Susan Klebold, mother of Columbine shooter, writes out for Oprah

October 10, 2009 at 1:07 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Susan Klebold, the mother of Columbine killer Dylan Klebold, is making news for a forthcoming column she has written for O, The Oprah Magazine.

Yet there appears to be more rewriting history than news.

The column – touted in a press release sent out by O – comes across as news because indeed the parents of both killers have said little. And it is a noteworthy development. But the news is also pumped up because even after 10 years and a spate of books on Columbine, the media can’t seem to get it right.

An AP story calls the column “the most detailed response yet from any of the parents of Columbine killers Dylan Klebold or Eric Harris.” But let’s recap. The Klebolds and Harrises did speak with police after Columbine, and summaries of those interviews have been released. The Klebolds were also interviewed for an (admittedly short) New York Times column. I’m not saying the killers’ parents have been forthcoming, but it doesn’t appear, based on the excerpts so far, that Susan Klebold is saying anything new.

It will also be interesting to see if Susan Klebold addresses some of the most intriguing things she has ever said previously, according to her interview summaries and other documents: That Dylan was fascinated with guns and explosives. Or that he was sullen, angry, disrespectful, intolerant, and isolated. The Klebolds have never fully explained those statements (made before, and the day of, Columbine). Or at least those discussions have never been made public.

Finally, Susan Klebold indicates she has been searching for answers, especially suicide. She is partially on the right track, as my book notes the suicidal links among school shooters across the country. But the Klebolds have a funny way of searching for answers. Their attorneys have at different times issued me a subpoena and said my sources’ hands should be cut off when I uncovered information.

LA Fitness Shooting near Pittsburgh and Columbine

August 4, 2009 at 10:44 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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With news of the LA Fitness Shooting near Pittsburgh there may be some links to Columbine.

The most obvious one is that the shooters – two in Columbine and one apparently in Pittsburgh – were all male. In general males are more likely to carry out such shootings. But a more telling issue is motivation.

Since the wave of media coverage during the recent 10-year anniversary of Columbine some have tried to paint Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold as just two normal teens. On its surface, that is clearly not the case (normal teens don’t go on shooting rampages). But the Columbine killers were also not as well-integrated into the student body as some would have you believe. They were outcasts, and maybe the most unpopular kids in the school. And the friends they did have did not diminish their outcast status, at least in their own minds.

The Columbine killers felt slighted, and wanted to take revenge for their outcast status. They felt they deserved better. The very preliminary news reports on the Pittsburgh shooting would indicate the same motivation: The alleged shooter was slighted – or felt slighted – by an ex-girlfriend and felt he had to recapture his honor. His apparent suicide, in turn, was a way of controlling his own destiny. He held the ultimate power over others, but also himself.

Columbine and the real thing

July 5, 2009 at 7:55 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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My last book signing for Columbine: A True Crime Story taught a lesson about how there is no substitute for the real thing.

The signing was at the Houston Barnes & Noble across from the massive, famous Galleria chock full of retail stores. The significance was that I was with Michael Shoels, the father of Isaiah Shoels, who was killed at Columbine.

We must have looked like an odd couple; me a short white guy in a tie and Michael a tall black man dressed all in black. We have known each other for almost ten years, since I started writing the Columbine book, and it meant a lot to be with him in Houston. I felt proud to share the moment with Michael because he and his family had opened up to me long, long before I had a book contract, and believed in me as an honest person and a book author. And the tour was part of proving I could publish the book. (I was also told, in Houston, that my book was required reading for a course in criminal profiling at Rice University.)

The final chapter of my book is about the Shoels family. Early on, they were amongst the most critical of the victims families, questioning the school, police, and killers’ parents. The Shoels, in turn, became amongst the most criticized of the victims’ families. People said their stances and lawsuits (among the first to emerge from Columbine) were grandstanding, opportunism, and money-grubbing. But no matter how hard you try to tell the story, it is no substitute for the real thing: Being there alongside a victims family. To hear Michael tell his stories brought up old emotions, and new emotions, as he recounted his feelings and fights for information. And Michael reminded people only the way a victims family can: Columbine never goes away.

Buy Columbine: A True Crime Story, a victim, the killers and the nation’s search for answers on Amazon.

Columbine and Jonesboro school shootings and Mike Huckabee

June 20, 2009 at 1:44 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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I was in Jonesboro, Ark. for the book tour Friday night to discuss Columbine and, according to one story, I beat Mike Huckabee.

A photographer from the Jonesboro Sun said he once attended a three-hour booksigning by Mike Huckabee (I think it was some years ago) when Huckabee was Arkansas governor. Huckabee sold two books.

While I beat that record Friday I have little doubt Huckabee, the prominent conservative with his own talk show on Fox News, would today beat me (and his own record).

But more down to substance, I did not do an actual talk Friday but a sit-down, meet and greet (and hopefully sign) book appearance.

One woman told of how she had been a teacher before Columbine, and expressed concerns to the school about a student. Nothing happened, and the student later committed suicide. That would not happen today, I believe, because post-Columbine warning signs about problem students are taken much more seriously, whether the issue is suicide or homicide. (Although, notably, school shooters often express a desire to die in the course of the shootings. But that’s another story.)

One man did not believe gun control was the answer. While I could argue that the more barriers you put in front of someone to getting guns, the harder it is to get them, it is also likely that the Columbine killers would have gotten their guns no matter what. Three of the four were purchased, legally, at a gun show. The fourth was purchased casually through a friend of a friend type situation.

One woman who made a beeline to my table said she heard my book was the more accurate Columbine book, and scooped it up.

I ended my two-hour session sitting around with a bunch of local teenagers. They were smart, sassy, and bored. And I thank them for buying a book with graduation money.

Columbine and Paducah school shootings

June 18, 2009 at 9:01 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Columbine: A True Crime Story book tour continued Thursday in Paducah, Ky. where a school shooting killed three and wounded five in 1997.

The talk was in the community room at the McCracken County Library and I first met with the library director. It’s alway weird to meet someone you’ve been coordinating with on the phone, and it’s always a bit of a leap for both people: You have to believe the location is the right one, and they have to believe you’re on the up and up — and that you’ll show up. And after all that planning, it is weird to suddenly arrive at a place like Paducah, a small but bustling town in East Kentucky.

A reporter from the local NPR station was there – he had already done a preview piece on the talk and was looking to do a longer one now (as I understand it). I think we both got what we were looking for.

But first I introduced myself to the people who had arrived early: It’s nice to know who your audience is and connect with people. There were two former workers from the school and two women who work with troubled juveniles.

I think the talk was well-received, and as usual, people were reluctant at first to ask questions. But there are always questions, and they did come up. But what was also great is that the audience at times ignored me. I say great because my talk had opened up a discussion amongst people. One of the women who works with troubled kids made a good point that people should consider volunteering or helping out with juvenile programs rather than criticizing after the fact. (Although I still think there are valid criticisms of Columbine and probably how certain things were handled in other shootings). It’s always interesting to see how people will react to my arguments on how and why school shootings occur in the South and West — especially when you’re in the South –but no one disagreed with me.

After the talk I went to the memorials (there are two large stone engravings next to each other) located at Heath High School and read the names of the dead and injured.

Columbine and Virginia Tech school shooting memorials

June 15, 2009 at 1:47 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I visited the memorial to the Virginia Tech school shooting victims today, just over two years after I followed a Columbine parent there.

April 20, 2007 was the eight-year anniversary of Columbine and four days after the Tech shootings left 33 dead, including the killer. Tech is the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. Columbine is the deadliest high school shooting.A terrible torch was passed on that day when Michael Shoels, the father of slain Columbine student Isaiah Shoels, traveled to Blacksburg, Virginia with his traveling gospel of grief counseling and civics lesson.

As I visited the Tech memorial a little after noon today, a few things struck me. After the shootings, 33 thick squares of pale ‘Hokie Stone’ (named for the school nickname) ringed the crest of the central grassy quad area known as Drillfield. One controversial stone, it seemed clear, was for the shooter. Similar things happened after Columbine, such as when at least one person posted crosses for the Colorado shooters.

School shooters may be in anguish, but I think most people believe it is inappropriate to memorialize them alongside the victims.

The permanent memorial at Virginia Tech is an arc of 32 square stones. Each is about the size of an ice bucket, near where the original stones were placed. Each stone is engraved with the name of a victim, and a sprig of fresh flowers leaned against each stone. (I wonder if they are changed every day.) The Tech memorial is powerful, but smaller and more low-key than the Columbine Memorial, which has written remembrances to the victims, quotes from community members, and envelops people with stone walls as they walk inside. The Columbine Memorial more fully shuts out the rest of the world. That Tech even has a memorial also differs from Columbine: It took several years to raise the money for the Columbine Memorial.

Tech today was certainly quieter than the day I was there. No satellite trucks. The dozens of reporters, and hundreds of mourners, were gone. But the memories were still there. And that’s how it should be.

New job – and first job after the Columbine book

June 12, 2009 at 7:58 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

This is the press release that went out today; sorry I can’t replicate the fancy Denver Magazine logo:

Denver Magazine Hires Well-Known Denver Journalist and Author as its New Associate Editor

Former Rocky Mountain News reporter Jeff Kass brings extensive journalism experience to the staff of the glossy Denver monthly

June 12, 2009 (Denver) — Denver Magazine has named Jeff Kass as its new associate editor. Kass is a well-known investigative journalist and author of the recently released “Columbine: A True Crime Story,” a definitive book on the 1999 Columbine High School shootings.

“Jeff is a very talented well rounded writer,” said Denver Magazine CEO, editor-in-chief and publisher Michael Ledwitz. “With his addition we will be able to focus on bringing some articles to the magazine that will keep our readers interested for years to come.”

Kass began his professional journalism career in October 1992, covering Ventura City Hall for the Oxnard Press Courier in California. Two years later he joined the Los Angeles Times, covering government, politics, courts and the OJ Simpson custody case. In 1998, he moved to Denver and freelanced for a slew of publications including The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor and The New York Times. He also began as a staff writer for the Rocky Mountain News in 1999.

Kass worked at the paper for a decade, breaking national stories on Columbine, and covering the Kobe Bryant rape case. He traveled to Cambodia to write about the search for a missing soldier, and covered the space shuttle Columbia explosion in Texas. Kass holds a master’s degree in political science from New York University and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“I hope to bring a new round of journalism to Denver Magazine, from sharper features to more investigative work,” Kass said. “After one book and 10 years at the Rocky Mountain News, I’ve written on everything from Cuba to Columbine, and Hunter S. Thompson to Kobe Bryant. My new work will be just as varied, and I look forward to making the magazine more of must-read in Denver and beyond.”

Kass’ hiring is the latest change at the fast-growing city magazine. Earlier this year, Denver Magazine announced the addition of two new investors and the launch of media partnerships with some of Denver’s top network affiliates, including KCNC-TV Channel 4, Fox 31 KDVR, and KWGN The Deuce.

About Denver Magazine
Denver Magazine is published monthly and offers a fresh insight into the region’s cultural, political, sports, dining scene, fashion and more. It can be found at Denver-area newsstands, bookstores, and grocery stores. For more information or to subscribe, visit http://www.DenverMagazine.com.

Columbine book tour and reading

June 3, 2009 at 9:29 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A reminder that I will be reading and signing my book Columbine: A True Crime Story, a victim, the killers and the nation’s search for answers Thursday in Denver.

The first book to tell the complete story of Columbine, and the common denominators among school shooters across the country.

Josh Hanfling has graciously offered his fine restaurant, Campo de Fiori, for a booksigning – Take 2. Thursday, June 4 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Campo will provide appetizers. Cash bar.

This is also a make-up for the first booksigning that was slightly battered by a wicked spring snowstorm.

Copies of the book will be available for purchase. Please bring cash or check. No credit card machine will be available for book purchases.

Later this month I will begin an innovative book tour through the sites of school shootings. This is the press release:

An unusual book tour. A town hall meeting. A journey through some of America’s most well-known school shootings.

Jeff Kass, author of Columbine: A True Crime Story, a victim, the killers and the nation’s search for answers (Ghost Road Press 2009) is translating his book of investigative journalism into an on the ground exploration of America’s school shootings.

Columbine: A True Crime Story was released in March, just before the 10-year anniversary of the April 20, 1999 shootings. His book is the most definitive portrait yet of the killers, their families, and the common denominators among school shooters across the country. It has been featured in the Associated Press, CNN.com, Denver Post, Fox News, MSNBC, NBC Nightly News, New York Times, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal.

“The emotions of Columbine reach around the globe: it is the world’s most iconic school shooting,” says Kass, 40, who lives in Denver. “But when it comes to tragedy, geography is destiny. Those who live closest to the sites of school shootings are among the hardest hit – and also the most inspired to improve their communities.
“After 10 years of writing about Columbine and other school shootings, I have been exposed to these emotions and also think I have found some answers behind school shootings. People across the country will add to the discussion – and maybe contradict me – but the heart of the tour is meeting with those at the ground zeros of school shootings.”

The final stop in Houston has special significance. Kass will reunite with the Shoels family, who he chronicles in the book and who moved to Texas after their son Isaiah was killed at Columbine. The tour includes:

*Blacksburg, VA: Christiansburg Barnes & Noble – Monday, June 15 from 7 to 9 pm
*Paducah, KY: McCracken County Library – Thursday, June 18 from noon to 1:30 pm
*Jonesboro, AK: Barnes & Noble – Friday, June 19 starts at 5 pm
*Pearl, MS: Ridgeland Barnes & Noble – Saturday, June 20 starts at 4 pm
Houston, TX: Galleria Barnes & Noble – Saturday, June 27 from 2 to 4 pm
*Denotes an area at or near the site of a school shooting.

Kass worked at the Rocky Mountain News for 10 years; the paper shut down one month before his book release. He covered Columbine and national stories out of the West for the News, Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, Newsday, and US News & World Report.

Columbine book reading in Denver

May 28, 2009 at 3:18 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I will have a Columbine book reading next Thursday June 4 at Campo de Fiori in Denver from 6 p.m. to 7:30.

Don’t be confused: Campo is an Italian restaurant, but is co-owned (or something or other) by my friend Josh Hanfling. He has graciously allowed me to use the space for a book event.

Columbine: A True Crime Story, a victim, the killers and the nation’s search for answers is the first book to tell the complete story of Columbine, and the common denominators among school shooters across the country.

This is also a make-up for the first booksigning at Tattered Cover that went well but was slightly battered by a wicked spring snowstorm.

Copies of the book will be available for purchase at Campo.

Campo will provide appetizers. Cash bar.

May 15, 2009 at 7:18 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I did a presentation Wednesday night on a Jewish issue connected to my book Columbine: A True Crime Story, a victim, the killers and the nation’s search for answers.

The Jewish-focused group E-3 Events had three different authors and asked each of them to analyze a passage in their book about Judaism.

My book contains at least a couple relevant passages given that shooter Dylan Klebold was half Jewish. The passage I used was a scene from the “basement tapes” filmed in fellow gunman Eric Harris’ basement:

It is sometime before April 1. Eric will soon be eighteen. He poses, sans shirt, with his shotgun, and carbine on a sling.
“My parents are going to f—ing Passover,” Dylan says.
“You’re Jewish?” Eric asks angrily.
Dylan now seems scared of Eric. Apparently, they had never discussed the issue.
Dylan pans to a window. “You can’t see it, it’s buried there,” he says.
“That’s why it’s called a bunker.”
The camera stops.

The question is, “What does it all mean?”

I argued that the passage shows Eric and Dylan were book smart, but did not have social smarts: They were friends for about four years but never stopped to talk about religion. Also, Columbine wasn’t about killing jocks or preps or Jews or blacks or Hispanics. It was about killing everyone. Eric’s Christian religion, and Dylan’s Jewish religion, has been superceded by killing.

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