Columbine

Columbine

by

Dave Cullen

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Dave Cullen Character Analysis

A journalist who was present on the first day of the Columbine shootings, Dave Cullen has dedicated over ten years of his life to the meticulous, skillful research of Columbine—all that happened before, during, and after the momentous attack, which changed the way the American public thought about—and the way the media covered—school shootings forever. Through interviews with friends of the killers, survivors of the attack, tireless local and FBI investigators, and the families of the shooting’s victims, Cullen has assembled a tome which manages both to convey the brutal, horrific details of the attack—many of which had been glossed over by the media or hidden from the American public—while also delving into and humanizing the minds of the killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Eric was a hateful psychopath, Cullen asserts, but his partner in the attack, Dylan Klebold, was a suicidal depressive, a “lost” and inwardly angry young man who was swayed toward accelerated hatred and extreme violence by a very powerful friend. Cullen’s extensive interviews and intricately detailed accounts of private moments in the lives of the killers, the victims, and the survivors alike converge into a difficult inquiry into the state of American culture and values. Gun control, mental health and teen depression, predatory media, and corrupt government and police officials all combine, Cullen argues, into the creation of a landscape which effectively condones “spectacle murder”—mass-murderers are given glory, fame, and longevity, which are the very things they desire. Without a fundamental change to the systems which attempt to explore and explain the horrors of murder and mass murder in America, Cullen argues, the country is doomed to repeat and bear witness to a series of ongoing and escalating spectacle killings, many of which cite the execution-style shootings of Columbine—now unrecognizable as the bombing it was intended to be—as inspiration. Cullen describes “cring[ing]” for Columbine survivors every time a new attack occurs, and though a member of the press corps himself, wants to advocate for a rethinking of how the American media reports on the horrors it is charged with relaying to the worried, watching public.

Dave Cullen Quotes in Columbine

The Columbine quotes below are all either spoken by Dave Cullen or refer to Dave Cullen . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Twelve edition of Columbine published in 2010.
Chapter 14 Quotes

The fundamental experience for most of America was almost witnessing mass murder. It was the panic and frustration of not knowing, the mounting terror of horror withheld, just out of view. We would learn the truth about Columbine, but we would not learn it today. The narrative unfolding on television looked nothing like the killers’ plan. It looked only moderately like what was actually occurring. It would take months for investigators to piece together what had gone on inside. Motive would take longer to unravel. It would be years before the detective team would explain why. The public couldn’t wait that long. The media was not about to. They speculated.

Related Characters: Dave Cullen (speaker), Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 22 Quotes

For investigators, the [discovery of the] big bombs changed everything: the scale, the method, and the motive of the attack. Above all, it had been indiscriminate. Everyone was supposed to die. Columbine was fundamentally different from the other school shootings. It had not really been intended as a shooting at all. Primarily it had been a bombing that failed. [When] officials announced the discovery, it instigated a new media shock wave. But, curiously, journalists failed to grasp the implications. They saw what happened at Columbine as a shooting and the killers as outcasts targeting jocks. They [continued to] filter every new development through that lens.

Related Characters: Dave Cullen (speaker)
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 28 Quotes

The crowds kept growing, but the students among them dwindled. Wednesday afternoon they poured their hearts out to reporters. Wednesday evening they watched a grotesque portrait of their school on television. It was a charitable picture at first, but it grew steadily more sinister as the week wore on. The media grew fond of the adjective “toxic.” Apparently, Columbine was a horrible place. It was terrorized by a band of reckless jock lords and ruled by an aristocracy of snotty rich white kids in the latest Abercrombie & Fitch line. Some of that was true—which is to say, it was high school. But Columbine came to embody everything noxious about adolescence in America.

Related Characters: Dave Cullen (speaker)
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 40 Quotes

Because dyads, murderous pairs who feed off each other, account for only a fraction of mass murderers, little research has been conducted on them. We know that the partnerships tend to be asymmetrical. An angry, erratic depressive and a sadistic psychopath make a combustible pair. The psychopath is in control, of course, but the hotheaded sidekick can sustain his excitement leading up to the big kill. “It takes heat and cold to make a tornado,” Dr. Fuselier is fond of saying. Eric craved heat, but he [easily grew bored and] couldn’t sustain it. Dylan was a volcano. You could never tell when he might erupt.

Related Characters: Dave Cullen (speaker), Dwayne Fuselier (speaker), Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold
Page Number: 244
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 44 Quotes

Eric didn’t have the political agenda of a terrorist, but he had adopted terrorist tactics. Sociology professor Mark Juergensmeyer identified the central characteristic of terrorism as “performance violence.” Terrorists design events “to be spectacular in their viciousness and awesome in their destructive power. Such instances of exaggerated violence are constructed events: they are mind-numbing, mesmerizing theater.”

Related Characters: Dave Cullen (speaker), Eric Harris
Page Number: 277
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 48 Quotes

Now [Eric] had to concentrate on getting Dylan a second gun. And [he] had a whole lot of production work. If only he had a little more cash, he could move the experiments along. Oh well. You could fund only so many bombs at a pizza factory. And he needed his brakes checked, and he’d just had to buy winter wiper blades, and he had a whole bunch of new CDs to pick up.

Related Characters: Dave Cullen (speaker), Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold
Page Number: 306
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 49 Quotes

Oddballs are not the problem. They do not fit the profile. There is no profile. Attackers came from all ethnic, economic, and social classes. The bulk came from solid two-parent homes. Most had no criminal record or history of violence. The two biggest myths were that shooters were loners and that they “snapped.” A staggering 93 percent planned their attack in advance. “The path toward violence is an evolutionary one, with signposts along the way,” the FBI report said. Cultural influences appeared weak. Many perps shared a crucial experience: 98 percent had suffered a loss or failure they perceived as serious—anything from getting fired to blowing a test or getting dumped. Of course, everyone suffers loss and failure, but for these kids, the trauma seemed to set anger in motion. This was certainly true in Columbine; Dylan viewed his entire life as failure, and Eric’s arrest accelerated his anger.

Related Characters: Dave Cullen (speaker), Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold
Page Number: 322
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 51 Quotes

[Eight years later] at [the] Virginia Tech [shooting in 2007,] Seung-Hui Cho killed thirty-two people, plus himself, and injured seventeen. The press proclaimed it a new American record. They shuddered at the idea of turning school shootings into a competition, then awarded Cho the title.

Related Characters: Dave Cullen (speaker)
Page Number: 348
Explanation and Analysis:
Epilogue Quotes

After most tragedies, I confer with some of the great minds on mass murder. That’s a privilege. When I write on this subject, I’m responsible for every opinion, but I can rarely claim them as original ideas. Mostly, I’m the messenger. It can be invigorating, getting inside these killers’ heads, hashing out ways to outmaneuver them. But the killers have stayed maddeningly ahead. It’s begun to feel like failure, failure, and failure for a decade and a half. I used to get angry for an hour or to, then I’d brush that aside to get to work. Lately, it just rages. Because we are not powerless, especially we in the media. We are just acting like it.

Related Characters: Dave Cullen (speaker)
Page Number: 379
Explanation and Analysis:

There’s another pernicious myth: that Eric and Dylan succeeded. Measured by [the shooters’] own standards, Columbine was a colossal failure so unrecognizable as terrorism that we ranked them first among the school shooters they ridiculed. Killers keep trying to relive the glory and elation at Columbine. There was none.

Related Characters: Dave Cullen (speaker), Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold
Page Number: 386
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Columbine LitChart as a printable PDF.
Columbine PDF

Dave Cullen Character Timeline in Columbine

The timeline below shows where the character Dave Cullen appears in Columbine. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Mr. D
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...a rousing chant: “We are… COL-um-BINE!” All two thousand students, says the narrator, journalist Dave Cullen, will return to school safely on Monday. On Tuesday, April 20th, 1999, however, the “worst... (full context)
Chapter 2: “Rebels” 
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...to hard-core German rock music, and refers to himself—a seasoned rule-breaker—as “Reb,” short for Rebel. Cullen says that “Eric outscored much of the football team” when it comes to charm and... (full context)
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Cullen writes that “nothing separated the boys’ personalities like a run-in with authority,” noting that Eric... (full context)
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Cullen describes the geography around Columbine, which sits at the base of a mesa called Rebel... (full context)
Chapter 3: Springtime
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...statistics, will go on to college—are looking forward to the next steps in their lives. Cullen describes the cafeteria, which is known as “the commons” by members of the Columbine community.... (full context)
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...in the springtime, which is referred to by the media as “shooting season.” The perpetrators, Cullen notes, are always “white boy[s],” and each attack ends relatively quickly—TV news “never [catches] the... (full context)
Chapter 4: Rock ’n’ Bowl
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...and “punctuate[s] his high fives [at the bowling alley] with ‘Sieg Heil’ or ‘Heil Hitler.’” Cullen notes that “reports conflict [as to] whether Dylan followed [Eric’s] lead” when it came to... (full context)
Chapter 7: Church on Fire
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Cullen describes Trinity Christian Center, the heart of the “heart of Evangelical country.” Colorado has long... (full context)
Chapter 8: Maximum Human Density
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Cullen believes it is a “safe bet” that Eric and Dylan viewed coverage of the Waco... (full context)
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...Eric and Dylan, Manes acquires ammo on Eric’s behalf. Eric is eighteen years old, but Cullen notes that the fact that he could legally purchase his own ammunition seems either to... (full context)
Chapter 10: Judgment
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Several of the boys’ friends, Cullen says, recall noticing “peculiarities” on the morning of the attack. Dylan’s prom date, Robyn, noticed... (full context)
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...with guns, small bombs, and knives. The bombs are timed to go off at 11:17. Cullen writes that the surveillance cameras Mr. D installed in the cafeteria should have caught the... (full context)
Chapter 11: Female Down
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...“there [is] no Plan B,” so “staggering” was Eric’s self-assuredness while planning the attack. Eric, Cullen says, “left no indication that he planned for contingencies, [while] Dylan left no indication that... (full context)
Chapter 13: “1 Bleeding to Death”
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...slowly and methodically toward the killers. Though the shooters are still active at the moment, Cullen says that it will take the teams another three hours to find Eric and Dylan—and... (full context)
Chapter 14: Hostage Standoff
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 20: Vacant
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...evidence and documentation at Eric’s house—“he wanted [the public] to know” what he was planning, Cullen writes. (full context)
Chapter 21: First Memories
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...he “settled into a live of petty crime.” The symptoms of what was to come, Cullen writes, were “stark [only] in retrospect.” (full context)
Chapter 23: Gifted Boy
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...was “repuls[e]d” by “suburbanite assholes” and he found solace in nature. He “treasured tranquility,” but, Cullen writes, “loved a good explosion.” (full context)
Chapter 24: Hour of Need
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Though Cullen presumes that Wayne and Kathy Harris held “some ceremony for Eric,” word of it never... (full context)
Chapter 26: Help Is On the Way
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...publicly to the SWAT teams at Columbine, and invited the full teams to Dave’s funeral. Cullen writes that “all the officers attended.” (full context)
Chapter 27: Black
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...and aggressive.” Girls at school still described Eric as “cute,” though he “hated” his appearance. Cullen writes that though classmates described both Eric and Dylan as “want[ing] to be outcasts,” the... (full context)
Chapter 28: Media Crime
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...of outcast Goths from the TCM snapping and tearing through their school hunting down jocks,” Cullen insists that “none” of that is true, and neither did the attacks have any connection... (full context)
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...homosexual Goths in makeup orchestrating a bizarre death pact for the year 2000.” Though journalists, Cullen says, were mostly careful, using “disclaimers like ‘believed to be’ or ‘described as,’” the problem... (full context)
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The third major problem with the coverage, Cullen writes, was the media’s role in equating “student” with “witness.” All two thousand students “were... (full context)
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As “many survivors” descend into the early stages of post-traumatic stress disorder, Cullen considers that “some who had been in the library [were] fine, while other who had... (full context)
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...some of them begin telling the press that the killers were “outcasts, freaks, [and] fags.” Cullen observes that “gay [is] one of the worst epithets one kid could hurl against another... (full context)
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...this fact. His “unusual rapport with the kids created a blind spot.” One student tells Cullen that her “Goth friends” hated their time at Columbine, citing Mr. D’s perhaps accidental “preference”... (full context)
Chapter 34: Picture-Perfect Marsupials
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...him publicly as an “opportunist” and a “despicable person.” Though many mourners remember the crosses, Cullen writes, most have forgotten the carpenter altogether. (full context)
Chapter 35: Arrest
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...[a] killing spree,” but does not linger on the idea for more than one line. Cullen considers it “unlikely” that, at this same moment in time, Eric was experimenting with building... (full context)
Chapter 36: Conspiracy
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...will come out of Jeffco for five months. Columbine press coverage, too, abruptly ends—the narrative, Cullen writes, is set. (full context)
Chapter 37: Betrayed
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...their “deferential” behavior at their hearing and he approves them for diversion. Fourteen months later, Cullen writes, the judge will “lament how convincing the boys had been, [and] how decepti[ve].” (full context)
Chapter 40: Psychopath
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Psychopathic brains, Cullen writes, are distinguished by two characteristics: a ruthless disregard for others and, secondly, a gift... (full context)
Chapter 42: Diversion
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...page of specific murder plans” in Eric’s yearbook—the boys are “at each other’s mercy now,” Cullen writes, due to the incriminating notes, and they know they will “both go down together... (full context)
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...focuses only on describing their planned attack, Eric’s visions of murders are much more grandiose. Cullen writes that “neither addressed the discrepancy” between their desires in writing. (full context)
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...he’d been described aren’t doing enough. Eric’s psychiatrist switches him from Zoloft to Luvox, though Cullen says it is unclear what Eric’s aim was in complaining to his psychiatrist. Fuselier, too,... (full context)
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...combat them, including a curfew and apparently a loss of TV, phone, and computer privileges. Cullen writes that because the Harrises have been so reluctant to talk to anyone since the... (full context)
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...writes Harriet, the girl with whom he’s obsessed, a love letter, but never delivers it. Cullen wonders if he ever intended to. Dylan writes in his diary that he plans to... (full context)
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Eric writes an essay for school titled “Is Murder or Breaking the Law Ever Justified?” Cullen writes that Eric “took on a provocative issue and gauged exactly how far he could... (full context)
Chapter 44: Bombs Are Hard
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...feelings of sympathy [or] mercy.” Though Eric was a psychopath and unable to feel empathy, Cullen writes, he did comprehend the pain he would cause others—and still longed for it. (full context)
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...his “audience” and enjoyed anticipating their confusion and grief. The large-scale “performance” Eric was planning, Cullen writes, would ultimately fail—he would not top the Oklahoma City bombing record, which he hoped... (full context)
Chapter 47: Lawsuits
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The press accuses the families of “milking” the tragedy—this, Cullen says, is “compassion fatigue.” (full context)
Chapter 48: An Emotion of God  
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...incredibly time-consuming. Eric takes full charge of building the arsenal of ordnance for the attack—Dylan, Cullen writes, “seemed to be no help with any of it.” Eric, showing the textbook recklessness... (full context)
Chapter 49: Ready To Be Done
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...in advance, and 98% had “suffered a loss or failure they perceived as serious.” Dylan, Cullen writes, viewed his entire life as a failure, while Eric was driven to murder by... (full context)
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Columbine changed the way police respond to attacks of its ilk—“no more perimeters,” Cullen says. New protocol demands action in the case of an active shooter, and old protocol... (full context)
Chapter 51: Two Hurdles
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...the killings resemble Columbine closely, and shooters even cite Eric and Dylan’s “legacy” as inspiration. Cullen writes that over eighty school shootings took place in America in the ten years after... (full context)
Chapter 52: Quiet
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...the school but choose to shoot at empty classrooms. Though this behavior might seem odd, Cullen writes, it is “normal” for psychopaths, who tire of their exploits easily. Dylan, Cullen surmises,... (full context)
Chapter 53: At the Broken Places
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...released into the air—followed by two hundred more, “an arbitrary number to signify everyone else.” Cullen, who was present at the dedication, describes the birds “seem[ing] to fill the entire sky,... (full context)
Epilogue: Apocalyptic Dreams
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Dave Cullen reflects on the endless and senseless tragedies that continue to erupt, and the “peculiar[ity]” of... (full context)
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As Cullen “g[o]t to work” immediately after the attacks, it was the “sea of survivors” struggling often... (full context)
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Cullen describes an interview with Don Marxhausen which turned into a “free therapy session.” Don’s “simple... (full context)
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Cullen did not cry on April 20th, 1999, but did let himself weep on the Wednesday... (full context)
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Cullen attempted to abandon the Columbine story many times throughout the ten years he was writing... (full context)
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Cullen reflects on the realization that he suffered from depression in 1999—his “first” run-in with the... (full context)
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...Terrorists and mass shooters fused, and Columbine is what melded the two phenomena into one, Cullen argues. “Spectacle murder,” the term for these “theatrical” attacks, is “all about TV.” He describes... (full context)
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Columbine still “capture[s] the imaginations” of spectacle killers, Cullen says. All across the country in recent years, at least ten school shooters, both those... (full context)
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Cullen outlines the problems that society faces in preventing attacks like Columbine. He believes guns and... (full context)
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...fails to recognize itself as a major factor in “handing [killers] the mic.” The media, Cullen says, must rethink how they report shootings and terrorist attacks, to take the spotlight off... (full context)
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Cullen still “cringe[s]” for the survivors of Columbine every time he hears of a new attack.... (full context)