'Columbine' Debunks The Myths Of The Massacre Popular explanations for the terror Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold wreaked on their Colorado high school often mention bullying. But Dave Cullen has been following the story since that deadly day, and in his new book, Columbine, he reveals the real story of their rampage.

'Columbine' Debunks The Myths Of The Massacre

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/103287016/103287013" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Ten years ago today, a tragedy unfolded on our televisions. We watched as two teenagers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, murdered a teacher and a dozen of their fellow students.

We needed to know why. And very quickly, narratives emerged that the shooters were lonely outcasts who snapped after they endured bullying. They were Goths; part of a group called the Trench Coat Mafia; that they targeted jocks, minorities and Christians.

A decade later, those narratives persist even though they're all wrong. The shooters were bullies, not the other way around. They were part of a tight circle of friends. Neither was a Goth. There was a Trench Coat Mafia, but they had nothing to do with it, and neither Harris nor Klebold cared who died. They wanted to kill everybody.

Ten years on, what are the lessons of Columbine? We want to hear from teachers, school administrators, and from those of you in law enforcement. Our phone number, 800-989-8255. E-mail us, talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation on our Web site. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, the call to rescind Notre Dame University's invitation to President Obama, on the Opinion Page this week. But first, the lessons of Columbine.

Journalist Dave Cullen has covered this story since the afternoon it happened. His book is called "Columbine," and he joins us today from a studio in Denver. Nice to have you with us.

Mr. DAVE CULLEN (Author, "Columbine"): Thanks, Neal, good to be here.

CONAN: And much of the coverage on this anniversary focuses on that same question, why? A question that revolves around the killers, so much so that today, Oprah Winfrey pulled a show that she'd taped with you and some other people.

Do you think, when we talk about Columbine, we focus too much on the killers?

Mr. CULLEN: No, I think it's actually been a really good mix over the years. There have been a lot of stories about the victims, but I think it's also important to understand the killers and why they did it. And in my book, I try to do it about 50-50, where I alternate chapters between those different stories of the before story and the after. Because I think that's what the public wants to know and needs to know and really, I think, deserves to know -both sides of that.

CONAN: And it's a question that, as you write in the book, haunted the families of the victims for years when various police authorities basically refused to answer the question.

Mr. CULLEN: Yes, it really, really frustrated the victims. And I found during my work and reception of the book is, some of the people who are the most strongest advocates of finding out about the killers and reporting about them is the victims of the families. They really, really wanted to know and still want to know why, you know, why did their kids die? Help me understand that more.

CONAN: And we mentioned two groups in terms of lessons learned, teachers, school administrators and people in law enforcement, all of whom have gone through some formal processes to figure out lessons learned from Columbine. One group we didn't mention, and that's journalists.

Mr. CULLEN: Right, right, and parents. But journalists, you know, I think have learned quite a bit. I've been really pleasantly surprised by - the tragedy of the school shootings and similar disasters afterwards has been much more responsible. And I think one of the things we learned as journalists from Columbine is that when we start speculating before we have real data to know, in the early hours even, of why these killers might have done it, that speculation, no matter how well-intentioned and how much we couch it as I think or this might be the case, that quickly - if we start doing it, it quickly solidifies into fact and myth and reality. And it's a very short line from speculation to myth.

So we just need to resist doing it, and I think the press really has come to resist doing it. We didn't see that after Virginia Tech or after most of these others.

CONAN: Yet there were widespread reports - well, maybe not, widespread is probably the wrong word - but there were reports during Virginia Tech that identified the wrong student.

Mr. CULLEN: Right, and there's definitely always some, you know, misinformation in the early hours, particular about the what of what happened. But we've really learned the why question. That's going to take more time. And typically, the key information doesn't come out for months or even years.

So if you start coming to a determination of why within hours, you know, it may be years before you have the information to make that conclusion. And people have been much, much better about just holding off and saying, you know, we don't know why yet.

CONAN: And may not know why for a good, long time.

Mr. CULLEN: For a good, long time.

CONAN: And there's no easy way to know why.

Mr. CULLEN: No, there isn't. With Eric and Dylan, Jefferson County finally released, seven years after the fact, they released nearly 1,000 pages of writing by the killers. They also left quite a few videos.

So in this case, there was an amazing amount of information, as well as interviews with thousands of people. There was an amazing amount of information to analyze them and to understand. But it took a lot of time.

CONAN: If we get to lessons learned, one of the most, the clearest lessons was for law enforcement and about the way they handled situations. They regarded this as a hostage situation. They handled it that way, and they were completely wrong.

Mr. CULLEN: Right. It never was. They surrounded the building, set up a perimeter, made sure that the gunmen didn't escape and were waiting for their demands, essentially. And at one point also going into the building, about an hour into it, the first SWAT team went in, shortly under an hour.

But the main idea was surround the building, defensive posture instead of aggressive, offensive posture. And that has changed 180 degrees since then.

We now have something called the active-shooter protocol, which is in use around the country, where - there's a lot of complicated parts to it, but in essence charge the building immediately, neutralize the shooter, do whatever you have to stop him, even if you have to make terrible choices like, you know, walking past - you know, moving past the wounded.

I wouldn't want that job, but I think it's the right decision. You've got to stop the person from killing people.

CONAN: And that's if there's somebody actively shooting.

Mr. CULLEN: Correct, correct. If they're in a passive mode, or if they have shot and they're not, in that case officers are instructed to wait for - optimally they will have four officers, and they'll go in in a diamond-shaped wedge. You know, there's a lot of particulars that, you know, everybody probably isn't that interested except law enforcement, but they have worked this out. But the essence is, if it's an active situation, treat it aggressively and charge in.

CONAN: We're talking with journalist Dave Cullen, author of "Columbine," about lessons learned about that awful day 10 years ago. If you'd like to join us, we'd especially like to hear from those of you in the educational field -teachers, school administrators - and from those of you in law enforcement as well and from parents, too: 800-989-8255. E-mail is talk@npr.org. And let's begin with Sara(ph). Sara's calling us from Chicago.

Mr. CULLEN: Hi, Sara.

SARA (Caller): Hi. Yes, actually, I have a son who is 13 years old who just, within a month, he had inadvertently brought a Swiss army knife type of a skateboarding tool with him to school in a coat pocket he had worn weeks earlier. And he wore the coat to school.

They did a random locker check, found the tool, and because of the things that happened - and this is what they brought up in the administration meetings, like they used Columbine in particular and other school events that happened that have brought them to the point where they have to have a zero tolerance.

Mr. CULLEN: Zero tolerance. I was just going to say, yes.

SARA: And for a child who's 13 years old who's a great student, who never gets in any trouble, to then be facing being expelled for something that was really an accident.

Mr. CULLEN: Is that what happened? Was it expulsion or suspension?

SARA: Yes, expulsion, and we had to go to several board meetings with the administration and finally were able to - we even had to bring him to a psychiatrist for an evaluation - and finally got them to lessen the penalty. They suspended him for a week.

Mr. CULLEN: Well, that's good. Zero tolerance is one of the most important things we need to talk about because we learned quite a few lessons from Columbine. And I think that's the main one that we got wrong, that we overdid it to our own judgment.

Because the Secret Service did an exhaustive report of school shooters for more than a 20-year period and found that 81 percent of them told someone they were going to do it beforehand. They refer to it as leakage. Kids leak.

That's an extraordinary number. That means most of the shooters tell someone. And we're not talking about warning signs. We're talking about explicitly telling someone you're going to do it, which is great news because that means in most cases, all we have to do is listen and the killers will tell us, and we can head these plots off.

And we have headed off many, many plots since then because now, in a post-Columbine world, kids are less naïve, and they take things seriously. But we really need to rely on those kids as our early warning system. And if we do things like the zero tolerance, where - both potential weaponry and also potential threats or jokes are treated with zero tolerance, that really works against us. Because if a kid makes a joke, we want the friend who hears the joke to feel secure that, I can report this to an adult and if it was just a joke, the kid will be counseled. Nothing terrible is going to happen.

And with the threat hanging over the kid's head that the jokester will be expelled just for making a joke, the kid's unlikely to tell us. So that really works against us.

CONAN: And a lot of places have backed off zero tolerance.

Mr. CULLEN: Yes, yes, they have. I mean, I think it was one of those early reactions where they felt, you know, we need to do something. We need to be strong. And then a lot of schools have wizened up and said, you know, this isn't really working to our advantage.

CONAN: Sara, we're glad things worked out.

SARA: Thanks.

Mr. CULLEN: I certainly am.

CONAN: Appreciate it. Let's see if we can go now to Chris(ph), and Chris is with us from Deacon Falls in Connecticut.

CHRIS (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

CHRIS: How are you?

CONAN: Good, thanks.

CHRIS: I've got to say that the thing that I worry about is, well, this is a topic of discussion every year. You know, we talk about, you know, what could happen, and we still worry about it on a day-to-day basis.

CONAN: And when you say we, do you mean teachers?

CHRIS: Correct. You know, we talk about where we're sitting, say in a teacher's center. And you know, someone might say, well, I'm right in the line of fire, and another one might say, well, I'm kind of out of the way over here. And I, you know, I wouldn't be the first one to go or something like that. It's kind of scary, you know, when you think about it that way.

Mr. CULLEN: That is scary, and do you have anything in place for anyone - what the FBI recommended is one person in each school is sort of threat-assessment expert who can evaluate threats when teachers like you have a student they worry about. Do you have anything like that in your school?

CHRIS: Well, if we do, I'm not aware of it. I think that addresses something else, though. I think that there's multiple fronts that go unaddressed -there's enough counseling. You know, I don't think there's enough counselors for the population. I don't think there's enough funding for, you know, multiple things that we might address about, you know, say, kids that are - kids that would fall through the cracks.

Every year, I think to myself, you know - well, I wish I could've talked to this kid more. I wish I could have talked to that kid more.

Mr. CULLEN: Right, and what about depression? Do you have a lot of depressed kids?

CHRIS: Well, I don't really know. If we do, I'm not aware of it. I'm sure that there are depressed kids. I don't know how you'd have a large population of kids in one spot where you wouldn't have some kids that are depressed.

Mr. CULLEN: Right. Hopefully, we can talk about that later, that Dylan was a depressive. And we didn't learn that, and we didn't do anything about depression, teenage depression.

CONAN: Chris, good luck.

CHRIS: Thank you.

CONAN: Appreciate the phone call. We're talking with Dave Cullen about the lessons learned at Columbine 10 years ago today. If you'd like to join us, if you're in law enforcement, if you're in education, if you're a parent, give us a call, 800-989-8255. E-mail talk@npr.org. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. It's been 10 years since the killings at Columbine High School, and what most people know about that shooting, they learned in the few days after it happened, and much of it is wrong.

Dave Cullen is with us today. He dispels those central myths and updates us on what we know about the victims today, like Patrick Ireland. He was shot once in the foot and twice in the head at Columbine.

In one of the most dramatic images of that day, he dragged himself to the window of the high school and launched himself out into the arms of police and rescue workers, and does not mind that those pictures have since become iconic.

Mr. PATRICK IRELAND (Columbine Victim): Just to know that that image was more of a positive thing and a positive light of saying, hey, we're not going to give up. We're not going to lose. Evil's not going to win in this situation. You eventually get back to life as normal.

CONAN: Patrick Ireland, 27 years old today, married. He lives in Denver, with few lingering effects from his injuries.

We want to hear from you this hour, especially teachers, parents, people who work in law enforcement. What are the lessons learned from Columbine? 800-989-8255. E-mail us, talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Dave Cullen, you describe how Patrick Ireland had such a tremendous problem dealing with his injuries, and how well he's doing today. What about some of the other two-dozen victims who were wounded that day?

Mr. CULLEN: Well, yes, Patrick is an amazing guy. Just hearing his voice there, it sort of choked me up a little bit. I'm just so impressed by him. The other people are mostly doing well. Some of the people have also - a lot of the people after 10 years have really put it behind them.

I've recently been corresponding with Val Schnurr by Facebook, who like Patrick says - she wrote me a message saying, I bear no ill will toward Eric or Dylan anymore, which just sort of takes my breath away. I can't even quite grasp how someone could be that forgiving, but a lot of these people are.

Most of them are doing pretty well, You know, most people have been to college and on with their lives. Some struggled for a few years. Anne-Marie Hochhalter struggled for a while but then got back on track. She said that once she realized she wasn't getting out of the wheelchair, that it was actually a big breakthrough for her because she stopped trying to fight that and heal that way and just got on with her life and accepted, hey, life's okay in a chair, too. And she seems to be happy with her life.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail that we have from Adam in Puerto Rico. Even 10 years later, I'm surprised how many friends of mine still sympathize with the killers. A lot of them have mental and emotional baggage from being bullied in high school. They say they understand why the killers did it, that they had their own hit lists while in high school. They fantasized about getting even with the students who were horrible to them but never dreamed on acting on it like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold did, but understand why they did.

Now, 10 years later, we find out a lot of what we were led to believe about the killers is not true. I'm slowly seeing opinions change. In 1999, I, too, was a senior in high school. I'm happy I did not have to deal with all the security changes that high schools have put into place since then.

Mr. CULLEN: Wow, that's really refreshing, actually, to see - I was a little nervous at the beginning when I was hearing first about people sympathizing with the killers, which I think is really dangerous and wrong, and they had the reasons wrong. But it was refreshing to hear her say that, you know, people are starting to find out the truth.

You know, the killers weren't doing it for the reasons we'd thought. Eric was a psychopath in the clinical sense of that, not the Hollywood sense, in that he wanted to hurt people. He enjoyed it, and he wanted to show us how great he was.

You know, he didn't feel bullied. He saw himself as a bullier. You know, it had nothing to do with that. It was not a reactive crime, reacting to something. You know, law enforcement refer to this type of killing as an active crime. Somebody wants to do something.

And then, Dylan Klebold was completely different. You know, to me Dylan was the revelation in this story because his journal is not all about hate, hate, hate. The most common word in there is love.

He was a really loving kid who was also very angry and angry mostly at himself, depressed, talking about suicide in his journal for two years. And he makes this extraordinary and disturbing journey over a two-year period from some kid who seems quite loving and tender.

His journal does not look anything like a killer. And over two years, he gradually evolves in a very, very different direction than Eric, to a place where he's ready to take that anger turned inward and turn it outward, and take some of us with him.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line, and we'll go to Ron(ph), Ron with us from Flint, Michigan.

RON (Caller): Yes. I was a principal of an elementary school, and I think that you, the thing you can learn from Columbine is that you really can tell when kids are hurting, when kids are depressed. And I think the thing is that I worked with a really caring staff of people, and you can spot these kids. You can see them, but you've got to be caring about the kids, especially caring about the kids, and you can make differences.

CONAN: You would suggest, I think, from reading your book, Dave Cullen, that maybe Dylan could have been spotted, Dylan could've been helped, Dylan could've been dealt with, but that it was extremely difficult to find out and identify Eric Harris.

Mr. CULLEN: That's exactly right. The good news about that, though - that may sound 50-50, but there are an extraordinary number of Dylan Klebolds in the world. You know, we have depressed, you know, depressed, angry teenage boys. You know, those kids are everywhere, but the sadistic psychopath is extremely rare. When you have somebody like that, it's typically, you see them acting like a Jeffrey Dahmer, a Ted Bundy, Eric Harris.

So he probably couldn't have been detected, but that's not the more likely problem. The Dylans in the world are the more likely scenarios. But go ahead.

CONAN: Ron, you were trying to get in?

RON: Yeah, I'd like to add something because I, you know, I won't mention any names, but there was a student that I dealt with in elementary school, and you could see he was extremely disturbed. And he set the school on fire.

And trying to get help for these kids was just incredibly difficult. I mean, even though you did everything you had to, and this kid is now an adult and in prison for beating someone almost to death.

CONAN: And how's the student doing, do you know?

RON: He's in prison. So I - you know, you can't have contact with him anymore.

CONAN: Oh, I'm sorry to hear that.

RON: Yeah, so anyway, thank you very much.

CONAN: Okay, thanks very much for the phone call.

Mr. CULLEN: Thank you.

CONAN: One of the things, as we read your book this anniversary day, Dave Cullen, that makes the blood absolutely boil is the extent to which authorities in Jefferson County, that was the locality where the school was located, where the boys' families lived, the extent to which they knew about some of the things that led up to the killings at Columbine. And the extent to which not only did not they not act, and in retrospect maybe that was understandable, but then the extent to which they covered up their mistakes for so many years.

Mr. CULLEN: Definitely. You know, I tried to take each story, and I have 10 different storylines in this book, I tried to take each one from the perspective of those people, and from their point of view, what they were thinking and feeling at the time.

And the cops, ahead of time, for the most part, there were different warning signs, but they were the kind of signs you see in every neighborhood in America. They don't scream out killer.

But there was one moment where one investigator put it all together, investigator Mike Guerra. And he had Eric Harris's Web pages, which the Brown family had printed out and given him, with death threats from Eric Harris.

He had an unexploded pipe bomb found near Eric's house in a park, and he realized that Eric had probably built it. It matched the descriptions of Eric's Web site where he said he was building pipe bombs. So he put together motive, means and opportunity, a kid saying he was going to do things and actually taking action on it. And he wrote a really, really intelligent, well-reasoned affidavit for a search warrant, which is very convincing that Eric Harris's house should be searched.

CONAN: And if they had searched it, they would have found damning evidence.

Mr. CULLEN: They probably would. The truth of that is that one year before Columbine, nobody knows what Eric had in his room. There's no way we will ever know what he had because, of course, it changed over time, and no one did search it. So we don't know. But it may well have - we may well have found damning evidence at that time.

But it was never - the search warrant was never taken before a judge, never exercised. And then it was found very shortly after the killing started, a year later, during the Columbine attack. And authorities saw it and apparently panicked.

They decided - they met in what has become infamously known as the open-space meeting. Senior officials met to decide how to keep it hidden, and they kept it hidden for many years until there was an investigation and a grand jury looked into it.

CONAN: Infuriating.

Mr. CULLEN: It really is. It's disturbing.

CONAN: Let's go to Doug(ph), and Doug's with us from Littleton, Colorado, where Columbine High School is.

Mr. CULLEN: Hi, Doug.

DOUG (Caller): Hi, good morning. How are you?

CONAN: Well, thank you.

Mr. CULLEN: Oh, as well as could be for this day.

DOUG: Yes, yes. Well, I'm in Littleton. I wasn't here at the time of the shooting. I was working with Outward Bound in Oregon, but it did come across to us at that time in the spring. And the thing I want to add to it was really, as tragic a incident as the shooting was at Columbine, I believe it is also a symptom of a much larger problem in the United States. And that is that as we cut the budgets in our schools and the schools become larger - it's because of student high schools with classes of 30 and 35 students, teachers are really dealing more with student behavioral management than they are with education.

And in that process, it's very difficult to dive into a deep relationship with each and every student that you have in the classroom. And I think that when America finally does wake up and realizes that we have to put more money in education - for numerous reasons, not just to be better in math and science, but also to raise better human beings and have more character education going on in schools - then some of these things might be lessened.

Mr. CULLEN: That's a good point, yes. You know, I think the - well, it's an obvious point that - we need more money for education. And the smaller the class size is, or the smaller - the more time that a teacher has to pay attention to individual students, I think, is the right point, that the better we will be able to teach them, but also be able to spot problems, like the principal told us earlier, and to be able to have time to do something about it - I mean, time in the teacher's day.

CONAN: Doug, thanks very much for the call.

DOUG: Well, thank you. Thanks for the show. Mr. Cullen, I'll be buying your book. Thanks so much.

CONAN: And Doug, before we let you go, what is it like there in Littleton, Colorado, today?

DOUG: Well, it's pretty much a standard day. It's a beautiful day out here. And they had a candlelight vigil at the memorial last night. They're going to have - or they're having another vigil over at the memorial today and then tonight. So, I think people know there is a vigil for the - a service for the families and victims.

Mr. CULLEN: Okay. Right, at 5 o'clock, the commemoration, yeah.

DOUG: Right.

CONAN: Doug, thanks very much.

DOUG: Thank you very much. Bye.

CONAN: We're talking with Dave Cullen. His new book is called "Columbine." He's a reporter who covered the story from the afternoon it happened 10 years ago today, and now has a book that dispels many of the myths that, well, started that day and persist. If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255. Email, talk@npr.org.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, coming to you from NPR News.

And let me ask you, you admit very generally to some of the mistakes that other reporters also made in the early days after Columbine. Is there something you feel badly about that you would have liked to go back and do over?

Mr. CULLEN: Oh, god, yes. You know, that whole first few days, I wish, you know - I got involved in the groupthink, really, and not realizing this feedback loop, which happened. One of the things specific to Columbine, it was the first tragedy of the cell phone age.

So, as we started speculating and talking - reporters started speculating on the air and asking kids leading questions like, were these kids loners and outcasts? Kids who didn't really know, who hadn't even met the killers - in a large school of 2,000 - started - very suggestively often said yes, or I think so. And then other kids heard that on the air, and we started becoming more firm in saying things like, so, I hear they were loners and outcasts. And kids would say, yes. And kids heard that, and they heard about us talking about the Trenchcoat Mafia and then started repeating it back to us and saying, oh, they were loners, outcasts, part of the Trenchcoat Mafia. So, we heard it from them, they heard it from us; it was this big feedback loop.

And, you know, if I had sort of been more intelligent about seeing that coming, what was going on, or realizing that - being more skeptical when talking to kids. That there are 2,000 kids here, they don't all know the killers, you know, just being a little more distant about it. I wish I had not been involved in, you know, making some of those mistakes.

CONAN: Let's go to Chris(ph). Chris with us from Boston.

CHRIS (Caller): Hello, there. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

CHRIS: I really just - I was in middle school. Currently, right now, I'm a high school teacher. And during middle school - I was in middle school as a student when the Columbine shootings happened. And shortly thereafter, I had an incident with another student, who turned to me during one of the classes and told me flat-out to my face that if there was ever - if he was ever going to shoot up the school, he would shoot me first.

And I remember being terrified at this idea, and I told the teacher, and the student was expelled. And I remember thinking a couple things when that happened. The first thing was that I was horrified at first that he got expelled because I thought, oh, no, now here's the reason. Now, he's going to come back. Now, he's actually going to do it. And then, secondly, I thought to myself, oh, thank God that this kid is now out of the school.

But as I've grown older, as I've got - went for my master's program for education, I just don't think it was the right thing that they did. You know, they didn't offer this kid help. I mean, it was such a scary…

CONAN: Right.

CHRIS: …time for schools that they really - I guess they must have thought that that was their only option, was to get him out and get him away from me or get him away from other kids. But I just, to this day, I mean, it's really changed me as a teacher. When I went through the program, this memory, because it was just such a horrifying thing to be told, it was such a horrifying thing to happen. And I just, to this day, I still remember very vividly that day and just being terrified of what had happened, what had been told to me.

Mr. CULLEN: Right. You know, I think you got it just right. That's a very enlightened view. Because, you know, you mentioned they were trying to get him away from other kids. Did they? Don't most expelled kids just end up in another school?

CHRIS: I - yeah, I mean, I…

Mr. CULLEN: Presumably.

CHRIS: I mean, I know where the kid is today, and he's a very troubled kid. And, you know, as a teacher right now, I look at that and I think, you know, what a shame, you know, that they've done nothing…

CONAN: Right. It's not…

CHRIS: …that they could have gotten him help. I mean, I don't know the full story…

CONAN: Exactly.

CHRIS: …but I remember that he really had a difficult time getting back on his feet. And I know now that he has so many problems in his life. And I just imagine that - I just imagine what I would have done in the situation, how I would have gotten him help or something like that and - I mean, I don't know, I just wish it would have been done differently.

CONAN: Right. I think you've got - you have a very enlightened attitude, where you can sort of see past your own emotional situation. You've got a kid in a situation like this, you've got a kid who's troubled, he's acting out, saying things. He's already troubled. And now you expel him, now his life is really a mess, and he goes to another school. You haven't necessarily addressed the problem, you've moved the problem and probably made it worse, where, as you said, getting him help could have perhaps alleviated problems.

Chris, thanks very much for the call.

CHRIS: Thank you.

Mr. CULLEN: Thank you, Chris.

CONAN: Appreciate it. And Dave Cullen, thank you on this day for your time.

Mr. CULLEN: Oh, thank you very much. It was good to be here, Neal.

CONAN: Dave Cullen is the author of "Columbine." He's a freelance journalist who's written for salon.com, slate.com, and for the New York Times, with us today from Denver, Colorado.

Coming up, President Obama speaks at the University of Notre Dame's commencement next month. There's a controversy. Stay with us. The Opinion Page is next on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.