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October 14, 2009 12:24 PM   Subscribe

After 10 years of silence, Susan Klebold, mother of Columbine shooter Dylon Klebold, discusses her experience and her son in a new essay in O Magazine (abstract/Napstered).

According to AP, parents of the victims have responded positively. But some are undoubtedly dissatisfied. Parents of killers, in general, and the Klebold and Harris families, in particular, have been held both morally and legally liable for the actions of their children. The families have settled lawsuits for some 1.6 million dollars in restitution to victims' families.
posted by dgaicun (80 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
How can a parent not know that their son is purchasing assault rifles by mail order?
posted by KokuRyu at 12:26 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


How can a parent not know that their son is purchasing assault rifles by mail order?

How the hell is it even possible to purchase assault rifles by mail order in the first place?!
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:34 PM on October 14, 2009 [14 favorites]


The kids were pretty canny and the parents were not particularly attentive.

How the hell is it even possible to purchase assault rifles by mail order in the first place?!

Why do you hate America?
posted by GuyZero at 12:35 PM on October 14, 2009 [22 favorites]


You can't buy assault rifles via mail order. You can mail order something and have it shipped to a local FFL-licensed firearms dealer, who you do the actual purchasing from.

Parts and accessories, yes. Actual guns, no.
posted by mrbill at 12:37 PM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Harris_and_Dylan_Klebold#Acquiring_arms says nothing about "mail order".
posted by mrbill at 12:42 PM on October 14, 2009


I think some laws were passed in the wake of Columbine changing how guns could be sold but I can't find any hard references to the shooters mail-ordering their guns. Is it in one of the linked stories and I missed it?
posted by GuyZero at 12:42 PM on October 14, 2009


How could we think for even a second that Dylan could shoot someone? Shame on us for even considering the idea. Dylan was a gentle, sensible kid.
...
More than a year earlier, they had broken into a van parked on a country road near our house.
...
In his junior year, he stunned us by hacking into the school's computer system with a friend (a violation for which he was expelled)

Gentle and sensible indeed.
posted by jckll at 12:43 PM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was under the impression mail-order guns were outlawed after the Kennedy assassination.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 12:44 PM on October 14, 2009


How the hell is it even possible to purchase assault rifles by mail order in the first place?!

They were included with a pre-order of Marilyn Manson's new album. Or something.
posted by Ufez Jones at 12:45 PM on October 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


I don't think it's particularly hard to hide shit from your parents, including buying guns. Who looks at their children and thinks, "you know what, this dude looks like he might shoot up his school." Lots of kids are moody, obnoxious, etc. Most don't go off the rails.
posted by chunking express at 12:47 PM on October 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


How can a parent not know that their son is purchasing assault rifles by mail order?

The same way my mother didn't find out I smoked until I was eighteen. Because teenagers hide things from their parents, both physically and emotionally.
posted by futureisunwritten at 12:47 PM on October 14, 2009 [8 favorites]


The rifle and two other guns were purchased by his friend and given to him. A TEC-9 was purchased from a gun show dealer.
posted by demiurge at 12:49 PM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was under the impression mail-order guns were outlawed after the Kennedy assassination. cited
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 12:51 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Harris_and_Dylan_Klebold#Acquiring_arms says nothing about "mail order".

You're absolutely right; I made a mistake.

And, in reflection, it's probably pretty easy to hide stuff from your parents. Most high school kids have part-time jobs and a lot of autonomy.

The most interesting detail in the longer linked-piece (the original article) is that Klebold's mother worked at a location 27 miles from their home, meaning she probably commuted about 45 minutes or an hour to work, and she also probably worked long hours.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:52 PM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't know, she outlines a failure throughout the system. He obviously had some technical proclivity, but when they caught him "hacking" into a school's computer system he is expelled? I've seen popular kids get away with much, much worse ... the worse being the institutionalized pranks that seniors play, but only the right seniors.

Writing an incredibly disturbing paper about killing your classmates and the teacher doesn't even bring it to the parent teacher conference? When the parent asks to see it, or at the very least show it to a guidance counselor it is ignored completely.

And when it is all over, who does everyone blame? The parents. Bad parenting. Were they abused? No. Hey, the parents went to fucking parent-teacher conferences which in many schools is an amazing accomplishment in itself. Sure he acted weird, but interacting with him showed nothing more than average teenage angst. Ironically, if the parents had come down hard on the video games and trenchcoats and poor choice in music, they probably would have focused on their parents and like 90% of suburbia, blamed everything on them up until grad school.

I'm no saying their model parents by any means, but Columbine wasn't exactly Sesame Street. I've worked with a guy who graduated a year or two ahead of this and spent some time with his friends a couple times after work. These are average, normal people -- dare I even say were probably popular students. And not one had anything good to say about Columbine, or the community. They way they describe it, it was some sort of Revolutionary Road hell where the real problems were not the lack of culture, lack of diversity, it was that no one cared. It was a prosperous suburb in the late 90s, everyone had only known things going up. This year you buy the house, next year you're buying the luxury car. You can bury yourself in your job and you'll be steadily rewarded. They make it sound almost like some sort of narcotic haze.

Take your normal high school clique experience and then multiply it by writing a paper describing how you'll brutally kill everyone in it and at most you'll get a passing reference to your parents about how it was disturbing. Sort of like finding a dead bird in your yard, ignore it and a cat will carry it away.

Obviously they deserve a lot of responsibility in regards to their actions, but blaming it just on parenting or lax gun control laws is a little too easy. But when you have two teenagers who think the only life after high school is the same mundane, brutal existence they've known all their life and the only recourse is some sort of paranoid fantasy? There's plenty of blame to go around on that one.
posted by geoff. at 12:52 PM on October 14, 2009 [40 favorites]


I hid a 6-foot long potato cannon from my parents for three years before my mom found it. She asked for a demonstration, not knowing exactly what it was (and thinking it might be a bong). When she saw me take board out of our privacy fence with, she confiscated it.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 12:53 PM on October 14, 2009 [6 favorites]


I don't know about the guns and bombs, but when it comes to their mental states...as a teenager and (to a somewhat lesser extent) while in university I was often close to suicidally depressed, and my parents had no idea. When I finally told them they were shocked. To all appearances I was a pretty happy kid.
posted by you just lost the game at 12:55 PM on October 14, 2009 [8 favorites]


The most interesting detail in the longer linked-piece (the original article) is that Klebold's mother worked at a location 27 miles from their home, meaning she probably commuted about 45 minutes or an hour to work, and she also probably worked long hours.

Why does the distance from their home imply she works long hours?
posted by chunking express at 12:57 PM on October 14, 2009


KokuRyu: "Also, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Harris_and_Dylan_Klebold#Acquiring_arms says nothing about "mail order".

You're absolutely right; I made a mistake.

And, in reflection, it's probably pretty easy to hide stuff from your parents. Most high school kids have part-time jobs and a lot of autonomy.

The most interesting detail in the longer linked-piece (the original article) is that Klebold's mother worked at a location 27 miles from their home, meaning she probably commuted about 45 minutes or an hour to work, and she also probably worked long hours.
"

Long commute <> Long hours

And why is that a remotely interesting detail?
posted by jckll at 12:58 PM on October 14, 2009


I picked up Columbine by Dave Cullen this year without ever having been terribly interested in the tragedy. I thought it was an excellent read and extremely informative. After that read, it's pretty shocking to see this article. I didn't ever think that either of the shooters' parents would speak to the press.
posted by hue at 12:59 PM on October 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


And why is that a remotely interesting detail?

The implication is that they were remote parents who spent little time with their teenage sons. The parent's own description is very likely to be biased towards putting them in a positive light but there's no objective way to really know how much time the parents spent with their kids.
posted by GuyZero at 1:04 PM on October 14, 2009


I'm two thirds of the way through the Cullen book, and I can't recommend it enough.

It's worth emphasizing that this was in no way revenge or the result of a tough high school. Eric Harris was a full blown psychopath who had no regard for human life except as a tool to make him feel something. Dylan Klebold was a depressive unlucky enough to be caught in his wake as often happens with that combination.

They were not picked on, they were not unpopular, they were not goths or part of the trench coat mafia. Harris's stated goal from his journals was to outdo the body count of the Oklahoma city bombing. And had he been better at constructing home made explosives, he would have succeeded.
posted by lumpenprole at 1:04 PM on October 14, 2009 [6 favorites]


Cullen's Columbine is fantastic. He followed that story from the very beginning until today. A definite must read and one of the best pieces of non fiction published recently. It turns a lot of the conventional wisdom on its head (trenchcoat mafia, the boys were picked on, etc) and produces some startling but convincing conclusions. He's constantly updating his blog and had a response to this article before it was published -- some people got him an early copy. You can read it here.
posted by matthewstopheles at 1:08 PM on October 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


They way they describe it, it was some sort of Revolutionary Road hell where the real problems were not the lack of culture, lack of diversity, it was that no one cared. It was a prosperous suburb in the late 90s, everyone had only known things going up. This year you buy the house, next year you're buying the luxury car. You can bury yourself in your job and you'll be steadily rewarded. They make it sound almost like some sort of narcotic haze.

This is what every middle class kid thinks of his neighborhood. It's precisely what I thought of the town I grew up in, until I moved far away and had the chance to live in some real hell-holes. Then I came to appreciate what a rare and precious thing the middle-class American suburb is, how historically unlikely it is, and how when the day comes that historical forces inevitably wear it away, we will look back upon these suburbs in a kind of awe, and appreciate the fact it enabled a few generations, at least, to enjoy golden childhoods and charmed lives. If the Columbine killers were evil, it doesn't reflect on their parents or neighborhood or school. They were evil, like the "evil man" in Solzhenitsyn's "Cancer Ward" who "threw tobacco" in the monkey's eyes at the zoo. Such evil pops up in palaces and favellas, and has no explanation, beyond the fact that if there is any cruel or magnificent thing that can be done by a human being, it will be done, by someone.
posted by Faze at 1:13 PM on October 14, 2009 [10 favorites]


The implication is that they were remote parents who spent little time with their teenage sons.

I think that's a pretty big leap. In Toronto, a lot of people will commute downtown from the suburbs like North York and Scarborough. I doubt all of them are absent parents.
posted by chunking express at 1:16 PM on October 14, 2009


I was an incredibly secretive teenager. No particular reason for it, perhaps besides plain old WASPy guilt that whatever I was doing, it was the wrong thing to be doing.

Now, I wasn't even smoking or drinking or, god forbid, buying assault rifles. But I know I drove my mother crazy even so, and I dread the days when my children will close down and turn away from me into their own interior lives, when everything seems like the absolute end of the road.
posted by muddgirl at 1:17 PM on October 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


Also, a 26-mile commute is relatively short. I don't know the area that well, but it sounds like a typical suburb-to-city distance to me.
posted by muddgirl at 1:18 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


They left signs everywhere, described by Cullen with a keen investigative eye and psychological acumen.

Signs are a lot more obvious after the fact.

Fun story from a friend of a friend: a guy and his sister were in their parent's office after hours. He liked to draw, and had his sister point a (fake?) gun at him so he could get the perspective right. When he didn't need her to hold the gun, she was poking around the office, and found what they thought was a garage door opener, and she pushed it to see if she could hear a door open. Nothing happened, so she pushed it a couple more times. She sits back down and poses for him again. That button was a silent alarm, and soon the police arrive to find a young lady pointing a gun at a young man. He was seen as the aggressor or something of the sort, so he had to see a therapist. He brought his drawings, and the therapist was concerned for his mental health because he didn't draw people with feet. Why did he not finish the drawings? Because he wasn't good at drawing feet.

If someone is assumed or known to be dangerous, anything can look like a warning.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:22 PM on October 14, 2009 [10 favorites]


Parents know little of their adolescents unless they are remarkably controlling, or the children in question share and share and share. Personally, I did quite a bit about which my parents hadn't the slightest inkling. I believe most of us have. Even were a busy parent to take the step of searching a teenager's room, it isn't likely that they'll come up with guns. If you're looking, you're looking for weed or condoms. And there are so many places to stash things — any place you can hide a bottle of liquor can also hold a handgun. A nook suitable for copies of Hustler can hold a notebook with elaborate plans for the death of your classmates. Some assault rifles wouldn't be too hard to conceal, just hang them on the back of the headboard from a couple of wires. You'd need a parent with both a great deal of time on their hands and an urge to intrude to read her son's journals — and what would you be looking for? "I'm checking out the kid's diary to see if he's gonna kill some people."

Parents are not great at assessing the shortcomings and strengths of their children: too critical, not critical enough, focus on the wrong things. A little hacking? I suspect a great number of people here had some obviously illegal intrusions into other computer systems as teens; I did. Breaking into a van requires a little more denial. She continues to discuss this as if it were a particularly unfortunate suicide, so in some sense, she might still be deceiving herself.

It is easy to blame her for not being more aware of her son's inner conflict, but it is quite difficult to know someone who, I suspect, didn't even know himself.
posted by adipocere at 1:25 PM on October 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


I managed to hide a butterfly knife for a good while. Then my mom found it and took it away. And then I found it again when I was in University! And then I left it out like an idiot and she took it away again. And it's been gone ever since. That knife was awesome.

I also had a replica centimeter master BB gun. My parents knew about that, since in my head a BB gun wasn't that big a deal. And then one day that was disappeared also.

Anyways, I think hiding shit from your parents is shockingly easy. I have friends who hid boyfriends for years and years.
posted by chunking express at 1:31 PM on October 14, 2009


adipocere - David Cullen remarks on the point of suicide, actually, and his blog post about this article makes me want to read his book very much.
Sue will likely take flack for seeing Dylan's actions largely through the lens of suicide--motivated by suicide. I have heard many readers sneer in emails at my events, about Sue "conveniently" thinking in those terms. But those are the same terms the FBI sees it, which I see, it, which nearly everyone who has studied the case sees it.
Dylan's was primarily suicidal. That's what drove he. He followed a familiar patterns of angry depressives, who perform vengeful suicides: killing themselves and taking others with him. To understand Dylan you have to understand suicides.
posted by muddgirl at 1:34 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think that's a pretty big leap.

I agree it's pretty tenuous.
posted by GuyZero at 1:40 PM on October 14, 2009


RE: the 26 mile distance. I lived in Denver proper and commuted to a job about 2 miles from Columbine High School in 1993. While the distance itself was not long, the actual traffic coming off and getting on the one major freeway caused tremendous delays. It's not the distance, it's the route and the other traffic.
posted by spicynuts at 1:41 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Gah, always forget to put in my final point -

The end of this article makes the target audience very clear - not armchair psychologists like us, but other mothers, readers of O Magazine, who may think "that if I loved someone as deeply as I loved him, I would know if he were in trouble. My maternal instincts would keep him safe. But I didn't know. And my instincts weren't enough."
posted by muddgirl at 1:42 PM on October 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


I can feel nothing but sorrow and pity for this woman, and for the parents of these two boys in general, who, it's become increasingly evident, were motivated by mental illness. The murderous aspect of this was disease, but this wasn't a terminal disease that takes just the sufferer, but people around the sufferer. And these are clever diseases, and pernicious, and the boys took efforts to mask their madness until it was too late. Blame is fairly useless in addressing diseases like depression and psychopathology. We might as well grope around for who to blame when lightning strikes someone.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:45 PM on October 14, 2009 [17 favorites]


This is what every middle class kid thinks of his neighborhood. It's precisely what I thought of the town I grew up in...

...when the day comes that historical forces inevitably wear it away, we will look back upon these suburbs in a kind of awe, and appreciate the fact it enabled a few generations, at least, to enjoy golden childhoods and charmed lives.

Looks like someone just cranked the nostalgia dial to 11.
posted by Epenthesis at 1:45 PM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm amazed that she is finally speaking to anyone about it. I think the horror of losing your own child is unfathomable, but to lose your own child and to know he was responsible for the deaths of numerous other innocent people... children... I think she's incredibly brave.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:45 PM on October 14, 2009 [8 favorites]


Yeah, as someone who has been a teenager and has teenagers, I am amazed what can be kept secret. I also can't recommend highly enough the Columbine book by Dave Cullen,
It is not the sensationalist book you might think it would be, but really a introspective look at how such a horrendous crime could happen,
What really stands out as you read it is the poor performance of local police and the disinformation they continually spewed to the press. I came away from it feeling for Dylan Klebold's parents. They knew he had issues, but had always been in the shadow of his much more outgoing older brother. From what I remeber of the book, they were giving him space to be himself, trying not to compare him with theirother child.
The guns were purchased by an older girlfriend of one of the boys, she had tangential knowledge of their activities at best, but no clue of their eventual plan.
posted by readery at 1:47 PM on October 14, 2009


In regards to her commute and time spent with kids, it is my understanding that the father worked from home and was there most of the time. So obviously commute is not a significant factor.
posted by Bueller at 1:48 PM on October 14, 2009


Damn it, I have to go to class so I won't be able to follow up on this, but to the people saying things like
Eric Harris was a full blown psychopath who had no regard for human life except as a tool to make him feel something. Dylan Klebold was a depressive unlucky enough to be caught in his wake as often happens with that combination.

They were not picked on, they were not unpopular, they were not goths or part of the trench coat mafia. Harris's stated goal from his journals was to outdo the body count of the Oklahoma city bombing. And had he been better at constructing home made explosives, he would have succeeded.
I think this is really interesting because from what I've read and heard it is absolutely true that these kids were not depressed outcasts, but that they were, at least where I came from, pretty much universally considered to be the victims of bullying and an uncaring community. I think this means that we were all really ready and even looking for this type of narrative. I remember the day after Colombine the class president asked me if they should be worried because I'd always acted all depressed and they wanted to know if I was going to kill anyone. This appalled me because it meant that he had NOTICED I'd been depressed and didn't think to say anything until people died halfway across the country. The general interpretation of this as two unpopular kids lashing out just made so much sense; it might have been inaccurate, but I think it also articulated a feeling of alienation a lot of high school kids had (and have) and it's fascinating to me how pervasive that narrative is despite its inaccuracy.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:49 PM on October 14, 2009 [7 favorites]


No one's really mentioned thus far that Susan Klebold's ability to articulate the situation/dynamic/and fallout of the attack seemed pretty sincere and astute. I say this because so often these kind of things are written by parents who don't have the ability to process what happened in any way and we get a long string of generic statements. This one seemed rather aware of all the things in play with the situation and the sentiment that comes along with writing these sort of "tragedy from the perpetrator" retrospectives. And for that? I dunno. I believe her. Could something me missing in her appraisal? Sure. She even acknowledges so... but it could very well be just the reality of a biologically depression inclined kid caught in a perfect storm of ignorance/opportunity/and environment that let to a horrible, horrible tragedy. (Note: this would just be in Dylan's case I guess. I'm really going to read that cullen book. Thanks for the recommendations mefi).
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 1:55 PM on October 14, 2009


In Toronto, a lot of people will commute downtown from the suburbs like North York and Scarborough.

North York and Scarborough are parts of Toronto.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 2:04 PM on October 14, 2009


Just speaking up to nth the recommendations of Cullen's Columbine. Great book.
posted by box at 2:09 PM on October 14, 2009


North York and Scarborough are parts of Toronto.

North York can be part of Toronto if it wants. Scarborough is Scarborough, and no forced amalgamation can change that. Torontonian is your slave name!
posted by chunking express at 2:14 PM on October 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


Oh my god that poor woman. How brave to write that, and to expose herself and her family to even more condemnation.

Some of the comments here show how quick people are to blame parents, especially mothers, and how little empathy is available for someone who is as much a victim as any other parent in this tragedy.
posted by ottereroticist at 2:18 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


The average US worker commutes for about half an hour. I'm not sure that Klebold's parents' commute is unusual or anything particularly "bad" in contrast to that of other families. (Even though I think commutes erode the power of the family.)
posted by acoutu at 2:28 PM on October 14, 2009


But when you have two teenagers who think the only life after high school is the same mundane, brutal existence they've known all their life and the only recourse is some sort of paranoid fantasy?

Growing Up Absurd

The most interesting detail in the longer linked-piece...

That's the most interesting detail? His dad worked at home. Honestly, that would have upset me much more than my mom working 40-50 hours a week, 27 miles way.

Idiotic.

(I can only assume sour cream is joking, though it's a tough read.)
posted by mrgrimm at 3:37 PM on October 14, 2009


[few comments removed - if we can't tell if you're racist or joking you maybe need to try harder, thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 3:40 PM on October 14, 2009



It's worth emphasizing that this was in no way revenge or the result of a tough high school. Eric Harris was a full blown psychopath who had no regard for human life except as a tool to make him feel something. Dylan Klebold was a depressive unlucky enough to be caught in his wake as often happens with that combination.

They were not picked on, they were not unpopular, they were not goths or part of the trench coat mafia. Harris's stated goal from his journals was to outdo the body count of the Oklahoma city bombing. And had he been better at constructing home made explosives, he would have succeeded.


I, too, read and thought that Cullen's book was excellent. But he really does play down the horrible, bullying, alienating school climate that did exist Columbine. Harris may have been a psychopath and Klebold a depressive who would have killed only himself if he'd not met Harris-- but they *were* at the absolute bottom of the social hierarchy in a school where that meant real suffering.

Sure, they weren't the most scapegoated of all-- but they were bullied and they were subject to the harrowing for outcasts "winning is the only thing" ethos of the place. If you read Cullen carefully, you will see how he admits this only to dismiss it.

My co-author, a leading expert in child trauma, was asked to help the Littleton community respond to Columbine to prevent a recurrence and he found that the school climate was indeed problematic.

And there are ways to make school climates more welcoming-- so it's not like "all American public schools are inevitably like this." Some of these approaches have been shown to reduce suicide and presumably, murder-suicide as well.

I think she was very brave and very insightful in her writing of this-- but I do believe the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater in the notion that bullying and school climate were irrelevant.
posted by Maias at 3:52 PM on October 14, 2009 [7 favorites]



...when the day comes that historical forces inevitably wear it away, we will look back upon these suburbs in a kind of awe, and appreciate the fact it enabled a few generations, at least, to enjoy golden childhoods and charmed lives.


I hope he's being sarcastic here?

To me there is a high--very high--proportion of teenagers (and adults) who absolutely feel trapped and depressed in this kind of setting. The place is made for adults to raise children in the most comfortable, obstacle-less, worry-free environment possible. It's like finding a nice clean cell for somebody, devoid of any stimulation outside of the approved stuff.

This setting seems fine for small children, but for teens (and from my own memory as a teen) the suburbs were soul killing.
posted by thisperon at 3:57 PM on October 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


Blame is fairly useless in addressing diseases like depression and psychopathology. We might as well grope around for who to blame when lightning strikes someone.

Easy access to assault weapons didn't hurt, either.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:01 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think this is the most terrible thing that can happen to a parent. The devastation that the victims' families must have felt is overwhelming to contemplate, but this: unfathomable.

Reading the article, I was reminded of the statement released by Seung-Hui Cho's sister after the Virginia Tech massacre.

We are humbled by this darkness. We feel hopeless, helpless and lost. This is someone that I grew up with and loved. Now I feel like I didn't know this person.

We have always been a close, peaceful and loving family. My brother was quiet and reserved, yet struggled to fit in. We never could have envisioned that he was capable of so much violence.

He has made the world weep. We are living a nightmare.

posted by granted at 4:02 PM on October 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


Easy access to assault weapons didn't hurt, either.

True. (And lightning rods don't hurt; there's certainly things that can be done about lightning strikes.) There's plenty that could have been done here; I just don't find the parents uniquely to blame.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:06 PM on October 14, 2009


the suburbs were soul killing.

Well, perhaps you should tour the world a little. Maybe you're whining about "soul killing suburbs"; you could compare notes with child soldiers. People whose kids don't grow up because they starve in infancy. Kids in inner-city areas who would love for their biggest problem to be ennui rather than being shot down as a byproduct of a gang fall-out.
posted by rodgerd at 4:17 PM on October 14, 2009 [5 favorites]


There's always somebody worse off. That doesn't invalidate the experiences of somebody's suburban childhood. I mean, you could just as easily say to a child soldier "You should try being one of those babies who is born in constant agony and doesn't live long." Yes, that's worse. But child soldier is really bad. And suburban childhood is, for some, really boring and soul crushing.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:21 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."

—Philo of Alexandria
posted by Forrest Greene at 4:24 PM on October 14, 2009 [45 favorites]


Well, perhaps you should tour the world a little. Maybe you're whining about "soul killing suburbs"; you could compare notes with child soldiers. People whose kids don't grow up because they starve in infancy. Kids in inner-city areas who would love for their biggest problem to be ennui rather than being shot down as a byproduct of a gang fall-out.

Hey, I'm not discounting the experiences of the BILLIONS of people who are worse off than your average American middle-class family.

I'm just saying that this comment about being suburbia being all sweetness and light isn't accurate for everyone who lives there.
posted by thisperon at 4:34 PM on October 14, 2009


When Columbine happened, I like the rest of the country was horrified at what at happened and wondered how such a thing had occurred. And I in my ignorance assumed that the parents of these killers had been distant, uninvolved and uncaring parents. My thoughts were with the victims and my judgment was firmly on the parents of the killers - how could they not know. This short powerful essay that had me weeping by the end revealed to me a mother who loved her son like I love my children, a mother who wanted to give her son the confidence of her love and strove to provide what he needed to go out into the world, a mother whose heartache at losing her son will be forever tied with the heartache of having a son who could do such horrific things. She has my profound respect, my prayers and my sorrow at the burden she must bear. This was an incredibly brave act and I'm not sure I would've have the courage to go on after such a tragedy much less the courage to share these intensely private thoughts to a world that will surely judge.
posted by bluesky43 at 5:03 PM on October 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


Every time I think about Columbine I think of Matt Stone's thoughts in Bowling for Columbine, which to me was the most trenchant part of the film. The hometown boy who probably had a hell of a lot in common with at least Klebold, if not Harris, but who made good by getting out of there and building an empire around lambasting small-town Colorado, and he gets it. He knows what it was like to be an outcast there, and he hits the nail on the head with his question about how these kids didn't understand that they were this close to being out of there.

But of course, as a teen, it's easy not to see things that way. Every day is a lifetime - and sometimes an awful one. It's easy to imagine a teenager feeling the rising timbre of his environment as it gets closer to prom and graduation and all that and read it as a call to action. It's also easy to imagine how they might have not been able to see past their time in Littleton with any clarity.

And if what I'm understanding of Cullen's account is correct, it's very, very easy to imagine this as the result of a cult of sorts, with one psychopathic, sociopathic leader and one lost, misguided, easily-led follower.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:21 PM on October 14, 2009


I, too, read and thought that Cullen's book was excellent. But he really does play down the horrible, bullying, alienating school climate that did exist Columbine. Harris may have been a psychopath and Klebold a depressive who would have killed only himself if he'd not met Harris-- but they *were* at the absolute bottom of the social hierarchy in a school where that meant real suffering.

... which suddenly reminds me. The Onion at its very best/worst: Columbine Jocks Safely Resume Bullying
posted by philip-random at 5:34 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Another nod to the excellent Cullen book. Comprehending Columbine by Larkin, Ceremonial Violence by J Fast, Going Postal by M Ames and Rampage by K Newman are also excellent resources on the disturbing but clearly fascinating subject of school shootings.

One of the things clearly outlined in the Cullen and other books is that in many of these cases the shooters were bullied at school, as others in this thread have mentioned. The experience of slogging through high school was bad for most of us, sure. Now think of the kid that you went to high school with: the one who was the most picked on, beat up, tormented. Scared to go into the bathroom because he was frequently assaulted just trying to take a piss, called fag when simply trying to walk the halls to get to class, locker sharpie'd with insults, food knocked off of cafeteria tray. Every. Fucking. Day. Week in, week out. Do you remember him? Maybe you were him?

Now, think of what it would have meant to his daily life if some, just some of that bullshit was curtailed by school administration. If the daily low-grade torment that has been handed out by jocks and mean girls in high schools since the beginning of time was simply not tolerated. If it was socially acceptable for students to go to teachers or guidance counselors to ask for help and not have that result in more bullying. Or to point out unfair behavior that is happening to another student, or things that concern you about a classmate without being labeled a snitch.

Would it have helped some of the students who eventually ended up engaging in shooting rampages? Some, sure. All, doubtfully. Certainly some were complete psychopaths who would have managed to melt down in some capacity eventually, but had daily life been just a tad more bearable for the students at the bottom of the social ladder it is more than possible that one or more of these shootings could have been prevented.

And no, I am not excusing the actions of the students who committed these crimes. There are millions of us who have been in close to unbearable situations at school or work and managed to not do what these kids did. I am in agreement with that, so please do not jump on me about that. For whatever reason these kids had a breaking point that they felt needed to be expressed in the violent and public manner they did, and that's well beyond what I am going/able to write about here. But had the pressure cooker of their daily existence been externally dialed down a couple of notches, it is possible that their breaking points not been reached and some of these massacres been avoided.
posted by 8dot3 at 5:36 PM on October 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


Well, perhaps you should tour the world a little. Maybe you're whining about "soul killing suburbs"; you could compare notes with child soldiers. People whose kids don't grow up because they starve in infancy. Kids in inner-city areas who would love for their biggest problem to be ennui rather than being shot down as a byproduct of a gang fall-out.

There's truth here, but there's also blindness. Fact is, whatever it is that drove Klebold + Harris to act, it came from suburbia (or certainly gestated there), not the mean streets of some ghetto, not war torn sub-Sahara Africa. To not accept this (and make serious effort to understand it) is to accept that there will be more Columbines.
posted by philip-random at 5:43 PM on October 14, 2009


Eric Harris was a full blown psychopath who had no regard for human life except as a tool to make him feel something. Dylan Klebold was a depressive unlucky enough to be caught in his wake as often happens with that com

Leopold & Loeb

Dick Hickock & Perry Smith

Christopher Worrell & James Miller

Raskolnikov & Raskolnikov
posted by granted at 5:54 PM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Blame is fairly useless in addressing diseases like depression and psychopathology. We might as well grope around for who to blame when lightning strikes someone.

Actually, no. There is no predisposition to psychiatric illness or psychopathy that cannot be exacerbated by childhood trauma. Schizophrenia, bipolar-- the risk for even these most "biological" mental illnesses-- is dramatically increased by childhood trauma and maltreatment. While there are clearly genetic aspects to sociopathy, if you want to ensure that a predisposition becomes a problem, abuse and neglect your children. The actual mechanism for at least one clear pathway from childhood trauma to depression has now been elucidated-- there are undoubtedly others.

Obviously, that wasn't the story here. But to pretend that depression and psychopathology are just as likely to hit someone who hasn't suffered severe trauma during childhood as someone who has is to claim that lightning is as likely to strike a person sitting in a grounded apartment in New York City in the middle of the winter as it is to strike someone on a golf course in Tampa during an electrical storm.
posted by Maias at 6:18 PM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Every time I think about Columbine I think of Matt Stone's thoughts in Bowling for Columbine, which to me was the most trenchant part of the film.

I think the most insightful part of Bowling for Columbine was the way Marilyn Manson came across as the only sane, thoughtful individual in the whole damn movie.
posted by rokusan at 9:41 PM on October 14, 2009 [7 favorites]


One of the things clearly outlined in the Cullen and other books is that in many of these cases the shooters were bullied at school, as others in this thread have mentioned.

8dot3 -- actually, what I found most interesting about Columbine is that Cullen repeatedly demonstrates the shooters were NOT bullied. If anything, Eric Harris terrorized other kids in his class. Harris in particular was good liking, well liked, occasionally feared and never in want for girlfriends. The idea that these kids were bullied and snapped is one of the central myths that Cullen debunks.
posted by matthewstopheles at 5:34 AM on October 15, 2009


And by good liking, which sounds Anglo-Saxon and which he obviously wasn't, I mean good looking. Geesh.
posted by matthewstopheles at 5:35 AM on October 15, 2009


I guess I'm going to have to buy the Cullen book and Amazon's "Secret Psychopath" index on me will increase just a little bit more.

I absolutely think it was suicide, yes, but it has to be viewed as something larger than that. Your standard suicide just isn't planned out like that, it doesn't generally take that many people along for the ride, and so forth. The school shooting at my junior high (I may always think of it as "our school shooting") came from bullying, and I have probably used that as a template ever since.

People can be their most irrational and destructive in their anger when it is first born as fear, then transforms into an inescapable thing. When you cannot run, you turn to face what you most fear, and that turns into rage. A student who is bullied and has no help from the administration, no real action from the parents, and so forth, must live in fear every school day and often on days when they aren't trapped in a brick building with people who loathe them, often for little good reason. Incidents happen in high school and junior high that just would not pass for adults. Things that would get grown-ups arrested for battery or stalking might, just might merit a stern look ... assuming that it is even noticed.

I think one was so immersed in his depression that he was unable to picture life as anything than "more of high school." The other rode that to, what, glory? Some kind of statement? (I could never get a handle on Harris) I don't think we will ever know the extent of the bullying — the media tells us tragedy transmutes the fallen into angels and the survivors into heroes, regardless of their actual actions — but Klebold's actions are not inconsistent with someone who finally turned and struck out to destroy something he felt he could not escape, and, at last, his existence. It's certainly suicide, but it's a great deal more than that.
posted by adipocere at 8:05 AM on October 15, 2009


He knows what it was like to be an outcast there, and he hits the nail on the head with his question about how these kids didn't understand that they were this close to being out of there.

I, too, had this part stick in my mind. It's something I almost always say to teenagers I see who are suicidal or otherwise deeply disturbed by their environment. You're almost done. You can go somewhere else, do anything, just hang in there and it'll change. So far I haven't had any of them actually attempt suicide after I saw them, so maybe it (or, obviously, something else) helped.
posted by threeturtles at 8:50 AM on October 15, 2009


Before kids, it felt like a no-brainer: the parents could not have possibly been involved in their kids' lives enough. Now, as the parent of toddlers, when people tell me that the terrible twos are a mild precursor to the way-more-terrible teens, I reflect on how brutally difficult it is to be a positive influence on my kids, and shudder. And pray. Hard.
posted by rahnefan at 10:00 AM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


To me there is a high--very high--proportion of teenagers (and adults) who absolutely feel trapped and depressed in this kind of setting. The place is made for adults to raise children in the most comfortable, obstacle-less, worry-free environment possible. It's like finding a nice clean cell for somebody, devoid of any stimulation outside of the approved stuff.

I grew up in suburbia and loved it, so it's hard for me to imagine what I might do to counter its darker influences. This environment supports me in my efforts to feed, clothe, educate, exercise, protect, and comfort my three kids, and suburban conveniences afford me enough free time to attend to their requests and spend private moments with them regularly. But the lack of challenge is clearly a problem ("poisoned with protection," as Neil Young puts it), and maybe there are others I don't see.

What would you suggest?
posted by Greenie at 10:52 AM on October 15, 2009


RE: Suburbia vs. Somalia...

There are worse places to be a child than a picket-fence suburb, surely, but instead of looking at in a strict utilitarian fashion, look instead at the wasted potential. Think of all the physical resources, and the latent political capital in a place like a suburb. What could progressive community organizations and progressive schools mean?

The "Well, at least you're not in Africa!" argument is reductionist and useless.
posted by codacorolla at 11:12 AM on October 15, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think this is the most terrible thing that can happen to a parent.

I'd disagree. I think the most terrible thing that can happen to a parent is to have their child disappear with no explanation or resolution. At least the Klebolds know what happened and can move on (how, I do not pretend to know.)

He knows what it was like to be an outcast there, and he hits the nail on the head with his question about how these kids didn't understand that they were this close to being out of there.

Yeah, this is the point that always struck me too. They were a month away from being done with it all ...

I think one was so immersed in his depression that he was unable to picture life as anything than "more of high school."

I guess that's the most depressing thing of all. Is the "real world" that much different than high school? The attractive, wealthy kids still dominate. (The biggest difference, of course, is the autonomy to make your own situation as best you can.)

Somewhere, in one of these accounts (the David Brooks column, I think), it's mentioned that Klebold and his father had just been looking at dorm rooms at the University of Arizona, where Klebold planned to go in the fall.

Perhaps he visited college, found it to be much of the same as high school, and just couldn't imagine another four years of the same.

I was a near suicidally depressed teen, and my high school was fine. It was the rest of life that was (and is) so damn depressing.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:06 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


“’How can a parent not know that their son is purchasing assault rifles by mail order?’
‘Why do you hate America?’ “

Loltruthinez

The tec-9 is an automatic handgun. The hi-point was a carbine. The other two were shotguns. I understand they got someone to buy the weapons for them at a gun show.
Why didn’t Tipper Gore do a better job banning albums with explicit lyrics?
Why didn’t Hillary Clinton get all those violent video games banned?

It’s easy to throw one’s pet beliefs at an issue. Now, most certainly access to firearms led to deaths here. And I think the penalties for purchasing firearms by proxy should be much, much greater. Most especially when it contributes to a tragedy like this.
But:

“Obviously they deserve a lot of responsibility in regards to their actions, but blaming it just on parenting or lax gun control laws is a little too easy.”
You’d think so… but knees jerk.
In a school, in close quarters, I would much rather face an untrained assailant using an actual assault rifle rather than a shotgun. This is not to defend firearm ownership (here) but rather to illustrate the depth of ignorance many folks have on this topic and the dangers of wantonly conflating details and confusing the issue. (I recognize KokuRyu made a mistake – it’s not the mistake I’m indicating but the reiteration of the idea regardless of the corrections that have been made. )

A complete ban on all assault rifles – indeed, if manufacture of them were halted, would not have prevented this particular event.
The most dangerous weapons these two had during this particular event, because of the environment and the circumstances, were the shotguns. And those were sporting models. Again, this is not to debate this topic, merely to illustrate that the argument of means is much broader than it appears. And it, along with parenting, are, I agree with other sentiments here, not the main issue.

“I hid a 6-foot long potato cannon from my parents for three years before my mom found it”
I did that when I was a kid. My dad found it and it turned into a project - 'No, no, your ballistics are going to be thrown off if you don’t have a way to regulate the pressure… You’ll have no accuracy….haven’t you put any thought into this at all?'

I went through a fascination with this kind of stuff and my dad turned it, all of it, into a discipline.
Something that irritates me – if the parents here are responsible for their kids being murderers, why aren’t the parents of the other kids here responsible for their own kids being victims?
School shootings had happened before this. Why then was there no preparation for it?
Obviously I’m being facetious. There are some things beyond the scope of two parent's control. And yet...

Thing about my dad, when I was a kid, he never left me alone. I mean, whatever I did, he would stick his nose into it. It wasn’t that I couldn’t get away with anything. It was that even doing stuff that could be considered anti-social, like making fires (we had a fireplace), he would plunge me more fully into. Take me to a fire station. Look at people in burn wards. Go to a power plant, factory, etc. see how fire is used. My dad just wouldn’t f’ing leave me alone.

And it was only later that it hit me – he never left me alone. And it was amazing how many other people he included in my life. And how, as a result, I got included in so many other people's lives.

Here - it’s instructive how, in the NYT piece, you have one the one hand the Klebolds saying people have been good hearted, and on the other hand blaming the toxic culture for contributing to this. Not surprising though.
People are more than willing to compete for all kinds of social advantages and do things in increments and day by day that viewed in the aggregate are appallingly callous. And yet, someone dies, a tragedy happens – they’re forgiving, kind, all that.
But it’s easy to be kind so someone who is no longer competition. It’s relatively simple to help someone shoulder adversity.
It’s what we do day by day that really defines us. The kindness in the small acts.
And I wonder where all these good hearted people were before this tragedy.
I have to echo Marilyn Manson from that documentary and ask - why wasn’t anyone listening before this happened?
Only answer that seems to come up is ‘it’s hard.’

Well, yeah it is. If it were easy or if it came with a visible reward everyone would do it all the time.
As it is – by all accounts - the parents in the community were teaching their kids something other than charity and humility as day to day virtues. Same could be said of a lot of communities.

So one has to ask then – by who’s virtue do we escape further tragedies?
Probably some underpaid counselor taking the time somewhere, or some teacher with an ear or some kid with a shoulder or any number of otherwise invisible people who go unrewarded and unrewarded with accolades because they don’t go around ‘forgiving’ the poor, poor little people. They’re there with you, not ‘for’ you. They don’t leave you alone.
Sounds to me like nearly everyone in that place was an island unto themselves.
Lots of places like that. Self-isolated. Not willing to reach out or be touched because it might be seen as weak.
Probably why people feel they need to arm themselves too.

And after this, if y’all remember, there were drills in schools, more security, cameras, more fear… and all the less still the willingness to bridge those gaps and just be there for other people and let them into your life too.
All over one freaking psychopath.
(Probably what they want too, turn us all into disassociated islands like them).

“We might as well grope around for who to blame when lightning strikes someone.”
I think we all know it’s Zeus who’s to blame.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:23 PM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


From Cullen:

"What was it like to be an outcast at Columbine? Pretty hard, most of the kids admitted...Most of the students in Clement Park were still speaking confessionally and everyone had a brutal experience to share." p. 157

"There's no evidence that bullying led to murder but considerable evidence that it was a problem at Columbine" p. 158

His theory is obviously that bullying didn't matter-- but it's clear that it happened a lot and that both of the shooters were certainly not in the dominant, popular clique. Just because Harris also bullied people doesn't mean he wasn't bullied himself-- in fact, the combination is common.

All of the schools that have had shootings have had bullying problems-- these shootings haven't happened in schools with a welcoming, warm atmosphere.

So while bullying may not be the direct cause, the most attainable solution (gun control isn't likely to happen) is not more searches, metal detectors, zero tolerance and other alienating, cold things but creating a climate where kids at very least do not passionately hate their school and most like it enough and care enough about their friends to report both fears about suicide and someone who is saying they want to do something like this.

Again, there are antibullying programs that have been shown to reduce depression and suicidal thoughts, which presumably would be protective. If people are less miserable...
posted by Maias at 6:06 PM on October 15, 2009


All of the schools that have had shootings have had bullying problems-- these shootings haven't happened in schools with a welcoming, warm atmosphere.

I guess it depends on how narrow you set your definitions.

The Virginia Tech shooting had almost nothing to do with bullying. But you'll want to exclude that because it happened on a college campus.

The Ecole Polytechnique shooting in Canada was not due to school bullying, unless you think "being a woman" is the only criteria to make someone a bully. But you'll want to discount that because the perpetrator did not attend the school.

Look, I was both bullied and a bully in middle school. School administrations do not do enough to prevent and stop bullying. But it's naive to think that we can buy some magic rock that will prevent all atrocities, whether that rock comes in the form of tighter gun restrictions or safe and welcoming school environments.
posted by muddgirl at 6:18 AM on October 16, 2009


Not suggesting that reducing bullying is a "magic rock"-- but the Canada one surely doesn't count because how could a school do anything about someone who doesn't attend? And the perp at V Tech *had* been bullied throughout high school.

Either way, nothing works 100% for anything. But fighting bullying is a remarkably strong intervention when done right because it reduces not only suicidal thoughts and depression but also cuts drug use, heavy drinking and improves school performance.

That's as close to a magic bullet as you're going to get in this world..
posted by Maias at 7:39 AM on October 16, 2009


Cho had been bullied in high school, so four years later we can blame his rampage on bullying? I was bullied in middle if I shot up my workplace should we blame my middle school administration for telling me to tough it out?

Again, I think bullying is absolutely horrible, but if we look at the list of school shootings, and filter out the ones that are predominantly police actions against protestors or , most of the perpetrators have clear signs of depression and mental illness. "Welcoming school environments" will not stop psychopaths from treating people like objects. It will not convince paranoid schizophrenics that they are not being persecuted. On the other hand, we might make the argument that schools which are self-aware enough to target bullying behaviors will also be self-aware enough to target signs of depression and mental illness among students.

And I don't like the idea of separating murder-suicides that happen on a school campus into "is a student" and "is not a student" categories. I can see how the specific or triggering motivations may be different, but the underlying causes are the same.

Your standard suicide just isn't planned out like that, it doesn't generally take that many people along for the ride, and so forth.

I thought there were sort of two kinds of suicides - one being the snap decision that happens when walking over a bridge or looking at a bottle of prescription sleeping pills. The other is the long-term, deliberately-planned suicide. As for the number of victims, family murder-suicides seem to be fairly common, especially for fathers, and if we look at the school shootings, a lot of the perpetrators start out with family members or close friends before moving on to a larger population.
posted by muddgirl at 9:13 AM on October 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


“On the other hand, we might make the argument that schools which are self-aware enough to target bullying behaviors will also be self-aware enough to target signs of depression and mental illness among students.”

I think that’s the main benefit. The best way – to put it bluntly – to gather intelligence is to intercede and make contact with people. This is not to say the actual support is a red herring, but rather that it’s a dynamic and reciprocal process. People who are supported by a system feel some investment in it. People who feel abandoned are going to be alienated.

So yes, if you were bullied in middle school, that feeling of dissatisfaction with authority, anger at being abandoned by people who say they’re there to help you, could contribute to your shooting up your workplace later in life because that's how you view that system, your bosses, and your co-workers. There's no feeling of investment and connection there and the antagonism remains.

Here, well, he's a psychopath, ok. But he could have been identified as one by someone who knows how to identify them if there were systems set up to support that.
Again, money, time, and it's not easy. It's much easier to install a metal detector or cameras and call it a day. But disarming someone does not mean they're no longer dangerous.
Reason enough to yeah, maybe spend more time talking to people and making real connections.
Of course, folks still have doinky ideas of their own authority. But y'know, being in charge doesn't make you bulletproof.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:48 PM on October 16, 2009


By the way, I started Columbine yesterday and it's a fascinating read. The prose is a little stunted sometimes but I found that I couldn't put it down last night.
posted by muddgirl at 9:33 AM on October 19, 2009


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