Listened: Columbine by David Cullen, 2009, Overdrive.com download.
How to distill the book into a sentence? No one knew what the hell was going on. Before the murders. During the murders. After the murders. Then, as one person told a killer's parent, Dylan isn't here anymore to hate, people are going to hate you ." That blame extended far and wide, whether it was valid or not.
Cullen's work on this is stupendous. The book is detailed and shows his involvement from the first 911 call to the last lawsuit. I did not want to stop listening to the book. When I did stop I did not want to restart because the story is so distressing to hear.
Cullen tells the tale in pieces. The time in the school from first shot to police finding the bodies was about four hours. Cullen alternates the story of those four hours with the long aftermath. And it's the aftermath of an event like this that takes a toll. Family and friends are left behind with varying levels of PTSD, survivor guilt, rage, and despair.
Cullen strikingly dispels the one major myth that lasted in my mind: Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were not bullied outsiders. Heck, when looking from the outside at Eric and Dylan's school records and social behavior they were both great kids. Both were very smart with good grades. They held jobs outside of school. They had a wide group of friends and Eric was a ladies man. Their families were stable. They happily participated in school activities like stage plays and they really enjoyed bowling and watching baseball.
The truth of the shooters is that Eric was a psychopath and Dylan was a depressive. Both were bullies to their fellow students. Both went on late night "raids" to vandalize the homes of other students who they disliked or considered weak. Both had legal trouble including a felony vehicle burglary.
The Jefferson County Sheriff's Department comes in for A LOT of criticism for their reaction during the attack and parts of the ensuing investigation. But, the detectives who ran the investigation were right on the freaking mark. They had search warrants for the Klebold and Harris homes before the SWAT teams entered the school. The investigation of a mass murder is equally massive.
I won't try to summarize the book. Here are some (reorganized) notes I made while listening.
Anarchy and panic during the shooting, how do the Police fight it and organize? Standard police policy at the time was containment. The shooters did not need containing, they were there to kill. Cops on the scene were incredibly frustrated because they were not allowed to assault the school. SWAT teams were not allowed in. Denver PD and other larger agencies were chomping at the bit and complaining about the po-dunk command decisions by Jeff County Sheriff Dep.
Part of the panic is rumor. What to believe? How to act with so much conflicting information? The shooting lasted for four hours with rumors passing along the airwaves with cell phone calls everywhere and on live TV. Cops pleading to tv stations to not release student locations on air for fear of shooters using the information.
Hostage takers versus thrill killers. Hostage takers are safer to deal with. They have a goal and will keep the hostages safe to reach the goal. Non-hostage takers are shooters, they want victims. They want control. Non-hostage takers are more emotional and irrational.
[My thought: Lucky that Eric and Dylan did not have rifles. I think the short barreled shotguns and pistol caliber weapons meant some people lived.] Students also fortunate that the many bombs Eric and Dylan brought in failed to ignite. Dylan himself did not shoot much, he was there to die. Eric shot a fair amount but, seemingly, got bored as psychopaths tend to do.
One buddy of Eric and Dylan went to the police command post in worry and was cuffed. Other friends knew it was a bad time to be their pals. Many students saw Eric and Dylan and identified them. Reporters keyed on "trench coat mafia" and students said all sorts of nonsense about goth and gay and everything. Even now those rumors stick with me.
Cullen gives a full primer in the physical and emotional reactions of victims. Many were unable to cry, were emotionally shut down. Afterwards tears and sobs would erupt from nowhere for days.
National media microscope. Principal Frank getting conflicting advice on his own public behavior and how to help the kids.
Fundamentalist Christianity was a big deal in Jefferson County. Spontaneous student prayer groups would form. The whole story of Cassie Bernall's story was pushed and promoted by several pastors and the press took a hold of the tale. The story of Cassie "saying 'yes'"was all a mistake anyway, told by a survivor who was confused and terrified during the attack. One pastor spoke about how he "smelled Satan" there in Jeff County (Huh?) and then ranted on about trench coats and goth makeup.
The weirdness of PTSD. Some students were deeply effected but out of building at the time. Others saw the shootings but recovered quickly.
Reporters deserve credit for disbelievig the gay rumors that were spreading all over. They did fall for the goth and Marilyn Manson baloney.
Sheriff Dep Criticism:
Blatant lies by the Jeff County sheriff's office. Brooks Brown's was bullied and threatened by Eric and his family complained about Eric Harris to the Sheriffs office for over a year. They called 15 times. Brown family had printed out pages from Eric's website detailing his threats to Brooks and bragging about vandalism "missions". JeffCo outright lied about the contact and the Sheriff linked Brooks to the killer's and said he was an accomplice. Sheriff investigators had drafted a complete and convincing affidavit for a search warrant for Eric to find bomb and bomb materials but never got the warrant. Eric had been experimenting with devices and timers. JeffCo lied about it all. Sheriff himself started rumors and falsely confirmed others when talking to the press.
The cover-up about investigating Harris was much, much worse than the error. They held a secret meeting to discuss ass-covering and hiding information. They lied about the previous affidavit and all investigations into Eric.
Eric and Dylan:
Eric wanted to terrorize outside the event - terrorize the nation or world. Columbine was meant as a public performance. He aimed at a high profile target and one that was his oppressor. The failed bombs had meant his intentions were completely missed. He came off as an angry loner.
Eric was a charming and skilled psychopath. Psychopaths enjoy lying. Tricking people is enjoyable, authorities are to be manipulated. Dylan did not try like Eric did. He was intending suicide anyway. He was shining Eric on about their murder plans.
Eric tricked his court appointed counselor in the post-felony diversion program. His personal interaction and written work was aimed for his audience. He would give so much - he was guilty, he feels awful - he masked his emotions and pretended. He had few emotions anyway. Interesting comment that psychopaths who get treatment become worse; psychology counseling is a training ground to improve lying and deception.
The body count would have been higher but this was a fun event for them - not a body count. They got bored and wandered around. They tried to set-off the dud bombs and gave up.
Both sets of parents looked out for their kids. They protected their kids. Wayne Harris did not believe any of his kids misbehavior as that bad. Wayne kept strict discipline in house and thought Eric was improving and changing his behavior.
Dylan was very depressed and suicidal. Boozing as self treatment. A rare suicide who takes it out on others. Eric used him as a tool. Eric just wanted to kill and planned and prepared for over a year.
kids were good liars. No. Eric was an excellent liar. Judge bought it
all, especially with supportive families there and both kids dressed
properly and contrite, respectful.
Eric was a true psychopath. He killed to demonstrate his superiority and to enjoy it. People meant nothing to him.
was lucky to have the skilled and experience psychologist with them. The final report was damn
lucky to have him living there and responding to the emergency.
nice primer on psychopaths and history of the science of it's study.
Emotions peak very low. Dogs have more empathy than psychopaths. Psychopaths get bored, even with murder. (That could explains BTKs long hibernation.)
guilt and PTSD. Staff and principal too. Many teachers reevaluated
lives and started new careers. Principal knew he was struggling but
still alienated family and divorced.
Plenty of lawsuits going around. Many combined in the federal court.
columbine reactions. Zero tolerance everywhere. Guides to identify
possible attackers focus on outsiders NOT being a treat. There is no
profile Shooters came from. All backgrounds. They are not loners and
98% planned it out