Last week I finally got around to a book that’s been sitting on the pile for quite some time. I wanted to read Dave Cullen’s Columbine before the 10th anniversary year of the watershed school massacre came to an end. Riveting reading, it was difficult to put down. Considered the nation’s foremost authority on those who perpetrated the event now known by the simple one-word name of the school, Cullen has spent ten years investigating every nook and cranny of what happened in Littleton before, during, and after April 20, 1999.
I remember where I was when I first heard the news. I was in the car driving from speaking to an English class at Lancaster Bible College, heading a few miles south to speak to some at-risk students in an after-school program at Lancaster City’s McCaskey High School. An initial radio report had informed me that there had a been a school shooting in Colorado and a few kids had been injured. By the time I got back in my car a couple of hours later, a more grim story was unfolding fast. I was up all night glued to the TV. Since then – in fact before the bodies were removed from the school – Columbine reality and myth have been woven together in a mix that’s allowed the truth to get muddied by chaotic confusion, trauma-fueled desire, misinformation, hasty assumptions, false conclusions, irresponsibility, and lies.
Yesterday, after finishing Cullen’s book, I ran across this quote attributed to John F. Kennedy: “Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” Timely. The age of rapid information has combined with our desire for easy answers, our lack of good research, our need for Evangelical heroes, and our bent towards believing what we want to believe to cloud the truth about Columbine. And this bad habit is not only limited to the Columbine massacre. We do it all the time. And Evangelicals – a group I’m a part of that values truth and integrity – is usually no different. Mainstream media, viewers worldwide, Columbine families, and my own Christian culture jumped to some hasty conclusions. Then along comes Dave Cullen, shedding light on the facts and thereby illuminating the truth about Columbine in some undeniable ways. Granted, Cullen doesn’t know everything and he has the advantage of post-dust-settlement hindsight. But he’s helped us know more than we’ve ever known before.
Cullen’s desire is to tell the truth and to get his readers to learn from Columbine. . . . about the mind and motivation of the school shooter, about the best way to respond, about the way we handle grief, about the need to forgive, and about how to find the truth in the midst of absolute chaos. Like so many others, I was quick to believe reports of a Trench Coat Mafia, jock-targeted killings, revenge on bullies, anti-Christian sentiments, a unified police response, violence born out of disengaged parenting, and modern-day martyrdom. Very little of this was true. Dave Cullen took me on an eye-opening journey into Columbine’s before, during, and after.
More than anything else, Dave Cullen’s Columbine reminded me to carefully seek, find, and consider the facts in an effort to be a person of integrity. Because we say we value truth, we need to value truth. . . even if it means having to suffer the discomfort of doing an about-face on long-held assumptions and opinions that we’d like to be true.