The tragedies keep coming. As we reel from the latest horror . . .
New York Times Bestseller
Goodreads Choice Award
24 Major Year-End Best Lists
That's how I began the epilogue to this expanded new edition, where I grapple with why this scourge of "spectacle murders" continues. After seventeen years on the case that ignited this ghastly phenom, it's not hard to understand what's going on.
Columbine took ten years to research and write, and then I thought I was done. Naive. Now, seventeen years in, I step back to reflect on how Columbine created a new template for these attacks. But Columbine is so misunderstood that these attacks are following a false script. The Columbine myths were seized upon by a generation of new killers, looking to Eric and Dylan as heroic champions of the downtrodden. That's absurd.
In the wake of Newtown, Aurora, and Virginia Tech, the imperative to understand the crime that sparked this blight grows more urgent every passing year.
So we decided to publish this expanded edition, with over 30 pages of new material (50 since hardcover). We also added a wealth of new scans from the killers' journals. Now you can see Eric's detailed attack sketches, with 'Napalm' printed on the tank to be strapped to his back. You can read Eric's full apology letter to the van owner, and on the same page, I've stripped out a scan of his key vicious journal passage eviscerating the same man, at the same time. This is a key moment depicted in the narrative: now read both sides of Eric's big lie for yourself, in full detail. Read Dylan's entire chilling "emotion of God" story presaging the murders that he turned into English class two months prior. You can see Eric's budget for the attack and his To Do list, and five pages filled with giant hearts in Dylan's shockingly loving (yet angry) journal.
The new edition also adds book club questions, a crime-scene diagram, and selected exercises from the Columbine Teacher's Guide. (Teachers: download for free.)
Students / Summer Reading Lists
I hear from a lot of you students reading each summer, so I put together resources for your projects. Click the STUDENTS tab. Thanks for choosing Columbine from your list. And tell your teacher I said thank you for putting it on there. Happy reading. (And if you like the book, loan it to a friend.)
Info on Dave speaking at your school.
More Relevant Than Ever
I spent ten years researching and writing the original edition of Columbine. I was driven by two questions: why did they do it, and what became of the survivors?
My big surprise was that most of what we "know" about Columbine was wrong. It wasn't about jocks, Goths or the Trench Coat Mafia. Eric and Dylan didn't even see themselves as school shooters. They ridiculed those guys. Their primary vision was a bombing, to dwarf Oklahoma City. They planned to mow down survivors as they fled the burning rubble.
The key to comprehending Columbine is letting go of our concept of "the killers." Spend a few pages with Dylan and Eric, and you'll discover two starkly different boys. Their personalities and motives were poles apart. Eric Harris was monstrous; Dylan Klebold was loving but fiercely angry inside, a tender boy torn apart. For me, Dylan was truly a revelation.
The survivors proved equally illuminating. Their stories are surprisingly uplifting — what a refreshing contrast to Dylan and Eric. Thousands of kids and parents faced the unthinkable; most overcame it, many in extraordinary ways. I was amazed by their spirit and stunning moments of redemption. (Getting to know Patrick Ireland and witnessing his resilience was what got me through ten dark years creating this book. Readers often tell me Patrick played a similar role for them reading it.)
I was stunned to discover just how different the tragedy was for people going through what appeared identical from the outside. Each survivor's recovery is unique, and the greatest lesson other communities can learn is: Don't rush their healing!
New Epilogue: Excerpt
The great unlearned lesson of Columbine: teen depression
I periodically try to sign copies at McNally Jackson Books, The Strand, and Barnes & Noble Union Square. They all ship worldwide. Order info. (Aug 16, I signed several at another B&N, and then more at Union Square Aug 26. See the link.)
Columbine Book Trailer
3-minute intro video
The enormity of the Columbine story keeps surprising readers. This tight little video by South Park filmmaker Andrew Kemler summarizes it in 3 minutes.
It includes clips of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold from their "Hitmen For Hire" videos and the cafeteria surveillance video. We got rare permission to shoot this video inside Columbine High School, so I stood in the cafeteria to show you the exact spots the propane bombs were placed, and where the shooting unfolded outside the windows. This puts you inside the cafeteria from the perspective of those 600 kids, not available anywhere else.
You can read chapter 1 on Oprah's site, and some other bits on Eric and Dylan at Slate. Those links are at my excerpts page, and I tried to make it easier for you by also posting a hi-res scan of chapter 1 there.
There are harrowing moments in this story, but a lot of love as well. Most readers are surprised what an easy read it is, and by the brevity of the darkness. I think the brief Chapter 1 (two pages) illustrates that.
New Journal Scans
Added to new edition, 2016
I carefully culled back through the thousand pages of journal entries and other released material by Eric and Dylan. I wanted to show you the bits that would be most revealing, that illustrate the most crucial points, and show as many possible sides.
Here are a few of the scans we added. I decided to shrink down many of their drawings, and crop the most important bits, so that we could include more entries. Below, see how we condensed six journal pages onto one in the book:
Below, four journal pages were condensed into two. In the book, the text is much larger, so you can read all their writing (reproduced full-size there):
For each spread, I chose related and often contrasting material. Another page (not shown), captures both Eric's entire apology letter to the van owner, and his vicious journal entry about the same man written at the same time, to illustrate Eric's incredible skill at deception. The opposite page shows his budget for the murders and his late To Do list, with items crossed off.
Free Teacher's Guide
Excerpt in the expanded paperback (2016)
I created this 50-page modular Columbine Teacher's Guide with input from generous high school and college instructors. We're giving it away free. Thanks to all the teachers who helped create and then refine it. Practicality was our priority. An excerpt appears in the back of the new edition (2016), and all ebook formats.
Also, I sifted through mountains of evidence researching the book and I thought readers could make use of that. So I organized it into the research tool Columbine Online. It includes photos, diagrams, scans of the Eric and Dylan's journals, links to all the reports and police files, instructions on how to get your own copies, etc.
Info on Dave speaking at your school.
Critics on Columbine
"What's amazing is how much of Cullen's book still comes as a surprise . . . [His] nuanced dissection of the differences between Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold is first-rate."
— New York Times Book Review
"Like Capote's In Cold Blood, this tour de force gets below the who and what of a horrifying incident to lay bare the devastating why."
"The pacing of an action movie and the complexity of a Shakespearean drama."
"Read this book for its unflinching honesty . . . You may want to leave the horror behind you—that may be why you haven't yet picked up Columbine, journalist Dave Cullen's spectacularly gripping account. But Cullen's chilling narrative is too vital to miss."
— O: The Oprah Magazine
"This superb work of investigation looks to be a definitive account."
— Columbia Journalism Review
"In this remarkable account of the April 20, 1999, Columbine High School shooting, journalist Cullen not only dispels several of the prevailing myths about the event but tackles the hardest question of all: why did it happen?. . . Readers will come away from Cullen's unflinching account with a deeper understanding of what drove these boys to kill."
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"It opens with a proclamation of love and concludes with an image of redemption, and what unfolds in the pages between them is extraordinary."
— Charlotte Observer
"Cullen makes it work because he insists on framing the killers in human terms . . .
That's tricky ground for a writer to navigate, to ask, if not for understanding, for compassion for two boys regarded as monsters."
— Los Angeles Times
"Graphic and emotionally vivid; spectacularly researched and analyzed."
— Booklist (starred review)
"Accomplishes an astonishing number of things in compelling, articulate prose . . . Most remarkable is Cullen's ability to present an onslaught of facts while recreating such anguish and fear. Columbine is a valuable historic resource, but it roils the heart, too."
— Miami Herald
"An astonishingly comprehensive look at the incident and the decade of struggle."
— Chicago Tribune
"Definitive . . . a staggering feat of reporting that completes and corrects the record in equal measure."
"Cullen's Klebold is a lonely depressive, and all too easily manipulated. Harris is a genuine psychopath, a natural-born killer.
And yet, both boys emerge as three-dimensional human beings. Throughout, Cullen refuses to sensationalize."
— Very Short List
"This book is a masterpiece."
— Seattle Times
All Columbine reviews — with longer passages and links to full reviews.
Help a kid: Two million teens clinically depressed
The great unlearned lesson of Columbine is teen depression. Six percent of U.S. adolescents suffer clinical depression. That’s 2 million kids. It's time to act. Readers tell me they don't know where to start, so I created Teen Depression 101. It includes warning signs, resources, discussion-starters, etc.
Parents and teachers: please discuss depression openly. Our Columbine Teacher's Guide has a Teen Depression unit. Renowned hostage negotiator and head of the FBI's Columbine investigation, Dr. Dwayne Fuselier has created a practical guide for parents and teachers to talk to kids—using the same approach he developed to talk down gunmen: active listening.
See a kid in danger? Get them help. Save a life.
For gay kids
Sue Klebold has spent much longer advocating/specializing in suicide prevention and depression. So check out Sue's list.
See the new epilogue for a much deeper discussion of teen depression, and obvious steps to combat it.
Stop Granting Killers Notoriety
I lay out the case for diminishing the killers in my new epilogue. I'm not suggesting we eliminate all names and images, but that we drastically diminish them, in a way that makes sense.
Read my early proposal in BuzzFeed. Watch me discuss it on Anderson Cooper 360 and debate it with Jeff Greenfield on CNN's Reliable Sources. I got into it deeper with a guest host on AC360 in Aug 2015: How the media should cover murderers.
Pulse Orlando tragedy: My worlds collide
Weeks later, I'm still shaken by this horror. This one hit home, since I'm gay and discovered what it feels like to feel personally attacked. I wrote about that personal experience for Vanity Fair: Mass Murder at the gaybar: my worlds collide.
And my drastically-different Vanity Fair follow-up on a potential motive: The Orlando shooter may have been gay? The gay community isn't surprised. I discussed both in a Vanity Fair Live interview.
New York Times Video: "Haunted by Columbine"
This video was produced by RetroReport, an award-wining nonprofit that revisits events from the past to set the record straight. It appears on the New York Times site. I spent a year with RetroReport on this 2015 project. (They did the work. I just let them interview me, and helped with occasional fact-checking, etc.) Their diligence shows. My additional thoughts here.
Sue Klebold's Memoir
Read my Vanity Fair piece on Sue Klebold's Diane Sawyer interview: A Startling Look at the Parent of a Mass Shooter.
Sue Klebold's long-awaited memoir, A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy, debuted at #2 on the New York Times bestseller list this February (2016). I started reading it right after writing my piece on the interview and dealing with a lot of anxiety with the victims. That sent me into a PTSD relapse spiral and I had to stop immediately. I will try again sometime, but I can't say when. But so far, I was very impressed. I also stay in close touch with many of the victims, and nearly all were quite taken by it. (Earlier, I was highly impressed by Sue Klebold's extraordinary piece for O Magazine: "I Will Never Know Why.") Both are illuminating about depression.
Autographed (ships worldwide)