Genre: Non-Fiction

Notes: 23/50 Chilling, well-researched, and fascinating.  About time someone got it right

Review: While I don’t remember Columbine as well as others (I was in elementary school at the time), I still remember vague echoes of horror and a little tightening around my parents about sending my sister and I off to school.  In my mind, this is the first school shooting that really rattled America and made school seem like a battlefield rather than the safety it was supposed to provide.

I remember hearing about Cassie Bernall because I want to a small, evangelical Christian school, and they lived for modern day martyrs. Cullen debunks the rumor that “she said yes” about her faith in God before Eric Harris shot her in the face.  And you know what’s so great about this book?  There’s no malice.  Cullen didn’t set out to tear the rug out from under the Bernall family and prove their daughter didn’t die for her faith, as they hoped.  He just reported the facts as he understood them. There’s no shaming the community, the police response, or blaming the Harris or Klebold families for raising sons who murdered fellow classmates.  This account simply is.

Cullen presents a painstakingly researched account of what happened at Columbine that day in 1999, an attempt to explain why, and how the community struggled to rebuild and come to terms with what happened.

What

What exactly happened that day?  Or, really, what didn’t happen?  Columbine wasn’t just meant to be a school shooting, Eric and Dylan weren’t two loners who snapped at jocks, they weren’t a part of the Trench Coat Mafia, or any of the other silly rumors circling after the shooting.  It was a bombing gone wrong.  Eric and Dylan didn’t want to shoot specific students or have a hit list, they wanted to kill everyone.  When police and emergency personnel rushed to the scene, they wanted to blow up Dylan’s car to increase the body count even more.  The guns were merely to pick of stragglers picking their way out of the wreckage of a bombed school.

Cullen was a member of the media covering Columbine and they made serious leaps of faith with little facts and primarily contributed to the myths and rumors that surround Columbine to this day.  In my opinion, this was the first truly American strategy that played out on television with the 24/7 news machine.  Reporters constantly vamp and speculate when new information isn’t available in an attempt to keep the audience engaged.  The leaps they made were logical leaps but ultimately untrue.

Why

The first question people tend to ask when something like this happens is “Why?”  We need to know motive.  It helps us tie things into neat little packages.  We need a world that makes sense and follows rules.  Outcasts picked on one too many times fit the bill.  It made sense.  Sad, tragic, yes.  But unfathomable?  No.

Unfortunately, Eric and Dylan didn’t fit into these boxes.  The FBI’s assessment of Eric concluded that he was a psychopath.  He simply enjoyed killing.  There was no motive that prompted his killing.  He simply liked to watch people suffer.  He felt no empathy and very little emotion even though he could charm the pants off of any adult who felt any suspicion toward him.  Dylan simply hated his life and needed a direction – he followed Eric because it offered him a way out, it seems.

When I read this account, and I couldn’t help but think of the shooting in Aurora, CO in the movie theater of the Dark Knight Rises premiere. When I heard, I was disgusted and sad.  It hit me harder than I thought it would because my friends and I frequently see midnight premieres.  I wanted a motive.  Why would anyone do this?  What purpose does it serve?  But, unfortunately, I think reading this book gave me the answer.  He did it to do it.  Killing people was the motive, not the result. He likens himself to the Joker in the series.  Like Alfred said “some men just want to watch the world burn.”

How

The community, obviously rattled struggled for years to become normal again.  Long after the world stopped paying attention to them and long after (sadly) the nation really cared anymore.  There were lawsuits, angry parents, and students on suicide watch constantly.  Cullen’s interviews and portrayal of the principal, Mr. D, are refreshing. That man deserves a medal for taking care of his students as well as he did.

Eventually, the community reclaimed Columbine High School.  Even while today Columbine is synonymous with “school shooting,” students wanted their school back and shouted “We are..COL-um-BINE” to reclaim their identity and their pride. The world crushes us all, but they became stronger in the broken places, as Hemingway so gracefully puts it.

Bottom Line: Forget everything you thought you knew about Columbine.  This book isn’t depressing or gruesome or graphic.  It is just an attempt at an accurate account of that day and those involved. Highly recommend!

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