Thursday, July 8, 2010

Columbine by Dave Cullen

iconiconIt's been a long time since I've updated my blog, but it's not for lack of reading. I have a lot of catching up to do, and I will do my best to remember everything I've read since last time I blogged. But first, the book I finished most recently: Columbine by Dave Cullen.

For those of you who don't know, I live in the Denver Metro area, but I grew up in unincorporated Jeffco — the area known as Littleton to the post office and everyone who has heard of the Columbine school shooting. I attended Chatfield Senior High, Columbine's sister school and rival, and although I graduated two years before the massacre, my sister was a sophomore at Chatfield when it happened. I knew people who went to Columbine at the time, and was even friends with someone who knew Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.

I'm not sure what I'm trying to say here, except that I had something of a connection to what happened. I feel awkward about saying so, because to those who were there, my connection would be diddly squat, but then again, I have more of a connection than the average person who just saw the reports on the news.

In any case, what it comes down to was that I had some personal interest in Dave Cullen's Columbine. There was a lot in it that I didn't know, for all my supposed connections — I believed many of the myths, but then again, according to Cullen even a lot of the Columbine students came to believe them. But hopefully his book will start to change that, as he systematically debunks all of the popular myths, while providing a well-researched look at what really did happen.

Some of the myths he sets straight:

* None of the supposed triggers were accurate. Doom, Nazi influences, bullying, etc. didn't have anything to do with it. Eric Harris was a psychopath who conceived of an attack that would outdo folks like Timothy McVeigh.
* Likewise, individual kids were not targeted. If the plan had worked the way it was supposed to, hundreds of kids would have died.
* The date of the attack, April 20th, wasn't because it was Hitler's birthday. It was originally supposed to happen on April 19th, the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, but Eric wanted more ammo.
* Cassie Bernall wasn't asked if she believed in God, and then shot because she said yes. Eric looked under her table, said "Peek-a-boo," and shot her before she had a chance to say anything. The actual exchange happened between Dylan Klebold and Valeen Schnurr, after Dylan had already shot her, and she lived.

Columbine is exhaustively researched and well-written. The narrative is written similarly to a novel with flashbacks, shifting back and forth from the attack and aftermath from the students', teachers', and parents' points of view, to the events in Eric's and Dylan's lives that led up to the attack. I think just about anyone would find the book interesting and easy to get hooked into, but as a Littleton teen at the time of the shooting, I found it especially compelling.


starviego said...

There were at least seven different people involved. Don't take the word of some guy who wasn't even there. Just read what the eyewitnesses had to say:

Katharine Swan said...

I highly recommend the book. He discusses why the eyewitness accounts were wrong.

You weren't there either, so why should your word be any more believable than Cullen's? He also quotes eyewitnesses, and he has researched the event much more extensively than you. And he covered Columbine as a journalist, both immediately afterward and over the years following. Your website is obviously just intended to capitalize on controversies and conspiracy theories, by by selling ad space and merchandise on high traffic issues.

gm said...

Cullen , who first reported on the story for the online magazine Salon, acknowledges in the book's source notes that thoughts he attributes to Klebold and Harris are conjecture gleaned from the record the pair left behind.

Jeff Kass takes a more straightforward approach in "Columbine: A True Crime Story," working backward from the events of the fateful day.
The Denver Post

Mr. Cullen insists that the killers enjoyed "far more friends than the average adolescent," with Harris in particular being a regular Casanova who "on the ultimate high school scorecard . . . outscored much of the football team." The author's footnotes do not reveal how he knows this; when I asked him about it while preparing this review, Mr. Cullen said he did not necessarily mean to imply that Harris was sexually active. But what else would such words mean?

"Eric and Dylan never had any girlfriends," the more sober Mr. Kass writes, and were "probably virgins upon death."
Wall Street Journal

Katharine Swan said...

Dylan was probably a virgin, I agree, though I don't see what that matters. However, Eric certainly had girlfriends. Cullen refers to Eric's journal and other sources regarding this subject. Eric also wrote about trying to get laid before the attack, which may indicate he was still a virgin, but not because he didn't have girlfriends. I think Cullen does an excellent job of citing Eric and Dylan's journals and other sources, and the assumptions he makes about their thoughts seem to be logical conclusions.

Anonymous said...

Eric never had any girlfriends; if you're thinking of Brenda Parker, who Cullen depends on, her account has been unproven and discredited for years. These reporters and others have done the work:

Katharine Swan said...

Anonymous, thanks for the links. I see that Cullen himself does say that he doesn't think Eric had girlfriends, but I think he laid out in the book the likelihood that Eric did have girls interested in him, and certainly seems to have engaged in some casual dating and flirtation. I really don't care whether or not he had girlfriends -- I am mainly interested in the debunking of the theory that he and Dylan were bullied loners.

Anonymous said...

You are sadly misinformed about this subject by a slick, aggressive but ultimately vacuous media campaign promoting this book and its author.

Dave Cullen is nothing but a lying,opportunistic famewhore. His book is riddled with odious lies.

Its disgusting how quick you are to swallow whatever the liar says without doing any further research.

Anyone with any real knowledge about Columbine knows what a liar Cullen is and how flawed and worthless his book is.Obviously, none of you on this page have more than a surface knowledge of the subject or you wouldn’t be mooning over Cullen’s badly written book of fiction.

=Factual Inaccuracies==
Dave Cullen’s book alleges that Eric Harris was involved in a romantic and sexual relationship with a woman several years his senior, Brenda Parker.

However, according to the official police interview in the 11K she confessed to making up the relationship, in addition to making up knowing about the attack prior to it happening and being afraid to partake in it.

Interview- “After a lengthy conversation she admitted that she wrote the above, but that it was not true. She just made it up to get attention. She stated she has no life and spends way too much time on the internet.”

(note- JC-001-010843 to 010851)

* [ Link to the entire 11K Report, see pages 10800-10900]

Cullen claims that Eric Harris was a swaggering ladies’ man and confident social king. This assertion is ludicrous.

Cullen writes that Eric “got lots of girls” and had sex with a 24-year-old woman named Brenda Parker. He even quotes Parker in his book. The truth is that Parker had no connection to Harris or the tragedy; she was a “fangirl” who sought attention by making up stories. She has *zero* credibility.

Eric tried to get a date to the prom; he failed. He asked several girls, all of whom turned him down. He finally convinced a girl he met at the pizza place where he worked to spend a couple of hours at his house on the night of the prom; they watched a movie. She declined to attend the after-prom party with him, so he went alone.

Harris was fairly short (5’8?) and very skinny, with a deformed chest due to his pelvus excavatum. As his body language in the following video (recorded in a hallway at Columbine and shown in a documentary about the massacre) demonstrates, he was no match for the larger boys he encountered on a daily basis:

In his final journal entry, Eric wrote:

“I hate you people for leaving me out of so many fun things. And no don’t — say, “well thats your fault” because it isnt, you people had my phone #, and I asked and all, but no. no no no dont let the weird looking Eric KID come along, ohh — nooo.”

Does that sound like someone who was confident and socially successful?

Anonymous said...

Cullen perpetuates the long-standing myth that Dylan was a sad little emo follower who was totally led by Harris.

The truth is that Dylan was the one who wrote about going on a killing spree before Eric; he even wanted to do it with someone else.

(Keep in mind that Eric and Dylan intended the massacre to be a bombing event with a shooting element. Their plans went awry.)

On Monday, November 3, 1997, Dylan wrote in his journal:

“[edited] will get me a gun, ill go on my killing spree against anyone I want. more crazy…deeper in the spiral, lost highway repeating, dwelling on the beautiful past, ([edited] & [edited] gettin drunk) w. me, everyone moves up i always stayed. Abandonment. this room sux. wanna die.”

He wrote “*my* killing spree”, not “*our* killing spree”.

Those who have seen the basement tapes have said that, on them, Dylan appears far more eager and enthusiastic than Eric.

On the tapes, Eric apologizes to his family; Dylan does not.

On one tape, Eric is seen alone, tearing up when he thinks about his friends back in Michigan. He even turns the tape off so he will not be captured crying on camera.

If he truly was a pure psychopath, as Cullen claims, is it likely that he would have cried while thinking about old friends?

There is also piece after piece of evidence asbout E &D being picked on and ostracized on a wide scale. Something Cullen denies ever happened.

Whats my truth about this event?

My truth is that E &D were bullied and tried as inhuman long enough until they decided that life was no longer worth living and decided to get revenge on a school and community that delighted in degrading them.
I’ve been in their shoes. I know what that feels like.
Unless you’ve been treated that badly long enough by enough people, you do not.

Katharine Swan said...

Hi Anonymous. Have you read the book? Having read it myself, I have to say I don't see any flaws in his research. It's well researched, well documented, and according to the sources (writings, video, etc.) available to the public, I think it sounds like a pretty damn accurate portrayal.

Cullen only briefly describes Eric's relationship with Brenda, but he quotes her as saying it was "a friendship but more than a friendship." He also mentions later on, when Eric was trying to get laid, that "it didn't look good" with Brenda, and does mention that his plans for prom didn't work out and he didn't go.

My point: Cullen is not trying to represent Eric as a lady's man. He's just saying that he did date a little and was not the total bullied reject that the media presented. He wasn't very successful, but that describes the dating experience of about 75% of teenagers.

As for Dylan, Cullen uses numerous sources to demonstrate the difference between Eric's coldly calculating plans, and Dylan's fantasizing and bragging to his journal. Dylan's journal was inconsistent with his moods, and seems about like someone saying "I hate you" to their mom, while Eric fully intended to follow through, months before it actually happened. In fact, the fact that he apologized in the video, as you point out, shows what a psychopath Eric was. Obviously that was done for effect, otherwise why would he apologize for something he hadn't yet done? You can't be genuinely sorry and still go through with it.

And finally, how dare you assume I don't know what it's like to be bullied? You don't know anything about me. I was bullied all through public school, and I sure as hell know what it's like. But it didn't make me kill anyone, and I think that's at the heart of Cullen's point. Eric and Dylan didn't experience anything uncommon to what millions of other teens go through, so obviously there was some factor at work here other than just being at the low end of the social totem pole.

Anonymous said...

Blah, blah , blah.. Katharine. The fact is that YOU DO NOT know what it was like to be bullied anywhere on the scale that I was or that Eric and Dylan were or you'd already know and exactly why this happened yourself instead of sucking up answers from a lying famewhore like Cullen as if every word out of his mouth is like manna from Heaven.

I won't be wasting any more of my valuable time on you. Like most of Cullen's followers , you believe what he says with a fervent passion because it means that you don't have to think for yourselves.

Cullen LOVES people like you.
Thats why he endlessly googles himself and is endlessly chatty at the blogs of people like you who slobbers all over him and his book, but has next to nothing to say to his critics.
Your brainwashed , intellectually incurious dupes have made him a very, very wealthy man and have rewarded his interminable famewhoring.


Katharine Swan said...


Just because I didn't let it turn me into a bitter, hateful asshole doesn't mean I wasn't bullied. By your logic, then Eric, Dylan, Seung-Hui Cho, and a dozen or so others who have shot up their schools are the only ones who have EVER been bullied. Which makes it interesting, really, that you put yourself in their camp. Who have YOU shot?

Bullying is a horrible thing. But we are in charge of our actions. We choose how we respond. Cullen's argument is that Eric responded by planning the Columbine massacre because he was a psychopath, NOT because he was bullied. And, having been bullied all through school, and knowing that at least half my friends were too, I have to say I agree.

I won't be posting any more abusive comments from you. If you want to debate this on my blog, you can do it without insulting me. Having been bullied does not give you the right to bully others.

Anonymous said...

I am just stubbling upon this post. Katherine, I do agree that the book is worth the read. Wow! It sounds like someone is hell bent on maintaining the bullied myth. Maybe to justify their own feelings or to maintain the false connection they feel to the killers. Maybe the bullied fights back makes for a more romantic story that is easier for the world to accept. Maybe it's an easier pill to swallow than one of the kids being an evil, manipulative psychopath. Furthermore, who wasn't bullied at some point in highschool? Who isn't plagued by parental pressures, insecurites and self esteem issues. They may very well have been picked on and tormented at somepoint in highschool but I will never believe that was the underlying cause. I agree that Cullen is a fame whore and he will ride Columbine until 2027. But I have done extensive reading on the topic myself, including the links posted in the comments section of this blog. I certainly question some of the conjecture but I think he presents a very good take on the events. A take that has been very well researched and can be cross referenced. Agent Fuselier in his own reports explains why Dylan appears to be more enthusiastic about "NBK." It was more of an approval seeking gesture on his part. Although I don't agree with him being merely a sheep I can see how/why he would seek Eric's approval. Either that or Dylan was just lazy. I wouldn't use this book as the end all be all of Columbine sources but it is definately worth the read.