I have fallen way behind in my book reviews. For example, I originally bought Columbine by Dave Cullen just after the shootings in Aurora, Co. Following that tragedy, several people in my Twitter-stream strongly urged that readers pick up Columbine, if they hadn’t already done so. I bought it and read it immediately. In the interim there have been at least two additional senseless shootings, which is sobering and sad.
Columbine is an excellently reported book. One of the books many strengths is that is shows that in the rush of the 24-hour news cycle almost everything that was reported in the immediate aftermath of the shootings was later proved to be wrong. Almost everything. For example, the shooting did not take place in Littleton, Colorado:
No one was sure what to call it. Littleton is a quiet suburb south of Denver where the massacre did not actually occur. Although the name would grow synonymous with the tragedy, Columbine lies several miles west, across the Platte River, in a different county with separate schools and law enforcement.
The list of inaccuracies reported almost beggars belief. In a chapter provocatively titled “Media Crime,” Cullen catalogs the reporting errors:
We remember Columbine as a pair of outcast Goths from the Trench Coat Mafia snapping and tearing through their high school hunting down jocks to settle a long-running feud. Almost none of that happened. No Goths, no outcasts, nobody snapping. No targets, no feud, and no Trench Coat Mafia. Most of those elements existed at Columbine–which is what gave them currency. They just had nothing to do with the murders.
In fact, Cullen shows, it wasn’t supposed to be a shooting at all. It was actually a bombing that failed. Had the boys’ plans worked, several large bombs strategically placed around the school would have done far greater damage and would have resulted in deaths at a then unprecedented scale. The placement of the bombs demonstrates that indiscriminate death is what the killers were after.
Cullen refers heavily to the investigation of an FBI agent, Agent Fuselier, who happens to be a psychologist/criminal profiler. The Agent arrived at the scene much earlier than he may have otherwise because his own son attended the school. Agent Fuselier spent untold hours reviewing the boys’ journals and videos evaluating their behavior. That they fooled so many people for so long about their true natures does not surprise Fuselier, its an integral part of their illness. Looking for rationale explanations to explain their behavior is a losing proposition. These were sick kids. While it may not be surprising that they boys were seriously mentally ill, it is an unsatisfying conclusion when blame and causes are what we all need to reassure ourselves that such a thing could never happen where we live.
This is an excellent book. Once I started it, I could not put it down–no matter how badly I wanted to move on to sunnier subjects. This is required reading for its clear examination of a terrible crime, and its message about the nature of such crimes and the ensuing media reporting. Don’t wait for the next senseless tragedy to read it.
Updated: This just in.
Updated: And now this.