Dispelling the myths of Columbine, 14 years later

As we remember the 14th anniversary of the tragic Columbine massacre, we would also do well to avoid perpetuating the myths. Photo: Harris and Klebold from a school security camera

WACO, Tex., April 20, 2013 — As we remember the tragic Columbine massacre 14 years ago, we should remember it as it was and avoid perpetuating myths.

Dave Cullen’s bookColumbine, demonstrates the consequenes of media misinformation. The book’s glowing reviews and awards from many sources are a testament to his extensive research.

SEE RELATED: Boston tragedy was epic media failure

Cullen spent 10 years sifting through hundreds of interviews, thousands of police records, and the killers’ journals and tapes. He spoke personally to survivors of the massacre, police officers, investigators, and journalists. In his book, Cullen dispels many of the popular myths surrounding Columbine that persist to this day. By immersing himself in life after Columbine, Cullen also offers a stunning perspective on the resilience and courage of the victims’ families.

One of the most entrenched Columbine myths is the perception of the shooters as “outcasts.” In Slate in 2004, Cullen wrote a summary of the killers’ personalities. His piece was later summarized by David Brooks of the New York Times. His publisher added these comments: “What is shocking about the Columbine shooting is just how ordinary these two boys seemed. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold loved their parents, did their homework, worked at the local pizzeria, and — contrary to widely reported accounts — were well-liked by their peers.”

The killers’ true motivations are also shocking. Columbine is often characterized as a response, a targeting of the bullies that had allegedly harassed the shooters, Eric and Dylan. However, after reading the killers’ journals, detectives (and Cullen) concluded differently: “Columbine was fundamentally different from the other school shootings. It had not really been intended as a shooting at all. Primarily, it had been a bombing that failed … Detectives let go of the targeting theory immediately. It had been sketchy to begin with, and now it was completely disproved. The media never shook it off. They saw what happened at Columbine as a shooting and the killers as outcasts targeting jocks. They filtered every new development through that lens.”

Another alarming revelation comes from witnesses to the “martyrdom” of Cassie Bernall. As the story goes, the shooters asked Cassie if she believed in God, then shot her when “She Said Yes” (the title of a book later published by her mother). The story truly is an uplifting tale of faith, but it is not factual. Eyewitnesses, a 911 tape, and the original “earwitness” of the story completely disproved the account.

SEE RELATED: Seven unanswered questions about the Boston bombers

What can we learn from all this? We can learn how little we know. Thousands of miles away, we try to analyze what drove this recent bombing in Boston. From media sound bites, we become psychologists and FBI detectives, testing theories and debating what the true cause was. In a few years, some of us may realize how wrong we were.

A major lesson from this book is that the truth will never be universally realized and accepted. No amount of evidence can dispel the general public’s insistence on being right. However, Dave Cullen has done a stellar job demonstrating the type of investigation that can lead to the truth, even if it takes 10 years.

READ MORE: Consider Again

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Danny Huizinga

Danny Huizinga is currently studying at Baylor University, pursuing three business majors in Economics, Finance, and Business Fellows with minors in mathematics and political science. Although originally from the Chicago area, he is a Texas resident. Danny writes a political blog called Consider Again located at consideragain.com and is also syndicated at The College Conservative, RedState, PolicyMic, and the Baylor Lariat.

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