Dylan Klebold went to the prom.
Less than 72 hours later, on April 20, 1999, Dylan and his friend Eric Harris walked into Columbine High School, where both were seniors, and opened fire, killing 12 students and one teacher before killing themselves.
At the time, it was the worst school shooting in U.S. history.
For 17 years, Sue Klebold has wrestled with the discordant images of the son she knew — smart, goofy and shy — and the cold-blooded monster the world recognizes.
"A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of a Tragedy" is a heartbreaking memoir of Klebold’s long and painful attempt to understand why her son participated in the Columbine shooting and, most importantly, what she missed as his mother.
"That night was the last time I was able to hold Dylan in my mind exactly as I had held him in life: beloved son, brother and friend," Klebold writes about the night after the shooting. "And so it was that, when the blue-gray light of dawn finally appeared through the basement windows, I was still asking the question — first to Dylan, and then to God — the question that would bedevil and perplex me, and ultimately animate the rest of my life: ‘How could you do this?’"
Sue Klebold’s memoir might be the most terrifying book I’ve ever read.
According to most experts, Eric Harris was a psychopath. Dylan Klebold was suicidal. Harris wanted to kill as many people as possible and didn’t care if he died in the process. Dylan wanted to die and didn’t care how many others died with him.
"A Mother’s Reckoning" confronts that image of the spree killer as being crazed or abused. Dylan was raised in a "good" home. His parents were married. They were involved in both of their sons’ lives. They ate dinner together every night. They watched movies together. Dylan had a job. He had friends, even a girlfriend. When he got into trouble, he was punished. The family was anti-gun.
Sure, he was occasionally moody and distant, but he was a teenager. Sue saw nothing in her son to hint that he was depressed, let alone suicidal and homicidal.
Yet in the aftermath of Columbine, the world blamed the killers’ parents, asking "How could they not have known?"
Dylan was simply that good at hiding his "true self" from everyone.
The book is harrowing both in its honesty and its lack of conclusions. The pain that Sue and her husband endured in the wake of Columbine is unimaginable. To their credit, they have remained in Littleton, trying to piece their lives back together. Sue has gone on to work exhaustively with various suicide prevention and mental health awareness organizations. All the proceeds of the book are going to charity.
She is sincerely apologetic (near ad nauseam) about the pain and suffering her son caused. But she is also defiant. "I did not — and do not — believe I made Dylan a killer," she writes.
It’s a hard truth to accept.
As parents we try to raise our kids the best we can, to instill in them the traits of decent human beings, to have love and compassion for others. But we also have to trust and let go without knowing what’s in their secret hearts.
Sue Klebold was a good mother, yet her son became a mass murderer.
Contact Brett Buckner at firstname.lastname@example.org.