It’s been ten years since Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris stormed Columbine High School in Jefferson County, Colorado, and killed thirteen people. Dave Cullen has just published the definitive book on the crime titled simply “Columbine”. I read through it in less than a day.
Ten years after an event the key part of any retelling of a story is often a reevaluation of facts that we thought we knew: that Harris and Klebold were outsiders, that they targeted jocks and popular kids, that they were part of the trenchcoat mafia, that Cassie Bernall said she believed in God before being shot. Cullen’s task is to deconstruct those myths, most of which were planted by the instant media that surrounded the event, and try to triangulate toward the truth.
Cullen argues forcefully for the thesis that Harris was a psychopath and Klebold was mostly a follower when it came to the actual planning and killing. Klebold was definitely disturbed and depressive but he was more confused by life than actively hating everyone. Klebold’s journals show a painfully shy young man trying to find understanding and love in the world, being rejected and then fatally falling into the orbit of Harris who truly did want to destroy as many people as he could. All of this is supported by the journals and diaries Cullen reviewed.
I already had some inkling that Harris and Klebold were disturbed but I was surprised by the initial plans Harris had made to explode two large bombs in the cafeteria commons in the hope of killing the maximum number of people and then setting two more bombs to explode in the parking lot after the police and paramedics had arrived to kill another wave of victims. Harris was seriously disturbed.
There are some who see the hand of Satan at work in the Columbine killings. Colorado was, and continues to be a hotbed of evangelical Christianity, where the story of Cassie Bernall affirming her faith before death was just too good to pass up. To others it is a case of a psychopath and his companion going on a rampage of death. I think the latter explanation is a bit more comforting, but it still leaves a hole.