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
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