It is hard to believe it has been 23 years ago since the Columbine High School massacre happened.
On April 20,1999, the Columbine High School massacre took place in Colorado as two students shot and killed 12 classmates and one teacher before taking their own lives.
So many articles have been written about it and books full of analysis have been published about it. Rather then going into the lives of the 2 killers, maybe it is a better ideas at this stage to read the experiences of the mother of one of the killers.
Sue Klebold’s son, Dylan, and his friend, Eric Harris, killed 13 people at Columbine high school. Sue is still haunted by one question: is there anything she could have done?
“I can be in a doctor’s waiting room and still hope they call me by my first name, rather than shout out Mrs Klebold. Every time I meet someone and give my name, there’s a moment of hesitancy where I watch their face very closely. They may say, ‘Gee, why does that sound so familiar?’”
In these cases the assumption is made in the aftermath of a shooting that the fault must lie predominantly with the parents – or, rather, with the mother. “A mother is supposed to know,” Klebold says.
Sue Klebold worked in the same building as a parole office, and often felt alienated and frightened getting in the elevator with ex-convicts. After Columbine, she writes, “I felt that they were just like my son. That they were just people who, for some reason, had made an awful choice and were thrown into a terrible, despairing situation. When I hear about terrorists in the news, I think, ‘That’s somebody’s kid.’ “
Recalling the day her son was buried, Ms Klebold said he was laid to rest in a cardboard box, and broke down into floods of tears.She was desperate to understand what drove her son to commit such an atrocious crime.
“He was just there in a cardboard box and they allowed us each to have a few minutes with him. What I remember doing was just wanting to crawl in that casket with him, he was so cold I just kept thinking, I’ve got to get him warm, I just wanted him to be warm.
“I said out loud, ‘Darling help me understand what happened, that’s all I want to understand’. And I didn’t realise until this very moment that did became my life mission, I hope Dylan has helped me understand because that’s what I’ve been seeking for 20 years, was understanding.”
Sue remembered the moment she was told that her son was one of the shooters, admitting that she prayed for her son to die after finding out he had hurt so many people.
“I got home and before long a SWAT team got there and a detective and it was just craziness. They were saying 25 people were dead and I remember thinking at one point, if Dylan is really hurting people the way they’re saying he is – I prayed that he would die.”
For months Sue was in denial about what her her son had done: “They said the boys did all these terrible things. Not only killed and hurt people, but that they would say awful racist things and sadistic things and I just shut that out of my mind. I thought, Dylan would not say anything like that. They had got so much information wrong about Dylan and our family, that I settled into the belief system that they were wrong about what Dylan did.”
“We like to feel that something like that could never happen to us. It can happen to someone else, it can’t happen to us. And that’s why I think so many people get comfort from vilifying the parents of shooters, because it makes them feel safer. I understand; but one of the frightening things about this reality is that people who have family members who do things like this are just like the rest of us. I’ve met several mums of mass shooters, and they are as sweet and nice as they can be. You wouldn’t know, if you saw all of us in a room, what brought us together.”
It took Sue six months to fully acknowledge the extent of her son’s crimes, with police having to show Sue evidence that proved the massacre was premeditated.
“For the first time I got it,’ Sue said. ‘I saw it was planned, I saw video tapes they had made, I saw Dylan in a way I had never seen him before, they were talking about what they were going to do, it showed him with weapons. It was horrifying to see him in that mode. I had been grieving so much for this lost previous child and remembering who he was and that was the point I realised who he was to the rest of the world, everything died in my world, God died, my belief in truth in what my family was.”
After the murders at Columbine, the Klebold family issued a statement through their attorney, expressing condolences to the victims families, and in May 1999, she wrote personal letters to both the families of those killed and survivors who were injured, expressing similar sentiments. The Klebold family initially refused to believe Dylan’s involvement in the massacre, but in an interview with Andrew Solomon, Sue Klebold stated that “seeing those videos was as traumatic as the original event […] Everything I had refused to believe was true. Dylan was a willing participant and the massacre was not a spontaneous impulse.”
In 2016, Sue published ‘A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy’ She donated the profits from her book to mental health charities, research, and suicide prevention, toward the goal of helping parents and professionals find more ways to detect and treat signs of mental distress.
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