The murder of 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, wasn’t the first mass school shooting. But it was the first to occur in the 24/7 news age. Which ensured that any detail available would be sent out into the world as soon as possible. Long before there was any context to put it in.
The shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, weren’t the most popular kids in school, but they weren’t bullied outcasts, nor did they fit into any other neat box of student tropes. Then came the outcry about violent video games, goth kids who liked Marilyn Manson. The “trench coat mafia.” All were things that people tried to link to disturbing behavior. In desperate hopes of understanding what led those two teenagers to do what they did—but none of those things were responsible for what occurred at Columbine.
They suffered from mental illness to be sure, Harris the alpha and the stone-cold killer of the pair, while Klebold was the depressive follower. But even the definitive book on the massacre. Dave Cullen’s 2009 best-seller Columbine, is so frustrating. It reveals all of the red flags evidenced by Harris ahead of time that were missed by authorities. As well as the untruths and exaggerations that piled up in the days immediately following the shooting.