Columbine Summary

Dave Cullen


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Columbine Summary

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Columbine recounts the horrific events surrounding the shootings at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999 – one of the worst mass shootings in the United States, and one of the earliest examples of a mass shooting on a high school campus. Dave Cullen’s book takes into account the event itself as well as the result of the deadly rampage on those involved and the nation at large.

Columbine includes the disturbing details of the deadly rampage: Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris both attended Columbine High School. On April 20, 1999, the two went to school with homemade bombs, intent on blowing up the school. To this end, they also had additional bombs in their cars and a decoy bomb in town that was intended to draw police away from their actual crime. The boys also carried guns and ammunition, and had pipe bombs in the cars. They placed the two large bombs inside the school and then returned to their cars. They had placed their cars strategically so that, when the bombs went off, they could shoot whoever managed to escape the bomb blasts and exit the school.

The two bombs, however, did not detonate as planned. Seemingly without an alternate way to get the bombs to go off, the boys changed tactics and entered the school again. Inside, they began shooting indiscriminately and setting of pipe bombs for more than fifteen minutes. It has been revealed that the boys fully intended to be killed by police inside the school; they did not want to be taken alive and tried for their actions. The boys eventually returned to the school library, however, where most of the victims died, set off another bomb and then shot themselves.

Though a SWAT team finally entered the school and made it to the library, many critics have taken issue with the length of time it took for any help to reach the victims. It took more than three hours for the SWAT team to actually make it inside the building, where twelve people were already dead. One of the victims, Coach Dave Sanders, had actually survived the initial gunshot wound but died from bleeding to death while waiting for help to arrive. Another victim, Patrick Ireland, had been shot in the head and was disoriented. He actually managed to throw himself out of a window as his body shut down and was caught by police. Dylan and Eric killed a total of thirteen people, as well as wounding many others, while other students had to huddle in fear and wait for help.

Along with the public’s anger over how long it took for the SWAT team to respond is the issue of how and why the event happened in the first place. The investigation itself took a long time to unravel, with many of the parents involved filing lawsuits just to get some form of information from those in charge of the case. While some of the lawsuits were actually settled, others took years to get anywhere. Additional criticism of the event involved police actions apart from the initial response fallout. For instance, parents of the victims were not even told that their children had been killed until the very next day. One parent actually found out about his son’s death when his son’s picture appeared in a newspaper.

Columbine also reveals just how much the community went through great lengths to try and separate the massacre from the high school itself, something that the media did not help with in calling the massacre by the school’s name. The event is now known as the Columbine massacre. Those involved, both students and community members, have tried hard to distance the event from the school, suggesting that the school is indeed called Columbine, but the event should be called something else altogether. Some went as far as suggesting that the entire school be gutted and rebuilt. Eventually, the library where most of the deaths took place did get remodeled.

After the massacre, the town itself had to deal with many additional issues that, unfortunately, are being asked more and more these days in the wake of mass shootings. People wanted to know if the massacre could have been prevented, even going as far as blaming the parents of the attackers and wanting to hold them legally responsible. Others began the mythos that most of America held at one point in time, that the two bullied boys had targeted specific groups for revenge, such as minorities and jocks. Cullen’s book shows how hard it was, and is, for people to realize that individuals such as Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris can be psychopaths with no real purpose other than destruction and that people can act and react without compassion or empathy toward others, even at such a young age. This realization, perhaps more than anything else in Columbine, is one of the hardest lessons to take from the event itself and one that continues to gnaw on the American consciousness.