In her book, A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy, Sue Klebold wrote, “I know it would have been better for the world if Dylan had never been born. But I believe that it would not have been better for me.” Dylan, of course, was Dylan Klebold, one of the two teenaged boys, weeks away from graduation, who brought chaos and suffering upon Columbine High School in 1999.
It’s important to acknowledge the significance of Sue’s statement because while it seems obvious that a mother will mourn the loss of her son, despite what he may have done in life, it’s really saying a great deal more. Many view Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold through the lens of that one devastating and horrific day at Columbine. They killed 13 people, wounded 23 more, terrorized countless others, and brought the nation to a standstill. On April 20, 1999, Eric and Dylan were monsters, murdering innocents and seemingly having fun doing so. We have since learned a great deal about the two boys but most of the information we’ve been provided has been framed in such a way as to try to explain their actions that day. Eric was made up of rage and hatred, Dylan was depressed and suicidal. Each became the tool the other needed to get what they wanted- Eric to kill and Dylan to be killed.
But for people like Sue Klebold and the rest of Dylan and Eric’s family and friends, their lives did not begin when they became “The Columbine Killers”. For almost two decades they were sons, brothers, friends, and co-workers. They could be helpful, courteous, compassionate and kind. Those who were closest to Eric and Dylan describe them as funny, intelligent, and creative. Both were reported to be good listeners and people in whom friends trusted and confided. Just like the rest of us, they argued, laughed, cried, and experienced the trials of adolescence. Eric and Dylan had parents who loved them, who were invested in their educations and well-beings. Like all parents, the Klebold’s and Harris’ wanted their kids to grow up into happy and successful men. All available evidence shows that Dylan and Eric reciprocated that love in how they lived in the 18 years prior to Columbine, as well as in the videos and writings discovered after their deaths. Claims by some in law enforcement that Eric Harris was incapable of caring about anyone fit with their desired "psychopathic" classification but not with all known behavior during the majority of his lifetime.
It’s vital that we remember that there is more to a person than their worst act. It’s important to refrain from trying to summarize a lifetime based upon an attempted explanation of that act, regardless of how heinous it may have been. And it’s crucial to respect and, if possible, empathize with, loved ones left behind to deal with the consequences of those actions. People are vastly complicated and the totality of their experiences don’t fit neatly into a news segment sound bite. It’s ok to hate the crime and even to hate the criminal, but before you file them away as “evil”, remember that prior to that event, their lives may have closely paralleled your own. Always consider that it’s possible for anyone to slip into a dark place and make it your responsibility to do your best to ensure it doesn’t happen to the ones you love.