The Columbine High School massacre took place on April 20, 1999 in Columbine, Colorado. It has been almost 15 years since the lives of 12 students and 1 teacher were taken, yet what this book shows is that there are still many misconceptions about what happened leading up to the massacre, what happened at the school that day, and what has happened since then. Even though Dave Cullen, a respected journalist, is a part of the world of media, he makes it very clear that the media is, in part, very much to blame for these misconceptions.
If you can remember back to the day of the massacre, then you might remember that much of the day’s events unfolded live on national television. Videos of kids running from buildings with their hands on their heads or a video of a kid falling/jumping out of a library window might come to mind. Listening to this book caused me to remember these images and I found that these videos are still readily available on the Internet as well as many other videos or photos, some rather disturbing. I was pretty horrified to find that there is a video game out there that essentially walks through the events of the massacre or a very similar massacre with Dylan and Eric (the actual killers of the Columbine massacre) as the killers in this video game. I was also traumatized (in a “I can’t look but I gotta” kind of way) to see that there are 2 or 3 photos of Dylan and Eric’s dead bodies available on the Internet.
Why did they do it? As the story of this massacre was unfolding, many theories as to who these boys were and why they did this were turned into fact without much evidence to back it up, only the momentum of the mob mentality. Some noted that they were wearing trench coats, which they were, so they must have been members of the trench coat mafia, which they weren’t. Some told that they were killing as a reaction to bullying, which after looking through what became known as “the basement diaries” didn’t seem to be the case. Dave Cullen looked through these diaries and interviewed many people who knew the boys and concluded that the explanation for why they did it could be explained but that didn’t necessarily mean that it made sense. Dylan showed signs of depression and Eric showed classic signs of being a psychopath. The depression and the psychopathy help to explain a bit as to what these boys were dealing with but doesn’t necessarily explain their motivation. According to Cullen, he learned from the diaries that the two boys wanted to terrorize not only the school but the whole country by topping even the Oklahoma City bombing. By placing bombs throughout the school, their goal was to kill thousands. The bombs didn’t work and so their plan B was to kill students with their guns. Essentially, they didn’t care who they killed as long as they killed.
How can we prevent massacres like this in the future? This is an important question but becomes dangerous when it turns into the questions Who is to blame? and How could the Columbine massacre have been prevented? I am not sure that Cullen really fully answers how the initial question should be answered but he definitely writes about how the blame and guilt can be very detrimental. A lot of people blamed the parents of the two boys to the point where the minister who performed the funeral for one of the boys was eventually kicked out of his parish for doing so and being there for the parents and the family. Cullen tells other stories about how many of the families of victims and some of survivors have fallen apart due to all of the stress and guilt that came following the massacre. Many more lives were affected than those of the 13 people who lost their lives that day.
I would say that the main thing that I got from the book is that what we hear, see or read about events that happen, whether in our backyard, across the country or across the world, should be received very warily. In a world where a simple game of telephone can be transmitted all over the world in mere minutes, we need to know that we are likely not getting the full story. I feel like Cullen is also saying that we need to remember that whether saint or a psychopath that we are all human beings with feelings and imperfections and that a little bit of compassion goes a long way.
As this book is a departure from most books that I read, I have some difficulty saying to whom I would recommend this book. I was not 100% happy with the narrator as his tone was overly somber and dramatic, and since the topic itself was already very somber and dramatic the added tone seemed excessive. The book was very informative and did help to give a clearer picture of what happened in Columbine, Colorado.