Fifteen years ago today, high school seniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shocked the nation when they slaughtered a dozen peers and a teacher before killing themselves.
Dylan Klebold’s parents, Thomas and Susan, recently entered the spotlight again as two of several subjects in Andrew Solomon’s book about parenting abnormal children, “Far from the Tree.”
That book calls into question the assumption that parents of school shooters are to be blamed for these acts of violence.
After such tragedies, people struggle to contemplate why a young person could do something so horrific, and it’s natural they would look to the shooter’s parents for answers. But in The New York Times, Solomon wrote of his inability to understand why Columbine happened even after interviewing the Klebolds a number of times over eight years. Here’s what he wrote:
I began convinced that if I dug deeply enough into their character, I would understand why Columbine happened — that I would recognise damage in their household that spilled over into catastrophe. Instead, I came to view the Klebolds not only as inculpable, but as admirable, moral, intelligent and kind people whom I would gladly have had as parents myself.
It’s impossible not to feel for Susan Klebold when reading her first-hand account of raising a mass murderer, which O Magazine published in 2009.
On April 20, 1999, the day of the Columbine massacre, Susan got a panicked call from her husband. A close friend of their 17-year-old son, Dylan, said there was a shooting at the school and Dylan was missing. Initially, she tried not to believe he was actually a shooter.
“Dylan was a gentle, sensible kid,” she wrote. “No one in our family had ever owned a gun. How in the world could he be part of something like this?”
Susan raced home from work in a daze, and SWAT team members arrived at the Klebolds’ home. Fearing the house might be bombed, SWAT team members forced the shocked parents to go outside, where they sat on the sidewalk or paced up and down their brick walk.
“It was impossible to believe that someone I had raised could cause so much suffering,” she wrote.
Her son was a child who loved puzzles, was enrolled in his school’s gifted program, and “made parenting easy,” Susan wrote.
While Dylan didn’t seem as happy as a teenager, his problems seemed to reflect typical high school angst. He slept in, spent a lot of time in his room, and played video games all of the time, Susan wrote.
After his death, Susan was not only grief-stricken but also wracked with guilt. She thought about killing herself, spontaneously cried, and refused to say her last name in public. One saving grace was that some of the victims’ parents eventually reached out to her.
Eight years after the slaying, the Klebolds and Eric Harris’ parents met with Tom Mauser, whose 15-year-old son Daniel was killed at Columbine, the LA Times reported. Mauser wanted to meet with the Harrises and Klebolds to find “closure,” and he said they both seemed like normal suburban couples.
Mauser said both families apologized and said “their children had fooled them.”
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.