FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions about Columbine
1. Is there anything new to discover?
Most of what you know about Columbine is wrong. It wasn't about jocks, Goths, bullying or the Trench Coat Mafia. (See myths: #3.)
Early portraits of the killers were simplistic. "Angry boys" explains little and "outcasts" is preposterously wrong. It took seven years for authorities to release Eric and Dylan's journals.
2. What was the biggest surprise?
Eric Harris didn't see Columbine as a school shooting. He had contempt for the earlier shooters. He envisioned a bombing, and his goal was to top Oklahoma City as the worst U.S. terror attack in his life. If he had wired the big bombs correctly, he would have dwarfed that tragedy.
(FYI: Chapter 8, "Maximum Human Density," lays out Eric's plan. What actually unfolded begins in "Female Down.")
3. What are the biggest myths?
- Jocks, minorities or Christians were targeted. False.
- Columbine a hostage stand-off. The killing went on for hours. False. (Not even half an hour.)
- Eric Harris killed Dylan Klebold. False. Chapter 52, "Quiet," depicts the actual suicide, and presents the forensic evidence to back it up.
- Christian martyr Cassie Bernall's last act was a gunpoint profession of faith. False. "Martyr" describes the truth of what happened in the library, and how the confusion with another victim developed. (Other aspects of the storyline unfold in additional chapters.)
- The Trench Coat Mafia. Nearly everything about this barely-existent band is false. "Media Crime," explains how this one emerged.
- Hitler's birthday, Marilyn Manson, Goths, flying planes into New York city skyscrapers . . . All wrong. Eric did mention the planes in his journal, which lies at the heart of understanding this case: the chasms between three things: Eric's apocalyptic vision for April 20, what he set out to accomplish that morning, and what he and Dylan actually did.
4. Where did the myths come from?
The media got most of the facts right, but began jumping to conclusions about how and why while the Columbine attack was underway. There was a kernel of truth to everything, but little more.
The "Media Crime" chapter traces how quickly the Columbine myths sprouted, and explains how they gained such currency.
5. Why did the killers do it? Did we ever learn?
Yes. But the question led most of us astray. They did not have a motive—Eric Harris had motives and Dylan Klebold had a vastly different agenda. They had polar opposite personalities, and completely different paths to murder.
6. Does Columbine focus on before, during or after the attack?
All three. Columbine tells two primary stories: the killers' evolution to mass murder, and the survivors grappling to rebuild shattered lives. Dylan Klebold's gradual downward spiral is particularly suprising: from severe depression and anger at himself, to anger turned outward and mass murder.
Additionally, a cluster of chapters recreates the mayhem of Columbine through the eyes of a handful of parents, victims and cops who will play pivotal roles in the aftermath.
7. Does Columbine follow all the victims and survivors?
No. A handful of fascinating individuals illustrate the tragedy from divergent points of view. Each major character has a powerful story, a colorful personality, and a unique perspective. They include: the good cop, the bad cop, the heroic teacher, the angry dad, the principal, the martyr, the boy in the window, and killers' families and friends. Highlights include:
The teacher battling for his life in chapters "1 Bleeding to Death" and "Help is on the Way."
The most famous survivor, beginning in "The Boy in the Window."
The Christian re-awakening, peaking in "Jesus Jesus Jesus."
The struggle of teachers, counselors and two thousand shell-shocked students, beginning in "Vacant."
Dylan Klebold's tiny private funeral in "Their Hour of Need."
The bitter struggles between survivors, from "Conspiracy" to "Aftershocks" and "Lawsuits."
Resolution, nearly a decade later, in "At the Broken Places."
8. Where is the book available?
Columbine is available in hardcover, paperback, Kindle, Nook, a variety of audio formats, large-print. The Japanese translation is now out, and Korean coming soon.
It is available at all major bookstores in US, Canada, UK, Japan and Ireland. It is in larger stores in Australia, New Zealand and other Commonwealth nations. It is on all Amazon internation sites (UK, DE, FR, etc.), and can be shipped worldwide from major US stores, such as The Strand, in New York City (which carries autographed copies.)
9. Who is Dave Cullen?
Dave is an award-winning journalist who has written for Slate, Salon the New York Times, Washington Post, Times of London, and the Guardian, among others. He began covering Columbine the first hours of the attack. He broke several major Columbine stories, including:
First leaked passages from Eric Harris' journal.
Exclusive first interview with Columbine Lead Investigator Kate Battan.
Revelation that Cassie Bernall's martyrdom never happened.
First in-depth interview with Columbine Principal Frank DeAngelis.
Breakthrough analysis of the killers' motives by the FBI's forensic psychologist team.
Learn more about Dave on the Bio page.
10. How can I learn more about Columbine?
Over the last ten years, Dave compiled a vast array of Columbine information into Columbine Online. Initially developed to organize the research, it now serves as an insider's guide through the web of myths, legitimate evidence, and contradictory media coverage surrounding Columbine.
11. Why are some victims' stories not told in the book?
I dedicated the book to the thirteen who lost their lives, because I felt terrible for them and their families. But from the start, I felt my primary obligation was to the reader. (There are all sorts of memorials to the victims—physical, verbal, pictorial, etc.—which memorialize them well.)
I didn't think a book chronicling all thirteen would be an effective read—or the proper focus of this story, which in my opinion, was much broader. I picked ten people whose stories I felt were compelling, and who illustrated this tragedy from ten vantage points which would give readers a good picture. That included three of the thirteen murdered.
I saw that as the best way to engage the reader and bring you into the story, to make you feel you knew these people. I didn't actually think I could pull off ten, and was sure that adding many more would dilute the impact and ruin the effect. So I tried to be ruthless with myself in sticking to those ten, going wider only when I felt it was crucial.
That left most of the victims out, or mentioned only in passing, including people killed, injured and emotionally scarred. It also left out lots of heroes and a multitude of teachers, therapists, first responders, detectives, and others who were deeply involved in this story. I regret that I could not include them all. But I feel it was the right choice.
12. Why are there no photographs in the book?
This question actually surprised me, though it's come up several times since the book came out. I knew from day one that I didn't want photos in the book, and my editor agreed. A photograph captures one moment in time, one expression, one facet of the person (or one set of facets). I wanted a more complex, nuanced portrait, which readers can develop in their own mind.
There are plenty of photos of the principals online, and readers can peruse them if you choose. But I prefer to keep that separate from the word picture the book provides.
It includes ticklers & puzzlers that I get asked a lot.