To read my review of Dave Cullen’s Columbine, click here.
To watch Sue Klebold’s recent interview with Diane Sawyer, click here.
To read the first chapter of A Mother's Reckoning, click here.
When adults do terrible things, they are monsters. When children do terrible things, their parents are monsters. This is a fact Sue Klebold knows all too well. On April 20, 1999, her son, Dylan Klebold, and his friend, Eric Harris, opened fire at Columbine High School, killing 13 and injuring 24. Then, when the carnage was finished, they took their own lives.
The world’s vitriol is no doubt the reason for Sue Klebold’s almost 17 years of silence. The months and years after the Columbine tragedy were ruthless towards the shooter’s parents, and, despite the atrocities their sons had committed, they were still in mourning. However, with her memoir, A Mother’s Reckoning, Sue works to share her experience with the world, to show other parents how she watched, unaware, as her son sunk into a bottomless depression, and to finally, after almost two decades of abuse, stand up for herself.
Sue was at work when she got news that something was wrong. By the time she drove the thirty miles home, the entire country was watching in horror as students fled from the building, ducking behind police cars to avoid the gunfire raining down from the windows. As detectives ushered her and her husband out of their home, Sue imagined that her old life, the one with her husband and two boys, was still salvageable. She believed Dylan would come home and explain all of this—hadn’t he talked of a senior prank not long before? Surely that’s all this was, a prank gone awry. As the day turned to dusk, though, and news of his death, and the deaths of thirteen others, trickled down to her, Sue began to realize she would never be able to gather up the broken pieces of her former life.
In the span of 24 hours, Sue went from being the mother of two healthy, happy boys, to the mother of a monster. She was forced to grapple with not only her shy, likable son’s horrific crimes, but with his suicide, as well. It was then, when her life had become an unknowable puzzle of agony and despair, that the world turned its back. Every major publication implicated her and her husband as the reason for her son’s crimes. They were accused of abusing Dylan, being too lenient, and being too strict. People said they didn’t spend enough time with him and that they were over protective. With the two shooters dead and unable to be brought to justice, it was their parents who became targets.
None of this made sense to the Klebold’s, though. By all appearances, they were the perfect American family. They ran a two parent home, were decidedly anti-violence, refusing to own any guns, and moved to the mountains so their boys could spend time in nature. Tom Klebold coached Dylan’s little league team and worked from home, so he was always there to share an after school snack. Sue worked with disabled college students, often bringing Dylan to work with her, teaching him by example the kind of compassion he should show the world. However, across the porcelain complexion of their perfect family, small cracks began to form, fissures where things didn’t go quite to plan. Due to a lifetime of daily journaling, Sue has a written record of the final months of Dylan’s life, entries where she notes his crabbiness or his tendency to withdraw to his room more often. However, these same entries also contain what would become her deepest regrets—the tendency to write off his mood swings as typical teenage behavior; her distraction with her older son, who she believed was in danger of falling through the cracks because he couldn’t maintain a steady job and seemed to be floundering; her and Tom’s belief that Dylan’s brush with the law (he and Eric Harris were caught stealing computer equipment from a parked van and required to complete a diversion program) was nothing more than a teenage boy’s impulsive mistake.
Since the Columbine tragedy, Sue has done extensive research on teen suicide and teen depression. She has poured over countless books, attended support groups, and helped organize events to raise money for mental health organizations. Knowing what she knows now, she believes she could have helped Dylan. She believes she could have saved him and, potentially, stopped Columbine from happening. The trouble is she didn’t know what she knows now. Even scarier, with one in five teenagers saying they’ve had thoughts of suicide, the majority of parents don’t know the trademark signs of teen depression. That is one problem Sue Klebold feels she can fix. She couldn’t save her own child, but she can help educate other parents so they can save theirs.
Her memoir, both poignant and haunting, tells the story of the myriad ways she failed to see her son’s pain, and shares the hard truth that it could be happening in any home in America.
Buy a copy on Amazon.
All proceeds will be donated to mental health organizations and suicide prevention.