My summary of the massacres at Columbine High School before reading Columbine: Two boys, named Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, killed a bunch of kids because they were being picked on at school and they were angry about it. They wore trench coats and dressed kind of Goth, and because of that, they were picked on and decided to take revenge.
My summary of the massacres at Columbine High School after Columbine: The only correct part of the above summary is that the boys’ names were Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.
If you think you know what happened that Tuesday morning in April, 1999, think again. Columbine is an immensely important book, whether you are a parent, an educator, a citizen, or a human being. Dave Cullen is a journalist who began reporting at Columbine High School on the day of the tragedy, and continued to cover the story for the next ten years. This book is the culmination of his meticulous research. While it is tragic that this book had to be written, I am so glad that it was. I never sensed that Cullen was trying to profit financially from the tragedy. Should you choose to read it, you’ll understand immediately that he had one goal in mind: to get the story straight.
Cullen begins the book by setting the scene of the school’s event in the three days preceding the attacks. After the attacks, he explains what is happening with the killers, the victims, their families, the churches, the media, and the law enforcement. He writes in a steady stream of changing focus. At first, I considered this a choppy way to present the facts. I soon realized that this is the only way to present the story; this event was full of so much chaos within the lives of so many individuals that the structure of the book mimics the state of the community in the hours and days and years following the massacres. It also mimics, I would guess, the number of different aspects that Cullen had to address as he covered the story. That said, the book is easy to read, and yet difficult to process. Cullen comprehensively dispels the myths surrounding the killings. And the myths are stunningly abundant. He explains how those myths occurred and why they are not accurate assessments of the facts surrounding the case.
Cullen investigates the motive of Eric and Dylan incredibly well. He was fortunate to spend extensive time with Dwayne Fuselier, an FBI Agent who tirelessly searched for an answer to why the two young men did what they did. The findings are astonishing. He subtly shows incredible compassion for the victims and their families, and while I did not sense compassion for Eric and Dylan, he seemed to handle the revealing of their motive as objectively as a caring human possibly could.
The other stunning thing to read about in Columbine is the cover up that occurred within local law enforcement. Cullen repeatedly shows that the reason the myths surrounding the event have been perpetuated is because the report on the killings did not come out for a year afterwards. Once the facts were released, the public had lost interest and the assumptions that were initially made stuck, even though the report showed that the majority of those assumptions were inaccurate. Cullen also explains that there are facts the public will never know about the behavior of Harris and Klebold because records were destroyed. In another brilliant show of reporting, Cullen explains that, while the detective work regarding the evidence at the school was well done, there were mistakes made that were simply unconscionable. These mistakes, combined with the reaction of the Evangelical Christian community in the aftermath, are all parts of the tragedy about which I was unaware until I read this book.
In his quest to tell the whole story of Columbine, I think Cullen shows that on many levels, there was a great failure to do one thing: listen. Parents weren’t listening to children. Children weren’t listening to parents. Law enforcement wasn’t listening to facts that perhaps could have caught this crime before it occurred. Members of the media weren’t listening to facts. The public wasn’t listening to the media. Many of the Christians weren’t listening to the Bible. And, as any great book does, this one caused me to ask myself an important question about the way I live my life: Do I listen? I hear, but do I really and truly listen? Am I listening to my children? Do I listen to the media? Am I listening to facts? Or am I simply making conclusions based on the preconceived notions that are centered on what I am halfway hearing? I need to listen.
Thank you, Mr. Cullen. I hope more people take up your book and listen.