Friday, May 22, 2009
Columbine by Dave Cullen is a fascinating look at the events of April 20th, 1999 and also a great read. The book takes a look at the tragedy, dispels many of the myths, and tries to answer the hard questions as to why Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold chose to kill that day.
Almost immediately when the shootings started several myths about the shooting developed. There was a "trench coat maffia" that Eric and Dylan were a part of and that other members of this group were involved in the shootings. Eric and Dylan were picked on and bullied by the jocks and deliberately targeted the popular kids that had teased them. Eric and Dylan were "goths" and Marylin Manson was to blame.
Other myths also developed such as the story of Cassie Bernall, who was said to have told one of the killers that she believed in God and was then shot. Because of this the evangelical movement tried to have Cassie turned into a marytr for her faith.
In Columbine we learn the truth and many of these myths are shattered. Because of this, the book has received some critisism. Many in the evangelical community still consider Cassie Bernall a marytr for her faith but the book seems to make it very clear that Cassie never had the conversation she was credited with. What is interesting in this particular case is that another student in the library did have such a conversation with the killers. But when she told her story several weeks after the event few people believed her. They thought she was trying to ride on Cassie Bernall's coattails and get some cheap publicity. It probably emotionally scared this young woman for life having to deal with knowing the truth and having nobody believe her.
Columbine also sheds light on one of the big questions about the massacre. Shouldn't someone have known and been able to prevent the tragedy from happening? It turns out that Eric Harris in particular sent out a number of warning signs. He had gotten so bold that he had even posted threats on a public website against another student. This student found out, told his parents, who then called in the police. A police detective started a file about Eric Harris and found evidence that he was building bombs as well. This detective went as far as asking for a warrent to search the Harris house, but the detective was called on some other cases, the file sat and was never reviewed by a judge. When the local police realized they had a smoking gun on their hands they did everything they could to deny this evidence ever existed. Their coverup could almost been scene as criminal.
What is the most interesting thing about this book is that it really seems to answer the questions as to why it happened. The answer being was that Eric Harris was a full blown psychopath and Dylan Klebold was a manic depressive who was easily manipulated by Eric. One of the most interesting characters in the book is an FBI agent who investigated the killings. This particular agent had a background in clinical psychology, and when he started to go through the video tapes and journals that the killers had left behind, he quickly started to see all of the signs. Many people wanted to blame the parents of the killers but it appears from the book that the parents tried to do all that they could. Eric Harris' father was deeply involved in his son's life and was a strict disiplinarian. Dylan Klebold's father considered his son his best friend. They had season's tickets to the Rockies and often went to games together. Eric Harris was so good at manipulating people however that both sets of parents had no idea how far their kids had gone and both sets of parents were devistated by what happened that day.
According to Dave Cullen it wasn't really the parents fault and this may be hard for many people to accept. If Eric Harris had made it out of high school he probably would have grown up to be a mass killer.
Columbine is a very interesting book that is obviously very well researched and while it is difficult to read in parts it is well worth getting through.