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Columbine: A True Crime Story, a Victim, the Killers and the Nation's Search for Answers Paperback

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Ghost Road Press; First edition (March 25, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0981652565
  • ISBN-13: 978-0981652566
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #487,159 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"On Nov. 21, 2008, the Harris and Klebold parents were sent the same letter requesting cooperation. "Your stories have yet to be fully told, and I view your help as an issue of historical significance," it said. "In 10 years, there have been no major, mainstream books on Columbine. This will be the first, and it may be the only one." The letter came not from Mr. Cullen but from Jeff Kass, whose Columbine: A True Crime Story, published by the small Ghost Road Press, preceded Columbine by a couple of weeks.

"Mr. Kass, whose tough account is made even sadder by the demise of The Rocky Mountain News in which his Columbine coverage appeared, has also delivered an intensive Columbine overview. Some of the issues he raises and information he digs up go unnoticed by Mr. Cullen." ----Janet Maslin, New York Times

"What was it about Columbine? Of all the school shootings over the past two decades, it's the one that festers, an ugly wound that won't heal... Kass' book... [a] straightforward chilling account of what happened...." --USA --USA TODAY

"A decade after the most dramatic school massacre in American history, Jeff Kass applies his considerable reporting talents to exploring the mystery of how two teens could have planned and carried out such gruesome acts without their own family and best friends knowing about it. Actually, there were important clues, but they were missed or downgraded both by those who knew the boys best and by public officials who came in contact with them. An engrossing and cautionary tale for everyone who cares about how to prevent kids from going bad." -------Ted Gest, President, Criminal Justice Journalists<br /><br />


"What was it about Columbine? Of all the school shootings over the past two decades, it's the one that festers, an ugly wound that won't heal... Kass' book... [a] straightforward chilling account of what happened...."

More About the Author

Columbine: A True Crime Story, a victim, the killers and the nation's search for answers 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.

Jeff Kass was one of the first reporters on the scene and has continued to cover the story as a staff writer for Denver's Rocky Mountain News.

He has broken national stories on the shootings such as leaked crime scene photos, and the sealed diversion files of the killers. He has also reported the story extensively for the Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, Newsday, and U.S. News & World Report.

Extended Biography:

The persistence needed to write this book began when I was nine years old and started taking karate lessons. I was humming along until I got to the test for the mid-level green belt. I failed. The problem was the kata, or form, which was a pattern of about 20 blocks and punches, up and down, right and left, eventually ending up in the same position you started. The katas got more complicated the higher you progressed, and I just couldn't get it. My mom figured I would quit karate. But I kept trying - and failing - seven times, until I passed. I went on to get my black belt, teach karate, and win a junior international championship, fighting on stage at the Long Beach Convention Center.

Around the same time I was again rebuffed when I wanted to be in the audience of "Fight Back! With David Horowitz," one of the early consumer advocate shows. I loved the way journalists could bring out the truth and squash the bad guys. But the show did not allow young kids in the audience. I fought back myself and wrote a letter to show saying I thought the policy was unfair. Horowitz then invited me and my family on as special guests, and we got to sit on stage, and meet him afterward.

After graduating high school in Los Angeles I got a bachelor's in political science at the University of California at Santa Barbara and worked on the college paper, the Daily Nexus. I moved to Madrid for a year and a half where I learned Spanish, taught English, and traveled from Morocco to Bulgaria. It wasn't easy breaking into another culture, but it's a life changing experience, and I recommend it to everyone.

I also got into a dicey journalism situation in Madrid when I tried to cover fascists marching on the birthday of former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. (I can't write that without recalling the famous line that goes something like, "General Franco is dead: Long Live Franco.") Things got a little out of hand and the Guardia Civil troops - a cross between a soldier and street cop - were tossing marchers into police vans. I walked up a side street and snapped some photos. One of the soldiers then tossed me into the van, and I pleaded with him that I was just a journalist. It was the early 1990's and Spain still had one foot in the conservative Franco era. Freedom of the press wasn't exactly a guiding light. The soldier finally came up with a compromise: He ripped open my camera - this is before digital - and tossed me and my film out of the van.

After Madrid I got a master's in International Relations from New York University. After grad school I had some job clips and knew I could be a good journalist but again, not everyone agreed with me. I must have applied to nearly 100 newspapers before I got hired at a start-up weekly called the Ventura Sun about 70 miles north of Los Angeles. From there I jumped to the Los Angeles Times where I covered everything from local government to the OJ Simpson custody case as OJ tried to get his children back after being acquitted in the criminal case.

In 1998 my editor from the Ventura Sun, Curtis Robinson, launched a weekly paper in Denver that would be a cross between the Village Voice and TIME magazine. He planned to take the concept national, and I moved to Colorado for the launch. The paper went out of business after a few months, and I contacted every major publication I could think of without a Denver bureau - Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, Newsday, and U.S. News & World Report. I eventually started free-lancing for all of them: Eco-terrorism in Vail, Miss Colorado having her crown taken away, and the Matthew Shepard murder case in Wyoming. I also got a job at the Rocky Mountain News, where I still work and have covered some of the state's biggest stories.

The Rocky also allowed me to mix my love of travel and journalism. While in Cambodia, I hung out with an obscure U.S. military unit (JPAC) that searches for the remains of missing servicemembers. JPAC typically hires locals to help search through vast areas, and I figured it would be interesting to interview a couple Cambodian workers. "How does it feel to work with the U.S. military to find the remains of one of the servicemen who once tried to kill your people?" The problem was, no one told me the locals were not allowed to be interviewed without a Cambodian police official present. The ranking police official there was not happy when he found out, and said there would be no interviews at all with locals. Good thing I tried that on my last day on the story.

For a couple stories on donations and business between Colorado and Cuba, I entered Cuba on a tourist visa because the Cuban Interests Section in Washington DC never got back to me. I then walked into the Cuban press office in Havana and told them I needed a journalism visa. I expected to be kicked out of the country, but got the visa. The only catch was they had to rearrange my passport, so I traveled in Cuba for two weeks without a passport. Try that for fun.

Along the way, Curtis introduced me to Hunter S. Thompson. The first night we met I was nearly speechless. Safer, I reasoned, not to say anything rather than say something dumb. I think I read out loud from one of Thompson's books - a favorite pastime. I told Thompson one of my favorite stories, about his conservative opponent in the sheriff's race who sported a buzz cut. Thompson shaved his head so he could call the other guy "my long-haired opponent." Thompson grinned, and called me a punk reporter. It was a compliment, and I would end up covering Thompson for the last five years of his life (surely, one of the oddest beats in the history of journalism) and became the only reporter to cover both his funeral and a separate memorial service.

A copy of the first story I wrote about Thompson ended up at the Colorado Womens Correctional Facility in Canon City. Among the inmates was Lisl Auman, serving a sentence of life without parole for the 1997 felony murder of a Denver police officer. She had read Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas three years earlier but was stirred by the newspaper profile to write him. What followed was Thompson's five-year crusade - aided by a beehive of attorneys - to Free Lisl. Her conviction was overturned shortly after his suicide in 2005.

One of the constants over the past 10 years has been Columbine. The April 20, 1999 shootings touch on psychology, policing, parenting, grieving, racism, and cover-ups, to name a few. It is the ultimate cops story.

Customer Reviews

This book will stay with me for a while.
G. M. Davis
The innumerable errors in grammar, word choice and syntax made it very difficult to lend any credibility to the content.
Edward R. Kearns III
This is an excellent book, very insightful and vivid!
M. Woods

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

70 of 74 people found the following review helpful By D. P. Birkett on May 1, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read this and the Cullen book at the same time. They're both good. This one has more facts. If you're a mental health professional or a teacher I think this is more informative.
Both writers have been compared, at least by their publishers, to Truman Capote (the New York Times reviewer said "which book, Breakfast at Tiffany's?"). A major difference is that "In Cold Blood" simply set out to tell a story, whereas these books try to point the finger of blame. Capote also had the unfair advantage of being a genius.
We read these books looking for some way it could have been prevented, and some way to stop it happening again. We hope for some DSM diagnosis or FBI profile that will label the killers. Maybe we are trying to undo the past. The books suggest that some of the precautions we take now would not have forestalled Columbine. For example metal detectors would have been useless because Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold started the killing from outside the school, at the top of an outside staircase, and then shot their way in.
Adolescent suicide is notoriously difficult to predict. Neither killer fitted the usual profile for adolescent murderers. They were white and middle class, with high academic achievements, church affiliations, and even the stay-at-home mothers and disciplinarian fathers that are supposed to be such a panacea against crime. The failure to follow up on Guerra's affidavit requesting a warrant to search Harris's house was the most egregious failure. Both books emphasize the lies and cover-up by the Jeffco sheriff's department.
This book lacks an index, which is annoying when there are so many characters to keep track of. It is illustrated with drawings and handwriting done by Klebold and Harris and with photographs.
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful By malihi on April 30, 2009
Format: Paperback
I thought I knew a lot about Columbine and the killers but I gained new insight from Kass' book. What I liked in particular was his use of the killers' actual writings (and drawings). When you have a situation like this - hundreds of pages of writings and drawings at your disposal - I figure there are three approaches. You can essentially ignore the writings and incorporate their ideas into your narrative. Or you can lean heavily on the writings and allow them to speak for themselves. The third path of course is to blend the writings with the narrative. I thought Kass did a good job on that third path. The writings themselves are quite chilling, and even to those who know Columbine, the writings are a reminder of how twisted the killers were.

But this is not just a question of how to tell the story. It also points up a big difference between the Kass book and the Cullen book. Cullen mostly takes the first approach - he barely quotes from the writings and says, `I'm going to tell you what they mean.' That's OK if you want to take someone else's word for it. But when you read the actual writings Kass includes in his book, you realize discrepancies in Cullen's interpretation. Cullen and Kass both follow the conventional wisdom and say Eric Harris was a psychopath. But Kass is more nuanced and maybe more accurate.

Cullen and Kass agree: Psychopaths lack feelings. But the writings Kass highlights show Eric as full of emotion. Eric feels sorry for what will happen to his parents, he wants to be more popular, and he pines for a better relationship with his dad. Now I will say, Kass doesn't fully address this discrepancy, but he does bring it up. Cullen doesn't address it at all. It's as if Cullen has a theory and wants to keep it neat.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Lazlo on April 7, 2009
Format: Paperback
Ten years after the shootings, I feel two key issues remained about Columbine.

The first is the parents of the shooters. Who are they? And where were they in the months and years leading up to Columbine?

The second issue is, `What causes school shootings?'

Jeff Kass explored both in "Columbine: A True Crime Story, a victim, the killers, and the nation's search for answers". He has come as close as anyone I've seen to answering these important questions.

It's clear in his book that Jeff Kass briefly talked to the parents of the killers. But he included some interesting new information about them, including a psychological profile of Dylan Klebold's mother that I found very compelling. He also wrote about what the parents knew prior to the shootings, and how they reacted to them- it provides insight about how to stop school shootings. He wrote that Dylan Klebold's mother, according to her writings (when Dylan was in a youth anti-crime program) pegged the profile of a school shooter. She didn't realize it, but Dylan matched the profile. Some of the information about the Klebolds and Harrises also comes from the remarks they made to police on the day of the shootings. It's incredible. Jeff Kass spoke with the Klebold's lawyer (and evidently got inside the Harris house).

The author also takes a compelling environmental approach I hadn't considered before reading this book. He has connected shootings in suburbs and small towns like Columbine. He also shows that they occur in the West and South of the United States and explains why. Whether psychology or environment play the stronger role seems open to debate; I can't tell if the author takes one side or the other.

These are the areas that have gone unexplored by most reporters. This book -for now- is the first and definitive one about Columbine.
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