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January 26, 2009 1:10 PM

Jeff Kass on his new book Columbine: A True Crime Story, a victim, the killers and the nation's search for answers

Jeff Kass' book about the Columbine shootings, Columbine: A True Crime Story, a victim, the killers and the nation's search for answers, will be available April 1. The book can be preordered on Amazon.com

Mark_Wolf(Q) What's the genesis of the book?
Jeff_Kass(A) I covered Columbine from the first day. And after the stories started to fade and other reporters started to leave town, I was left with the thought, 'Why do school shootings suddenly seem to be happening across the country?' There must be some common denominators. Nobody else seemed to be pursuing that, and that's what I set out to find.

mdavis(Q) What is the one thing you wish people to take away with them after reading your book?
Jeff_Kass(A) I think that there are some common denominators among school shooters. There are reasons why these shootings have occurred across the country. And while the book is not a textbook with security plans or parenting tips, if you understand some of the reasons behind school shootings, you might better catch the shooters before they act. Preventing another school shooting is the best thing that could come out of this book.

BatteryBoulevard(Q) What sort of conclusions do you draw concerning that common denominator?
Jeff_Kass(A) If you map out school shootings across the United States, they overwhelming occur in the South and West. And I came across studies done by psychologists before Columbine showing higher levels of violence in the South and West, namely when people feel their honor has been disgraced. Translation: I feel that school shooters have been placed at the bottom rung of the social ladder. They feel their honor has been violated, and retaliate with violence. There are other historical threads as to why the South and West are considered more violent regions, such as the tradition of solving your own problems - shown by the Southern saying of being a sheriff in your own hearth.

senorjosecuervo(Q) How, then, do the Columbine shooters fit into this common denominator?
Jeff_Kass(A) The Columbine shooters obviously live in the West. And to elaborate on the idea of shootings occurring in the South and West, the mentality of the Wild West remains. Jefferson County, where Columbine occurred, is chock full of tract homes and chain stores. It may not look like the Wild West of yore. But like many suburbs it is a place with few public squares. Few people use the sidewalks - if they even exist. There is the mentality of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. So if you have a problem - in this case, with the social order that makes you an outcast - you take it upon yourself to solve that problem with the West's great equalizer: The gun.

Mark_Wolf(Q) The first chapter is a detailed recap of what happened as the killers shot their victims and then each other. Why this structure?
Jeff_Kass(A) This book is not about rehashing Columbine, especially the gory details. But people need to understand what happened that day and be reminded. The Shoels, the victims family I focus on in the book, will also say that the horror of Columbine has to be kept before the public to help prevent another school shooting. I would add that you cannot tell the story without reminding people what happened. That also happens to be one of the most powerful chapters in the book, in my opinion.

BatteryBoulevard(Q) The Columbine shooting seems to be the backdrop for other school-shooting comparisons. What makes this case stand out amid the numerous others that have occurred across the country?
Jeff_Kass(A) No doubt, Columbine solidified the idea of a school shooting in the American mind. And as I say on the book cover, it remains the most iconic school shooting in the world (although it is no longer the deadliest). One key reason is that Columbine played out on television for so long. We could see it - to some extent - and again, it simply seemed to last so long. Another thought I will throw out is that the Denver media kept uncovering information throughout the years - thanks in part to the Jefferson County Sheriff hoarding information. And for many years, Columbine did remain the deadliest school shooting in American history, until Virginia Tech left 33 dead, including the shooter, in 2007.

mdavis(Q) What were the biggest obstacles you encountered over the past ten years while writing this book?
Jeff_Kass(A) The Jefferson County Sheriff was probably the biggest obstacle. They withheld information for years - and sometimes they didn't even acknowledge the information existed (I'm thinking of the deputies' daily reports). Reporters - and the general public - can make use of the state Open Records Act to request information. But I would argue the sheriff's department did not fully respond to my Open Records Act requests, and did not budge until they were sued - over and over again, I might add. As I say in the book, the sheriff played a game of Open Records charades.

BatteryBoulevard(Q) In what ways are school shootings preventable?
Jeff_Kass(A) In the regional sense, people need to be aware of the mentality in the South and West that provokes people to find violent solutions to problems. The same idea for the suburbs and small towns - where school shootings also tend to occur. Diversity needs to be tolerated or encouraged in those places. I don't mean to be cutesy, but you'll drive yourself crazy trying to figure out the psychological profile of school shooters. Still, I think there is one (and incidentally, it looks more like Dylan Klebold than Eric Harris). The short answer there is the depressive who is angry at himself, but also blames others for his anger, is the one to watch out for.

BatteryBoulevard(Q) For many, the Columbine shootings bring up many racial and socio-economic issues. People expect violence in poor areas, but not in white middle-class suburbs. With that in mind, what do you think are the major (if any) sociological factors that drove these students to commit such an act?
Jeff_Kass(A) Good point. We look at the places where school shootings occur - mostly white, and typically middle class - and we say, these kids have all the advantages everyone in the world seeks, what do they have to be bitter about? Well, I think we've all been to high school. And the point is when you are on the bottom rung of the social ladder - like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold - you don't say to yourself, 'Well, I've got it better than someone in Bangladesh.' High school is your only world - and this is especially so in suburbs and small towns. If you are loser in that environment, you feel you are a loser through and through. One of the best stories I wrote at the Rocky was about an averted school shooting in Fort Collins. The alleged plotters were three fairly popular kids. But they weren't the most popular, and that angered them.

homerj0216(Q) What are your thoughts about an additional person being involved with the shootings? (specifically, a tall boy, pock marked face (acne), and no trench coat but a white t-shirt, but was seen outside the school hurling items onto the roof?) Secondly, What are your conclusions regarding the use of anti-depressants by school age shooters?
Jeff_Kass(A) Despite my criticisms of the Jefferson County Sheriff, I think they did a good job debunking the idea of a third shooter. Eyewitness testimony in that tough environment - essentially a war zone - can be unreliable. People gave a lot of different accounts based on quick glimpses. Also, remember that Eric Harris took off his trench coat at one point - and was wearing a white shirt that day. The vast majority of the medical establishment stands behind the use of antidepressants, at least for adults and often for children. But it also seems clear that children - those under 18 - may be more susceptible to adverse reactions. I'm not sure we have enough information to say that was the case with Eric Harris, who was on Luvox at the time of Columbine.

senorjosecuervo(Q) Does it take a village, so to speak? Is there a community responsibility to identify such issues and act to prevent violent outcomes?
Jeff_Kass(A) I don't think we should depend on school shooters to stop themselves. So that leaves the rest of us. One issue that was discussed as far back as Columbine was simply being kinder to other students. That may seem a tall order in the tough world of high school cliques, but if outsiders were maybe embraced a little more - or maybe not ostracized as much - that might go some way towards heading off school shootings. And I think people in general recognizing causes - such as downplaying the move to solve problems with violence - can help. But I would also look to people on the front lines - school nurses and teachers - in recognizing problems. I think they can be a big help.

mdavis(Q) Much has been speculated about whether the parents of Harris and Klebold were to blame--or if they could have been more aware of what their children were doing. How much of the way that Eric and Dylan were raised or their home envirmoent do you think contributed to making them the killers they became?
Jeff_Kass(A) I can't come out and say the parents did 'X' and it caused Columbine. But I think there are some other intriguing statements by Dylan Klebold's parents I would note. In Dylan's diversion file (from early 1998) I believe it is Dylan's mom who notes that he is withdrawn and essentially does not get along with others. Then, the day of Columbine, she tells police that Dylan liked the military look (and, I believe, that he was fascinated with weapons). She then recants that statement. Did the parents follow up on that? I can't say.

Jeff Kass' book about the Columbine shootings, Columbine: A True Crime Story, a victim, the killers and the nation's search for answers, will be available April 1. The book can be preordered on Amazon.com

Mark_Wolf(Q) What new information does your book report?
Jeff_Kass(A) There is a lot of new information across the board. I don't want to get into full details yet, but there are previously uncovered writings by one of the killers, a video of a commander talking about the police response, and I believe the first in-depth accounting of the common denominators among school shootings.

BatteryBoulevard(Q) Have the parents and students of Columbine felt generally receptive to media inquiries?
Jeff_Kass(A) They have generally been receptive to me. I have been covering Columbine from Day One, and know many of the families, so that may be a factor. I do feel that victim families and others also want accurate information to be put out, and may be willing to cooperate on that basis.

BatteryBoulevard(Q) Now that it has been 10 years, where is the Littleton community at in terms of coping with Columbine?
Jeff_Kass(A) It's hard to speak for a whole community. But in covering tragedy, whether it be Columbine or another event, I don't think the pain ever leaves. It may come around less frequently, but it's always there, and it seems to me, you can't always control it. Sometimes it just hits, and when it does, it can be as strong as ever.

jrosa(Q) Was just wondering if you read the Wally Lamb book and what your thoughts about it are.
Jeff_Kass(A) I am certainly familiar with it, but have not read it. Otherwise, the experience of the teacher, I believe, seems to be based on an actual teacher.
Mark_Wolf(P) Thanks to Jeff Kass for his time and thanks for the excellent questions. His book about the Columbine shootings, Columbine: A True Crime Story, a victim, the killers and the nation's search for answers, will be available April 1. The book can be preordered on Amazon.com



Discussion

  • February 1, 2009

    7:43 AM

    crtf writes:

    Jeff, You apparently don't want to talk so I will.
    This is a perfect example of how the corporate media doesn't want to hear or tell you about the questions that still linger. These questions will not go away. They are questions that demand answers.

    We have studied the files and particularly the profiles of the killers in hopes of understanding what caused the killers to attack Columbine High School. Our findings will save childrens' lives.

    There is a tremendous amount of anger that the killers expressed toward Law Enforcement. At one point Eric wrote,"If I have any more trouble with cops, I'm going to lose it". For years, Jeffco led usto believe that the only contacts the killers had with cops was the January30,1998 arrest for breaking into a van. The discovery of the journal by Harris's father documented over 15 contacts and how many more were there? undocumented. Jeffco authorities were busy shredding and deleting 3 days after the tragedy.
    We learned that Dylan wrote to Eric in the '98 yearbook,"Killing cops!!! My Wrath for January's Incident will be godlike, not to mention our revenge in the commons. This clearly links the anger of their January arrest to what they plan to do in the commons area of Columbine High School.
    What could have created such wrath in two young men? A picture on page 10589 that Harris drew while under arrest may provide a clue. Most people,including the Arapaho county sheriff's dept think that it looks like a cop molesting a kid.
    Jeff Kass and others who we rely on for the news refuse to expose this.
    This is the United States of America. Not Nazi Germany.
    http://www.dylanklebold.com/documents/El%20Paso/Notebook%202/Diagrams.pdf
    http://www.dylanklebold.com/documents/El%20Paso/
    google Columbine family request

  • February 2, 2009

    10:45 PM

    Jcb14 writes:

    So in this book and article Columbine area is equated to the wild west? A community of tract homes and chain stores?

    Wow. Now in no way do I want to take down the idea of "researching" and then publishing your findings because I do find that important. But to take the same, media general stance, the same "from the outside looking in" opinion is created here and it has been played.

    We have still yet to get a book based on the inside of the event. You have accounts, you have quotes, quick comments and mini interviews. I'm ready to hear it from the people who took the hit in the media, athletes. People in the school, day to day, not the killer's friends, not the families, the people who actually made Columbine High School great.

    Someone list off some publishers who really would take a look at a true book about Columbine, from Columbine. Columbine needs to be a noun again, not an adjective.

  • February 10, 2009

    10:55 AM

    luv2skico writes:

    I would observe that the other common denominator is that the teachers are not allowed to carry concealed weapons regardless of the training they may receive. If it works for airline pilots, why not allow teachers that are willing to be sheepdogs instead of sheep?

    Spare me the platitudes that begin with "the answer isn't more guns". When's the last time someone waltzes in to a police station or gun show and killes 33 people? Case closed.

  • February 10, 2009

    11:12 AM

    luv2skico writes:

    There are lots of strategic steps that can be taken to avoid the climate in which these killers emerged. We do ourselves no good if we focus only on strategy while ignoring tactics.

    I would observe another common denominator. Shooters want to maximize carnage and create their own infamy. They are drawn to the gun-free zones such as malls, workplaces and schools. These are full of soft targets and defenseless people. A gun-free zone may make us feel all the Kumbaya inside, but to the deranged, it is a killing field.

    In Colorado and many other states, teachers are not allowed to carry concealed weapons regardless of the training they may receive. If it works for airline pilots and federal air marshalls, why not allow teachers that are willing and capable of being sheepdogs instead of sheep provide the last line of defense? Many are ex military or have had training and hold concealed carry permits.

    In fact, arming of teachers was tried in Israel and put an immediate stop to school terrorism.

    Spare me the emotive platitudes that begin with "The answer isn't more guns". When's the last time someone's waltzed into a police station or gun show and killed 33 people?

  • March 19, 2009

    4:23 AM

    Teacher Complaints writes:

    People can file complaints at teacher complaints

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