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Dave Cullen: The Lessons Of Columbine

Ten years ago Monday, news started trickling out of Colorado about a shooting at a high school called Columbine. It didn't take long for the news media to descend, and reporter Dave Cullen was one of the first journalists on the story.

Cullen would go on to spend another nine years delving deeper into the massacre than perhaps any other journalist. He presents his account of the tragedy — and examines some of the myths and mistakes surrounding the shootings — in his new book, Columbine.

The book walks readers through the events of that day, laying out Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold's murderous plan, which left 15 people dead (including the killers) and 23 injured.

Cullen says early reports that the shootings were a reaction to bullying and that the boys were part of a "trench coat mafia" proved to be more of a distraction than an explanation for the killings. In the end, Cullen believes the explanation for the tragedy lies in Harris and Klebold's very different personalities.

"Eric looks like a killer from the start. He [was] a cruel kid. He [wanted] to kill people," says Cullen. "Dylan was completely the opposite. ... For two years, he wrote about comitting suicide, but I think he lacked the nerve to even commit suicide by himself. He needed somebody there with him."

Cullen says a lot of lessons were learned from Columbine that have changed the way such shootings are handled. But he believes the biggest lesson is to take all such threats seriously, so that plans like the one Harris and Klebold hatched can be uncovered before they are acted on.

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Lynn Neary is an NPR arts correspondent covering books and publishing.
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