I recently requested A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold on NetGalley, not knowing what to expect if my request was approved. It was, and I started reading a book about arguably one of the most infamous high school shootings in recent history: Columbine.
On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Over the course of minutes, they would kill twelve students and a teacher, and wound twenty-four others before taking their own lives.
For the last sixteen years, Sue Klebold, Dylan s mother, has lived with the indescribable grief and shame of that day. How could her child, the promising young man she had loved and raised, be responsible for such horror? And how, as his mother, had she not known something was wrong? Were there subtle signs she had missed? What, if anything, could she have done differently?
These are questions that Klebold has grappled with every day since the Columbine tragedy. In”A Mother s Reckoning,” she chronicles with unflinching honesty her journey as a mother trying to come to terms with the incomprehensible. In the hope that the insights and understanding she has gained may help other families recognize when a child is in distress, she tells her story in full, drawing upon her personal journals, the videos and writings that Dylan left behind, and on countless interviews with mental health experts.
Filled with hard-won wisdom and compassion, “A Mother s Reckoning” is a powerful and haunting book that sheds light on one of the most pressing issues of our time. And with fresh wounds from the recent Newtown and Charleston shootings, never has the need for understanding been more urgent.
“All author profits from the book will be donated to research and to charitable organizations focusing on mental health issues.”
In April 1999, I was seven. Although at the time, I was blissfully unaware of the horrors going on across the pond, I came to know Columbine as I grew up. As a family that listened to alternative music, I knew that Marilyn Manson had been blamed for the shooting. Even as a teenager, this seemed absurd to me. I watched Bowling For Columbine, the 2002 documentary that highlighted the American gun culture. I later learned that various other things had also been blamed for these teenagers taking guns and shooting their classmates – the video-game Doom, for example. By the time I was in college and studying Psychology at A Level, the leading information was that correlation was not to be confused with causation. But in previous years, the media had associated various things – music, games, access to guns, bullying – with “making” two teenagers want to shoot up their school. No matter their reasons, whatever was going on in their lives, there’s no excuse for committing mass murder, and Sue Klebold isn’t attempting to blame this or that. A Mother’s Reckoning is not Sue Klebold’s way of excusing her son’s actions. Rather, it’s her way of shouldering some of the blame.
When kids go bad, we automatically blame the parents. They must have done something wrong, we say indignantly. We look for abuse, neglect, anything we can point to and say, aha! We’re blind to the idea that good people can simply do bad things. Sue Klebold’s story is full of horror, of grief, and it is real. It still feels fresh, 16 years on, and I imagine it really is still fresh for her, and the rest of her family.
It’s impossible not to empathise with Sue when reading her story. I can’t imagine there’s anything new to learn from reading it, other than seeing it from her side. She lost a son, but she also lost the image she held of her son. Her descriptions of her initial denial that Dylan could have harmed anyone else are hard to read; you can only imagine the terror, the heartbreak of learning that someone you love so dearly is capable of such a violent, monstrous act.
There’s a constant link between the shootings at Columbine and the mental health of the shooters. Sue Klebold now advocates for more education and funding to be put into research for mental health disorders, and she repeatedly claims that her son was depressed, but does that mean that depression drove them to murder? I tend to look at this link as, once again, correlation, not causation. Not all people with mental health conditions commit murder, and not all murderers are mentally ill. Sue Klebold seems to agree with this last, and it is in fact refreshing to read the story of someone so closely connected to tragedy, and not to feel like they’re trying to manipulate you, and how you view the events. She does, at times, confuse correlation with causation, particularly when discussing violent video-games, but for the most part, she gives facts, she gives her views, her emotions, her truth. And you really can’t argue with that.