Sunday, June 21, 2009

Columbine, Dave Cullen

When I first saw this book this spring I immediately went to my "fingers-in-ears, la-la-la, I can't hear you or see you Law & Order defense mode". I have reached this point in my life where I just can't process or even remotely handle hearing about violent crimes. I run from the room when Law & Order or other graphic crime shows are on, especially true life news magazine shows. I think part of my problem is these images get stuck in my brain and make me paranoid. And then I end up having creepy dreams after watching or reading about this stuff.

But Columbine is something I vividly remember watching unfold on the news. I was 17 at the time and was very upset by it. Obviously it's a horrific crime but I think the fact that it occurred in a suburban high school is what made it so haunting to me (& of course, lots of other people). High school is such a universal experience and I didn't want to have to imagine that happening in my own life. I think because I remember that day so clearly I always end up clicking on Columbine articles when I come across them even though I'd rather not. Which leads me to this book.

It is depressing and dark and part of me is surprised that I kept reading it. I credit that fact that I kept reading to the author, Dave Cullen, who does an amazing job both in telling the story & exposing the many myths perpetuated in the media but at the same time telling the stories of survivors like Patrick Ireland ("the boy in the window" who has gone on to have an incredibly successful life).

I feel like this book did such a good job explaining everything. I knew a lot about Columbine (thanks to reading sporadically over the years) but was amazed but what I still didn't know. I was oddly relived to read the later parts of the book about the different families of the victims who have found some semblance of peace, about the principal, and about the FBI information for teachers about identifying risks. This book is powerful and completely draining to read. It was interesting to read interviews with Dave Cullen and learn that he suffered from secondary PTSD in the years since Columbine. I can only imagine what it was like to spend a decade of your life studying such dark material.

New York Times review of Columbine

Interview with Columbine principal


"Columbine was fundamentally different from the other school shootings. It had not really been intended as a shooting at all. Primarily, it had been a bombing that failed...
They [the media] saw what happened at Columbine as a shooting and the killers as outcasts targeting jocks. They filtered every new development through that lens." (p.125)

Chapter 24. Hour of Need ~ Dylan's funeral service p.130-133

"Judy Brown views Eric as a criminal in bloom." (p.163)

"It pissed him [Fuselier] off, watching them brag on video about the people they would maim. "You damn little jerks," he would hear himself mutter. But sometimes he felt a little sorry for them. Their point of view was indefensible, but he had to embrace it temporarily and empathize with them. If he refused to see the world through their lens, how would he ever understand how they could do it? They were high school kids. How did they get this way? Dylan, in particular- what a waste." (p.168-169)

"When I read that first sentence, all the commotion in the band room ended," he said later. "I just zoned out. Everything else faded." Suddenly the big bombs began to make a lot more sense. The f****** world. "That's not Brooks Brown," Fuselier said. "That's not the jocks. That is an all-pervasive hate." (p.169)

"By this time, Fuselier had already read Eric's journal and seen the Basement Tapes. He knew what the media did not. There had been no trigger." (p.209)

"It was too much for Dylan. Kill? Everything? Apparently not. He made a stunning move behind Eric's back. He told..." (Dylan telling Brooks Brown about Eric's website the day before the Diversion program interview p.217)

"In a perfect world, Eric would extinguish the species. Eric was a practical kid, though. The planet was beyond him; even a block of Denver highrises was out of reach. But he could pull off a high school." (p.277)

Patrick Ireland's valedictory speech: "the shooting made the country aware of the unexpected level of hate and rage that had been hidden in high schools." But he was convinced the world was inherently good at heart. He had spent the year thinking about what had gotten him across the library floor. At first he assumed hope- not quite; it was trust. "When I fell out the window, I knew somebody would catch me," he said. "That's what I need to tell you: that I knew the loving world was there all the time." (p.302)

Dylan's story in creative writing (p.308)

The killers' parents deposed privately (p.319)

FBI guide for schools (p.322)
"The central recommendations contradicted prevailing post-Columbine behavior. They said identifying outcasts as threats in not healthy. It demonizes innocent kids who are already struggling. It is also unproductive. Oddballs are not the problem. They do not fit the profile. There is no profile." (p.322)

"Sue Petrone asked for and received the two sidewalk blocks her son Danny died on..." (p.324)

Chapter 50. The Basement Tapes: killers mimicing their parents- "if only we could have reached them sooner..." (p.328)

"Good wombs have borne bad sons" - Eric quoting Shakespeare (p.333)

Chapter 52. Quiet~ the killers' tape the morning of the massacre (p.349)

"The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places." President Clinton quoting Hemingway (p.355)


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