Monday, July 14, 2014

Columbine by Dave Cullen

Reviewed by Christy Herndon

    On April 20, 1999 two teenage boys walked into a Colorado high school and proceeded to horrify a nation. Afterwards, time would be separated into two pieces: “before Columbine” and “after Columbine.” The massacre would spark intense focus on gun control, bullying, violence in pop culture, and even musician Marilyn Manson.

     It certainly wasn’t the first school shooting in America but it was, up until that point, the deadliest. Till this day it’s still the deadliest high school shooting. The awful irony is that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, but especially Eric, did not want a school shooting. They wanted something bigger, something even more disastrous. Their attack was centered on homemade bombs, and had they gone off according to plan the death toll would have been in the several hundreds – surpassing the Oklahoma City Bombing. That was their dream. Learning of their legacy as “mere” school shooters would have been devastating to them.

    Dave Cullen, considered “the nation’s foremost authority on the Columbine killers”, compiled his findings in the book Columbine which was released in 2011. In it, Cullen seeks to debunk a lot of the myths surrounding the massacre including the aforementioned disaster plan. Several of these rumors were debunked within weeks of the attack but for whatever reason, (although probably due to media scrutiny and repetition) they became embedded in the Columbine lore.

    Other myths include:

•    Eric and Dylan were not loners. They had a sizable group of friends. Eric, who bounced around from school to school as an Army Brat, even seemed to make friends fairly easily.

•    They didn’t target jocks or popular kids. They weren’t bullied extensively either. Often times they were the bullies themselves. Their targets were everyone.

•    While it’s true that a group of teens called themselves the “Trenchcoat Mafia” neither of the shooters were a member. They had maybe one or two friends who were but that was the extent of it. The “Trenchcoat Mafia” had nothing to do with the attack.

•    Cassie Bernall is often cited as “the girl who said yes”. One of the shooters pointed his gun at her, asked if she believed in God, and when she said yes he shot her. Corroborating witnesses say this was not the case. Emily, who was trapped under a table with Cassie, maintains she didn’t have time to say anything. Several students were believed to have been asked this question, including Valeen Schnurr. One young survivor insisted it was Cassie who said it but each time he was asked to point out where the voice came from, he pointed to where Schnurr had been. The discrepancy caused quite a bit of contention. Those who opposed the Cassie version were shouted down. Emily was afraid to come forward with her account. Preachers and the media seized the idea of Cassie as a martyr and took off with it. Misty Bernall, Cassie’s mother, even wrote a best-selling book entitled She Said Yes.

Those are just a handful. Cullen’s research is extensive. He has been studying and reporting on Columbine since it happened, and he knows his stuff. It’s quite a page turner, and I’d recommend it to anyone who is interested in true crime or newsworthy events in America’s history.

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