I thought I knew about the shooting, the killers, and the motive completely upside down. I had it all wrong. Cullen weaves an absorbing tale of Dylan and Eric, two very different boys with what turned out to be different motives, and their lives leading up to April 20, 1999. In between, he includes survivor and witness accounts, the media’s coverage, the investigation into the shooting and the police cover ups, and more, to show the bigger picture before, during, and after the events of that day.
I was stunned to learn that the boys’ initial plan was very different from the events that unfolded. Had it gone their way, the death count would have been closer to 400 or 500 people – they had planned to set off a number of bombs, timed to inflict the greatest damage. Their shooting was not conceived as a shooting – it was, in fact, designed to be a bombing. The debunking continues, with Cullen highlighting the myths perpetuated by the media – many persisting to this day – and revealing the often painful truth, including that there seemed to have been a number of opportunities for this to be prevented.
I found this book to be well-written, well-researched, and informative. What I came away with in the end, aside from the realization that everything I believed about the Columbine shooting was likely inaccurate, was a sadness for the losses suffered by the victims, families, and community of Littleton. I felt sympathy for the parents of Eric and Dylan, who had also lost children, and became the targets of hate, blame, and anger, since the killers – their sons – were no longer around. As Cullen notes, Dylan Klebold’s parents addressed the public, but very rarely, and mostly through statements or lawyers. Eric Harris’s parents have never spoken publicly.
I was also interested in the author’s portrayal of Eric and Dylan. They turned out to be quite different from each other, and while it seems that Eric may have been a genuine psychopath, Dylan seemed to turn his anger inwards. They had a lot of the same interests as other boys their age, and they had a lot of friends. They had prom dates and went to prom mere days before they carried out their attack. They may have been bullies more than they were bullied. And yet the myths – they were loners, picked on, outcasts – persist.
The big question that people have, when tragedies like this occur, is ‘Why’? Why would two boys do this? Why were they full of so much hate and anger? Why wasn’t this prevented? While the only two people who could perhaps definitively answer those questions are gone, Cullen’s lengthy, painstaking research has produced a book that may come as close as we will get to those answers. I highly recommend this.