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.


From: [identity profile]

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]

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]

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]

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.

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