I recently read a new book by Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold who was one of the Columbine shooters. The book is called A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy. Columbine was one of the worst school shootings in American history and happened on April 20th, 1999. I was a senior in High School that year, and was the same age as Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. Dylan and Eric took 13 innocent lives that day, in addition to their own.
After the shootings, for both personal and legal reasons, Sue and her husband Tom, stayed completely out of the public eye. They were reeling with the grief and anger not only over the death of their own son, but over the 13 lives that they took. Sue writes beautifully in the book about what their life was like as a family pre-Columbine, and how both she and Tom would stop at nothing to provide a safe and loving home for their two boys. They were loving, attentive, involved, and emotionally present parents.
“In the aftermath of Columbine, the world’s judgment was understandably swift: Dylan was a monster. But that conclusion was also misleading, because it tied up too neatly a far more confounding reality. Like all mythologies, this belief that Dylan was a monster served a deeper purpose: people needed to believe they would recognize evil in their midst. Monsters are unmistakable; you would know a monster if you saw one, wouldn’t you? If Dylan was a fiend whose heedless parents had permitted their disturbed, raging teen to amass a weapons cache right under their noses, then the tragedy—horrible as it was—had no relevance to ordinary moms and dads in their own living rooms, their own children tucked snugly into soft beds upstairs. The”
After Columbine, the country went crazy and so many people blamed Dylan's parents. How could they not know? Surely they provided the guns for Dylan. They must have been so tuned out that they couldn't see that Dylan was depressed. THEY SHOULD HAVE PREVENTED THIS.
The truth was that Tom and Sue DID notice that their son seemed depressed and withdrawn his senior year of high school. He had mood swings and was irritable. "What teen isn't?", they thought. He had a great group of friends, had just attended prom with a female friend two days prior to the shootings, and was looking forward to attending college in the fall. They had tried to get him counseling to talk about whatever it was that was bothering him, but he refused.
Other than his friendship with Eric Harris, they weren't overly concerned and didn't see any major signs that Dylan was suicidal or homicidal. They had tried on many occasions to keep Dylan and Eric separated as they didn't think Eric was a good influence on their son (and they had even gotten into some legal trouble together the year before). But Dylan continued to seek out Eric, and eventually they devised the unthinkable plan to blow up their school and kill as many classmates as they could.
In the years following, Sue endured years of devastating grief and suffering. Not just grief over the loss of her son, but grief over the 13 innocent lives they had taken. The sadness and anger that she felt were unbearable at times and she went through years of depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and suicidal thoughts. She eventually survived breast cancer and a divorce from Tom. The Klebold's were some of the most hated individuals in our country for many years. There was no one else who could truly understand their situation and they felt incredibly alone and isolated. Only now are we beginning to understand the reality of the situation, instead of the story that was initially spun by law enforcement and the media.
What I appreciate so much about this book, is that Sue Klebold shares how her son was so similar to so many other teenagers in our country. Even the most attentive and loving parents have children who are mentally ill. Even the most attentive and loving parents can have children who hide what is really going on in their minds and are unable to help get them better. Dylan's journals revealed that he was depressed and suicidal. The difference between Dylan and Eric was that Eric wanted to kill as many people as he could and didn't care if he died while doing it. Dylan wanted to kill himself and didn't care if others died while doing it.
It's hard to say that if Dylan had received the help he needed, that Columbine wouldn't have occurred. Klebold says, "commonly, though, a disturbed teenager will be unpleasant: aggressive, belligerent, aggressive, obnoxious, irritable, hostile, lazy, whiny, untrustworthy, sometimes with poor personal hygiene. But the fact that they're so difficult, so dedicated to pushing us away, does not mean they do not need help. In fact, these traits may be signals that they do." While the chances of our own children committing suicide or killing others is minimal, it's so important to stay vigilant and watch for signs, small and large, that our kids AND other kids around us, are suffering.
I can't recommend this book highly enough for ALL parents, teachers, and mental health professionals. Sue Klebold is starting new and important conversations about brain health (she uses this term instead of mental health) and how we can possibly prevent these kinds of tragedies in the future.
For more reading on the Columbine shootings, I highly recommend the book Columbine by Dave Cullen. He has shed a new light on this tragedy and it's a fascinating read.