May 15, 2009

Psychotic Book Review: "Columbine" by Dave Cullen

Just in time for the tenth anniversary (of sorts) of the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado comes the book Columbine by journalist Dave Cullen. Cullen is considered a leading authority on the Columbine killers and this book proves beyond a doubt that somewhat dubious honor is absolutely correct.

Rather than labeling Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold as simply "killers", Cullen devotes a great portion of the book to them. Their backgrounds, their family lives and what drove them to commit such a terrible act give far greater insight into their dysfunctions and personality disorders than I have read to date.

Columbine is a well-written and well-researched account the events that day. Cullen takes the reader on a step-by-step accounting of what Harris and Klebold did, as well as their victims. He is quick to acknowledge that the Harris and Klebold families have been just as victimized as the 12 students and one teacher slain that day but does not absolve Harris and Klebold themselves of any guilt. The surviving families of the 12 students and teacher felled by Harris and Klebold are given a voice as well. Their day to day struggles after the tragedy are outlined, as well as the 20+ students who were injured but survived.

Columbine turns out the light on the well-reported story that Cassie Bernall became a martyr by declaring her allegiance to God before she was executed without sullying her reputation or those of her family. Columbine also gives focus to teacher Dave Sanders who heroic actions that day have never gotten enough press, in my opinion. Mr. Sanders could have left the school with a group of students he safely saw out but instead returned to attempt to save others and lost his life in the process. The horror of him bleeding to death over the more than three hours following his shooting and the SWAT team's entering the school is as painful to me at this moment as when I read it.

What shocked me the most about Columbine was how terribly the media changed the public's perception on Columbine and the perpetrators. Despite popular belief, Harris and Klebold weren't bullied (in fact, they just as often did the bullying), they weren't longtime friends, they weren't members of a so-called "Trenchcoat Mafia" and they weren't both psychotics hellbent on destruction. Eric Harris was, and descriptions of his website and journal writings are chilling - - but Dylan Klebold, up until the days before the attack, filled his journal with writings of love, desperately seeking what he felt was unattainable for him.

And so Columbine left me deeply saddened. Saddened that 15 lives (including those of Harris and Klebold) were lost, ruthlessly, maddeningly and without reason. Saddened that the local authorities as well as counselors and therapists had been alerted to Harris' growing psychopathy and yet he was not stopped. Saddened that Dylan Klebold himself reported Eric Harris and his violent and threatening website and no action was taken. Saddened that, in my view, Dylan Klebold may have been able to have been saved.

If not read for the fine journalism and reporting, Columbine should be read as a cautionary tale. A cautionary tale of a teenage psychotic who finagled and finessed his way out of every situation, who was so depraved he wanted the human race to be obliterated and whose eventual "kinship" with an angry depressive led to a violent explosion that stole 15 lives and forever tainted Columbine High School.


becomingkate said...

Excellent review! I will keep my eyes peeled for this one. Such a tragedy! We had a copy-cat killing in Alberta, quite soon after if I remember correctly.

starviego said...

You are still being lied to. Big time. If you want to find out what really happened at Columbine I suggest you read what the eyewitnesses had to say:

Lori Johnston said...

starviego, have your read the book? Dave Cullen addresses some of the issues your link provides. Many of the eyewitnesses were traumatized teenagers who had just witnessed friends and classmates being fired upon and executed. I'm not saying they were all incorrect but witness testimonies are often jaded by outside factors and thte stress of the event affecting them. Further, Mr. Cullen found that the so-called Trenchcoat Mafia was not involved and friends and acquaintances of Harris' and Klebold's were investigated and found to have played no direct part in the attack.
What purpose would Dave Cullen have to lie about it? He's reporting the facts, he's not a family member, not personally affected by the tragedy.
I doubt we will know every factor that took place that day, or led up to the events, but I think Cullen's book tells the best story, at least to date.

Lori Johnston said...

becoming kate - I hope you find the book as well written as I did. I do warn you, however, that I found it so "heavy" at times that I had to put it down.