Friday, January 13, 2017

A Mother's Reckoning

I recently started reading A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold. She is the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the teens who was responsible for the Columbine school shooting in April of 1999.

I read books like this because I've always had an interest in true crime and criminal psychology, and also in this particular event. I admit that I can be a bit morbid, but I also know that there are many people my age who have an interest in Columbine because it was a defining moment for our generation. People who are my parents' age remember where they were when Kennedy was shot, and people my age remember this event in the same way. Tragedy can bring people together. It can also rip families and communities apart.

For many years, we thought we knew all about Columbine. We knew that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had belonged to the Trench Coat Mafia, and we knew that Cassie Bernall had answered "Yes" when her killers asked her if she believed in God. But as always, the further we recede from an event, the clearer we are able to see it, and the facts come to the surface like the cream rises on milk.  This April will mark the 18th anniversary of of the shootings, and eighteen years has allowed us to separate the facts from fiction and has also given us enough time to grieve, while giving Sue Klebold the opportunity to clarify some aspects of the story. Eighteen years is certainly an appropriate amount of time for us to let go of everything we thought we knew, and listen to someone who does know. She knows her son took lives, but she also grieves a son who took his own life. Her book is simply her account of how she reconciles two images of her son: the son she gave birth to, hugged and kissed and laughed with and the son that committed an infamous crime against humanity.

One part that struck me early on is her discussion of the role the media had in early coverage of the shooting. The sources reported many inaccuracies, exaggerations and fabrications, and information literacy is a hot topic now in the wake of so many "fake news" stories that proliferate on social media. The first news reports gave a death toll of 25, which is nearly twice the actual number of victims (not including the killers themselves). The helicopters circling overhead made the Klebold home look like a sprawling compound, contributing to the mythos that the killers were spoiled rich brats, when in fact the house was bought at a very low price due to the building's neglect, evidenced by the mice infestation. When the initial shock wore off, and we started struggling to comprehend "how" and "why" the accounts seemed to give every scenario possible, including the ones that contradicted each other: the boys had been bullied, the boys had been bullies themselves, the boys had been planning this attack for years, the boys had simply "snapped" and acted on impulse, they had been outcasts, they had been likable and had other friends and recently attended the prom.  .  .it was difficult for anyone to guess the truth with so many different speculations swirling about.

Teachers and librarians are struggling now to help students learn how to decipher credible sources of information from ones that are not; it's easy to teach them that an academic journal is more reliable than a Wiki article, but it's a struggle for many adults to sort out the "real story" when the media is so willing to feed us information that is biased, exaggerated, or simply wrong.

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