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Mar 14th, 2009

Book Marks 10th Anniversary of Columbine Massacre

Shooter Profiles Developed at Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics

Veteran journalist Jeff Kass, one of the first reporters on the scene of the Columbine High School shooting on April 20, 1999, has completed the definitive work on the tragedy, Columbine: A True Crime Story; a victim, the killers and the nations search for answers. The book will be in bookstores on April 1, coinciding with the 10th anniversary of Columbine.

Author Jeff Kass (Photo by Barry Gutierrez)
Jeff Kass (Photo: Barry Gutierrez)

Columbine: A True Crime Story is the first book of investigative journalism to tell the complete story of that day, the far-reaching consequences, and the common denominators among school shooters across the country.

The book contains psychological profiles of shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold developed by psychologist Aubrey Immelman of the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics, who profiled Eric Harris for US News & World Report in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

Kass has broken national stories on Columbine, such as leaked crime scene photos and the sealed diversion files of the killers. He has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe, the Christian Science Monitor, US News & World Report, and Newsday, and has written for the Chicago Tribune, the Dallas Morning News, and the Los Angeles Times. He has appeared on CNN, Court TV, Fox News, PBS, E! True Hollywood Story, and numerous radio programs, and has taught the history of journalism at Denver University and Metropolitan State College of Denver.

Columbine: A True Crime Story - by Jeff Kass
Art by Ralph Steadman
A True Crime Story   

A victim, the killers and the nation’s search for answers

In bookstores
April 1, 2009

 More information at


Jefferson County, Colorado entered our collective consciousness in a horrific way back in April 1999. A couple Holden Caulfields run amok stormed into Columbine High School and killed twelve classmates and a teacher and injured twenty-four others. Suddenly the names of murderers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold became synonymous with derangement. Grotesquely, these two mass murderers had videotaped their plot to raid the school brandishing two shotguns, a rifle, and a semi-automatic. A huge public debate erupted over everything from gun control to Goth culture, violence in films to the use of anti-depressants for young people. Columbine became a one-word banner for American dysfunctionalism.

Perhaps because Columbine was so disgusting to contemplate, few reporters probed deeply into the meaning of the debacle. After all, America had previously experienced two even more deadly school killings than Columbine. The Bath School bombings in 1927 left forty-five, including the bomber, dead. The University of Texas shooter in 1966 killed fourteen. An even worse spree occurred at Virginia Tech in 2007, but that is getting ahead of our story. For only Columbine seemed to stab into the dark underbelly of the American psyche like a knife that kept being twisted. It remains a stain on our culture which can’t be rubbed out. All murders sicken the heart but Columbine continues to haunt the soul. Had our society gone completely wrong? Was Columbine a wake-up call to parents to start being more hands-on? Or were Harris and Klebold simply two bad seeds?

Out of all the reporters covering the Colorado disaster, only Jeff Kass of the Rocky Mountain News kept the big picture constantly in focus. While the TV media milked Columbine for its ghastly week of soap-opera-ish drama Kass, with gumshoe persistence, stayed on the case like Sherlock Holmes. When the national TV trucks left Colorado for another tragedy he continued on the job with his trusty laptop and a jolt of coffee.

The result is this fine work of narrative storytelling and muckraking journalism. Modeling Columbine: A True Crime Story after Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Kass expertly probes the far-reaching consequences of the 1999 tragedy for a country where guns can be bought as if baseball cards at the Five-and-Dime store. Much like Norman Mailer in The Executioner’s Song, Kass captures the flatness of Colorado life, the mundaneness of small town living, and how two miscreants decided to spice things up. The writing is rhythmic, sparse, and paced. The La-Z-Boy chair becomes as important to the narrative as the two sawed-off shotguns. Like any journalist worth his salt, Kass provides lots of minute detail which adds immeasurably to the saga: “Jesus Christ Superstar” on the stereo, Blackjack Pizza for the paycheck, Apocalypse Now in the VCR, and on and on.

To produce this book Kass had to overcome numerous obstacles, including an uncooperative sheriff’s office and the killers’ parents who tried to block information. But if we make the leap that Columbine was a collective tragedy — a high school bloodbath that stained all our sensibilities — then only full disclosure can heal our gaping wound. Kass has delivered the goods in this important regard. This objective, honest, and eye-opening book sheds light on the warped phenomena of school shootings in general, which Kass believes are more prevalent in the South and West, than anywhere else.

Dealing with insanity is no easy matter. Trying to get into the head of Hannibal Lecter-types is a crucifixion in its own right for an aspiring writer. It takes a steady hand to paddle through the muck: Emotional swings. Zombie behavior. Anti-social personality disorder. It’s all a hard pill to swallow. How much more fun it is to cover Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention. Add to the mix reams of legal documents and you understand why the typical reporter runs for the sun after the news cycle of an event like Columbine fades from the cable scroll.

But Kass stayed with the story, in all its ugly turns of gloom and misery, and the result is truly impressive. For ten years Kass worked on this book, sniffing out leads and procuring exclusives. So read it and weep. But also be glad that in our short-attention span society there is one old-fashioned reporter at the Rocky Mountain News who treats his journalistic oath seriously.

Douglas Brinkley
January 6, 2009

Related reports

Eric Harris: Personality Profile

Dylan Klebold: Personality Profile


10th Anniversary reflection

Looking Back at Oklahoma City and Columbine

By Al Eisele
The Hill
April 20, 2009


This week’s dual anniversaries of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colo., prompt me to offer some thoughts about these iconic examples of irrational violence in America’s heartland, both of which I have some tangential links to.

I often visited the site of the April 19 Oklahoma City bombing, in which 168 people died during what was, until 9/11, the worst terrorist attack on American soil, while teaching at the University of Oklahoma in the fall of 2007. …

As for the April 20 Columbine shootings by two self-hating psychopathic students that left them and 12 classmates and a teacher dead and 25 others wounded, the tragic event is expertly chronicled in two new books by Colorado journalists, one of which was written by my friend Jeff Kass of the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News.

Kass, who unwisely sought my advice in finding a publisher before he found a Denver publisher for his book, “Columbine: A True Crime Story, A Victim, the Killers, and a Nation’s Search for Answers,” is a young reporter who was a mutual friend of the late outlaw journalist Hunter S. Thompson.

But he had the bad luck to compete with Denver freelance writer Dave Cullen, whose book about the rampage carried out by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold came out at the same time and has received the lion’s share of reviews.

I don’t pretend to know which one is better, although naturally I favor Kass’s compelling account. But both have produced exhaustively researched books that “agree on much of the gruesome details of the bloodbath and its heartbreaking aftermath, but recount the story with different styles and conclusions,” as Denver Post reviewer Keith Coffman wrote on April 12.

“Cullen crafts an engrossing narrative with rich detail in Columbine, interspersing perspectives from victims, investigators and school officials with the killers’ writing and videos,” Coffman wrote. “Cullen, who first reported on the story for the online magazine Salon, acknowledged … that thoughts he attributed to Klebold and Harris are conjecture gleaned from the record the pair left behind.

“Kass takes a more straightforward approach, working backward from the events of the fateful day,” said Coffman. “His plodding account concentrates on the killers’ backgrounds and family histories, and the frustrating efforts by some victims’ families and the news media to prod authorities into releasing information. Kass reveals new — if not bombshell — details of the youth offender program the killers went through after their arrest for a van break-in a year before the attack.” …

I don’t know if there’s any lesson to be drawn from either of these books, except that old saw that violence is as American as apple pie. After all, more than 60 people have been slaughtered in mass shootings this month alone, including 13 people in Binghampton, N.Y., and five more last week in Frederick County, Md., when a man shot his wife and three young children and then himself.

Maybe the only answer is, as I wrote two years ago about what I saw as the healing effect of the Oklahoma City Memorial and Museum, “History, it seems, constantly confronts us with haunting reminders of the good and evil that human beings are capable of. Oklahoma City still bears many scars, physical and emotional, from that terrible day … but it has found strength and solace in a place where compassion and kindness overcame an evil act of terrorism.”



Media Need to Make Sense of Atrocity Without Glorifying It

By Jeff Kass
The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
April 5, 2009

“We are all Columbine,” was the expression that emerged 10 years ago into our collective vocabulary. It still rings true — just change the locale.

In 2007, Virginia Tech saw 33 dead, including the killer, in the nation’s deadliest mass shooting. On April 20, 1999, 15 died, including the two killers, in what remains the world’s most iconic school shooting: Columbine. This past week in Carthage, authorities say Robert Stewart killed seven residents and a nurse at a nursing home before being captured.

I still get a pounding in my stomach with news of each successive incident. I also try to note: Does it make the front pages?

The answer remains yes, but not for as long. Columbine consumed the world for weeks. Carthage seems to slip away more quickly. While the incidents remain terrible touchstones, their half-lives appear shorter and shorter.

It seems either way, the media loses. If we don’t give the shootings enough attention, we are ignoring a serious social issue and deep emotional loss.

But there is also the question of how the media doles out attention. Victims’ families often note, sadly, that we give too much publicity to the killers.

There also appears to be a copycat effect aided and abetted by the media.

But the media did not cause a seemingly unquenchable anger to well up inside the teen killers at Columbine or the 45-year-old Carthage suspect. An opinion piece I once read asked, What episode of “Oprah” was it that drove the Columbine killers over the edge? By extension, which segment of “Nightline” twisted the Carthage painter?

The media are not the problem but part of the solution. If there is a copycat effect, that may be in part because mass killers live in their own delusional world of mutual respect.

Some equate media coverage with glorification. But I argue that sunshine is a disinfectant. The answer is not to shut the door, throw away the key and let potential killers and their admirers fester in the darkened room. Dissecting the lives of mass shooters and applying clinical terms to their psychoses strips away their glory.

My book begins with these lines: “On the day of Columbine, seventeen-year-old Dylan Bennet Klebold is wearing a black T-shirt with ‘Wrath’ printed in red letters across the chest. The red matches the blood that will later gurgle out of his head.”


But the goal is not to scare potential shooters. The media and academics are searching for the fundamental causes of school shootings. We turn the page — sometimes the front page — when we come to see mass shootings as just a series of random, inexplicable acts. If we investigate them, and understand them, we can make sense of them and, we hope, stop them.

Jeff Kass covered the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado 10 years ago this month for the Rocky Mountain News. He wrote a book released last month, “Columbine: A True Crime Story” (Ghost Road Press). His Web site is at


3/29/09 Update

Yet another shooting, this time at the end of life …

8 Dead in N.C. Nursing Home Shooting

Image: Investigators examine a weapon
Investigators examine a weapon at the scene where a gunman opened fire at a nursing home Sunday morning, killing eight people and wounding several others in Carthage, N.C. (Photo credit: Gerry Broome / AP)

March 29, 2009

CARTHAGE, N.C. — A lone gunman burst into a North Carolina nursing home Sunday morning and started “shooting everything,” barging into the rooms of terrified patients, sparing some from his rampage without explanation while killing seven residents and a nurse caring for them.

Authorities said Robert Stewart also wounded three others, including the Carthage police officer who confronted him in a hallway of Pinelake Health and Rehab and stopped the brutal attack. …

While authorities declined to comment on a possible motive, Stewart’s ex-wife said he had been reaching out recently to family members, telling them he had cancer and was preparing for a long trip and to “go away.” Sue Griffin said she was married to Stewart for 15 years, and while they hadn’t spoken since divorcing in 2001, he had been trying to call her during the past week through her son, mother, sister and grandmother.

“He did have some violent tendencies from time to time,” Griffin said. “I wouldn’t put it past him. I hate to say it, but it is true.”

Authorities said Stewart began his rampage around 10 a.m. at Pinelake Health and Rehab in the North Carolina Sandhills about 60 miles southwest of Raleigh, firing shots inside and outside the home. It ended when 25-year-old Officer Justin Garner traded gunfire with Stewart in a hallway, wounding the suspect. …

Carthage police, Moore County sheriff’s deputies and the State Bureau of Investigation conducted a search Sunday afternoon of the nursing home and its parking lot, where the windows of at least two cars were shattered. Among the items they found was a camouflaged-colored rifle or shotgun, which was leaning against the side of a Jeep Cherokee.

Carthage is a small town of roughly 1,800 people in the North Carolina Sandhills, an area popular among retirees and home to several noted golf courses, including the famed Pinehurst resort and its No. 2 course that regularly hosts the U.S. Open. …


4/4/09 Update

And it happens again …

Gunman Kills 13, Commits Suicide in N.Y. State
Framegrab taken from Cable News Network of a News 10 Now television broadcast, showing New York State Sheriffs on April 3, 2009 in Binghamton, New York. (Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images)

NBC News and news services
April 4, 2009

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — A gunman barricaded the back door of a community center with his car and then opened fire on a room full of immigrants taking a citizenship class, killing 13 people before apparently committing suicide, officials said.

Investigators said they had yet to establish a motive for Friday’s massacre, which was at least the fifth deadly mass shooting in the U.S. in the past month alone.

The attack came just after 10 a.m. local time at the American Civic Association, which helps immigrants with citizenship, resettlement and family reunification in Binghamton, a city of about 47,000 situated 140 miles northwest of New York City.

Police Chief Joseph Zikuski said the gunman parked his car against the back door, “making sure nobody could escape,” then stormed through the front, shooting two receptionists, apparently without a word.

The killer, believed to be a Vietnamese immigrant, then entered a room just off the reception area and fired on a citizenship class. …

One receptionist was killed, while the other, shot in the abdomen, pretended to be dead and then crawled under a desk and called police, he said.

Police said they arrived within two minutes.

The rest of those killed were shot in the classroom. Four people were critically wounded.

The man believed to have carried out the attack was found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in an office, a satchel containing ammunition slung around his neck, authorities said. Police found two handguns — a 9mm and a .45-caliber — and a hunting knife. …

The suspected gunman carried ID with the name of 42-year-old Jiverly Voong, of nearby Johnson City, New York, but that was believed to be an alias, said a law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A second law enforcement official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the two handguns were registered to Jiverly Wong, another name the man used. …

Gov. David Paterson said the massacre was probably “the worst tragedy and senseless crime in the history of this city.” Noting mass killings in Alabama and Oakland, California, last month, he said: “When are we going to be able to curb the kind of violence that is so fraught and so rapid that we can’t even keep track of the incidents?” …

A string of attacks in the U.S. in the last month left 44 people dead in all.

A gunman killed 10 people and himself in Samson, Alabama; shootings that began with a traffic stop in Oakland, California, left four police officers and the gunman dead; an apparent murder-suicide in Santa Clara, California, left six dead; and a gunman went on a rampage at a North Carolina nursing home Sunday, killing seven elderly residents and a nurse who cared for them.

Illustration of American Civic Association building in Binghamton, N.Y., site of the shooting.


4/5/09 Update


Recent mass shootings have left 43 dead and many asking why

Shooting scene in Binghamton, New York, USA
Peter Foley / EPA


April 5, 2009

PITTSBURGH — Does the name Byran Uyesugi ring a bell? Odds are not. What about Robert A. Hawkins? Or Mark Barton? Terry Ratzmann? Robert Stewart?

Each entered the national consciousness when he picked up a gun and ended multiple lives. Uyesugi, 1999, Hawaii office building, seven dead. Hawkins, 2007, Nebraska shopping mall, nine dead. Barton, Ratzmann and Stewart — 24 dead among them in 1999 (Atlanta brokerage offices), 2005 (Wisconsin church service) and last week (North Carolina rehab center).

Each has been largely forgotten as the parade of multiple killings in America melts into an indistinguishable blur. We bemoan, we mourn, we move on.

Image: Stephen Mayhle, Eric Kelly, Paul J. Sciullo
Pittsburgh Police Department via Getty Images
Stephen Mayhle, Eric Kelly, Paul J. Sciullo

And that list was cherry picked from a far lengthier tally of recent mass shootings in the United States. And now, this weekend, on a crisp, sunny Saturday morning in Pittsburgh, the lives of three police officers ended in gunfire after a domestic dispute turned lethal.

The mass shootings that left 14 people dead in Binghamton, N.Y., on Friday were horrifying, depressing, nationally wrenching. They were also, to some extent, unsurprising in a society where the term “mass shooting” has lost its status as unthinkable aberration and become mere fodder for a fresh news cycle.

“We have to guard against the senseless violence that this tragedy represents,” President Barack Obama said in Europe on Saturday. Senseless violence: Two centuries from now, if we’re not careful, it could be an epitaph for our era.

Why are we killing each other?

Even in a media-saturated nation that encourages short memories, these numbers are conversation-stopping: Forty-seven people dead in the past month in American mass shootings and their aftermaths. It’s to the point where on Saturday, dizzyingly, the mayor of Binghamton found himself offering Pittsburgh its sympathies.

Put aside for a moment the debate over guns. This isn’t about policy. It’s about asking the urgent question: What is happening in the American psyche that prevents people from defusing their own anguish and rage before they end the lives of others? Why are we killing each other?

This is not an era of good feeling in the United States. We have under our belt eight years of pernicious terrorism angst, six years of Iraq war weariness and, now, months of wondering how bad the American economy’s going to get and when — or, worse, whether — it’s going to come back. People are tense. There’s less inclination to help out your fellow human being.

Meanwhile, anchors and analysts and witnesses and bloggers cast about in an information-age fog trying to make sense of something that is, in the worst way, nonsensical. They rush to offer solutions, but the thing they typically dodge is that we seem to be powerless to stop it all — that our community, our neighbors, may be next. That’s too terrifying to contemplate, not to mention too open-ended for American news consumers reared on tidy Hollywood endings.

The Binghamton newspaper, the Press & Sun Bulletin, seemed to acknowledge the resignation in a glum editorial Saturday that wondered if it was simply, sadly, and inevitably Binghamton’s turn to give up a few of its people to the juggernaut.

“It is our turn to grieve and to rally in support of those whose lives have been shattered,” the newspaper said. “And it’s our turn to hug those in our own families and wonder how a quiet, rainy Friday in a peaceful place became the setting for such a nightmare.”

The strangest of contradictions hangs over the Binghamton shootings. The shooter and many of the victims were immigrants — part of the pool of human beings who look to America as a place of opportunity and take often anonymous steps to realize their dreams here. On Friday, the idea that had beckoned them betrayed them.

American dream out of reach

The man believed to be the shooter, Jiverly Wong, had lost his job at an assembly plant, was barely getting by on unemployment and was frustrated that the American dream, so highly billed and coveted, wasn’t coming through for him. Early reports suggest that the suspect in the Pittsburgh officers’ killings, too, was angered at being laid off from a glass factory.

People are of course responsible for their actions, but it’s hard to avoid wondering what’s afoot. For so long, the national narrative has been so bullish about equality of opportunity, so persuasive in its romance of possibility for all. Is it so subversive to speculate, then, that when the engine of possibility runs into roadblocks, people can’t cope?

Without excusing one whit of the violent tendencies that ended with so many bullets in so many bodies from Binghamton to North Carolina to Alabama to California in the past month, isn’t it time, finally, to figure out where this national dream makes a wrong turn?

“Maybe research can prevent further tragedies of this type,” a man named Charles Whitman wrote one day in 1966. Then he ascended a tower at the University of Texas, looked out over the campus, pulled out a shotgun, three rifles and three pistols and killed 16 people.

Forty-three years and countless reams of research and lost loved ones later, we have not figured it out. Today, the American Civic Association in Binghamton says so. The Pittsburgh Police Department says so. The vulnerable people at the Pinelake Health and Rehab Center in Carthage, N.C., say so.

Of Jiverly Wong, Binghamton police Chief Joseph Zikuski had this to say Saturday: “He must have been a coward.” Perhaps. But that’s the beginning of an answer, not the end of one. On Friday, the federal government announced that 663,000 Americans lost their jobs in March. What’s truly unsettling in America’s new era of gloom and dead ends is wondering how many of those 663,000 might be deeply, irrevocably angry about it — and might have a gun.


4/8/09 Update

Another in a string of mass slayings: Four people were found dead yesterday in this Alabama home.
Another in a string of mass slayings: Four people were found dead yesterday in this Alabama home. (Photo credit: Daniel Giles / Associated Press via The Washington Post)


9/27/09 Update

Vows: Jolie Coursen and Jeff Kass

Jolie Coursen and Jeff Kass exchange vows in Woody Creek, Colorado, Sept. 12, 2009. (Photo: Zach Mahone for The New York Times)

8 Responses to “Columbine: The Real Story”
  1. Aubrey Immelman Says:

    In a national story, the Associated Press reported:

    “Jeff Kass, a longtime reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, focuses primarily on the killers’ development and the battle to get government records related to the shooting released. ‘Columbine: A True Crime Story’ contains excerpts from hard-won copies of Klebold’s college admissions essays and a deposition from the diversion counselor who supervised the boys after they were arrested for breaking into a van.”

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    […] April 20, 2011 is the 12th anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings. […]

  7. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Times Square Bomb Plot Suspects Says:

    […] In 2009, the Pakistani Taliban’s then commander, Baitullah Mehsud, vowed to “amaze everyone in the world” with an attack on Washington or even the White House. But Mehsud also reportedly said his men were behind a mass shooting at the American Civic Association in Binghamton in April 2009. That claim turned out to be false. […]

  8. The Immelman Turn » Blog Archive » Largest U.S. Mass Killings Says:

    […] Columbine: The Real Story (March 14, 2009) […]

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