We gave it an A
Until I read this book, I admit, I always assumed the parents of school shooters were at least partially to blame for the tragedies. How could they not be? But then I picked up A Mother’s Reckoning. Sue Klebold is the mother of Dylan Klebold, who—along with his friend Eric Harris—opened fire on fellow students at Columbine High School in 1999, killing twelve students and a teacher. “Sixteen years have passed since that terrible day,” Klebold writes in the preface, “and I have dedicated them to understanding what is still incomprehensible to me—how a promising boy’s life could have escalated into such a disaster, and on my watch.”
For Dylan was not a neglected child; Klebold and her husband were pretty hands-on parents. Dylan had some problems in high school, some of them quite serious, and Sue is blunt about them. She and her husband thought they were on top of things, keeping their son on what she calls a “short leash,” which included searching his room for drugs. They had family dinners; Dylan had chores to do around the house. He had been to the prom a couple of days before the massacre. In other words, he seemed like an average teenage kid.
And yet. “There were hints Dylan was troubled, and I take responsibility for missing them, but there was no deafening klaxon, no neon danger sign,” writes Klebold, who spent years racking her memory, combing through her diary and Dylan’s, talking to friends and families. Once, when a police officer asked whether gun catalogs ever came to the house, Klebold suddenly remembered that yes, there had been a few—but they got so many catalogs she never thought anything of it. Then there was the time Dylan had written a very dark story for English class, so dark that the teacher gave it to a school counselor to read. But the counselor saw no implicit threat in the piece. Dylan played Doom, one of the first “shooter” video games. His grades had dropped to Bs and Cs. And he no longer liked to spend much time with his parents as he once had—in fact, he could be a little evasive and standoffish at times, if not downright irritable—but that seemed perfectly normal to the Klebolds (and would to anyone else, I’d bet). Sue and her husband did not care for Eric Harris but they never saw reason to curtail the friendship, particularly since Harris was far from the only friend their son had. In retrospect, it appears Dylan was deeply depressed and fixated on suicide, but that was something no one—teachers, family, friends—picked up on at the time. “If I thought there was something seriously wrong with him, I would have moved mountains to fix it…As it was, I parented…the child I knew—not the one he had become without my knowledge,” his mother says.
This book, which can be tough to read in places, is an important one. It helps us arrive at a new understanding of how Columbine happened—and, in the process, may help avert other tragedies. A