On April 20, 1999, two boys left an indelible stamp on the American psyche. Their goal was simple: to blow up their school, Oklahoma-City style, and to leave “a lasting impression on the world.” Their bombs failed, but the ensuing shooting defined a new era of school violence-irrevocably branding every subsequent shooting “another Columbine.”
…The result is an astonishing account of two good students with lots of friends, who came to stockpile a basement cache of weapons, to record their raging hatred, and to manipulate every adult who got in their way. They left signs everywhere, described by Cullen with a keen investigative eye and psychological acumen. Drawing on hundreds of interviews, thousands of pages of police files, FBI psychologists, and the boy’s tapes and diaries, Cullen gives the first complete account of the Columbine tragedy. – from Goodreads.com
Okay, I know, this isn’t the kind of book you want to dip into to relax or bring to the beach, or anywhere out in public for that matter unless you want to explain why you’re so keen on reading about one of the worst tragedies in the history of American schools.
But, before you move on to the next blog, please let me explain why I think this book was so great – and why it’s so important to read.
The writer, Dave Cullen, was on the scene reporting at Columbine High before the shooters had finished their rampage. He followed the story for ten years before completing this book, which I consider a masterpiece of long form reporting, it is to this day one of my favorite and in my opinion best written non-fiction books I’ve encountered so far. A morbid thought? Maybe. But consider this:
There have been hundreds of school shootings since what went down at Columbine. The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, what may now be the most notorious school shooting because it was unleashed on young school children happened right in my own little state. What it seems that the media talks most about after these tragedies is BLAME.
Who’s to blame? The shooters themselves, for being out of control? The shooter’s parents, for being out of touch? The shooter’s doctors, teachers, or other mentors, for not noticing supposed “signs” of impeding violence, and doing something about it in time?
Here’s what I took away from reading Columbine: we are not safe. At any moment, when we walk into a grocery store, a movie theatre, a school – we are not safe, or, as safe as we want to believe we are. Our anger over that simple fact is constantly misdirected as blame.
We cannot blame people for these tragedies, we cannot blame evil.
It is my opinion that we can only blame ourselves, for being indifferent to so much pain and feelings of hopelessness that live on inside the hearts and minds of those who turn on the world in the hope of getting ANY kind of attention.
We have a big problem in America, guys. The system is broken. The people who need the most help are often forsaken, sometimes until it’s too late to reach back and give them the help they need. This is what we need to change if we ever want to expect these sudden acts of violence to stop.
Read Columbine if you want to open your mind to new ideas on why these things happen and how we can stop them – but be warned – have tissues, and have strength.