There are moments of that day I remember with stark clarity. Talking to Adventure Guy and my children to assure them that I’d “be okay” but failing utterly in my attempt to keep my voice from breaking while doing so. Running down the Science Hall behind the SWAT team. Comforting students as best I could while hurrying them into safer locations. The frank look in an officer’s eyes when he told me I needed to back away from “the kill zone” and hand over my keys so that they could move further without me.
On that unseasonably warm winter day seven years ago, one radio call catapulted All-American High into a club no one wants to belong to–we had a student on the roof with a gun. Worse yet, one of my colleagues was up there with him.
Though I use pseudonyms for our school and district when I write here, readers would likely not recognize the real name. That fact tells much about the outcome of the boy on the roof. He didn’t fire. The principal and the crisis team talked him down. Members of the press, camped out around the perimeter and circling in helicopters overhead, literally sighed in disappointment at having missed their opportunity for a really big story.
As soon as I spotted Dave Cullen’s new book, Columbine, I knew I had to read it. After all, Columbine served as the wake-up call for school administrators across the country. And when we at All-American High faced a reality that previously existed only in our nightmares, much of what we did, what the SWAT team did, our preparation for handling the situation at all, came from training put in place after the country watched the events in Colorado unfold in April of 1999.
In many ways, I thought I knew what happened at Columbine–the trench coat maffia, the bullying, the targeting of “jocks” and minorities. I’d heard the same principal remained in place at the school, and I honestly couldn’t imagine how that could be. If Columbine was such a “toxic” environment, why wasn’t the leader responsible for that removed?
The answer to that question and many others is the reason this exhaustively-researched book kept me turning pages day after day. Cullen poured through the killers’ journals and the video tapes they left behind. Extensive interviews with others involved in one way or another with the case fill in the rest of the story. And it’s a story that is surprisingly different than what we all “know” about Columbine.
At the dedication of the Columbine memorial, President Clinton quoted Ernest Hemingway, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” The break that winter day did indeed make All-American High stronger, at a far less expensive price than that paid by Columbine. My hope is that this new book will provide insights that help make schools across the country safer places. In that light, the cost of a hardback seems like quite small price to pay.