There are some days in your life you will never forget. April 20, 1999 is one of those days for me. I came home from school, and saw my mom had the TV on a news station with round the clock coverage of some event in the united states, with much of the video feed being a bird’s eye view of a high school. I remember watching the news unfold of a multiple murder that occurred by two boys who walked into their high school on this day, pulled out guns, and killed 12 students and 1 teacher, as well as wounding another 24. The magnitude of this didn’t dawn on me until a few years later: This was the worst school shooting in U.S. history. This was Columbine.
As the news unfolded of the actions of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, I sat riveted to the television set. Here were these two boys, the same age as me, so far away in Littleton, Colorado from my small town in Ontario, yet I felt for them. The news reported that they were bullied, and I remember telling my mom that, while I did not condone their actions, I understood them. As someone who experienced bullying them self, I knew that really, it was only a matter of time before someone snapped and did something drastic to make the bullying stop. Today, after reading David Cullen’s Columbine and Sue Klebold’s account of what happened, I know that the bullying aspect is still to this day debated upon. Cullen states that the boys were not bullied at all, while Klebold discusses the environment at the school as being toxic, and admits she did not know that her son was being bullied, or how severe it was, until after the tragic events in 1999, after she found his journals and heard stories.
Because of my knowledge of Columbine from the event itself to reading Cullen’s book, I was intrigued to read Sue Klebold’s book about the events from the parent’s perspective. The fact that she was donating any profits of the book to mental health organizations and research opportunities furthered my interest. I had seen the book advertised in a magazine and immediately went out to find the book.
To me, this was a raw, honest look at Klebold’s life with Dylan. She laid out what raising Dylan was like, what he was like as a child, her parenting skills, and the family values. She made it clear that, despite everything her son was responsible for, she did the best she could as a mother with what knowledge she had. To me, she made it very clear that she wasn’t trying to negate her son’s actions, she wasn’t trying to make excuses, she wasn’t trying to clear her conscience as a mother to someone labelled as a monster. She simply wrote this book as an attempt to help other parents see the signs of depression and anger, and perhaps even bullying, in hopes of preventing another tragedy, whether it be a mass shooting or even suicide.
Somehow through all of the media coverage, as terrible as this sounds, I never thought of the parents. I didn’t think about how the story unfolded for them. Klebold tells about how they had no idea what was happening. When the police showed up at their house, they were escorted outside so the house could be searched, yet the police would provide no information as to what was going on. The family sat outside of their house for hours, as the realization that their son was not coming home, and didn’t know why. Some parent’s had stopped by during the day sharing news of a shooting at the school, not knowing the Klebold’s son was responsible. When Klebold knew her son was not coming home, and with the police there, she realizes what that meant, and says in the book “while every other mother in Littleton was praying that their child was safe, I had to pray that mine would die before he hurt anyone else”. That was heartbreaking for me to read, made harder by the knowledge that by that point her son had already taken his life, and she was not made aware of it. Finally when she asked an officer if her son was dead, he said yes, showing no empathy whatsoever. What a terrible way to find out your son has died.
Through the aftermath of Columbine and her son’s death, Klebold had to try to understand what he did, why he did it, grieve the loss of so many in a small community, and grieve the loss of her son. She talks about a number of aspects that I never thought about. Due to the obvious climate of their town, someone had to be blamed for the actions of Dylan and Eric, and since they were no longer there to take the responsibility, the blame fell squarely on the parent’s shoulders. Crosses were put up for every life lost that day, including ones for Dylan and Eric, yet they were angrily torn down. People felt that they were responsible for the tragedy and the lives lost, they did not deserved to be mourned. Yet, here were the Klebold’s (and the Harris’s), who had to grieve for her son in private, and deal with the fact that their son committed suicide. Their deaths were never discussed as suicide in the media, the focus was always on the killings (which is natural). It was heartbreaking to read that, due to the negativity and death threats they were getting, they could not bury their son properly, they knew any tombstone they erected would be vandalized. They had to go to a funeral home in secret and hide in shame for the actions of their son. I couldn’t imagine how heart breaking that must have been.
Throughout the book, Klebold does not talk about how the events unfolded at the school. She states that it has already been discussed at length in other books, and it’s not the focus for her book. She states through 3 or 4 pages in a very matter of fact manner, her sons action, from when he walked into the school, to how each life was taken, before he took his own. She has gotten a lot of slack in other reviews for this tactic in her book, as it appearing that she is evading taking responsibility. I, personally, thought it was the better way to go. She wanted this book to focus on the signs her son was suffering from depression, how easily he hid the signs, and how easily she missed them. She wanted to write about her family’s side of the story before, and after the events, not what Dylan did.
We already know what happened that day. The events of Columbine have been studied extensively. Not only did it spark a nationally debate about gun control, but it also gave other kids the idea of mass shootings in school, which sadly, have pushed Columbine down to the 4th worst shooting in US history.
Klebold illustrates in her book what life has been like since that tragic day in 1999. Her family was torn apart, she got divorced, and she now works to help people with mental health issues, and tries to help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, hoping to help someone avoid what her family, and community, went through. She is quoted from the book stating “Asking ‘why’ only makes us feel hopeless. Asking ‘how’ points the way forward, and shows us what we must do.”
I would highly recommend reading this book to anyone! It was a fascinating read into the lives of the Klebold’s, and learn that so much of the media coverage was not entirely accurate. I am glad I chose to read the book, and see things from a different perspective, from what it was like for the parents to have to live with the actions of their son, to knowing their stance on gun control, and the signs their son was suffering that went unnoticed. I couldn’t imagine the fear parent’s must have of their child potentially not making it home from school due to such an event, much less the horror that your child was responsible for such a tragedy. I am so thankful that Sue Klebold told her story, not to make money, and not to make excuses, but to be honest and open and to be vulnerable, all in hopes of helping someone else avoid the mistakes she made, and encourage someone to get help if needed.