by Dave Cullen
Nikki’s Rating: 10 out of 10
Summary: Journalist David Cullen looks intensely at the events that occurred April 20, 1999 at Columbine high school when two boys showed up to school with bombs and guns. Based on hundreds of interviews, thousands of pages of police files, and the boys’ own diaries and video recordings, Cullen pieces together how the tragedy unfolded and how Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold came to be cold-blooded killers.
10 Crucial Things about Dave Cullen’s Columbine
(May Contain Spoilers)
1. Correcting Mistakes
One of the biggest tragedies that occurred after the violence of Columbine ended was the neverending misinformation that spread like wildfire through the media. Sadly, many people do not realize that what was publicized during the months after Columbine was far from the truth as the media does not wait for thorough investigations and research. Dave Cullen’s Columbine attempts to correct these mistakes and reveal the astonishing truth of what happened that day, events that led up to it and the aftermath.
Dave Cullen is considered the nation’s foremost authority on the Columbine killers and it is because of the meticulous research he has done and it shows in Columbine. Not only has he studied the thousands of pages from police reports and files, he conducted interviews with other people in the community, including friends and family members of Eric and Dylan. Cullen includes an extensive “Bibliography” at the end of Columbine and has links to many of them on his website to further solidify his claims and verify the facts he presents in his book.
3. The Boys
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were portrayed in the media as outcasts who were part of the “Trench Coat Mafia” and were bullied since they didn’t fit in. The shooting on April 20th, 1999 was viewed as revenge for the boys and that they were specifically targeting jocks and popular kids. The boys actually had a sizable group of friends, were not being bullied but rather there is evidence that they may have been bullies themselves, and they always had multiple social engagements each week. Eric and Dylan were not part of the social group clique known as the Trench Coat Mafia, they simply wore trench coats on the day of the shooting to help conceal their firearms. And lastly, the boys were never targeting specific people, Columbine was not a mass shooting but a failed bombing. Their purpose was to take out as many people as they could before they died, the goal was not revenge but rather a “fuck you” to the world and the system. To put it in perspective, they were meant to carry out their bombing on April 19th, the anniversary of the Waco raid and the Oklahoma bombing. Thankfully, Eric was not competent at making bombs.
Consulting and interviewing renowned psychologists who have also viewed and studied the boys’ diaries and video tapes, Cullen presents their consensus that Eric Harris was a psychopath. In Columbine, Cullen includes studies and facts about psychology and psychopaths and does an amazing job of showing evidence that Eric Harris fits the profile of a psychopath.
Throughout Columbine, Dave Cullen shows the utmost respect to everyone he mentions. Whether parents’ of the killers or the victims, Cullen is respectful, never placing blame or that their reactions are unwarranted or over the top. Cullen also omitted names when necessary either by his own discretion or being asked to do so by the person. Cullen also reminds readers that only top officials were involved and complacent in the police cover-up surrounding Columbine, maintaining the integrity of the force as a whole.
6. Facts Only
Insinuations and unsupported theories are not seen in Dave Cullen’s Columbine. Even surrounding the interviews done under oath with the Harrises, which will not be made public until 2027, Cullen does not hint at anything he thinks may be revealed. He gives facts and keeps his own biases and judgments out of the book.
Probably one of the most powerful elements that Dave Cullen shares in Columbine is the many ways that the community came together to heal from the tragedy of Columbine. Cullen shares a look of the multiple public dedications and memorials that happened in response but also includes the small things that individual victims were doing for themselves to heal.
As healing can take time, Cullen also shares how the victims and/or their families are doing ten years later. It is amazing that the principal that was there during Columbine, stayed in his job and actually reaches out to other principals who have a shooting at their school. Or that some of the victims and their families were able to forgive Eric and Dylan and their families as well, regardless of the pain and suffering they caused. It is really a testament to how strong the human spirit can be, no matter what we go through.
The tragedy of Columbine did cause some changes to policies and laws, although this reader will say that gun laws are still ridiculously lax no matter how many mass shootings our country experiences. Regardless, Cullen brings up some of the changes Columbine caused such as the Zero Tolerance many schools now follow, which seem to not be helpful as it usually involves kids just blowing off steam, which led both the FBI and the Secret Service to publish reports to help faculty identify serious threats. In 2003, “The Active Shooter Protocol” that was released in response to Columbine that now mandates the objective is to take out the shooters at any cost instead of creating a perimeter and waiting for SWAT.
Columbine was written very well especially in regards to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. While he mentions other killers who were inspired by Harris and Klebold, Dave Cullen did not write the book in a way that glorified the killers. But just as important, Cullen does not crucify Eric and Dylan. He presents facts and shows ways that systems failed to prevent the tragedy, such as the police not investigating complaints and concerns about Eric Harris making pipe bombs and how easy it was for the boys to attain guns, but Cullen doesn’t put the blame on all one person or system. Cullen does a great job of humanizing both Eric and Dylan, reminding readers that while they made their decisions and are therefore responsible for their actions, there are elements that society is responsible for to help prevent these tragedies.