April 20, 2015: Sixteen years ago today, two teenage boys conducted a violent assault on their high school, murdering twelve students and a teacher and wounding dozens of others before turning their guns on themselves.
Dave Cullen’s COLUMBINE needs no subtitle. With every new school shooting—sadly, the list continues to grow—the name comes up. Many people have seen the images of students fleeing with arms raised in the air to signal their innocence, police cars and ambulances surrounding the building, and afterwards, parents hugging their children as though they would never let them go. Many of us watched CNN or read the newspaper afterwards and thought, How did this happen? Why did they do it?
Rumors and speculation emerged immediately: they had been bullied, they had been members of something called “The Trench Coat Mafia,” they had been gay…. The truth, revealed in this painstakingly-researched comprehensive account, took ten years to reach publication. In 2009, when this book came out (I finally picked it up yesterday and finished reading it this morning: it is that engrossing), it showed that most of the rumors were wrong. Also, some people had known enough to possibly prevent what happened. And some people had covered that up.
Cullen answers many questions, and while the first two are important, he also addresses one that is equally pressing: How do people live through and get over such a terrible tragedy? The balance in this book is that it is not just about the murderers; it is also about the survivors.
My favorite was Patrick Ireland, still limping at graduation when he gave his valedictory address, who said, “When I fell out the window I knew somebody would catch me. That’s what I need to tell you: that I knew the loving world was there all the time.”
COLUMBINE explores unthinkable evil, but it also tells a story about resilience, compassion, and love.