For years I’ve avoided reading Dave Cullen’s book, Columbine, because I knew it would be a hard read. I work in a school, I have kids, I become immersed when I read. I didn’t want to feel such loss, even from the safety and distance of my armchair. I’d read about the book and about the shootings, enough to keep me informed and on alert as a responsible teacher and parent. But Cullen is coming to our school in a few weeks to speak, and I feel an obligation to him and to the many students who will hear him. We do our utmost to prepare audiences for our annual Writers Week, and I needed to do my homework.
The book is carefully structured and meticulously researched. Cullen’s main objective as a reporter is to set the record straight, and he achieves this with compassion and insight, leading the reader down every dark corner. I found my rage shifting from the two young killers to their parents to law enforcement officials who ignored not only signs but direct threats—but ultimately back to the killers. I’m uncomfortable with that rage but won’t deny it. The marvel of the book is that Cullen provides lessons, puts the reader’s rage in perspective. This kind of tragedy doesn’t have to happen again.
The most fascinating parts for me are the psychological aspects: why we were so eager to believe in the myths that cropped up within hours of the massacre (to make us feel safe); why we believed that the killers were targeting particular groups or people (they weren’t); how psychopaths operate and why they’re so successful at manipulating others (they’re not like everyone else, and finding new ways to understand and help them is vital—and the help doesn’t have to derive from compassion or forgiveness; a yearning to keep kids safe is sufficient).
It’s a sad, sad book. Hard to get through but harder to put down. I think it should be required reading. Even though it haunts.