At about 1 p.m., reporters get words that children are trapped inside the building and that the situation is now a “hostage standoff,” though “reports conflict” as to where the hostages are being held. Word spreads to the parents waiting at the nearby rendezvous points. As things grow tense, parents pass around cell phones—Columbine is an “affluent” community, and nearly everyone has one.
The media continues to report false facts about the state of the shooting incorrectly and repetitiously. Though Eric and Dylan are dead at this point, the SWAT teams do not know this, let alone the newscasters scrambling to report every new detail that comes to light.
Word gets out that somewhere between twenty and thirty students are still alive in the choir room—the parents cannot decide if this is “good news or bad.” In reality, “two to three hundred students” are still hiding in the school. Reporters have no idea, but the cops are aware of the real numbers. As more and more students use their cell phones to call into local TV stations, the police “plead” with the news to “ask the hostages to quit calling the media [and] turn off the televisions.”
The role of the media in the shooting continues to expand as the “hostages” make more and more calls to local stations and rely on the faulty coverage—which is partially incorrect due to flawed student accounts—to inform them of what is happening just outside their classroom doors. This cycle of confusion and misinformation thus continues to feed into itself.
None of the school shootings in the last several years have been televised, and America watches, riveted, as Columbine unfolds. “The mounting terror of horror withheld” and the feeling of “almost witnessing mass murder,” Cullen writes, are what keeps America watching. It will be months before investigators fully understand what transpired inside Columbine, and years before investigators will unravel a motive. The public, however, “[cannot] wait that long,” and so the news outlets begin to speculate and draw conjecture.
Themes of bearing witness to tragedy and violence run throughout Cullen’s text, and here the danger of equating “almost” witnessing something which actually bearing witness to it are displayed. The public’s desire for the feeling of being present at Columbine and the media’s desire to deliver on that front led to dangerous speculation and the reportage of erroneous and damaging facts which would prove difficult to unstick from the narrative of the attack for years to come.