I spent about three hours last night working with Aidan on his English Term Paper.
His topic is a grim one: the deadliest high school and college shootings in American history.
Aidan’s learned a lot about the Columbine and Virginia Tech killings, and through that process, has decided that mental illness, rather than bullying, was the primary cause that propelled Dylan Klebold, Eric Harris and Seung-Hui Cho to kill more than 40 people before turning the guns on themselves.
His argument is an effective one.
Aidan draws on articles, the Virginia Tech report, and cartoons to show that bullying, while a pervasive problem in our nation, was less of a motivating force than Klebold’s suicidal depression, Harris’ psychopathy, and Cho’s mental disorders.
A major source for Aidan was Dave Cullen’s Columbine, most of which he read during our trip last December and this January to Israel.
I’ve written before about Cullen, a Dart Fellow who spent a decade and went through at least one publisher before completing the work.
Cullen’s assertion about the killers’ mental states is just one of the many reasons to read this haunting and richly informative book. He takes on the controversial issue of Cassie Bernall, a young woman who allegedly answered “Yes” when asked by one of the killers if she still believed in her faith shortly before he killed her.
The book’s panoptic perspective builds a sense of mounting horror as Klebold and Harris accumulate their cache of weapons, publicize their increasingly detailed plot on Harris’ web site.
Nearly as chilling, if not more so, is Cullen’s description of the system failures in the school’s handling before, and the law enforcement system’s bungling and deception after, the massacre.
Another point that Cullen makes, and that Aidan brought out in his paper, is that the death toll could have been exponentially higher had the bombs they designed and made actually detonated as the school as planned.
Of course, the carnage was horrifying, even for a nation accustomed to seeing thousands of violent acts on television on a weekly basis. While I was hoping to get to Eleanor Flexner’s Century of Struggle last night, I’m grateful to have so much time to spend with Aidan and to have my memory refreshed about the power of Cullen’s work.