Columbine shooter’s mother still cringes at idea of copycats
DENVER (AP) — Sue Klebold doesn’t break down in tears anymore when she learns about another mass shooting. The attacks have become too common in the 17 years since her own son killed 12 of his classmates and a teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado.
Now, she is analytical, wondering if the gunman hid weapons at home the way her son Dylan did. Whether there were warning signs like the ones she missed with him.
Most painfully, Klebold wonders if the shooter used images of her son and details of his crime, still widely available online, as a model to gain fame through the slaughter of innocent people.
“Every time I see a photograph of Dylan on the (Columbine) surveillance tapes, I cringe,” Klebold said. “Because every time that occurs somewhere there is a disenfranchised individual that is using that as a blueprint.”
Klebold spoke to The Associated Press on Tuesday, a week after the release of her memoir, “A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy,” exploring the causes of her son’s violence and ways to prevent future attacks through mental health awareness.
Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris opened fire at the suburban Denver school on April 20, 1999, killing 13 people before taking their own lives. Another 24 people were injured in the attack.
Sue Klebold knew her son had some problems but wrote in her book that she dismissed them as teenage angst while he quietly plotted the killings and detailed the depths of his pain in journals she only discovered after his death.
“I wish I had learned how to communicate differently with him and how to listen better,” Klebold said. “I wish I had realized that things can seem perfectly fine when they are not, and the other lesson I wish I had learned is to shut up and listen.”
With the book, Klebold said she tried to commemorate his life without glamorizing his troubled final years in a way that would inspire copy cats.
In the years after the Columbine attack, she and her ex-husband Tom Klebold vigorously fought the release of videos that her son and Harris filmed in her basement that offered glimpses of their methods and motives. The parents worried that the details would offer a roadmap for future violence.
Other mass killers have been obsessed with the Columbine attack, drawing on a wealth of information in books and movies, fan websites dedicated the shooters, and even a Broadway show. Klebold said she still receives mail from young women across the country professing their love for her son.
To Klebold, conversations in the media and elsewhere that followed other mass shootings have been frustrating. They seemed to dwell on the gory, voyeuristic details of a shooter’s life while avoiding the larger problems that made the person want to kill and allowed it to happen.
She said she published her book after finally mustering the courage at a time when the public seemed eager to talk about violence and mental health.
“People who engage in acts such as this are not well, they are having significant malfunction going on,” she said. “This is the result of a mental or brain health condition that escalated to a stage-four lethal condition.”
She is donating any profits from the book to mental health charities and research, hoping for solutions that will help parents and professionals spot and thwart signs of trouble. That could be as simple as doctors’ offices requiring mental health screenings during routine checkups or having school officials undergo suicide-awareness training, she said.
Speaking out has been cathartic, she said. And some victims found it helpful to hear from her, too.
Coni Sanders, whose father, Dave Sanders, a Columbine teacher, was killed in the attack, said it’s a relief to hear a less sensational conversation about the shooting.
“We seek answers, and she doesn’t have a magic answer for what happened, and people needed to know that,” Sanders said. “There is no magic answer. These are important issues that we need to continue to look at.”