Columbine

Columbine

by

Dave Cullen

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Columbine: Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On Wednesday morning, the survivors who descend upon the crime scene are “changed.” They are no longer emotional, and an “unsettling quiet” falls over most of them. The bodies of the dead are still inside the perimeter, and their names have not been released.
The violent spectacle of the day before has receded, and students are left with shock and numbness.
Themes
Violence and Spectacle Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Trauma, and Testimony Theme Icon
Brian Rohrbough receives a phone call Wednesday morning from a friend, warning him that there is a blurry picture of Danny’s corpse out in the open on a sidewalk outside the school. Danny was “all Brian had,” and had been training to come work in Brian’s auto shop after high school was over. Brian is shocked by how “cavalierly” officials are treating his son’s dead body. On Wednesday, it snows. Danny’s body will lie on the sidewalk for twenty-eight hours.
Jefferson County officials continue to fail the parents of the victims of the shooting, disregarding the bodies that still have not been removed from the scene of the crime. 
Themes
Violence and Spectacle Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Trauma, and Testimony Theme Icon
Failure Theme Icon
Media: Misinformation and Sensationalism Theme Icon
Brad and Misty Bernall return to the perimeter Wednesday morning, and ask the police whether anyone inside the building is still alive. The cops tell them no. Misty thanks the cop for his “honesty,” but holds out hope that he is wrong, and continues to try and breach the perimeter all morning. Around lunchtime, parents are brought over to Leawood, where the district attorney, Dave Thomas, “informs families one by one” that their children are dead. Misty wants her daughter’s body out of the library.
Misty’s faith continues to give her false hope even in the face of the fact that her daughter is dead. When she finally comes to accept the fact that Cassie died in the library, Misty, like Brian Rohrbough, becomes incensed by the local officials’ treatment of the students’ dead bodies which still litter the high school.
Themes
Violence and Spectacle Theme Icon
Memory, Bearing Witness, Trauma, and Testimony Theme Icon
Failure Theme Icon
Religion: Escapism, Evangelism, Opportunism Theme Icon
Linda Sanders and her family wait for the news that they already know is coming. Around 3 p.m., a deputy arrives at their house and informs them that Dave has been “tentatively identified” as a victim. Linda screams and throws up.
Again, Cullen shows how the family members of the many victims react with violent shock, denial, and despair as they are notified of their loved ones’ deaths.
Themes
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Memory, Bearing Witness, Trauma, and Testimony Theme Icon
Get the entire Columbine LitChart as a printable PDF.
Columbine PDF
Wednesday morning, Frank DeAngelis is “consumed with guilt”—his job is to provide a safe environment at Columbine, and he feels he has failed to do so. He is due to deliver a speech at a local megachurch, Light of the World, at 10 a.m., but has no idea what to say. Mr. D. buckles as he takes his place before the crowd and they cheer and applaud him. He apologizes to the students and the community, and ends his speech, as always, by telling the children that he loves them.
Mr. D continues to represent safety and community, even though he feels he has failed in his duties as principal.
Themes
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Failure Theme Icon
Religion: Escapism, Evangelism, Opportunism Theme Icon
Columbine students, lost and overwhelmingly feeling misunderstood by their parents, are “desperate to unload their stories.” Many seek out the media camps in a nearby park. They pour their hearts out to journalists, a move that some of them will later “regret.”
The media firestorm continues to be fueled by the inaccurate accounts of students who are “desperate” for a sympathetic ear.
Themes
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Failure Theme Icon
Media: Misinformation and Sensationalism Theme Icon
The Harrises and the Klebolds hire attorneys as “the presumption of guilt land[s] on their shoulders.” In the public opinion, Eric and Dylan are seen as “just kids,” not contributors to the tragedy, though violent movies and video games, Goth culture, bullies, Satan, the Trench Coat Mafia, and both boys’ parents are. Both sets of parents release statements to the press on Wednesday, though neither agrees to speak directly with the media.
The media and the public, unable to comprehend how two boys could have been motivated all on their own to commit such horrible violence, seek answers in the boys’ interests and influences.
Themes
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Failure Theme Icon
Media: Misinformation and Sensationalism Theme Icon
Everyone, including the police, assume that Columbine had to have been a conspiracy. The conspiracy angle is on Agent Fuselier’s mind Wednesday morning as he steps into the crime scene for the first time. It is “luck” that has drawn him to the case—if his son had not been a Columbine student, he would not have been assigned to the case. Fuselier will, however, come to play “the leading role in understanding the killers.”
Again, the witnesses and officials in the Columbine community fail to comprehend that Dylan and Eric are the only—and gleeful—perpetrators of the attack, believing there must be something else underlying the violence. 
Themes
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Failure Theme Icon
The largest team in Colorado state history is assembled to begin solving the crime. Nearly one hundred detectives are on the case in Jeffco, and the FBI sends more than a dozen special agents. Eleven “likely conspirators” are identified, including Brooks Brown, Chris Morris, and Robyn Anderson. The band room is converted into a command center—the rest of the school is in awful shape. The cafeteria is completely flooded, and the library is a site of “unspeakable” carnage. Meanwhile, detectives clear out Eric and Dylan’s homes, and discover a “mother lode” of evidence and documentation at Eric’s house—“he wanted [the public] to know” what he was planning, Cullen writes.
As Jefferson County officials and representatives from the FBI hunker down and begin their investigation, they still fail to see how two students and two students alone could have been responsible for this carnage. When they uncover the “mother lode” of documents at Eric Harris’s house, though, they begin to see the truth of the situation they are dealing with.  
Themes
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Memory, Bearing Witness, Trauma, and Testimony Theme Icon
Failure Theme Icon
Five hundred interviews are conducted within the first seventy-two hours of the investigation. Student witnesses are “growing more compromised by the hour” as the media stays locked on to reports and speculation on the carnage and the investigation. Some detectives head out to the suspects’ hometowns, away from Jeffco
As the investigation gets underway, law enforcement officials know that time is precious and that the media sensationalism beginning to take over the case could seriously compromise their work.
Themes
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Media: Misinformation and Sensationalism Theme Icon