Columbine: Important quotes with page numbers
1. “The violence intensified in the springtime, as the school year came to a close. Shooting season, they began to call it. The perpetrator was always a white boy, always a teenager, in a placid town few had heard of. Most of the shooters acted alone. Each attack erupted unexpectedly and ended quickly, so TV never caught the turmoil. The nation watched the aftermaths: endless scenes of schools surrounded by ambulances, overrun by cops, hemorrhaging terrified children. ” (Chapter 3, Page 15) This passage, from very early on in the text, both does and does not correctly classify the attack on Columbine High.
Both perpetrators were white and teenaged, and few had heard of Columbine High School before the attack. However, Cullen and law enforcement experts classify the attack, not as a shooting, but as a failed bombing, and the media captures more shots of the aftermath of horrific violence than ever before.
2. “Earlier in the year, he’d rescued Rachel Scott, the senior class sweetheart, when her tape jammed during the talent show. In a few days, Eric would kill her. ” (Chapter 2, Page 8) This passage speaks to the dichotomous behavior of Eric (and, implicitly, Dylan) in the time leading up to the attack.
While Eric seemed to hate the world and Dylan seemed to hate himself, both were capable of good, though later in the book, Cullen notes that manyof Eric’s good acts or behavior were a figurative mask worn commonly by clinical psychopaths.
3. “Four minutes into the mayhem, much of the student body was oblivious. Hundreds were running for their lives, but more sat quietly in class. Many heard the commotion; few sensed the danger. Most found it annoying. The chaos and solitude went on side by side, often only yards apart. ” (Chapter 11, Page 50)
Even while Harris and Klebold are actively shooting at their fellow students, literally hundreds more students are entirely unaware that anything is occurring. There are three prime reasons for this being the case: 1) school shootings, while certainly known, were less anticipated and planned for in 1999; 2) the sheer size of the school, without an active-shooter notification system in place, could not have possibly been aware of what was occurring; and 3) some students and faculty believed the shooting to be a joke or prank and did not take it seriously.
4. “None of the earlier school shootings had been televised; few American tragedies had. The Columbine situation played out slowly, with the cameras rolling. Or at least it appeared that way: the cameras offered the illusion we were witnessing the event. But the cameras had arrived too late. Eric and Dylan had retreated inside after five minutes. The cameras missed the outside murders and could not follow Eric and Dylan inside. The fundamental experience for most of America was almost witnessing mass murder. It was the panic and frustration of not knowing, the mounting terror of horror withheld, just out of view.
We would learn the truth about Columbine, but we would not learn it today. ” (Chapter 14, Pages 66-67). The illusion of real time events was status quo for those watching on television; this goes not just for those watching across the country and world, but also for students trapped inside the high school. Instead, there was a tape delay of between thirty and sixty minutes, and while there is some grisly footage, most of the actual shooting footage inside the building there is no record of, in part due to surveillance tapes not running in the cafeteria and a lack of surveillance elsewhere on the school grounds.
5. “More followed, single file in quick succession, running down the hillside, as fast as they could with their hands on the back of their heads, elbows splayed. They kept coming and coming, dozens of them, tracing the same winding path, first away from the school, then back towards a windowless corner surrounded by squad cars and ambulances. They huddled there for several minutes, sobbing, waiting, clinging to one another. Police officers patted them down and then hugged them. Eventually, cops packed groups of three to five kids into squad cars and shuttled them to the triage area a few blocks south.
The kids had to run right past two bodies on the way out, so at some point, an officer moved Rachel [Scott] farther away. ” (Chapter 16, Page 82) This series of images was one of those most shown in the hours and days following the attack: students being led out safely by law enforcement, where they are taken away in police cars. Implicit in such images are 1) the media being objective, and 2) law enforcement making correct decisions. Cullen challenges the implicit assertions of this series of images over the course of the book.
6. “For investigators, the big bombs changed everything: the scale, the method, and the motive of the attack. Above all, it had been indiscriminate. Everyone was supposed to die. Columbine was fundamentally different from the other school shootings. It had not really been intended as a shooting at all. Primarily, it had been a bombing that failed. ” (Chapter 22, Page 125)
While media remain fixated on the targeting theory, which placed impetus for the attack on a nonexistent, longstanding feud between a social clique Eric and Dylan were not part of (the Trench Coat Mafia) and other cliques, federal investigators realize within hours that Eric and Dylan’s plan was not motivated by revenge and not geared toward any specific demographic. Instead, they simply hoped to kill as many people as they could.
7. “For Dylan, different was difficult. For Eric, different was good. ” (Chapter 27, Page 147) This quote goes far to illustrate the difference in Eric and Dylan’s personalities. Eric possessed bravado and enjoyed attention. Dylan was introverted and depressive. Eric is the ringleader in planning the attack and carrying it out, while Dylan plays second fiddle.
8. “We remember Columbine as a pair of outcast Goths from the Trench Coat Mafia snapping and tearing through their high school hunting down jocks to settle a long-running feud.
Almost none of that happened. No Goths, no outcasts, nobody snapping. No targets, no feud, and no Trench Coat Mafia. Most of these elements existed at Columbine—which is what gave them such currency. They just had nothing to do with the murders. ” (Chapter 28, Page 149) The miscategorization of both Eric and Dylan as “outcast Goths” is not only wrong in the immediate aftermath of Columbine, it’s a falsehood that is never really divorced from reality by America’s collective consciousness. What it did provide was a good narrative for media outlets and a quick and incorrect solution as to why Harris and Klebold carried out the attack in the first place.
9. “Investigators identified nearly a dozen common misperceptions among library survivors. Distortion of time was rampant, particularly chronology. Witnesses recalled less once the killers approached them, not more. Terror stops the brain from forming new memories. A staggering number [of students] insisted they were the last ones out of the library—once they were out, it was over.
Similarly, most of those injured, even superficially, believed they were the last ones hit. Survivors also clung to reassuring concepts: that they were actually hiding by crouching under tables in plain sight. ” (Chapter 36, Page 205) This quote strives to show how wrongly those in the middle of a dangerous, deadly event can interpret even basic facts. This is not something specific to Columbine, or mass shootings; indeed, even in minor traffic accidents, these misperceptions are commonplace.
This passage also speaks to how it easy it would have been to have representatives of media outlets make students believe the Trench Coat Mafia was behind the attack—something Cullen asserts may have been the case.
10. “When the conspiracy evaporated, it left a dangerous vacuum … The final act of the killers was among their cruelest: they deprived the survivors a living perpetrator. They deprived the families of a focus for their anger, and their blame … There was no killer to rebuke in a courtroom, no judge to implore to impose the maximum penalty.
South Jeffco was seething with anger, and it would be deprived of a reasonable target. Displaced anger would riddle the community for years. ” (Chapter 36, Page 212) Only two people were convicted of a crime relating to the Columbine attack, and both were people who helped Eric and Dylan obtain firearms. Because Harris and Klebold took their own lives, no one who was directly involved in the attacks would go to trial. The “displaced anger” Cullen speaks of was almost certainly motivation for at least some of the lawsuits that would follow in the months and years ahead.
11. “Fusilier ticked off Eric’s personality traits: charming, callous, cunning, manipulative, comically grandiose, and egocentric, with an appalling failure of empathy. It was like reciting the Psychopathy Checklist. ” (Chapter 40, Page 239) A large portion of the book’s last few chapters delves into the personality of Eric Harris, whom FBI Agent Dwayne Fuselier identifies as a clinical psychopath, evidenced not only by the attack on Columbine but also by the troves of hate- and violence-filled rants on Eric’s website.
12. “An angry, erratic depressive and a sadistic psychopath make a combustible pair. ” (Chapter 40, Page 244) This quote further establishes Dylan and Eric’s respective personalities. In Chapter 40, Cullen mentions the dyad, “murderous pairs who feed off each other” (244). As much as Dylan needed Eric as a catalyst, Eric also needed a trusted follower, and found this in Dylan.
13. “The buses would pull up in front of the school, and tourists would pile out and start snapping pictures: the school, the grounds, the kids practicing on the athletics field …The students felt like zoo specimens” (Chapter 41, Page 250) After the attack, Columbine High School becomes the secondmostvisited tourist destination in Colorado.
On top having to deal with being back on school grounds, where the attack took place, students and faculty must now also deal with having their photos taken by tourists, who want to see and record where the attack happened.
14. “‘Columbine’ was the name of a tragedy now. Their school was a symbol of mass murder. ” (Chapter 43, Page 272) While Columbine, in the years ahead, wouldultimately lose this designation for the students who attend the school, for many in the community, and perhaps for the country’s collective consciousness, Columbine remains first and foremost “a symbol of mass murder. ” As many of these attacks are carried out in places the average citizen has never heard of or been to, the single action citizens tie to the place is the mass shooting that occurred there, thereby never allowing the tragedy to fully dissipate.
15. “For Eric, Columbine was a performance. Homicidal art. He actually referred to his audience in his journal: ‘the majority of the audience wont [sic] even understand my motives’ he complained … Fear was Eric’s ultimate weapon … He didn’t want kids to fear isolated events like a sporting event or a dance; he wanted them to fear their daily lives. ” (Chapter 44, Page 277)
Eric’s psychopathy is well-documented by Cullen in the second half of the book; Cullen notes that Agent Fuselier believed Harris to be psychopathic, and that the mental health community agreed with his assessment (Fuselier himself was a clinical psychologist). Harris’s psychopathy also would seem to speak to effectively ruling out any notion of targeting specific peer groups or individuals; instead, he wanted everyone to suffer.
16. “Some events were unrelated to the massacre or even the school. But much of the community had lost the ability to distinguish. Perspective was impossible.
A fight with your girlfriend, a car crash, a drought…it was all ‘Columbine. ’ It was a curse. Kids were calling it the Columbine Curse. ” (Chapter 45, Pages 288-89) This passage follows Cullen’sassertionthat more bad events happened in Jefferson County following the attack: the body of a minor found in a dumpster, a double murder at a nearby Subway sandwich shop. The “Columbine Curse” becomes a way for the community to explain the unexplainable level of tragedy that they have endured.
17. “But Kelly knew she had picked up on something different. She had seen boys captivated by violence. She had read innumerable accounts of murder. She had never been confronted with a story this sadistic. It was not just a question of the events in the story but the attitude of the author conveying them. ” (Chapter 48, Page 308) This quote is in regard to the short story that Dylan Klebold turned in to his creative writing class. Later, the Virginia Tech shooter would turn in a piece of creative writing that was also quite sadistic. However, and as Cullen notes, it’s difficult for teachers to separate a piece of creative writing from a veiled manifesto for plans that are meant to be carried out.
The teacher in question errs on the side of caution and informs Dylan’s parents, who take no action. This moment is notable, in that creative writing teachers at both the high school and college levels face situations like this consistently.
18. “Jeffco investigators had most of the pieces. Most of the adults close to the killers were in the dark. ” (Chapter 48, Page 309) Harris and Klebold are able to dupe the vast majority of those around them, includingnearly all the adults in their lives, from parents to the Diversion Program officers to the judge who handles their case after their arrest.
Jefferson County officials who sat on the information gleaned from Harris’ website, and then tried to hide it, are consistently presented as being in the position of having the opportunity to take more action than they did.
19. “‘I wouldn’t say a single word to them … I would listen to what they have to say, and that’s what no one did. ’” (Chapter 49, Page 317) This quote is from singer Marilyn Manson, speaking to filmmaker Michael Moore, for his film, Bowling for Columbine. While the writing in Harris’s and Klebold’s journals is disturbing and hyper-violent, it’s also only writing in a journal. Manson implies that if the duo had had more outlets, the attack might have been avoided.
20. “The lawsuits sputtered on for years. They got messier. ” (Chapter 49, Page 318) In a community already torn apart by tragedy, the lawsuits that follow the attacks compound the misery and divisiveness. While most fail, they serve as an attempt to gain closure or retribution in a situation where those who caused the crime cannot be brought to justice.
21. “All the recent school shooters shared exactly one trait: 100 percent male. (Since the study a few have been female.) Aside from personal experience, no other characteristic, hit 50 percent, not even close. ” (Chapter 49, Page 322) The “personal experience” Cullen refers to here isshooters having some form of disruptive home life; past this, the most common trait among school shooters is their gender.
22. “The Basement Tapes were a fusion of invented characters with the real killers. But the characters the killers chose were revealing, too. ” (Chapter 50, Page 329) Portions of the Basement Tapes function as cinema for Eric and Dylan; they are effectively an amalgam of who they really are and personas they choose to take on.
This in many ways aligns with their day-to-day lives; on the surface, to many, they seemed like not-abnormal high school boys. Privately, they were planning what was at the time the deadliest school shooting in U. S. history. This line would blur more as the day of the attack grew closer.
23. To civilians, it seems odd that they stopped shooting and entered this ‘quiet period. ’ It’s actually pretty normal for a psychopath. They enjoy their exploits, but murder gets boring, too. Even serial killers lose interest for a few days. Eric was likely proud and inflated, but tired of it already.
Dylan was less predictable, but probably resembled a bipolar experiencing a mixed episode: depressed and manic at once—indifferent to his actions; remorseless but not sadistic. He was ready to die, fused with Eric and following his lead. (Chapter 52, Page 350) Harris and Klebold had the opportunity to shoot many more people than they did once they were inside Columbine High. This quote strives to show one possible reason why loss of life was not higher during the attack.
24. “Human decay begins rapidly. The first thing to assault them was probably smell. Blood is rich in iron, so large volumes emit a strong metallic smell.
The average body contains five quarts. Several gallons had pooled on the carpet, coagulating into a reddish brown gelatin, with irregular black speckles … Stray globs of brain matter would soon be solid as concrete. They would be scraped off with putty knives and the stubborn chunks melted down with steam-injection machines. ” (Chapter 52, Page 352) Multiple moments in Columbine offer often-graphic depictions of what the crime scene looked like. Cullen, earlier in the book, describes law enforcement officials who had served in Vietnam as sobbing after they had seen the crime scene and left the building. The attack was impossible for anyone to be prepared for, even those trained for such encounters.
25. “The Molotov blew. It started a small fire. It also spilled Eric’s crude napalm over the tabletop and sealed a lump of his brain underneath. That detail would prove the boys died just before the eruption. ” (Chapter 52, Page 353) This is one of the final moments in “Quiet,” the chapter that reconstructs Harris and Klebold’s actions during the attack. Harris’s own failed creation—napalm for one of the bombs that fails to go off—effectively preserves a portion of his own brain, after he kills himself.