Tuesday, July 07, 2009


I was mere blocks away when the massacre at Columbine high school occurred. We heard of it over the police band or something, so got wind of it just as the first kids started spilling out of the school.

I recall being deeply frustrated with the media reports at the time because the police had (appropriately) kept a lot of information out of the news, so the hours and hours of local reporting (which you could not escape if you had a TV on) were footage of tear-stained friends and family doing memorial stuff while the news anchor droned banalities, punctuated by the occasional weepy interview about how special someone was.

Yeah, that's pretty harsh, I know. I did and do have sympathy for the victims and their loved ones, but the news managed to be useless and unbearable. If they were in a media blackout, they should've just said so, STFU, and move on to the weather.

When I saw Columbine by Dave Cullen - though I wasn't really stoked about a journey through that particular valley of woe - I picked it up with a sigh and got down to it because I still had so many unanswered questions.

The strength of this book is how thoroughly the psychology of the two evil little motherfuckers is constructed from the diaries and tapes they left behind, augmented with a the insights that psychologists and criminal profilers have from similar cases. If you want to know the mental patch-work of evil human beings, this book will show that to you. Jodi Picoult tried to do that very thing in her Columbine-inspired Nineteen Minutes, but ended up (I feel) just embarrassing herself. (I credit her for trying, though.)

Points of interest (to me, at least):

- The "quiet time" after the initial bloodshed. Once the two little peckers had gunned down several kids in the library and cafeteria, they wandered around not shooting anyone for a 32-minute "quiet period". The author posits that this conforms to typical sociopathic behavior, in that once the initial thrill of the crime is experienced, all the "fun" drains out of it and the sociopath lapses back into boredom and disinterest.

- What happened, specifically, to the two pricks. They blew their heads off at the same time. Good riddance.

- The Cassie Bernall mythology. It was initially reported that one of the attackers pointed his gun at her and asked if she believed in God, when she said yes, he shot her. Well, that didn't happen. In reality, she didn't say anything; the gunman poked his head under the table she was hiding, yelled "peakaboo!", and shot her. (Bless her heart and may she rest in peace.) However Valeen "Val" Schnurr a few tables away had been hit with a shotgun blast and started praying, "Oh my God, oh my God, don't let me die." The attacker turned around and said, "God? Do you believe in God?" She replied, after a pause, "Yes. I believe in God." "Why?" "Because I believe. And my parents brought me up that way." He began to reload but something distracted him and he walked away. (I now find I could have resolved this question just by looking around the web a bit. Yet, this book is authoritative and some of the sites still quibble over details, so I'm glad I've got the info from a reliable source.)

- The days of April 19-20 are becoming pretty big ones in American history. All this happened on those dates:

-- Waco Branch Davidian siege famously ended in flames on the 19th, 1993
-- Oklahoma City bombing occurred on April 19, 1995
-- Columbine shooting happened, on April 20, 1999 - the date chosen because of the previous two events on this list, and the fact that it was Hitler's birthday; don't know why they didn't do it on that Monday the 19th
-- Johnson Space Center shooting, April 20th, 2007

And, interestingly (and included by me out of sheer perversity):
-- April 19, 1987 – The Simpsons premieres as a short cartoon on The Tracey Ullman Show (Source: Wikipedia)

Therefore, I'm gonna be jittery on those two days in April henceforth.

Even though I've mentioned it and it's obvious, the book is a grueling, hard read just because of the horror of the event. If it intrigues, gird your mental loins beforehand. If you'd prefer your summer be lightness and mirth, eschew this one.

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