Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Book Review: Columbine (2009) by Dave Cullen.

Just about everything you've learned about the April 20, 1999, Columbine massacre is wrong.

At least that's the thrust of Dave Cullen's Columbine published in 2009--following 10 years of intense research and analysis.

Cullen writes: "[I]n the great media blunders during the initial coverage of the story...nearly everyone got the central factors wrong....I hope this book contributes to setting the story straight." (p. x.) Likewise, Cullen indicts the mainstream media: "Virtually all of the early news stories were infested with erroneous assumptions and comically wrong conclusions." (159.)

Cullen debunks the numerous myths surrounding this tragedy, including martyr narratives seized upon by some Christians, with compelling evidence. At its core, however, Columbine attacks the central myth of "Columbine as a pair of outcast Goths from the Trench Coat Mafia snapping and tearing through their high school hunting down jocks to settle a long-running feud. Almost none of that happened. No Goths, no outcasts, nobody snapping. No targets, no feud, and no Trench Coats Mafia. ... The lesser myths are equally unsupported: no connection with Marilyn Manson, Hitler's birthday, minorities, or Christians." (149.)

Instead, Cullen builds a case predicated on psychological profiles of the killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. In this regard, Cullen relies heavily on the work of Dr. Dwayne Fuselier, an FBI agent who headed the FBI's domestic terrorism unit in Denver (and whose son went to Columbine High School at the time). Cullen contends that Harris was a psychopath, and his plan for the attack was far larger than implemented. He had plans for mass killing at the school, using bombs and napalm. Because his efforts fizzled on that day, people have misread his intentions. By contrast, Cullen describes Klebold was more suicidal than homicidal. He writes that Klebold squeezed off a mere five shots, and it's unclear whether any hit anyone other than himself. Curiously, Klebold's journal in his final week was focused on one topic: love.

Cullen's analysis of the killers' journals and "Basement Tapes" is very insightful. Cullen drills down into this compelling evidence as well as reams of other data (including 25,000 pages of documents compiled by investigators), and comes up with a persuasive case as to what this tragedy was really about.

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