While I have been in the mood to read these past couple of weeks, I have just not felt like I have had the time to completely escape into a literary world; there has been too much real world happening. On Saturday morning, however, I discovered that my local library finally had my copy of Columbine ready for pick up. Since my lesson plans are up to date and it is too early in the semester to begin grading papers, I picked up the book before noon and immediately became engrossed in the ten-year documentary.
I am not quite sure why I have such a fascination for this subject matter. Some of you may recall one of my first reviews being Wally Lamb's The Hour I First Believed. I had mixed feelings about that novel, wishing the author had focused more on the Columbine storyline and less on the ancestral heritage. After reading my review, several suggested that I read We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, which I did and thoroughly enjoyed - although in a haunting sort of way. When I learned that Dave Cullen had written a non-fiction book which chronicled the last 10 years since Columbine, I immediately put my name on the library list. Apparently it has been quite popular as I had to wait nearly 5 months to read it. I must say it did not disappoint.
I am in awe of the amount of tedious research that Mr. Cullen had to cull through in order to coherently write this 350 page summary of the events leading up to the massacre, as well as the investigation that took the better part of a decade to complete. Dave Cullen is a journalist and his instinct to sift through the 25,000 pages of data for the hard-hitting, significant details is exemplary. His crisp, to-the-point writing style is a pleasure to read. However, what truly sets this book apart from the others that I have read on this subject is that the author attempts to tell us WHY this event happened; a question that many of us have pondered since April 20, 1999. There were so many inaccuracies that were leaked in the early hours and days after the event that the truth was difficult to discern.
We remember Columbine as a pair of outcast Goths from the Trench Coat Mafia snapping and tearing throughout their high school hunting down jocks to settle a long-running feud. Almost none of that happened. No Goths, no outcasts, nobody snapping. No targets, no feud, and no Trench Coat Mafia. Most of those elements existed at Columbine - which is what gave them such currency. They just had nothing to do with the murders. The lesser myths are equally unsupported: no connection to Marilyn Manson, Hitler's birthday, minorities, or Christians. --- page 149Contrary to what many of us believed, these boys did not seek revenge on a predetermined "hit list" but rather they had planned to kill anyone and everyone. Dylan was extremely depressed and suicidal. Eric hated the entire human race and had dreams of annihilating us all. Several professionals in the mental health field believe that he was a classic psychopath.
Ten years afterward, Eric still baffled the public, which insisted on assessing his motives through a "normal" lens. Eric was neither normal nor insane. Psychopathy (si-COP - uh- thee) represents a third category. Psychopathic brains don't function like those in either of the other groups, but they are consistently similar to one another. Eric killed for two reasons: to demonstrate his superiority and to enjoy it. ---- page 239While the book is relatively short, it is quite comprehensive. Not only does it chronicle the events leading up to April 20, 1999 - beginning with the all school assembly the Friday before warning the students to have a safe Prom weekend, but is also gives background information on the planned attack beginning in January, 1997. Interspersed throughout the narrative timeline is the ongoing investigation after the massacre that took literally years to complete. Some of the injured victims are followed over the years and their recovery, coupled with their forgiving spirits, are an inspiration.
This is a book that has shaken me to the core. While we have a better idea as to why this happened - there is still the ever-present thought this could happen anywhere at any time. We as a nation have learned a lot from Columbine and have implemented many safe standards for schools to follow. The loophole in the gun laws have been plugged and suburban America is no longer naive in thinking it is immune to violent attacks. In some ways it is hard to believe that 10 years has passed since that tragic event, but in other ways the memory is still quite vivid.
One of the final chapters of the book begins:
The fifth-anniversary commemoration drew a smaller audience than expected. The crowds had grown progressively smaller each year, but the school foresaw a bigger bump for this milestone. Nearly everyone was pleased by the light turnout. It meant people had moved on.While I agree that the survivors have been through enough and it is time to let them live in peace - I truly hope that we as a nation never forget Columbine and will continue to give special thought and prayer each April 20, for if we do not take the time to remember history we are doomed to repeat it.
Many survivors began to think in terms of how many events were let to slog through. Only two remained now: the ten-year and the dedication of the memorial. Surely they wouldn't have to come back in twenty. --- page page 338
If you are interested in reading more information about this book and the resources used in writing it, please visit the author's website.