On March 9, journalist and author Dave Cullen visited Elmhurst College to talk about his book Columbine, the definitive story of an American tragedy that continues to haunt our schools and society.
Nearly 15 years ago, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 12 of their fellow students and a teacher at Columbine, their high school in suburban Denver. Then they turned their guns on themselves. It was not the first and was hardly the last school massacre in American history, but it was among the most lethal, and it lent itself to misinformation and mythologizing.
Cullen spent a decade researching and writing Columbine. Throughout his research into the shooting, he was driven by two questions: Why did Harris and Klebold kill, and what became of the survivors? The surprise was that most of what we think we “know” is wrong: It wasn’t about jocks, goths or the Trenchcoat Mafia. The killers didn’t even see themselves as school shooters: Their primary focus was on bombs, including the one they brought into the Columbine cafeteria that never went off.
As for what motivated Harris and Klebold to carry out their attack, Cullen referred frequently during his talk to the journals the teens kept, noting that the question should not be “Why did they do it?” but “Why did Eric do it?” and “Why did Dylan do it?”
Eric Harris’ journal reveals him to be a classic psychopath, full of hate and devoid of empathy. Dylan Klebold’s journal entries are dotted with drawings of hearts and show him also to be full of hate—but directed completely at himself.
Columbine won the Edgar Award, the Barnes & Noble Discover Award, the Goodreads Choice Award and several others. It spent 13 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, and also was declared the Top Education Book of 2009 by the American School Board Journal.
Cullen has written for Buzzfeed, Times of London, Newsweek, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Slate, Salon and The Daily Beast. A frequent television analyst, he has appeared on Today, Katie, NBC Nightly News, PBS Newshour, CBS This Morning, Anderson Cooper 360, The Rachel Maddow Show, Hannity, Talk of the Nation and many other programs.