An Op-Ed on Oprah and a Columbine killer’s mother

October 18, 2009 at 3:29 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I have an Op-Ed in today’s Denver Post on the essay written by the mother of Columbine killer Dylan Klebold for Oprah. It begins, “One of the most compelling questions after Columbine was, ‘Who are the parents?’ Ten years later, it remains unanswered.”

The Op-Ed is a fuller version of my thoughts on the essay by Susan Klebold for O The Oprah Magazine. While observers had to make a little leap of analysis when a few select excerpts were first released, it appears those excerpts did give a pretty good picture: There was hardly anything new in the essay. “Years later, the Klebolds seem stuck on the same script,” I write in the Op-Ed titled “Klebold may not know what she knows.”

Aside from the content of the Klebold essay, released this past week, what strikes me is how many bloggers are getting it wrong. Many of the posts I have seen buy into O magazine’s (erroneous) salesmanship that the contents of the essay – or even Klebold speaking – are new.

Otherwise, there is one key recommendation I have in the Op-Ed, although the final say will come from elsewhere.

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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.

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 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.

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.

Columbine Culture of Honor

April 26, 2009 at 3:18 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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“Columbine: Outcasts Seeking ‘Honor'” was the title of a recent Q and A I did on Columbine and other school shootings.

“If I had to sum up 336 pages and ten years into one word, I’d say it was vengeance,” I began on the motivation of the Columbine killers. “Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were angry that they were at the bottom rung of the social ladder. And Columbine High School was a symbol of the social order that put them there.”

The Q and A was for The Crime Report a well-respected Web site that covers criminal justice and journalism issues. The Q and A drew on the work from my newly released book Columbine: A True Crime Story, a victim, the killers and the nation’s search for answers.

One of the key points, aside from motivation itself, is that the Columbine shooters share certain characteristics with other school shooters.

The Q and A goes on to discuss a number of other issues, including media coverage on the 10-year anniversary. I point out, contrary to the current trend of Columbine coverage, “As the 10-year anniversary stories on Columbine arrive, one common theme is that the media got its initial reporting wrong. That is true. Yet the public record was also corrected pretty quickly.”

Columbine – ‘Anatomy of a tragedy’ in Denver Post

April 12, 2009 at 11:22 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Columbine is in the media today with another review of my book Columbine: A True Crime Story, a victim, the killers and the nation’s search for answers.

The thorough, well-done review in the Denver Post was done by Keith Coffman.

The review begins, “The Columbine massacre a decade ago was one of the most widely — if inaccurately — reported crime stories in American history. Myths surrounding the school shooting that were seared into the public consciousness from the early news coverage were later debunked, but muted by the passage of time.”

I thought Coffman did an excellent job summarizing but also bringing out the new items and pointing out the differing conclusions about the causes behind Columbine. He writes, “Kass believes the combination of the teens’ mental illness… and the isolation of suburbia produced the rampage.”

Coffman is a Colorado-based freelance journalist who has written about Columbine for Reuters, The Denver Post and the governor’s Columbine Review Commission.

Columbine book review

April 11, 2009 at 11:22 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I’m going to start near the end of a recent review mentioning my book:

“For a more restrained, if less glittering, take on the murders, pick up Jeff Kass’ “Columbine: A True Crime Story.” Although I could have done without its forays into the sociology of suburbia and the West, and wished Kass had compressed his extensive treatment of Isaiah Schoels’ family and their publicity hound spokesman, the book is mostly a no-nonsense look at the crime, its background and Jeffco’s coverup.”

The review is in today’s (Saturday) Denver Post, written by columnist Vince Carroll. I used to work with Carroll at the Rocky, but as he points out in the column “we barely knew each other.”

There is more to the review on my book. But I am giving you the end of the column because the first part points out some shortcomings in another Columbine book. You can read up on it for yourself, and decide for yourself. But now you’ve got some facts.

April 9, 2009 at 12:21 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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“On the day of Columbine seventeen-year-old Dylan Bennet Klebold is wearing a black T-shirt with “Wrath” printed in red letters across the chest. The red matches the blood that will later gurgle out of his head to form a jagged halo when he lies dead on the floor of the high school library.”

Thus begin the excerpts from my newly released Columbine book on the Web site today of INDenverTimes, the news site set up by former Rocky Mountain News reporters.

The excerpts are from the first chapter, which is the day of the shootings. The book is not a grisly retelling of what happened that day nearly ten years ago, on April 20, 1999. But people do need to be reminded of what happened.

The victims family I profile in the book says people must not forget the horror of what happened that day if they want to prevent something like it from happening again. That is similar to Holocaust survivor and writer Elie Weisel’s dictum that, “to remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all.”

People should remember, but also learn. Otherwise the killers themselves are given the opportunity to write history. The excerpts, in part, continue:

“Harris and Klebold have hand signals, and one imagines them jotting down the gestures before the massacre with a mixture of excitement and exactitude; serious about the carnage, but giddy to kill. The signals include:

Bombing—wave fist
Cops sighted—wave hand
Suicide—point to head with gun”

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