Columbine

Columbine

by

Dave Cullen

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Columbine: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Though it was treated as one, Columbine was “never” a hostage standoff. Dylan and Eric had no demands. As SWAT teams search the building and evacuate terrified students, they are unaware that the killers have already been dead for over two hours—they committed suicide in the library at 12:08 p.m. There had never really been a standoff, though investigators had entertained that option and the overzealous media had reported on Columbine as an active hostage situation.  
Dylan and Eric desired only violence—there was nothing they wanted from the world or from the authorities. They never could have been talked down from violence, and had no interest in sparing lives for their own benefit—what they wanted was death, annihilation, and fame. 
Themes
Violence and Spectacle Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Trauma, and Testimony Theme Icon
Media: Misinformation and Sensationalism Theme Icon
At about 3:15 p.m., SWAT teams enter the library and find it in a “shambles.” Most of the children in the library have been dead for hours—one girl, Lisa Kreutz, has survived, and is rushed to the hospital with a shattered shoulder. Most of the bodies in the library are under tables, hidden, but two bodies are not—they match the descriptions of Eric and Dylan, and the SWAT team realizes that the ordeal is over. They discover Patti Nielson and three other women hiding in rooms just off the library. No one knows just how long the shooting has really been over for—detectives will eventually learn that there is a vast difference between “how long the attack lasted, and how long Eric and Dylan killed.”
There is massive confusion in the library—those trying to hide and protect themselves did so at the cost of their awareness of their surroundings. SWAT team members realize that the active shooting situation has been over for hours—it has taken them hours, though, to reach the room where it all ended.  
Themes
Violence and Spectacle Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Trauma, and Testimony Theme Icon
Failure Theme Icon
Detectives interview anyone and everyone they can find, and brief triage interviews help to weed out those who need to be interviewed at greater length and those who are not direct witnesses. Lead investigator Kate Battan wants to get every detail right—she does not want “another situation like O.J. Simpson [or] JonBenet Ramsey.” When Battan’s team runs Dylan and Eric’s names through the Jeffco system, they find that the boys had been arrested the year before for theft, and had entered a year-long diversion program consisting of community service and counseling. The boys, Battan finds, “completed the program with glowing reviews just three months before the massacre.” Additionally, a complaint was filed over a year earlier by Brooks Brown’s parents, revealing that Eric had made “death threats” toward Brooks. The report features “ten pages of murderous rants printed from [Eric’s] webpage.” Battan orders search warrants for Eric and Dylan’s homes.
The investigative team at Columbine wants to avoid turning the shooting into a fiasco—they want to get their facts straight and avoid media sensationalism, though of course these troubles are already beginning to seep into the investigation. The discovery of police reports and permanent records on and for both of the boys adds another layer to the brewing storm—if Jeffco failed to take steps to investigate these boys when they were causing minor troubles, the blood of Columbine will be seen by the media and the public as being on their hands.
Themes
Violence and Spectacle Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Trauma, and Testimony Theme Icon
Failure Theme Icon
Media: Misinformation and Sensationalism Theme Icon
At 3:20, Fuselier learns that his son Brian is alive and all right. At 4:00, Jeffco holds a press conference, presided over by Sheriff John Stone and chief spokesman Steve Davis. Stone bungles the question-and-answer portion of the event, doubling the death count, fueling rumors of more than two shooters, and erroneously attributing the killers’ motive to “craziness.”
The reckless and irresponsible manner in which John Stone delivered the first press conference after the shooting foreshadowed the many mistakes and failures that Jeffco officials would encounter as the investigation continued to unravel.
Themes
Memory, Bearing Witness, Trauma, and Testimony Theme Icon
Failure Theme Icon
Media: Misinformation and Sensationalism Theme Icon
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In the frenzy following the press conference, distraught students and witnesses, desperate for someone to listen to them, pour their hearts out to the press.
Students contribute their (possibly flawed) accounts and perspectives to the hungry media.
Themes
Memory, Bearing Witness, Trauma, and Testimony Theme Icon
Media: Misinformation and Sensationalism Theme Icon
Linda Sanders, Dave Sanders’ wife, watches coverage from home as she waits for word of her husband. Dave was the teacher shot in Science Room 3—he laid bleeding in the room for hours, though his family does not know this. In the middle of the afternoon, a reporter from the Denver Post calls Linda for comment on the shooting of her husband. Linda, horrified, screams and throws the phone away from herself.
The facts coming out of Columbine emerged in fits and starts, often alienating victims’ families or keeping them in the dark. Linda Sanders learned of her husbands’ injury from the press—not from law enforcement officials, paramedics, or investigators.
Themes
Violence and Spectacle Theme Icon
Failure Theme Icon
Media: Misinformation and Sensationalism Theme Icon
Robyn Anderson, who had helped Eric and Dylan to acquire guns, told detectives who interviewed her “the truth, but not the whole truth.” She told them she did not know anything about the plot, but did not mention that she did know about the guns. She is consumed by guilt. When she calls Zack Heckler that afternoon, he tells her that he knew the boys had been making pipe bombs—this “astound[s]” Robyn. Zack had helped the boys make pipe bombs, and he is scared, too—he also left his involvement in making the bombs out of his police interview.
The shooters’ friends struggle to cope with the information that has come to light about Dylan and Eric. Though most all of their friends knew that something was going on, and that the boys had been up to no good, none of them was aware of plans for an attack, or of just how deep their friends’ rage and derangement went.
Themes
Violence and Spectacle Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Trauma, and Testimony Theme Icon
Failure Theme Icon
Meanwhile, Chris Morris confesses everything he knows to the police, describing Eric’s fascination with Nazis and dreams of setting pipe bombs off at school. Detectives believe that if Eric and Dylan leaked information to Chris, they must have leaked it to more of their friends—leaking is “a classic characteristic of young assailants.” Chris tells detectives that he knew Eric and Dylan were looking for guns and ordnance, and that he suspects someone named Phil Duran, a former coworker at Blackjack, of having helped them acquire the weapons.
Chris Morris is compliant with the authorities, and his honesty helps investigators to figure out a pattern in the boys’ behavior that could eventually lead them to more information, or perhaps even confessions from more of the boys’ friends and acquaintances.
Themes
Memory, Bearing Witness, Trauma, and Testimony Theme Icon
Robyn Anderson tells her friend Kelli that she helped acquire guns for the boys. Robyn did not pay for anything and did not sign any papers, but she was the one who made the transaction.
Just as the shooters “leaked” information to their friends, Robyn, feeling guilty, “leaks” the truth of what she knew and did to a close friend.
Themes
Memory, Bearing Witness, Trauma, and Testimony Theme Icon
While the Klebolds’ house is searched, Tom and Sue sit outside on their porch, forbidden from entering their own home. At 8:10 p.m., the house is officially designated a crime scene, and the Klebolds are told to get out. Unable to “grieve for [their] child,” the Klebolds leave. When they speak to their lawyer, he warns that because Dylan is no longer around “for people to hate, people are going to hate [Tom and Sue.]”
The Klebolds, shocked and devastated by the days’ events, comply with the investigation of their home and family while attempting to steel and prepare themselves for the hatred that is sure to come their way very soon.
Themes
Memory, Bearing Witness, Trauma, and Testimony Theme Icon
Failure Theme Icon