On April 20, 1999, the names of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold became household names. With a stockpile of weapons, they forced the small Colorado city of Columbine onto the world stage as they reigned death and destruction down upon their fellow students at the city's high school. The media flocked to Columbine, and amidst the carnage, provided a unprecedented coverage, allowing the world to see the horror almost as it happened.
As with so many rapidly developing tragedies, every rumor and innuendo gets reported, whether it has any basis in fact or not. And, in the end, many of them are accepted as truth for years to come, even if they were ultimately found to be false. The Columbine tragedy is no stranger to the concept of "rumor becoming fact". Many fictions still exist today that were otherwise proven incorrect, yet have remained a part of the "Columbine" mythos.
That is where the book Columbine by Dave Cullen comes in. Cullen was one of the first journalists at the scene, and spent weeks reporting on the tragedy. I first picked up this book a few years ago in Washington, DC while waiting for my train home. I was looking for something to read during my journey, and thought the book looked interesting. I had no idea how interesting the book was going to turn out to be, and how it changed my beliefs about the Columbine tragedy and the two young killers.
While researching the book, Cullen gained unprecedented access to police files, news reports, witness interviews, and even the journals of the two young killers themselves. He dug through thousands of pages of material in order to provide as true an account as possible about what lead up to that fateful April day. The result is an astonishing recounting of the tragedy with incredible insight into the state of mind of Harris and Klebold. Using their own words, Cullen is able to paint a detailed picture of the brutality of one, and the love obsessed, suicidal nature of the other.
Columbine also provides a in-depth account of those that were directly impacted by the tragedy, including the victims, victims' families, and even the first responders, who were the first to see the carnage left behind by Harris and Klebold. Cullen goes to great length to ensure that the account he presents in complete and accurate. It is a masterful piece of journalism that doesn't sugar-coat what happened, but also doesn't seem to have a specific agenda in mind. Cullen was not trying to make any points, just report the truth.
If you are sensitive to this type of topic, this book may not be for you. However, I found Columbine to be an opening experience that dispelled many misconceptions about the tragedy, and was well worth the time I invested in reading it. It was so good, that I have read it twice. If you are looking for something you can really sink your teeth into, I'd highly recommend Columbine by Dave Cullen.