Sunday, April 25, 2010

Because this is worth repeating...

In this remarkable account of the April 20, 1999, Columbine High School shooting, journalist Cullen not only dispels several of the prevailing myths about the event but tackles the hardest question of all: why did it happen? Drawing on extensive interviews, police reports and his own reporting, Cullen meticulously pieces together what happened when 18-year-old Eric Harris and 17-year-old Dylan Klebold killed 13 people before turning their guns on themselves. The media spin was that specific students, namely jocks, were targeted and that Dylan and Eric were members of the Trench Coat Mafia. 


According to Cullen, they lived apparently normal lives, but under the surface lay an angry, erratic depressive (Klebold) and a sadistic psychopath (Harris), together forming a combustible pair. They planned the massacre for a year, outlining their intentions for massive carnage in extensive journals and video diaries. Cullen expertly balances the psychological analysis—enhanced by several of the nation's leading experts on psychopathology—with an examination of the shooting's effects on survivors, victims' families and the Columbine community. Readers will come away from Cullen's unflinching account with a deeper understanding of what drove these boys to kill, even if the answers aren't easy to stomach.

Dave Cullen's Columbine was one of my favorite reads last year and the most powerful.

Columbine had every reason to affect me on a personal level. In 1999, I was a senior in high school in a suburb northeast of Pennsylvania with a socio-economic background similar to Columbine High School. Parts of the campus look eerily similar. In fact from the aerial shots of the school, the two biggest differences between my high school and Columbine is the amount of windows (our school had none) and the mountains in Colorado.

One of the victims, though completely unrelated to me shared my last name. And like me, she was also a senior, captain of the swim, and taking an identical load of classes. After the shootings, students in my high school, students who were ignorant, insensitivie, and simply immature, wore trench coats to school, called in fake bomb threats from payphones on campus hoping to get a day off from school, and several kids made an effort to point out every eerie similarity between my life and the life of the girl who died in Colorado.

Last year when a shark in my office mentioned how good it was and waved a copy of Columbine in front of me, I had to borrow it. I spent two consecutive nights up too late reading and rereading certain chapters, I have to believe, while it does affect me on a personal level, it should have the same affect on anyone, even those who are too young to really remember Columbine when it happened.

Columbine is now out in paperback with new material, including a 12-page afterword: "Forgiveness." Vignettes on three victims in very different places eleven years later, and the central role "forgiveness" played in their recovery. Plus startling new revelations about the killers' parents and discussion questions.

As a former high school teacher, students, teacher, and administrators should all read and talk about this book.  Prevention starts with awareness.

9 comments:

Lisa Desrochers said...

A great post and a great book.

Ann Marie Wraight said...

I'm an English Teacher and had an experience with teens and violence about 13 years ago which shocks me still when I think about it...

I was working once a week at the time in a language Institute owned by a friend of mine. In Greece, Carnival Time is celebrated at the end of February/beginning of March.
It was the last lesson when 5 tall boys wearing black masks and long capes entered a colleagues classroom - all of them brandishing VERY REAL and LARGE carving knives. Two of the boys pushed the teacher and told her to sit down in the chair; they stood guard over her standing behind her with the knives close to her face.
The other three boys went to their 'target,' a boy they knew had a lesson at that time - and we later discovered had been bullied and threatened by this gang on numerous occasions. This terrified child was dragged out of the classroom and several of the other kids in the class started to scream. The School Owner was then alerted and called the police. I came out of my classroom to see what all the noise was about and saw these five masked boys holding weapons and flanking another boy out of the school. My first thought, as the other teachers later told me, was that this was some kind of prank or perhaps carnival pantomime due to the time of year. These 5 kids were as cool as cucumbers and showed NOT the SLIGHTEST FEAR at all...

When we were informed some minutes later, nobody who had been outside the classroom could believe it!
My friend and colleague who had been threatened quit the same evening and since that time has only tutored privately.
You can imagine how she felt.

I will definitely read this book as I have seen bullying and violence in my professional life which - even though nobody has been murdered, has traumatised and terrified people I know and respect.

THANK YOU for the POST and the information about the book!

Just Your Typical Book Blog said...

Thank you for the reminder that this book is one I need to pick up ASAP. Throughout high school I read a few books that were put out. I have a feeling this one is going to give me chills and bring me to tears.

Justine said...

There's a book about Columbine? I was just studying it in English class last week and we had to write about it. I must read this book. Thanks for the heads up :)

Indigo said...

Thanks for the reminder. I wanted to pick this one up and seem to have forgotten about it. It's now bookmarked. (Hugs)Indigo

Suzette Saxton said...

Interesting story, Ann Marie. I grew up in Littleton so this hits close to home. I will definitely read it.

Dave Cullen said...

Thanks for the kind words on my book. I really do appreciate that.

(I think I missed the post while I was in NYC for the Edgars. That was fun.)

An expanded paperback edition is just out. I spent a lot of time on the new material, so I hope it's OK to mention what I added:

— A 12-page afterword: “Forgiveness.” It includes startling new revelations on the killers' parents. The purpose, though, was to look at three victims in very different places 11 years later, and how forgiving played a pivotal role in their grief. I discovered the secret meetings with the killers' parents in the process.

— Actual journal pages from Eric Harris & Dylan Klebold.

— Book Club Discussion Questions (also available at Oprah.com).

— Diagram of Columbine High School and environs.

— A large-print edition is also now available.

And because of the interest from students and teachers/profs, we’ve created lesson plans and I’m doing phone-ins or skype to book clubs.

There's lots more info at my Columbine site.

Thanks again.

kanishk said...

A great post and a great book.
indian classified site

Dave Cullen said...

Hey. I just ran across this review again, and it made me smile all over.

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Five Random Things About Suzie

1. I drink so much orange soda, it's probably running through my veins. I've been known to go through a twelve pack of diet sunkist in a day.

2. I'm legitimately nocturnal (or a vampire). I will be so exhausted at two pm that I'm falling asleep standing up - it has happened before, at Six Flags no less - but as soon as the sun goes down I'm wide awake.

3. I have a gorgeous unused $6000 Reem Acra wedding dress hanging in my closet, and it showed up on my doorstep the same day my (now ex) fiance broke up with me. And thank God for that. I wouldn't have wanted to waste that dress on him.

4. Social anxiety plagues me daily. I write a script and practice in front of the mirror when I have to make a phone call, but most people who interact with me have no idea how nervous I am (or perhaps they lie) because I've worked so hard to try to overcome it.

5. I'm actually worried that I will never love my children (when I do have them in the far off future) as much as I love my dogs. I just like animals better than people - they're sweet and innocent and soft and furry - is that so wrong?