An exhaustively researched, non-sensationalistic, and clearly presented breakdown of the Columbine school shootings. Very informative and well-written, but solid rather than brilliant. There's a lot of value in Cullen's "just the facts" approach, but I longed for more analysis.

I read this because if anything like that ever happens within a certain area of Los Angeles, I will be called to the scene.

Nothing graphic below cut, but, obviously, discussion of mass murder.



The author was a journalist who reported on it at the time, and a large part of the book is devoted to exploring the inaccurate reporting (including his own) on the event and how that came about. I knew about some of the reports that turned out to be false: the killers targeted jocks, the killers did it because they were mercilessly bullied, a girl named Cassie Bernall was murdered because she was Christian. I also knew that Klebold and Harris had come with bombs that did not explode, and that the sheriff's department waited around for hours in the mistaken belief that the killers were still at large, allowing a wounded man to bleed to death.

Here's what I did not know, and what I mean by wanting more analysis:

- The bombs were intended to kill everyone in the school. A second bomb was timed to kill first responders: paramedics, cops, firefighters, etc. I realize that Cullen didn't want to give details on bomb-making, but I would have liked to have known, even in a general sense, how close Harris got to succeeding and why his bombs all failed.

- Harris's motivation, according to the exhaustively detailed tapes he left, was that he wanted to kill everyone in the world. He settled on his school because it was the easiest way to kill the most people, not because he particularly hated it. Harris's parents never really talked to anyone, but I would have loved a little more investigation into the family background. Was Harris really just a bad seed who came from a completely ordinary family and completely ordinary life?

- The fuck-ups by the sheriff's department went well beyond letting a man die when they could have saved him. They were in phone contact with the people with the dying man, and ordered them not to try to bring him out. They left corpses lying on the streets for 24 hours.

Most egregiously, they sat on an affidavit asking for a search warrant to search the Harris home for bombs. It was never delivered to a judge. Why? Who knows. (My guess: incompetence.) Harris had threatened a friend of his, Brooks Brown, and harassed him. Brown's parents made fifteen police reports about Harris in the year before the shootings, and one detective linked those to pipe bombs exploding in the neighborhood. But there was no follow-up.

On the day of the massacre, Harris ran into Brown and told him to leave school and not come back because, "I like you." Remember, Harris thought everyone at the school would die, so he was saving Brown's life - the guy he'd spent the last year threatening and persecuting. And that was literally the only person he showed any mercy to - he didn't kill some people he could have killed, but it sounded like he'd just figured the bomb would get them later. I would have liked some speculation on that.

The sheriffs then proceeded to try to cover up the affidavit fuck-up by accusing Brown of being in on the killings. IIRC, his family was so persecuted that they moved.



Excellent reporting on a case for which that had largely been missing, but doesn't illuminate larger issues of society or psychology the way that the very best true crime books do.

Columbine
oyceter: teruterubouzu default icon (Default)

From: [personal profile] oyceter


... Wow, I did not know that about the prior reports and Brown and the intention being to kill off the entire school.

kore: (Default)

From: [personal profile] kore


I remember reading about the bomb plan in the Salon.com "everything you know about Columbine is wrong" piece (think it was by the same author), and it just made me feel actually sick. It's really disturbing how the rush to get "news" on-air (or Twitter or whatever) motivates reporters to talk to people who don't know what really happened. Which was always a feature of reporting, it's just that TV and the internet sped it up enormously.


(I have to say I like the DW captchas a LOT bette than the image-based ones)

From: [identity profile] fiveandfour.livejournal.com


I like reading these sorts of things so will have to add it to my "check it out" list. This reminds me a bit of a British documentary I watched that examined incredible fuckup that was the JonBenet Ramsey case; the focus of that documentary was a combination of the mistakes made by law enforcement and all the ways in which the American media was completely wrong in their portrayal of the facts and managed to essentially convict the parents of murdering their child in the court of public opinion.

It's pretty extraordinary how biased reporting and negative public opinion can act like a runaway train and depart so far from the truth that there's no getting back. I appreciate it when there's re-examination and mea culpas when enough distance and perspective have been gained that the truth can come into sharper focus.

I don't remember exactly when I first read or saw something about the kids' motivation for Columbine and how it was so different from initial suppositions, but it wasn't too long after the fact. At that time, it kind of amazed me how little examination into their personalities, early childhood development, and parental relationships was a part of the story - it's too bad that this glaringly large hole in the narrative still hasn't been sketched in. Then again, I know information related to minors has extra protections and is especially hard to get released to the public, so perhaps this will be an area where the public will never get a lot of detail.

And things like 15 police reports, a pipe bomb, and no police follow up are mind blowing!

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


I don't think the issue with the parents was that there's information the police know that the public doesn't, as that even the police did not get much out of them. They lawyered up immediately. But I think a good journalist, as Cullen clearly is, could have gone digging on his own - he just chose not to.

And things like 15 police reports, a pipe bomb, and no police follow up are mind blowing!

Especially since this was not the sort of high-crime area where bomb threats are pouring in on a daily basis!

From: [identity profile] thomasyan.livejournal.com


I knew about some of the reports that turned out to be false: the killers targeted jocks, the killers did it because they were mercilessly bullied, a girl named Cassie Bernall was murdered because she was Christian.

Interesting. I'm not sure I had heard before now that they did not target jocks or were not motivated by bullying. I do remember there was something reported wrong about Cassie Bernall, and that Madeleine L'Engle had written or was otherwise associated with a book perpetuating the wrong story.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


Harris was a bully himself, not someone who was bullied. Jocks were not targeted.

Cassie Bernall was killed, but she never exchanged any words with the killers. Right after she was shot to death, Harris taunted a wounded girl nearby, Valeen Schnurr, by asking if she believed in God. She said she did. He wandered off rather than shooting her again, and she survived. Because of the close physical proximity of the two girls, and because it's hard to track things closely when you're fearing for your life, a student who was also present misindentified which girl was involved in that exchange. It snowballed from there.

And yes, Madeleine L'Engle wrote a book about the martyrdom of Cassie Bernall.

From: [identity profile] sovay.livejournal.com


And yes, Madeleine L'Engle wrote a book about the martyrdom of Cassie Bernall.

Which is this?

From: [identity profile] youraugustine.livejournal.com


I knew most of this, having gone digging after coming across the info that the Columbine kid wasn't motivated by bullying. A piece of information which makes me grind my teeth now every time someone mentions it, given that I find it actually hugely distasteful to have an outright murderer for his own reasons associated with people actually suffering social violence.

Relatedly, the level of harassment to those already socially excluded at my schools INCREASED markedly after Columbine, because of that erroneous link. Because obviously now if you were "weird" or "uncool", you were also a budding mass murderer.
Edited Date: 2013-01-24 12:20 am (UTC)

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


At Columbine itself, the kids who actually were victims of bullying - the supposed "trench coat mafia" that Harris and Klebold were claimed to be part of, but hadn't been - then got blame rubbed off on them for supposedly being friends with the killers and abetting them. In fact, the only contact they'd ever had with Harris was when he mocked them.

From: [identity profile] tool-of-satan.livejournal.com


I think there's a strong tendency for people[*] to try to make things fit into neat narratives such as "bullied teens take revenge on their tormentors." It's easier to think about that way, but it doesn't help.

[*] And I'm not excepting myself.

From: [identity profile] vom-marlowe.livejournal.com


I ran across this concept written up as the "Just World Hypothesis". People want the world to make sense. I know I do.

From: [identity profile] kimberlite8.livejournal.com


I think there's a strong tendency for people[*] to try to make things fit into neat narratives such as "bullied teens take revenge on their tormentors.

I haven't read the book, but I'm a little weary about whether Cullen isn't creating his own narrative, namely the one that says some people are born psychopaths (the "Let's Talk About Kevin" variety). I have to admit I am more inclined to believe the first narrative - the Just World Hypothesis - than the second based, admittedly based on no life experience.

Brooks Brown has spoken about this subject in a reddit AMA one year ago. See link.

"The bullying was real. the shooters were NOT bullies, and there is a TON of stuff to back it up."

"It's hard for me to take anyone (kimberlite8:here he's talking about Cullen) who dismisses bullying seriuosly. Immediately following the event there were dozens of well researched and sourced reports (even quotes from the bullies themselves proud of it!). I specifically love the time article about it. A jock kid talked about how they dressed like 'faggots' and that's 'why we treated them like freaks'. Not quite sure why you wouldn't trust that."

On his personal experience with bullying:

"Lets see. One that stands out was covering the cafeteria floor in baby oil and laughing as people fell and hurt themselves, and throwing smaller kids into others like 'bowling'. more than a few injuries, but two guys got suspended for a day, so that's just.
Personally? Walking down the street and having a passing car full of jocks whip a baseball at the back of my head. hilarious, right?"

On what contributed to Columbine:
"Many. Bullying, the school administration, parents, the culture we live in, etc. Some are bigger factors than others, and they rarely come together just right - that 'perfect storm' of factors - to allow this to happen. That's why it is exceedingly rare.
Top two? Bullying and mental health. Eric was on Luvox and wrote about how he'd go on and off his drug often to gain 'greater self-awareness'. That's not healthy. Couple that with being the bottom rung of the school shit-list, and it's a bad thing."





From: [identity profile] serialbabbler.livejournal.com


Interesting. I would have said We Need to Talk About Kevin* was as much about the effects of nurture as nature. (Also known as the "Let's blame Mom" argument. Heh.) The mother fails to develop an emotional bond with her child, probably because of postpartum depression, and admits to having physically abused him on at least on occasion. Of course, as the narrator of the story, she gives the impression that she thinks he was born bad, but... she would, wouldn't she? I mean, that's one of the ways people deal with these things after all.

More on topic, based on my reading, I'd say that most of these school and workplace shootings are the result of a confluence of factors. Bullying can definitely be an issue in some cases, but it's never the whole picture.

*I assume that novel is what "Let's Talk About Kevin" is a reference to.

From: [identity profile] kimberlite8.livejournal.com


Oops, sorry, yes. We Need to Talk About Kevin was what I meant. The mother was an unreliable narrator it in, but that book is often used a popular reference for the discussion of child psychopaths. I really don't know much about the subject and am prepared to believe children can be born this way. This NY Times article was chilling.

The Brooks Brown IAMA is an interesting read though you must wade through a lot of irrelevant material - probably just screen for his comments would be a good overview. There is a dialogue between him and reddit commentators who have been victims of social violence. They discuss the Cullen book (Brown says someone with an outsider's perspective may see things differently than he did), why Harris let him live, why the journals of Harris and Klebold didn't mention bullying, the atmosphere of Columbine. I don't have any side to pick. But his take was interesting and I thought it strange that Cullen never interviewed Brooks Brown given his prominence.

From: [identity profile] serialbabbler.livejournal.com


There are genetic traits and various congenital disorders that can predispose people to anti-social behavior, yep. (Although even with those, environment probably has a large impact on outcome. Also, of course, a sociopath/psychopath isn't automatically a person who goes on a killing spree. There's a pretty big range of behaviors possible with "killing spree" being pretty far down the list. :) )

I've actually read Brooks Brown's book, No Easy Answers, on the subject of Columbine. I found it interesting although I think he was offering a few easy answers of his own. It's hard to avoid it when you're trying to understand behavior that doesn't really make sense to a rational person.

From: [identity profile] naomikritzer.livejournal.com


Shortly after Sandy Hook, while arguing gun control with somebody, I looked up the Columbine bombs because I wanted to know why they didn't go off. Apparently they were propane bombs, and it's a lot harder to make propane explode than the warning signs by propane tanks would lead you to believe.

I remember being utterly outraged by the slowness that the police entered the building, and being flamed on the message board where I was posting about this, because I wanted them to charge in like heroes in an action movie. I think about this every time I read about how police forces universally recognized Columbine as a complete and utter fuck-up and have changed how they do training for and response to "active shooter events."

Finally, I have always been a little surprised that no one tried to blame the movie Heathers for Columbine.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


Interesting, thanks. Though I think even with the old protocols, they should have gone in once they knew someone was bleeding to death inside - and even knew where he was!

I remember someone blaming The Matrix. And an episode of Buffy got yanked, unless that was a response to a different school shooting.

From: [identity profile] kimberlite8.livejournal.com


Harris's parents never really talked to anyone, but I would have loved a little more investigation into the family background.

Harris' note to his parents in his farewell video Good wombs hath born bad sons

Man, poignant.

This is just an imaginative leap, but another redditor who knew Harris was asked what about them was suspicious. He replied that Harris gave a really impassioned performance of Shakespeare in class one day. I liked to think it was "Good wombs hath born bad sons" from the Tempest (which I read in HS too!) and the whole class going WTF?


[–]karmanaut 72 points 2 years ago
In hindsight, is there anything you can remember that would have made you suspicious of them?


[–]SeymourLevov[S] 121 points 2 years ago
no, ive thought of a couple events, but i know they are mostly confirmation bias: dylan gave a really intense performance in front of our english class. most of us just put in the minimum effort into this class, but he went all out, very passionate and involved. there were some laughs and strange looks from us in the class after.

[–]GoDETLions[] 26 points 2 years ago
what was the performance in English about? a particular novel or play ?

[–]SeymourLevov[S] 50 points 2 years ago
pretty sure it was shakespeare, not 100% sure though

Sorry ETA: It was Dylan Kebold that gave the Shakespeare reading.
Edited Date: 2013-01-24 09:30 pm (UTC)

From: [identity profile] lady-ganesh.livejournal.com


Wow, I had no idea how much got screwed up by the local PD. I knew a lot about the misinformation but damn.

Did you see this essay by Susan Klebold? I thought it was really good.
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