Yesterday marked the tenth anniversary of Columbine, the familiar title given the killings at the Columbine high school in Littleton, Colorado. CNN yesterday ran a piece about the release of a new book — Columbine, by Dave Cullen — which I’ve been meaning to pick up. The big draw of the book for me is that is tells the real story of what happened and debunks many of the myths which sprung up in the immediate aftermath. Among them:
- There was a group of kids at Columbine called the Trench Coat Mafia, but Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold weren’t part of it.
- The killers did not target jocks (those wearing baseball hats, as it’s sometimes reported) or black kids. There was no discernible pattern to their killing.
- Harris and Klebold, though clearly unstable and dangerous, were not outcasts or loners, nor was their rampage apparently caused by bullying.
- Cassie Bernall, reported to have been killed when she replied to the killers that she believed in god and subsequently made a martyr by evangelical christians, in fact said no such thing. Another student was asked whether she believed in god; she answered yes, was shot and lived.
The first three myths are explained by psychologists in the CNN article as being persistent because they were (irresponsibly) reported immediately after the killing, and are convenient for people to believe because they point to Harris and Klebold being misanthropes, different from everyone else, conveniently monstrous. People don’t like to think that normal people can do terrible things, so they cast them as evil. While not logical, this is understandable as a coping mechanism.
The last myth, though…that’s the one that gets me. By the fall of 1999 it was well established that the rumour about Bernall was false, but her parents still earned royalties from a book about her death called She Said Yes released in Aug 1999 (and reprinted several times) and earned $3,500 per speaking appearance in the years since. Misinformation is one thing; exploitation another.