Columbine

Columbine

by

Dave Cullen

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Columbine: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As Danny Rohrbough dies outside the Columbine building, his stepsister is inside, changing for gym glass. While the girls in her class prepare to head outside to play softball, the killers enter through the building’s west doors. Mr. D runs “straight into [Eric and Dylan’s] gunfire,” shepherding the girls into a storage closet within the school’s gym. He tells the girls that he’ll come back for them, and that there will be a code word they should use—as the girls struggle to come up with one they all can agree on, the group begins to laugh, and the absurdity of their situation “br[eaks] the tension for a moment.”
Even in the midst of horror and violence, the camaraderie between Mr. D and his beloved students comes through. His priority is sheltering them from harm, and they take comfort in his presence.
Themes
Violence and Spectacle Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Trauma, and Testimony Theme Icon
Mr. D opens the outside door to see a Jeffco sheriff pulling up, and quickly goes back to retrieve the girls from the closet and get them outside to safety. Mr. D follows them to the SWAT team command post, where he draws diagrams of the hallways for them and describes the shooters more accurately—they are not in trench coats, he says, and one of them is wearing “a baseball cap turned backwards.” Mr. D then heads to one of the rendezvous points to be with more of his students, and feels the first signs of post-traumatic stress disorder settling in—he is numb and feels nothing, like a “zombie.”
Mr. D prioritizes his students above even himself—he feels himself growing “numb,” but insists on being with the kids he has sworn to support and protect. Mr. D provides a much more accurate testimony than his terrified students are able to, and his rejection of the Trench Coat Mafia theory is a major development.
Themes
Violence and Spectacle Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Trauma, and Testimony Theme Icon
Patrick Ireland’s parents know that he always goes off-campus for lunch, and they approach the Columbine campus and beg to get to the parking lot so that they can determine whether Patrick’s car is parked there or not. They cannot get through the perimeter and have not heard from Patrick or any of his friends, but don’t allow themselves to believe that their child has been harmed. Little do they know that Patrick spent his lunch in the library studying with four of his friends, and that all five of the children have been shot.
The establishment of the perimeter is a frustrating barrier for parents like the Irelands and the Bernalls, and Cullen highlights the desperation with which families of students and victims sought information on their children.
Themes
Violence and Spectacle Theme Icon
At around 2:30 p.m., an officer riding in a news helicopter spots a bloody student “sagging against [a window] frame [in the library,] [preparing] to jump.” He radios the SWAT teams on the ground, and they drive their truck toward the window. SWAT officers call up to Patrick Ireland, but he is confused. He is dizzy, his vision is limited, and he is unsure of where he is. Patrick has been shot in the head, and bullet fragments have lodged in his brain, severely impairing the vision and language sections of his brain and paralyzing the right side of his body. It has taken him three hours to drag himself to the window. Now, he leans forward over the ledge and topples onto the armored SWAT truck parked below. Once out of the building, Patrick attempts to climb into the truck’s front seat, confused and disoriented. He attempts to tell paramedics his name, but cannot form the words. Patrick’s fall out of the library window is televised, and quickly becomes a “stunning” and iconic image for Americans watching at home.
Patrick, one of the survivors of the library massacre, emerges from the second-floor window dazed, bloodied almost beyond recognition, and desperate to escape. Patrick’s fall is captured by the media, and its instantly iconic status is emblematic of the horror, disorientation, and desperation which is still unfolding inside the building.
Themes
Violence and Spectacle Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Trauma, and Testimony Theme Icon
Media: Misinformation and Sensationalism Theme Icon
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John and Kathy Ireland receive a call telling them that Patrick—whose fall out the window they did not see—has been taken to St. Anthony’s hospital. They drive to the hospital, where they are made aware of the severity of their son’s injuries. He has brain damage, and doctors are unsure of whether he will regain the brain function he has lost.
Patrick was unrecognizable on television, and his parents failed to notice that the boy falling out of the library window was their son.
Themes
Violence and Spectacle Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Trauma, and Testimony Theme Icon
Failure Theme Icon
Media: Misinformation and Sensationalism Theme Icon
As one SWAT team rescued Patrick from the library, another rescued the sixty students “barricaded” inside the choir room. Sixty more are discovered safe in the science wing minutes later. All one hundred and twenty are evacuated at 2:47 p.m., and run single file from the building with their hands on their heads. Each student is frisked and then sent to safety. In Science Room 3—the classroom where the whiteboard reading “1 BLEEDING TO DEATH” had been held against the window—the carpet is “soaked in blood,” and the bleeding teacher is “barely alive.”
As students continue to pour out of the building, alive and whole though terrified and, in some cases, traumatized, one individual is still “bleeding to death” inside the science wing. The perimeter has served its purpose of keeping Columbine contained, and has saved hundreds of unharmed students —but at the cost of failing to attend to the injured few. 
Themes
Violence and Spectacle Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Trauma, and Testimony Theme Icon
Failure Theme Icon