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Book Review of Columbine by Dave Cullen

I remember April 20, 1999.  I was working for a hydraulic company when we begin to hear about a school shooting in the Denver area.  The 1990’s had been filled with one school shooting after another and I was sad to hear that another school had to experience the trauma of such violence.  Little did I know that this school shooting, until the Virginia Tech shootings, would be the most violent public school shooting in history.  Two boys, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, would kill 13 people and take their own lives.  Stories begin to come out about the killers and about the victims.

In this book Dave Cullen wades through the vast amount of information that has since been released about the killers and about the victims.  Cullen is to the point.  He does not wish to change history but really to set the record straight about the Columbine shootings.  He exposes many myths along the way and some that even hurt because I was guilty of spreading them around as well such as the martyrdom of Cassie Bernall.  In reality Bernall was shot in the head while hiding under a table and was never asked any questions about her faith in God though a girl who watched her being shot said that she was praying.

Why did Klebold and Harris want to kill people at their high school?  The basic answer from Cullen’s book is that they were both psychopaths who happen to be together in the same place.  Their friendship was a ticking time bomb as both were psychopaths.  Both, it seemed, would have been destructive on their own but their combined friendship and hatred fueled their desire to kill.  Contrary to popular opinion, the boys were not bullied, were liked by their friends and even girls, and both were honor roll students.  Dylan Klebold attended his senior prom the weekend before the shootings.  Both boys worked at a pizza joint.  Both were into drinking and smoking.  Both loved violence and guns.  Both admired the Nazis and both were in awe of the Oklahoma City bombings.  The OKC bombings fueled their desire to kill on April 20, 1999 and not because of Hitler’s birthday as some have reported.

The story of Cassie is hard reading.  She was a devout Christian who was praying earnestly for her school but she was not popular and was a bit of a loner.  The day of her death, she went to the library alone as she normally did.  Her journal records that she was praying for her fellow students to be saved.  I praise her that (Romans 10:1).  When the shootings begin, Bernall knew noting of what was happening.  A teacher came into the library and told everyone to hide because someone was killing people.  She hid under a table with another girl.  Bernall was shot by Harris who looked under the table at her and said, “Peekaboo” before shooting her in the head with a sawed off shotgun.  She died instantly.  The girl reported that Bernall said to her, “I want to go home” and that she was praying silently with her lips moving before Harris shot her.  The witness survived the shooting.  The evangelical world jumped onto the story and even a book was written about Bernall’s suppose confession before her death called She Said Yes.  In reality, the girl’s name was Valeen Schnurr.  She was shot and then begin to cry out, “Oh God, I don’t want to die” to which Harris said to her, “God?  Do you believe in God?” to which she said, “Yes I do.”  Harris asked her why she did and she said, “Because my parents raised me that way.”  Apparently Harris was about to finish her off when something distracted him and she lived.  Cullen reports that the FBI and many others were aware that Bernall was not the one who confessed faith in God but the story went viral and the evangelical church jumped on the story and ran with it.  That is sad to me, that Schnurr was the person who confessed faith but she was never praised.

What other facts do we now know about Columbine?  First, the plot by Klebold and Harris was a bombing and not a shooting.  The shooting was “Act II” after the bombs were to explode in the crowded lunchroom killing many.  Klebold and Harris wanted to top the OKC bombings and kill more than 2,000 people.  Their “plan” was written in great detail with three “Acts.”  Act I was the bombing.  Act II was the shooting of survivors.  Act III was to use their cars that were loaded with homemade bombs to kill police and responders to the incident.  The boys believed they would die in Act III in a great shootout with police.  When the bombs failed, the boys moved to Act II and never made it to Act III though they tried to lure police into a shootout from the library window.

Secondly, there was no such thing as the Trench-coat Mafia.  This was created out of half-truths.  It is true that the boys wore trench-coats the day of the shootings but the coats were served in hiding their guns and not because of some mafia.

Third, the shootings were not aimed at any one group or even individuals.  The boys targeted whomever they saw.  The media stated they targeted jocks and minorities.  Both were not founded on any truths.  Both boys loved sports and both loved baseball.  They both attended Columbine football games and cheered on their teams.  Their is no proof that jocks bullied them nor that they disliked sports or even minorities.

Fourth, their were only social outcasts because of their own choosing.  Both boys were liked.  Both boys dated girls.  Both boys participated in school activities.  Both were honor roll students.  Both held down jobs.  The bottom line is that they killed because they were sick in the head.  That is the fact.  They also did not kill because of a video game though they loved games with violence.  Their makeup was sick for years before Columbine.

Let me close by discussing Cullen’s focus on evangelicals in the book.  The book itself is not Christian though it seems Cullen has much to say about the evangelical Church.  From my reading of the book, Cullen seems to have a distaste for the Church.  He feels that the Church tried to make too much about Cassie Bernall’s supposed confession and in the aftermath of Columbine, the Church tried to evangelize instead of comfort.  Fair points since I don’t live in the Denver area and know little of the evangelical Church in Littleton, Colorado.  Cullen seems to suggest the church in Littleton should have done nothing in the rise up to the shootings and in the aftermath.  Just stay away seems to be his point.  I may be reading into that since I am part of the Church.

One thing is clear from this book, mankind is depraved.  Romans 1:18-32 is true of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris.  They were sinners bent on sinning.  Both kept journals and both believed in God oddly enough but both rejected Christianity and both rejected the sovereignty of God.  Both believed they would go to hell when they died in a shootout with the police.  The Church needs to preach the truth of God’s wrath against sin.  The “gospel” we hear today was the same as these boys were hearing in the late 1990’s in Littleton, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”  Both concluded that wonderful plan was mass shootings.  They never heard, as far as I can tell from my studies, the true gospel of God’s just wrath against sin nor that they had violated His Laws (1 Timothy 1:8-11).  They had not heard the truths of sin nor of the cross (Hebrews 9:27-28).

In conclusion, the Church should proclaim the Word of God and not preach a watered down message just to draw a crowd.  Jesus was good at making crowds disappear by His preaching (John 6).  He knew the heart of men (John 2:24-25).  Crowds meaning nothing.  They do not mean success.  The gospel is what we should preach and leave the results to the Lord (Acts 2:47; 1 Corinthians 1:18, 21).  The Church was quick to run with the Cassie Bernall story when in fact it should have simply been preaching the gospel both before and after.  The gospel saves and not stories about people’s confessions of faith.  Perhaps if the Church would have been preaching the gospel, perhaps much of this would have been different.  Only God knows.


Written by The Seeking Disciple

10/11/2012 at 12:18 PM

2 Responses

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  1. An excellent article.
    It is a sad fact that Christians at times stretch the truth, resort to exaggeration, or merely don’t check the facts before they pass on a report or testimony that seems to glorify God.

    What you say about the need for the true gospel is very true – we need to share the TRUTH. A watered down gospel is not truth and can not lead to life. Likewise with “testimonies” diluted with exaggeration and misinformation


    10/11/2012 at 5:19 PM

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