Rating: 5 Stars
I was a junior in high school when Columbine happened. For the rest of the school year we dealt with fake bomb threats by kids who thought it would be funny to capitalize on a horrible tragedy. On a day that, for a brief moment, would be called the worst school shooting in US history, so many questions were left unanswered. There are several books out about Columbine, and this is one of the most important, along with the book written by Sue Klebold. These are two of the people who knew Dylan best, and were more than acquainted with Eric. Brooks Brown was friends with the murderers, and for a time was a suspected accomplish. Brown had been best friends with Dylan Klebold since elementary school, and got to know Eric Harris later when he and his family moved to Littleton. In his account, Brown details his version of the story, which could come across as self-serving, as some have accused. But doesn't he have the right to defend himself and clear his name? For months the incompetent police tarnished Brown's name and if I were him, I would be furious about it too. Brown makes it clear that there is so much more to the story, that it wasn't music or video games to blame. There were warning signs long in advance, going back over a year, that the boys was escalating in their behavior. This was a completely preventable tragedy and there are many to blame.
An especially troubling aspect of this whole situation was the threats that Harris had made against Brown in their junior year of high school. Harris had a website that, had anyone in an authority position bothered to peruse, would have been enough to maybe have him locked up in a psych ward, because he was very clearly a sociopath. The threats to Brown's life were reported to the police, who - big surprise - did nothing. There was documentation, and yet...nothing. Even with said documentation, Brown was still targeted by the police. While he and Harris eventually became friendly-ish again after junior year, they never had the kind of friendship that Brown and Klebold did. Yet it was Harris who crossed paths with Brown that fateful morning. Harris told him, "Brooks, I like you now. Get out of here. Go home."
The aspect of bullying plays heavily in Brown's recollection. As a teacher myself, I absolutely see this as critical. For those who have never been bullied, it is easy to dismiss this notion as kids just being kids. No, this is not kids being kids. It is kids being assholes and needing to be held accountable for their words and actions. This is no way absolves Klebold and Harris of their crimes, they are murderers through and through. But we must recognize the fact that bullying most certainly did play a role in molding them into the killers they became. And it was not just Brown who contends that there was severe bullying, there are other students from Columbine that attest to that culture festering.
I read this book around the same time as I read Dave Cullen's Columbine and Sue Klebold's A Mother's Reckoning. I think all three are important to read together, because none are perfect and each has perspectives to consider. I see a lot of reviews decrying Cullen's work as wrong, or biased, etc. I found his work to still be of interest, despite the errors I noticed. I think both books are still needed. Cullen is an impartial writer who could look at the whole picture as an outsider; Brown's perspective from the inside is also valid. We are given perspectives that are not competing all the time, but also complimentary. There is a whole area here to explore, in comparing and contrasting the two, but I would rather not do so and am trying to steer this back toward Brown's book, as I will be posing my review of Cullen's book later. Still, sometimes the comparisons are hard to avoid.
Besides Brown addressing the issue of bullying, another topic addressed is that of the police and the general incompetence, not only before the murderers, but both during and after. As already seen, the police had evidence of Harris' psychopathic tendencies long before April 20th, 1999. They did nothing with the information, and even tried to cover up the fact that they had anything on Harris. The sheriff's office repeatedly denied ever getting any reports on Harris' threats or violent behavior, until it was finally revealed that a warrant was issued to search the Harris home based on the reports. Yet, the warrant was never served. Right there, in that moment, this could have been prevented. No explanation has ever been given for why the warrant was not carried out. The incompetence continued, however, on that day. Not only the police, but SWAT as well. When the killers left the library, and students came rushing out, SWAT still did not go in. It took them another three hours, long after other students who escaped reported that Klebold and Harris had returned to the library, killed more students, then turned their guns on themselves. How many children could have been saved? And Dave Sanders bled to death, despite the best efforts of the students around him. He died mere minutes before SWAT went in - again, long after Klebold and Harris had killed themselves.
There was an opportunity Brown could have taken to try and lay blame everywhere else. He knows better, however, and while the bullying and the police were components, he knows that the ultimate responsibility is on Klebold and Harris. They chose to plan this, they chose to carry it out. They are murderers and Brown has no problem labeling them as such, despite his long friendship with Klebold. I feel like he tries to humanize Klebold a bit, perhaps to show the world that the friend he once knew was not born a killer, but became one. Brown definitely has more sympathy for Klebold than Harris, and this is understandable despite the tragedy they brought on everyone they knew. Even so, he does not shy away from the word murderer.
If you are interested in delving into the tangled mess that is Columbine, I highly recommend this one. I have read several books on the subject and this is one of the best.