On 20 April 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold carried out a plan of murder and suicide as they terrorized the students of Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colorado. The story of the two disturbed young men and their 13 victims occupied headlines and was told and retold in newspapers and periodicals for the better part of the year following the shootings. Even today saying "Columbine" has become a reference to a school shooting rather than the name of the high school. It is an indelible mark that the two young men made on the minds, hearts and souls not just of the citizens of Colorado, but of all the United States.
Dave Cullen in Columbine revisits the tragedy in a very erudite but accessible narrative. He has culled the reports of psychologists, FBI agents, Jeffco officials and interviews with students, parents and teachers. He reveals some of the myths and cover-ups that surrounded the reporting of this event and ensuing investigations as reported in main stream media. Cullen has relied extensively on the reports and investigations of FBI Supervisory Special Agent, Dwayne Fuselier and quotes him through the process of the investigation through the ensuing lawsuits. Cullen has an extensive section of notes at the end of the book that enlighten the reader as to where he had access to pieces of information. That section, the timeline of events, beginning in January 1997, the index, and acknowledgements give substantial credibility to this book.
In an interesting style, Cullen interweaves events before the tragedy with the actual events of April 20th and the months and years after that horrendous day. He takes a theme or an emotion and fully describes it in relation to the different time periods. In this way he allows the reader to understand more fully the cause, event, and effect.
With every incident of school shooting in the United State, the public has grappled with what motivates a shooter. Certainly, there must be a profile. Cullen concludes with studies from the FBI and Secret Service (p. 322) that there is NO profile. The only common trait to the time of the study was that the shooters were 100 % male. They were not loners, nor did they "snap."
In April, at the school from which I retired, we embraced the ideals of Rachel's Challenge, named for the first victim of the Columbine shootings. As a school community we committed ourselves to work together to keep such a tragedy from occurring here. It is imperative that we listen to each other and not be afraid to voice concern when students may be troubled. Dylan and Eric were masterful at saying and doing the "right thing" when in counseling or dealing with their parents and friends. Teachers, counselors, and friends need to be vigilant to be able to read through this façade.
This is a powerful book and recommended to adults and students alike. May we never have to bear witness to another such tragedy.