Dave Cullen’s comprehensive recounting of the April 20, 1999 school shooting in Littleton, Colorado is built upon innumerable interviews, police files and media reports, along with videotapes and writings made by the killers— Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris—themselves.
The shootings, which played out on live television over the better part of a day, impacted Americans and other people around the world intensely, as was the attackers intent. It also caused society to scramble to look for reasons why this tragedy happened, and some were quick to point the finger at various elements of culture, including violent videogames.
While it’s true that both Harris and Klebold were fans of the game DOOM, Cullen’s reconstruction absolves games, and violent movies and music as well, of any direct blame. The book cites data from research done by both the FBI, 2000’s The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective (PDF), and the Secret Service’s 2002 study, The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Imitative (PDF), to assist in dispelling popular myths about school shooters.
The Secret Service’s document studied every school attack between December 1974 and May 2000, covering 41 attackers across 37 incidents. 59 percent of the attackers expressed “some interest” in violence, whether it be games, book, movies or other media. Only one-eighth exhibited an express interest in violent videogames.
The Secret Service document also helped to dispel the myth that such shooters are loners. Only one-third of the attackers were characterized by others as loners.
In Columbine’s case it boiled down to Harris being termed a psychopath by FBI Agent Dwayne Fuselier (whose son was a Columbine student at the time of the shooting), while Klebold was labeled a depressive. The combination of the two personalities, explained Cullen, helped to form a murderous dyad, similar to Leopold and Loeb, Bonnie and Clyde and the Beltway snipers of 2002.
All in all the book is a fascinating story of not only the shooters, the victims and the aftermath for both the survivors and the community, but also a look into how the shuffling feet (corruption is probably too strong a word) of bureaucracy delayed the release of information after the shooting, while also burying data on and complaints against Klebold and Harris that could have put them in jail before the tragedy.