Columbine by Dave Cullen – A Review

cover of the book columbine by dave cullen

Following the last book review about Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing, I wanted to share this book. It is also the anniversary of that tragic day, 18 Earth years. The second that I stepped onto this planet, I heard about Columbine. I imagine that every human being living in the United States has also heard about it, as well as humans in many other countries. It was one of the first widely reported school shootings, and as such it was followed by the entire country together.
Dave Cullen was a reporter who went to Columbine High School shortly after the shooting, and covered it live. He spent 10 years researching for this book, and developed PTSD and panic attacks because of it. He describes in the book how on site he collapsed behind a parked car at one point, in shock by the terror that had unfolded on that fateful day 18 years ago. Cullen’s research into the many myths and misreportings of the shooting are extremely important to understanding the causes and psychology of these shootings.
I read this book after “American Terrorist” simply because Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold aimed to duplicate McVeigh’s bombing of the Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma just four years earlier. But, according to excerpts from Harris’ diary reveal, they wanted leave a exponentially bigger body count. They hoped to detonate bombs within the school that would kill hundreds, and as the remaining students attempted to escape the building, Harris and Klebold would shoot each and every one of them in carefully devised overlapping fields of fire.
The true tragedy was the failure by law enforcement before and after the shooting. Cullen details not just one, but several encounters Eric Harris had with the police BEFORE April 20, 1999. Of these encounters, several indicated severe derangement and criminal intentions on Harris’ part. But he was a smooth talker, and was able to get off each and every time. Harris was the mastermind of the massacre, with Klebold his sidekick.
Cullen develops a profile of Harris that paints a truly terrifying portrait of a sociopath bent on destruction of human life. He thought of his fellow classmates, teachers, even his parents as insects, and of himself a god. Where his idol Timothy McVeigh was merely indifferent to loss of human life, Eric Harris was thirsty for it. He thought about it each and every day, and planned how to take as many people away from this Earth as he possibly could, before killing himself. The level of detail that Cullen goes into is on par with professional law enforcement profiling.
Dylan Klebold is also profiled by Cullen, and excerpts from his diary are also used. Klebold was not as bloodthirsty as Harris, but suffered from depression and social anxiety to a point that he did not care about anything. And that included his own death and the deaths of 13 other people, not to mention severe injuries of 21 others, and the destruction of hope and happiness for an entire city. Klebold had to be convinced several times throughout the planning and the perpetration, as Cullen relays. Often unsure of himself, and quick to second guess his decisions when they cause trouble, Harris was quick to use his forked tongue to whisper assurances in his ear.
But as I mentioned earlier, the real tragedy of this book is the failure of the authorities to both prevent this horrific event, and to deal with it appropriately and effectively. There were many opportunities for the police to hold Harris for charges as serious as attempted murder in the months and weeks before the shooting. But each time they were taken in by his charisma. If they had even just looked closer into Harris after these occurances, they would have been able to uncover any number of clues as to what was about to happen. But they did not.
And in the aftermath, instead of admitting this catastropic shortcomings and failures on their part, they attempted to them up. Even when it became quite clear that they should have done something, they refused to admit it.
And that is probably the scariest thing about all of it. Not only that people like Eric Harris are able to live among normal humans, but that they are able to convince those whose job it is to protect them that they are not dangerous. That professional law enforcement missed so many red flags, and that they looked the other way so many times, that Harris was able to purchase an arsenal of weapons and amunition and create pipe bombs, and end the lives of 13 people.
But you will have to make the determination yourself as to what blame, if any, law enforcement has in this situation. I certainly do not mean to condemn all law enforcement, or to in any way blame them for the deaths of those 13 people. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are the only two that were responsible for their murders.
This book should be read by those that are emotionally and mentally prepared for it. It is a devastating story, and it will stay with you long after you read it.


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