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Columbine: The Horror Writer

"Columbine" author Dave Cullen wants you and the public you serve to know that future school massacres can be stopped.

September 18, 2009  |  by - Also by this author

Psychologist and military historian Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, the author of "On Killing," has called first-person shooter video games "murder simulators." Do you think the killers' love of "Doom" played a role in conditioning them to kill?

I don't know if I'm qualified to answer that. I'm a little skeptical of any of the outside factors such as violent movies and video games and bullying because I don't see the killers telling me that.

That said, when it comes to video games, I have recently been told that I need to go back and do more research on this because there has been some research that does show some correlation between these types of video games and violent kids.

I'm always a little skeptical of that kind of research because causality is hard to prove. Just because you see a link statistically between a higher percentage of people liking violent video games is that cause or effect? Maybe violent kids like these violent games because they embody their fantasies.

A lot of blame for Columbine gets cast on "lax" gun laws, but the same gun laws-or even more relaxed gun laws-were in place in the sixties, seventies, and eighties. It's not just about access to guns. I knew gun enthusiasts in high school, and they weren't dangerous.

Right, and I think it's pretty clear that most of the people interested in guns aren't interested in mass murder. And so the access to guns is definitely not the driving force here.

I leave the gun issue up to the reader, but I think it's pretty clear if there were a way to keep guns away from kids, the killers would not have been able to do it. I don't know whether that's realistic or not.

One of the things that happened about this time in history was the birth of the World Wide Web. These kids came in as freshmen with the Web and that's an amazing amount of information that you get for free on anything, including bomb making.

Exactly. It's free and there's no audit trail, and no one is tracking it. It makes it much easier to get the "Anarchist's Cookbook" and you don't have to face questions from a librarian or bookseller.

Whether or not that really would have stopped anything is unlikely. A librarian or bookseller probably would not have turned [Harris in for getting bombmaking books]. But to a kid's point of view that sounds like a big obstacle. "How am I going to get the book without asking someone and tipping them off?" And I think those kind of things are natural inhibitors because the kid is perhaps more worried about that than he or she needs to be. But with the Web, they can go find anything and it's all private and anonymous. They can easily look over these things without anybody looking over their shoulders.

Could anything have been done to treat these kids and prevent this tragedy by helping them?

I don't think there was any way to help Eric. I think there were an extraordinary number of different ways to have helped Dylan. I'm not blaming anybody for not figuring this out with Dylan, but had he gotten treatment, he may well have not become a mass murderer.

Your book is really sympathetic to the frontline law enforcement officers at Columbine. Can you describe what they went through that day?

It was a metrowide call for assistance. And so you had all sorts of people responding, but they really didn't know what was happening. Quite a few people thought it was a terrorist attack because there were reports of bombs and automatic weapons.

There also seemed to be many shooters. They had so many different reports-and credible reports-of multiple shooters because Eric and Dylan took off their coats after they were first sighted.

Also the cops could tell there was heavy weaponry involved because the killers kept exploding pipe bombs in there and the walls of the building were shaking. So they knew something horrible was going on in there, but nobody knew what.

A lot of the cops were really frustrated. They were ordered to set up a perimeter. You know they were thinking: There's something terrible happening in there. Shouldn't I be doing something?

But I've been in the army and I think that sort of helps my perspective. I was in the infantry, and the last thing you want to do in a chaotic situation is add to the chaos and be the stupid lone wolf who goes off and complicates things further by charging in there by himself. You have to rely on your command and obey orders and do what you're told.

Comments (1)

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annie @ 3/5/2011 11:30 PM

interesting never knew about the bombs

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