I’m reading a haunting book. It’s called Columbine by Dave Cullen who was a freelance reporter and was one of the first journalists on scene of the tragedy. He spent the years after compiling research on what happened, the victims, and the killers. It is very sad and several times I find myself openly weeping while reading it, and yet I can’t stop. The tragedy affects me because of how vividly I remember it happening. If you know me you know that the big joke surrounding my memory is that I have no long term memory. People will remind me of situations or things I’ve said and I’ll have no memory of them. I’ll even be presented with photographic evidence and still not fully remember the event. My brother in law Tim says that’s because my whole childhood I had my head stuck in a book. Who knows, maybe he’s right. As I’ve gotten older I’ve actually gotten a little better at remembering things because I make a conscious choice to pay attention to the world around me.
But in April 1999 I was just newly 11 years old and still not great at remembering events. But I remember coming home from school and watching high school students running full tilt out of the school with their hands on their heads while SWAT teams covered them with their guns. My parents were watching mesmerized and I remember feeling terrified as the news media continued explaining what had happened. Two gunman killing and injuring many of their peers with guns and bombs. The screen filled with crying students and parents desperate to know if any of their loved ones were among the dead. It was horrible.
Reading this book puts me right back in that place with some new feelings as well. The book does a great job of debunking a lot of the myths that surround the tragedy; that the boys targeted certain kids, that they were loners, that they were Goth, that they were part of some Trench Coat Mafia. All of those myths were created by a grieving community and news media that wanted quick answers. It would take years for the real answers to come out. If you can handle the sadness I really encourage you to read this book. I’m not even halfway through it and I find it so fascinating. The real answer behind why Dylan and Eric did what they did is both sad and scary at the same time.
The author posits, with significant proof from law enforcement and other mental health professionals, that Eric was a true psychopath. The public uses that term for anyone who commits a crime, but in real psychiatry the word means a real mental condition. Psychopaths have no conscience and care nothing for others, but can appear to feel the exact opposite. They are manipulators who can appear charming and likeable, but this is all an act to hide that they will do anything for their own gain. When they hurt others they feel no remorse. Think of Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer and you have a pretty good picture of a typical murderous psychopath. Eric fit this picture almost perfectly. His journals from the beginning show a desire to kill and the belief that he is unique and better than all the other stupid people around him. Those people deserve to die because he said they do. There isn’t much help for a psychopath because talk therapy is just another way for him to learn how to manipulate people. Reading about Eric is scary. Reading about Dylan is half of the reason why I weep.
Dylan did not fit the bill of murderous personality. He was depressed. While depressed people sometimes kill, they hardly ever kill large groups of people. Instead they might kill one or two people close to them that they feel is the cause of their depression. Even more often than killing one or two people, a depressed person will kill himself. He views his problems not as coming from the world, but coming from himself. Dylan also thought he was unique. But he saw his uniqueness as a bad thing, the thing that kept him from being happy. His journals show self hatred and hopelessness. Eric, the true psychopath, took Dylan’s depression and hatred of himself and slowly turned it to a hatred of others. It was like he was saying “why do you hate yourself? There is nothing wrong with you. There is something wrong with them.” On the day of the shooting within the first 4 minutes of the attacks Eric shot his gun more than 40 times. Dylan shot his 3 times.
Reading Dylan’s journal entries in the book make me cry. He was so lost and confused. When his best friend Zach got a girlfriend and being spending more time with her he writes, “I feel so lonely without a friend.” another entry says “A dark time, infinite sadness, I want to find love.”
Of course I cry when I read about the victims, that hasn’t changed since 1999. How terrible that 13 people lost their lives. How terrible for their families. I still feel that deeply. But reading this book Dylan is the person that haunts me. How I wish he had felt like he could share those thoughts with his parents, who from all accounts of the book, seem pretty well adjusted and loving. How I wish he could have experienced the real and true love of God that would fill every hole he felt in his life. He didn’t want to murder. When he walked into the cafeteria after firing his gun 3 times outside there were over 50 kids still running up the stairs out of the room. He never fired at them. Just waved the gun around a few times and left. Why? Why couldn’t he pull that trigger? I believe the only time Dylan felt comfortable pulling the trigger was when he put the gun to his mouth in the library. He hated himself, not others.
Why am I writing all of this sad stuff? Maybe to help process it myself. But the bigger reason is to remind the people in my life to always be on the lookout for a Dylan. Be open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Maybe that person you see in Wawa every morning thinks his life is waste. Look for a chance to tell him it’s not. Maybe that woman who rides your bus to work thinks nobody in the world could love her. Look for a chance to tell her that the creator of her worlds loves her with an overwhelming love. Maybe that kid you teach thinks nobody would notice if he was gone tomorrow. Let him know you would notice.
Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. And if we want to be like him we need to pick up that mantle and go and find them. I want God to open my eyes to the hurting people that are around me. I want him to use me to change someones life. I want to get to my Dylan before an Eric gets to him first.