Imagine attending your teenage son’s funeral and wanting him to be cremated while you wait, because you fear someone will steal or desecrate his body. With enormous dignity and pathos, Sue Klebold describes the aftermath of her son’s infamous rampage at Columbine High School in 1999. On the morning of the attack, she received the worst news: “They think Dylan could be the one. one of the shooters. If the stories she heard were true, she prayed that he would die.
Today, after more than two decades of dying treatment, she takes a different perspective, having met parents of school shooters who survived to serve long prison terms. At least those parents could get an answer to the urgent question she asked Dylan in his coffin: Why?
You won’t see any photos or footage of Dylan and his friend Eric, or the two other shooters featured here, Andy Williams and Nicholas Elliot, whose killings took place in 2001 and 1988 respectively. parents and their complex mix of guilt, shame, anger, resentment and grief. Andy, 15 and tormented by bullies, killed two students and injured 13. His actions delayed a report on the multiple problems at Santana High School. When he finally got out, his father Jeff said bitterly, he concluded that “Before Andy, there was nothing wrong with school.”
Also a target for bullies, Nicholas Elliot shot his teacher and injured another, after he worried his father Clarence with the comment, “It’s the devil everywhere. Nicholas has been denied parole six times, but Clarence, 79, still hopes he will one day be released.
Sue wrote to the parents of the victims in the wake, citing her son’s “moment of madness”. It was only later that she discovered the extent of the planning; the extent of wickedness. Informed that the couple “would say horrible racist things, sadistic things”, she remained in denial. It wasn’t until the police presented all the evidence that she had to face the truth. “I had mourned this lost and precious child so much”, it was a shock to discover “who he was to the rest of the world”.
It’s a dark hour of television to say the least, but out of the horror some positivity has arisen. Gentle-mannered Jeff has a new partner and has rebuilt his life. Sue is a strong advocate for children’s mental health: “I think our work [as parents] is to help them feel. With the best of intentions, she seems to believe that she talked too much and berated, not listened enough to the cranky teenager who, on the surface, mostly enjoyed life.
On BBC4 from July 7 at 10 p.m.
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