“The tragedies keep coming. As we reel from the latest horror . . . ” So begins a new epilogue, illustrating how Columbine became the template for nearly two decades of “spectacle murders.” It is a false script, seized upon by a generation of new killers. In the wake of Newtown, Aurora, and Virginia Tech, the imperative to understand the crime that sparked this plague grows more urgent every year.
What really happened April 20, 1999? The horror left an indelible stamp on the American psyche, but most of what we “know” is wrong. It wasn’t about jocks, Goths, or the Trench Coat Mafia. Dave Cullen was one of the first reporters on scene, and spent ten years on this book-widely recognized as the definitive account. With a keen investigative eye and psychological acumen, he draws on mountains of evidence, insight from the world’s leading forensic psychologists, and the killers’ own words and drawings-several reproduced in a new appendix. Cullen paints raw portraits of two polar opposite killers. They contrast starkly with the flashes of resilience and redemption among the survivors.
This book took me through so many emotions. Those who remember the tragedy unfolding first hand, as well as those less aware will find the events related to the shootings at Columbine High School to be well documented in this book.
The author, Dave Cullen, did an excellent job presenting the timeline of events through the lens of an observer as well as from the perspective of the two boys, the victims, the community, media, and law enforcement personnel. I can’t imagine the amount of time and research put into the collecting the testimonials and subject matter never mind deciding how to approach, organize, and give clear, unpersuaded perspective to the story. The writing elements were somewhat journalistic in style with a straightforward manner, yet incorporated real time language with unstructured, unfiltered prose. At the same time, the author managed to explore the complexities and depth of human thought, bringing forth reasoning and reconciliation to each viewpoint.
For myself, this book has more impact on me from a relational standpoint. Remembering exactly where I was at the time it happened (20 years ago now) with teachers at school relaying a carefully worded message, being let out of class early, continuing to watch the news at home, all the conflicting reports, so many conversations taking place, discussions about what-ifs, prevention strategies being thought out and put in the place, the possibility of copycats, everyone internalizing their own suspicion of students who wore black trench coats and those who had concerning emotional disturbances in my own school, they were really brought to the forefront of my mind as I read this book. The shock, the horrific imagery, the confusion, the questions, as it were unfolding again in real time. I did have to put it down for several days about half way through to allow myself to process it all.
I was really surprised at the myths that were dispelled and the amount of information that I was completely unaware of. From contradictory reports of what was happening as it took place, to significant discussion of nature vs nurture, they were all outlined in great detail.
I feel like reading this book brought some closure for me in some ways. I don’t think I realized my own grief and the impact on my life at the time. Certain aspects brought on a sense of high school nostalgia for me and it was met with deep compassion for those who suffered from the horror. I really appreciated the writer’s effort to bring honor to the victims and not glorify or sensationalize the evil acts.