The Columbine High School Massacre is something I didn’t really look into even after watching Michael Moore’s documentary “Bowling for Columbine.” But during my senior year of college, my New Media Tech Comm professor assigned the class to code an online “monument” to mourn a tragedy. I choose Columbine and I’m glad I did. Ten years after the massacre, new facts and newly exposed myths came to light for me to use in my monument. I discovered Cassie Bernall was not killed because she told the killers she believed in God, Eric and Dylan were not part of the Trench Coat Mafia, and they were not bullied outcasts. I wanted to include their motivation for what they did in my project, and I was certain I got it right. The boys desired to be infamous (they wanted Quentin Tarantino to direct a film for their actions), and they were racist (they mocked Isaiah Shoels for his race before killing him).
I turned in my project, got an A, and was proud of myself for doing my research and finding out the truth.
And then I read Columbine by Dave Cullen and realized how horribly, disastrously wrong I was.
Ten years of research went into this book, and it could not be more obvious that Cullen poured his sweat, blood, and tears into it. The details are so painstaking that it reads like an actual novel. Not only does Cullen tell us about the massacre, he also includes who the victims were and what they did before they were killed or injured. They are the characters of their own story, and I grew to know them, became to attached to them, and often felt like weeping for them. Patrick Ireland’s battle to get out of the school after being shot in the head (and in the process having his half his body paralyzed), was especially chilling.
But those chills were nothing compared to the chills I got when I met the characters of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.
Many people already know that they were not bullied or outcasts, but a lot more popular than most of their peers. What few people do know is that Eric Harris was a full-fledged psychopath. Not insane, though. One thing I have grown to loathe is that people throw the words ‘madman,’ ‘crazy,’ ‘insane,’ and ‘psychopath’ around like they’re confetti, like they can be applied to people based on mere actions. An insane person is someone who hears voices, sees illusions, or whose rationality has become so warped that they can’t comprehend reality. Psychopaths on the other hand are a lot more sane than most people. In place of empathy and compassion, they are gifted with the ability to analyze such emotions and fake them. They come off very charming and likable when in reality “They can torture and mutilate their victims with about the same sense of concern that we feel when we carve a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.”
To a psychopath, a person is merely a means to an end. A thing. An object. A tool.
However, Eric was not a ‘regular psychopath.’ “Most psychopaths are non-violent. They want you money, not your life.” He was a sadistic psychopath consumed with an unending hatred for all of mankind. He dreamed of a world where nothing happened. Humanity was extinct and in its place was a black void. So why would he settle for a school shooting? Well, that’s another myth. He didn’t. Despite his dream he was practical. He knew he couldn’t make it come true so he decided to settle for topping the Oklahoma City Bombing as the worst terrorist attack in American history. That’s right. Bombing. School shootings had occurred before Columbine and Eric had contempt for them all. Columbine was supposed to be a bombing, not a shooting. In fact, here’s the three ‘acts’ of the killer’s plan.
Act 1: detonate homemade bombs set in the school.
Act 2: Use guns to pick off fleeing survivors.
Act 3: Drive cars filled with propane tanks to ram incoming paramedics, cops, reporters, onlookers, etc.
The bombs didn’t go off. But if they had, Eric would have topped the Oklahoma City Bombing.
Dylan on the other hand was the polar opposite of Eric. Outwardly, he was incredibly shy but prone to emotional explosions if you “tripped his fragile ego.” His journal entries paint a picture of an incredibly depressed individual with zero self-esteem. In the last months of his life, he gave up on everything. He couldn’t connect with other people and the girl he was in love with never noticed him. There was nothing to live for. Death was the only way out.
In the aftermath of Columbine, America decided that the way to prevent further school shootings was to expel/suspend students for “Columbine-like behavior.” This included playing cops and robbers, bringing nail clippers to school, starting anarchy clubs, and dying your hair blue. After reading Columbine, it made me want to laugh all the more hard. As Cullen points out, you don’t see psychopaths coming. Despite his website filled with hatred and his violent outbursts, Eric successfully manipulated his parents, his teachers, and his friends. He charmed his way through therapy after committing robbery and was released early with glowing reviews.
“Don’t look for the oddball out. Psychopaths don’t act like Hannibal Lecter or Norman Bates. They come off as Hugh Grant in his most adorable role.”
It is a disheartening revelation, and Cullen doesn’t mince words with it.
I cannot recommend this book enough. There are several more myths of Columbine that I have not included in this review, and while very bleak in a lot of parts, you will hear stories of heroism, survival, and forgiveness. 5 stars.
“Some men aren’t looking for anything logical. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”
–Alfred Pennyworth (The Dark Knight, 2008)