September 1, 2009
Review of Columbine, by Dave Cullen
Ten years ago, journalist Dave Cullen began a painstaking research campaign into the Columbine massacre. He felt it his duty—as one of the original responding media, he believed the press had misconstrued the complex reasons behind why Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris decided to enact their own “Judgment Day” upon Columbine High School and kill themselves at the end of the rampage. The scope and breadth of Cullen’s vision intrigued me immediately. I can’t imagine spending ten years pouring over the murderers’ rantings, watching their videotaped “practice” shooting sessions, combing police reports and interviewing survivors. Cullen’s investigative skills are impressive and his ability to create a timeline that explains and illuminates is exceptional.
Cullen believes a combination of grief-born frenzy, purported police cover up and the wildfire created by an international media storm created a false theory: Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold sought revenge after years of harassment at the hands of jocks. The “victim strikes back” syndrome. Instead, Cullen feels his research justifies a more complex, less palatable, explanation: Klebold and Harris were not bullied, indeed, they were often the bullies themselves. Cullen believes that evidence proves Eric Harris was a natural-born psychopath (or sociopath) and Dylan Klebold was a suicidally depressed follower never serious in his intent to participate in the attack. He was always going to kill himself but could never get up his nerve.
“Columbine” is the stuff of conspiracy theorist and Hollywood screenwriters. Haunting. Klebold attended the prom three days before the massacre. How do you do that? Despite the details and logic, the book doesn’t really answer the question of why, but I don’t know what book could. Why would two intelligent young men from stable, loving family environments, months away from graduation, go on killing spree? Was it really as simple as a goal to outdo Timothy McVeigh? The near misses by the police, responsible adults and other officials, and resultant cover up, makes you want to take a more careful look at those close to you.
I think that delving into the reactions of the victims and surviving family members is one of the most valuable aspects of “Columbine”. It makes you really wonder what would I do? Would the death of my daughter turn me into a bitter, enraged anti-social? Would I immediately forgive as some of the survivors did?
Of course, while you ponder, one wonders if this is to be believed. Despite his research, Cullen is still spouting a theory. But, I feel that it rings true and is worth a thoughtful perusal. If nothing else, to examine how normal, loved, intelligent boys could be involved in such an evil scheme. The ending, where the boys make their good-bye tapes for their parents, is truly chilling. In them, they are quasi-children and express regret for the pain they know will result. I can’t imagine getting the call to say that my daughter had been shot at school. I can’t imagine how I would feel if my son was the one who had been responsible. While Eric Harris’s funeral arrangements remain private, Dylan Klebold’s parents chose to cremate him, knowing a memorial tombstone would be desecrated. Tom Klebold is an anti-gun supporter and although he actually called 911 himself to report his son might be involved, he couldn’t believe Dylan could do this…he was his best friend.
If I had one wish or request, I would have liked to see photos included in the book. I don’t know why they weren’t. There are some interesting ones on the website www.davecullen.com. I would encourage you NOT to Google either killer’s name. The search results pull up the suicide pictures of the two boys, not an image one wants to carry in his/her mind. The publishers of “Columbine” cheats the reader…you want to see the victims and perpetrators.
Obviously, this book does not leave you feeling uplifted. Cullen does a nice job of displaying some of the positive before and afters. Still, any way you look at it, this is a painful subject. But, it does leave you educated and with plenty to think about. If you like to delve into what makes people tick and you enjoy true crime stories by authors such as Ann Rule, I recommend this read.