How do you review a book like Columbine? It’s hard to say, “I enjoyed the book.” After all, it’s one of the most frightening, tragic, disturbing books I’ve read in a long time. And yet, it is so meticulous in its research and so compelling in its presentation that one can’t help but admire how well the author, Dave Cullen, told the story.

I thought I knew the basic facts about the deadly shooting at Columbine High School in 1999. I was wrong. Here are seven common myths about that tragic day:

Myth #1: The Columbine killers were social misfits who were bullied by their classmates.

Truth: Eric Harris was a lady’s man, a charmer who had a number of good friends at school. Dylan Klebold went to the prom the weekend before the shooting.

Both killers attended football games, dances, and school plays. Despite the media reports, neither of them were linked to the “Trench Coat Mafia.” Nor were they part of a street gang or known to dress in Gothic style.

Myth #2: The Columbine killers planned a shooting spree inside the school.

Truth: Columbine was a failed bombing. Eric and Dylan planted a bomb inside the cafeteria and then went outside to wait for it to explode. Their initial plan was to shoot students who tried to escape the building in the aftermath. Only once the bomb failed to ignite did they make their way inside to begin shooting students.

Myth #3: The Columbine killers targeted certain kinds of students.

Truth: Although initial news reports claimed the Columbine killers had targeted minorities, jocks, and Christians, the killing was indiscriminate. Their initial plan was to blow up hundreds of students in the cafeteria. When the bombs failed to go off, they killed students randomly. Interestingly enough, Eric’s friends described him as a sports enthusiast, and two of his best friends were Asian and African American.

Myth #4: The Columbine situation was a hostage standoff.

Truth: It is true that news reports initially treated the situation at Columbine as a hostage standoff, perhaps due to the fact that police officers did not enter the building until more than 40 minutes after the shooting began. But the Columbine killers never planned to hold hostages. Their goal was total destruction, not particular demands. It took three hours for the SWAT teams to find the killers (3:15 p.m.). They had been dead since 12:08, just forty-nine minutes after the attack began.

Myth #5. There were no warning signs that could have prevented the Columbine massacre.

Truth: Other parents had complained about Eric Harris, multiple times. Both Eric and Dylan had been arrested before. Thirteen months before the shooting, investigators discovered evidence that Eric was building pipe bombs. Dozens of pages of obscene threats on the internet were also documented. The sheriff’s department covered up the initial evidence that signaled the threat.

Myth #6: Cassie Bernall was martyred for her faith in God.

Truth: According to the eyewitness under the table with her, Cassie was shot when Eric poked his shotgun under the table and said, “Peekaboo.” The 911 tape verifies this testimony.

The martyr story arose from the testimony from another student in the library, Craig Scott (brother to victim, Rachel Scott), who recounted a conversation that took place across the room. Valeen Schnurr was the one who actually professed her faith in God, and this took place after she was shot. As she lay bleeding, she prayed, “Oh my God, don’t let me die.” Dylan turned around and asked her, “God? Do you believe in God?” Valeen said, “Yes, I believe in God.” When the killer asked why, she replied, “Because it’s how my parents raised me.”

Myth #7: Columbine students and teachers were able to communicate with each other via cell phones.

Truth: Though some students were able to call newscasters, the teachers and students hiding in the school were unable to communicate due to the ear-piercing fire alarm that blared for hours. The sprinkler system flooded the cafeteria, and the fire alarm and strobe lighting caused difficulty in communications with the SWAT team. Much of the terror and confusion that day was caused by the nerve-wracking alarm system that interfered with communication.

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53 thoughts on “7 Myths about the Columbine Shooting”

  1. Neo says:

    And of course, reading this leads all evangelical Christians to consider:

    Myth #8 – Well, the public school that I send MY kids to is completely different and safe, and nothing like Columbine could ever happen there…

    1. Clarice says:

      This could happen at your local grocery store, shopping mall, movie theater, day care center, airport…pretty much anywhere you find humans. I’m not sure the best direction to go is making this about public schools.

      There was a triple murder suicide in the neighborhood adjacent to mine and those folks were faithful church attenders. We’re sinners. We sin! Everywhere.

      1. Dave says:

        Thank you Clarice.

      2. Michael says:

        Total up the school shootings and then total up the shootings elsewhere. Simple math.

        1. Clarice says:

          Hmm…don’t really buy this logic, since people shoot people every day probably all day long all around the world.

          American News reported shootings are limited to what makes a good news story. They don’t really report on the common crimes that are happening all around us all the time.

          This is part of the problem with getting our perspective of the world from the local news channel on TV. It doesn’t give the scope and reality that we need to see– how bad our world is but also how great God is over and through the evil. He reigns!

    2. Mel says:

      We are not to fear death. That is what makes us different. Remember?

      1. No, what makes us different is that we have hope; not that we don’t have fear or grief.

        1. Mel says:

          Seriously John? Is there anything you won’t argue with? Jesus said DO NOT FEAR

          Matthew 10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

          Luke 12:4-5 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!

          Romans 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

          Romans 8:37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

    3. Jen says:

      This could happen at a Christian school, and you know it. It’s morally wrong to vilify public schools.

  2. Wesley says:

    I’m appreciative of something like this book that comes out later once the “smoke” has settled that brings to light answers to the questions so many of us had. What has been the public reaction to this book in Columbine? Has it been well received or decried?

  3. Scoop McTroll says:

    Myth #1 is patently false. While the killers were not complete social outcasts, they were indeed bullied and targets of attacks by athletes at the school. By every stretch they were absolutely “social misfits who were bullied by their classmates”

    Also, they were indeed friends with many of the Trench Coat Mafia, who as a group had no responsibility.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Harris_and_Dylan_Klebold

    1. Kim says:

      Scoop, be very careful when using Wikipedia as a source. Anyone can post anything there, true or not. I am currently reading COLUMBINE, and it is as stated by Trevin, very well researched. A narrative was established by the media during the event, but not corrected by the media after the dust settled. The boys were not bullied, and Eric in particular was a psychopath who thought he was superior to everyone and even referred to himself as god.

    2. Aaron Davis says:

      Brooks Brown (friend of Dylan and Eric) maintains that this is a myth. In his book, he says that Dylan and Eric were not bullied but were bullies themselves. As for the Trench Coat Mafia, those students were long gone when Dylan and Eric attended Columbine,

      1. Bryant says:

        Every video documentary that I have seen where Brooks Brown was interviewed confirmed that Harris and Klebold were bullied. There is actual video evidence of this and an explanation from Brown here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHo8vK9CY8E&feature=relmfu See the 1:15 mark until 3:33.

    3. Jon Wilke says:

      Wikipedia is typically based on what is published and what was accepted at time of incident. If new evidence is discovered or hindsight brings a more accurate analysis, researchers have difficult time getting those wiki articles updated.

      My wife’s family endured the Heath High School shootings and there is much misinformation about what happened there too. My sister-in-law’s best friends were killed and another paralyzed.

      1. Joe Hinson says:

        For anyone debating whether to trust Wikipedia or not over other sources, here’s a paragraphI found at the Columbia School Shooting Wikipedia page on December 26, 2012 —

        “Many rumors afterward related to the cause of the attacks and possible targeting of Christians. One such rumor related to the murder of Rachel Scott claimed that the shooters had first asked Scott if she believed in God, and killed her after she said yes. The FBI later concluded that this interaction did not take place.[8]”

        So fourteen years after the horrible event took place, the Wiki page doesn’t have the right name of the wrong girl whom this myth concerns, Cassie Bernhall.

    4. So, let’s examine this:

      1. you have no first-hand information yourself
      2. you have a wikipedia page, to which anyone can add anything, and you believe it without question
      3. you’re presented with a synopsis of a researched book and you reject it dogmatically

      Learn.

    5. Mel says:

      Wikipedia merely repeats what has been printed in mass media. If you believe that everything that appears on TV and in the newspaper is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth then you can trust it.
      I happen to know articles on there that are not accurate because I have personal information but since it has not appeared in publication then it’s not something I can edit without dispute.

      Now that there is another book on the subject that can be linked to then you will probably see this information added. What will you do then?

      1. Scoop McTroll says:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZix8_7f_lY

        This is classic bullying. BTW, 90% of bullying will never be reported. I bet a lot of guys here were bullied as kids – let me ask you, did you ever talk to anybody about it after the fact? Thought so…

        1. Mel says:

          I didn’t eat lunch eighth grade year because of some senior girls. They were not above physical violence either. I didn’t shoot anyone.

          What is more when I go to the DMV one of them works there and acts like we were old school chums or something. Confusing to me but okay maybe bullies don’t remember what truly heinous children they were.

          There is absolutely NO EXCUSE for sin EVER. Even if they were bullied, everyone is at one point or another, they didn’t try to hurt bullies. They tried to KILL EVERYONE. There was nothing righteous or excusable in them.

          THAT makes them the bullies.

          1. Scoop McTroll says:

            Mel – I did not condone whatsover the murderous actions of the killers – I am just stating that the author’s statement that the killers were not bullied is FALSE. Quite often the consequences of bullying are the 2nd hand bullying of others by the bullied. It’s a complex phenomenon and the author does nobody any service by making such idiotic conclusions just because Dylan and Klebold did some bullying themselves. It is vital to preserve the facts of the case to prevent such tragedies in the future, and distortions like the author’s are not only dishonets, but dangerous as well. Identifying sociopaths/antisocials is always important to do in a school environment, and especially the ones that appear to be bullied.

  4. Austin says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I was in elementary school when this took place, but still remember it like it was yesterday! Interesting stuff and you made me want to read the book.

    Austin

  5. Cloudchaser Sakonige says:

    Myth #8. The lyrics of songs by Marilyn Manson and Rammstein were an influence on them, motivating them to do what they did.

  6. Lia says:

    This really can happen anywhere, as we saw recently, right here in our metro area again, with the Aurora Theater shootings. There was that tragic shooting at the Sikh worship service around the same time. Simple people at worship. As a child our home church was New Life, in Colorado Springs, and we all remember the tragedy there a few years back, again simply people at worship. There is no place to be safe from hate anymore…

  7. Dean P says:

    Yeah Neo and Cloudchaser I didn’t see a Myth # 8, so let’s just assume that those are just your opinions.

  8. Lawrence Brothers says:

    Another myth… That by prohibiting prayer in schools, the government had somehow driven God from public schools (eg, Columbine).

    My daughter, a Freshman at the time, was part of the Bible Club at Columbine. This group broke up into pairs and had regularly prayed throughout the school, including immediately prior to the shootings.

    Had the laughter and chatter of my daughter and her gym class not been heard by Mr. D (principal Frank DeAngelis), she and her classmates would have walked right into the main hallway and found themselves face to face with one of the gunman.

    My daughter’s best friend was in the cafeteria, barricaded in a storeroom, as the shooters tried unsuccessfully to detonate the bombs they had planted there.

    One shooting victim, and my daughter’s subsequent prom date, who had been paralyzed by a bullet to the spine, was somehow able to lay quiet and motionless as one gunman stepped over him on his way into the school.

    Our God, the LORD, who makes the earth His footstool, was most definitely at Columbine that day.

  9. Matthew says:

    Read this site for some questions lingering for the families – There is so much holes in the official story. The Police department said they had no dealings with the boys prior, then why was there a search warrant for bombs long before the shooting? http://columbinefamilyrequest.org/2010/01/unanswered-questions/

  10. AStev says:

    Though I’ve known for several years now that #6 was a myth, God used the misreported incident to draw me out of my moralistic therapeutic deism into real trust in Christ. I considered the question, “If someone pointed a gun at me and asked whether I believed, what would I say?” and knew the answer was yes. I’m not one of those people who can remember the specific day they became a true follower of Christ, but I would say that day was a significant contributing factor.

  11. Jack says:

    It just makes me even more skeptical of news reportage than I already am.

  12. I’m sorry to hear that #6 is apparently a myth because it was a remarkable story which (as AStev above) moved some people. But let’s not hold onto “pious fabrications.”

  13. John S says:

    #8.5?
    I’ve heard it said that they were heavily influenced, or at least affected, by Evolution and Darwinism. Don’t know if true but I’d guess that’s what they were fed through their public education. As such it was minimally an indirect influence on their beliefs, and teaching that says humans are simply advanced animals is an idea with consequences. Perhaps this is more about the public schools than initial blush would reveal. Maybe this is addressed in the book.

    Just checked, there is actually documentation from various sources on the web for their interest in natural selection, even on CBS. So it must be true.

  14. SD says:

    Saying, “Oh my god” does NOT show faith. It is merely a commonly used phrase.

    I see no significance in this article or these so-called myths. Knowing some fact about it does no one any good. Who cares. Regardless if someone’s opinion comes from the media or a book, I take it very lightly. Anytime anyone writes anything, it becomes an objective opinion even when subjective data is used. Most of these books are written to make money and a writer will skew any data to manipulative you into buying it.

    As for wiki, you cannot just post anything at anytime. The site is edited and reviewed before someone posts. Yet the very ones here against wiki are willing to believe in the author. That makes no sense.

    1. You’re wrong. I’ve posted stuff on wiki and I’ve had accurate stuff I’ve put on wiki taken down by a biased editor who didn’t like the facts. It’s not a serious encyclopedia run by competent scholars.

      Anyway, I find it incredible someone could say “Knowing some fact about it does no one any good”, as though the truth isn’t important. “All truth is God’s truth.”

  15. fsuchris says:

    Now he should write a well-researched book about 9.11 and we can discuss those myths.

    1. Ryan C says:

      That book would be longer than the 911 commission report! actually someone should just refute all the myths in the commission report.

  16. Chris Lash says:

    Mr. Wax,

    I remember hearing about Cassie (myth #6) and her faith while I was in youth group. It was always presented as, “Let’s hope that we can be that bold in the face of extreme adversity.”

    Does the author address why myth #6 was not corrected until now? Did Evangelicals not want to hear about what really happened?

    1. Clarice says:

      I was a freshman in highschool a few miles from Columbine when the shooting happened…

      I think I can safely say that it was disputed from the beginning that Cassie was a martyr. So it wouldn’t be quite accurate to say that “just now” someone is telling a different story. It was so latched onto by the pop-Christian community (including popular Christian music artists!), no one dared question the truth of it publicly. It made her death much more heroic and inspirational and Christians were looking for some “good” in the shooting and this was an easy place to find it, even if it wasn’t true. People believe all sorts of things when they are grieving.

      1. Mel says:

        Clarice I agree. It is not a new thing to me either so I must of heard it early on. The Christian I have always heard about since is Rachel.

        What I found disturbing at the time was how Jesse Jackson tried to make it a race thing when so many died and he tried to make it all about the one child.

    2. Joe Hinson says:

      Myth #6 was discussed at length in the Dave Cullen book. Some of the students knew the truth from the start but did not question in public due to a couple of concerns, one to be respectful of the Bernhall family.

      The fact that the story was wrongly attributed to Cassie Bernhall in no way is a reflection on her.

  17. Megan V says:

    In my opinion, myth #1 is the truth– the boys were definitely social misfits who were bullied. That is not to say that they didn’t have a fair amount of friends, or didn’t participate in school activities such as football games, because they did. The point is that their group of friends were all low on the social ladder in their high school, and they were all frequently bullied by the “jocks” and popular kids. I have always been fascinated with Columbine because I went to high school in a white, affluent suburb, and the social parallels I can draw between my school and Columbine are disturbing. Read, “No Easy Answers” by Brooks Brown, who was a good friend of Dylan’s, or “Columbine: A True Crime Story” by Jeff Kass for a different perspective on the bullying that Eric and Dylan faced. I have read all three books, and although it was very informative in many aspects, I felt that Cullen’s book definitely made some false conclusions.

  18. Chris Smith says:

    For what it’s worth, the accuracy of the book’s research and the veracity of some of the conclusions drawn have been called into question by the dad of a Columbine student who was close to one of the killers. I don’t know the details myself, but I was directed to the Amazon page for the book where the parent gives it a bad review and outlines his disagreements. I’m not sure if the author has responded or not.

  19. dean says:

    When it comes to the media & other things too, Proverbs 18:17 is a timeless wisdom that proves its instruction time & again.

    Many books, like life itself, dont give us all the answers as we seek to understand things, but how good it is to get to the truth which isnt always revealed in an instant.

    There is so much information produced each day & night for our eyes & ears to consider & we really do need wisdom to gain an insight & be productive in a world that belongs to God.

  20. Flyaway says:

    Only God knows the truth. I take the media with a grain of salt.

  21. Alex Miller says:

    From a guy who was in a town 10 miles away when that happened, my main question is simply why the book was written? What is its thesis? What is it trying to communicate?

    This was indeed a dire moment in history.

    I had friends who went to Columbine. I’ll never forget that.

    But I really am interested, not in angst, in what the author is trying to communicate with his book.

    1. Maybe he wanted to tell the truth.

  22. Phil Thompson says:

    I’m trying to get a handle on why this particular review appears on the Gospel Coalition site.

    1. Mel says:

      Why not? Can you not see that people have trouble applying scripture to real life situations? Doesn’t the conversation at least tell you that?

      A godly man read a book and he shared it with us. What is wrong with that?

  23. Simon says:

    Hi Trevin,
    I regularly check out The Gospel Coalition site from the UK…love it and a lot of what is written.
    A question about your article….and I accept I might be missing something here…apart from a review of a book and you sharing some things you learned from it….I’m struggling to see how this article is either helpful to a Christian or is relevant to a Christian. I guess another way of putting it might be, what is there about the article that makes it ‘Gospel Coalition’ content? Just curious?
    blessings brother.
    Simon

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      Hi Simon,

      My blog has always been a place for interesting conversation about God’s earth – regardless of whether or not the conversation is specifically “Christian.” A lot of my links are to secular sources, and I like to pass on interesting things I read. Most of them deal with ministry and discipleship, but occasionally, I’ll find something that is worth passing on.

      In this post, there are any number of good avenues for conversation: the power of the media to shape a narrative, the persistence of myth-making, the willingness of Christians to pass on an inaccurate martyr story in order to give a tragedy significance, etc.

      1. An interesting article, not only revealing “the mystery of iniquity” (in an age that wants to explain all such incidents with psychology and apparently it reveals that a favorite evangelical story was a “pious fabrication.”

      2. Dreama Pritt says:

        Jesus told us that that He is “the Truth.” This statement indicates that anything in Jesus is true and anything that is not true is not of or in Jesus. This is also an indication that, as Christians / Jesus followers, we should be proponents of the truth. We should not be involved in spreading lies in Jesus’ name; we should “rejoice in the truth.” In this light, I find that Trevin’s column about Columbine myths is not only valuable for our secular concerns, but also for our Christian lives. And, frankly, if we are living lives of integrity, everything we encounter must be viewed through the lenses of holiness.

  24. Alex says:

    Why would you ever listen to a word that Cullen says? This book is a load of garbage as well as the author, who seems to think he knows so much about the Columbine shooting. Yes, Eric harris got like, two dates in high school but the girls never wanted a second date. Ugh, read Brooks brown’s book, the guy who was ACTUALLY friends with Dylan klebold. They did target certain people, well, they attempted to but the people were too big of cowards to stand up for what they had done. Now, I don’t condone what these boys did, but maybe people should also realize that they were victims themselves.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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