Monthly Archives: September 2009

“Columbine” by Dave Cullen


Although most teens likely have no firsthand memory of the April 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, they've undoubtedly heard of the tragedy. 13 people were killed and dozens more injured when a pair of seniors, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, stormed their school with guns and bombs before ultimately killing themselves. In gripping detail, author / journalist Dave Cullen's phenomenal book "Columbine" recounts the events of that awful day and the years of botched investigation that followed it. Just as powerfully, drawing on a decade of research and their own harrowing personal journals, he provides stunning insight into the killers' mindsets in the years leading up to the attack. Along the way, Cullen explodes many of the myths that reigned in the popular press, including that the boys were bullied outcasts, the county sheriff's office had no warning, and the slain evangelical proudly affirmed her faith before being shot.

I approached "Columbine" fearing it would be a dry, perhaps stale book documenting a horrific day of violence. I could not have been more wrong. It reads like a fictional thriller, with a frenetic pace and page after page of shocking — and sometimes truly disturbing — revelations. It's impossible not to be gripped while reading passages from Eric Harris' cold, angry journal, but Cullen expertly places his and Klebold's writings into a larger context. What emerges is a complex portrait of a psychopathic personality leading a depressive friend into unspeakable violence, all in a calculated, painstakingly planned manner. This is chilling stuff.

The poorly executed rescue, during which teacher Dave Sanders bled to death awaiting help, and the years of cover-ups by the sheriff's office add greater depth to the story, as we see exactly what went wrong and why it was never revealed. Cullen also had access to several of the survivors and some family members of the victims, so the investigative aspect of the book is always balanced by the human side, reminding us who paid the heaviest price for these killers' actions. Cullen's depiction of Danny Rohrbough's father, whose pain and anger eventually found an outlet in extremist politics, is especially searing.

I strongly recommend "Columbine" to parents, educators, librarians — anyone who works with teenagers. I also think teens themselves will find this an extraordinary, incredibly moving book with a lasting impact.

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Posted by on September 17, 2009 in Uncategorized


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