Deeper Into Columbine

The settlements. The spin. The remaining secrets.

Brooks and his parents embarked on a tortuous journey to clear his name and find out what happened to the complaints they'd filed about Harris months before, a journey that continues to this day.

Co-authored with Rob Merritt, an Iowa journalist Brown met on the Internet, No Easy Answers is largely Brown's own story, a work of recollection and meditation rather than reportage -- the story of a rebellious, Ayn Rand-reading adolescent who became an outcast in a school where jocks rule, narrowly avoided the killing spree, then was left to cope with his own guilt-by-association notoriety. It's also a soul-searching inquiry into what could possibly lead two fellow outcasts, kids he thought he knew well, to commit mass murder.

"I know plenty of kids who drew pictures of the school blowing up," Brown says now. "It was a joke. It became commonplace. A lot of kids share the situation Eric and Dylan were in, but they won't do what these two did. The fact is, Eric was beyond rage about things, all kinds of things. How he got that way is something people need to think about."

Talking out of school: Once targeted by Eric Harris, Brooks Brown has written a book about Columbine.
John Johnston
Talking out of school: Once targeted by Eric Harris, Brooks Brown has written a book about Columbine.
Unsettled: Parent Brian Rohrbough declined to join in the settlement with the killers' parents.
John Johnston
Unsettled: Parent Brian Rohrbough declined to join in the settlement with the killers' parents.

As his title suggests, Brown offers no definitive answers to explain away the tragedy. But the book does provide glimpses of the childhood of Dylan Klebold, a lonely, introverted youth Brown first met in grade school, and a more shadowy portrait of Eric Harris. It also paints a grimmer picture of the bullying situation at Columbine than school officials will ever concede. One memorable passage recounts how a group of seniors would "go bowling" with freshmen, squirting baby oil in the halls and then sending victims sliding into other students or crashing into lockers.

Brown insists that he witnessed such activities himself. "I was tall, so I blended in," he says. "It didn't happen to me, but it happened to people I knew. This one girl broke her leg."

But bullying has never been an adequate explanation for what happened at Columbine. You might as well blame video games or rock music, two bogus "causes" that Brown soundly rejects. He also is critical of what he regards as the exploitation of the tragedy by Christian groups, including a stream of books that have characterized the victims of the rampage as martyrs of their faith.

"There are no heroes or martyrs of Columbine, period," Brown says. "Cassie Bernall wasn't a martyr; she was a kid. Dave Sanders died a horrible death. Everybody did what they could. If there were heroes, it would be the janitors, who were getting kids out despite the gunfire."

Two years after the shootings, the Browns finally learned that a sheriff's investigator had drafted a search-warrant request for Harris's house in 1998 in response to their complaints. The document, hidden until CBS News went to court to pry it loose, contradicted several statements Stone's people had made about their dealings with the Browns and raised even larger questions about why the sheriff's office failed to investigate further ("Chronology of a Big Fat Lie," May 3, 2001). It's one of many questions Brown still has about Columbine, questions beyond the scope of his book.

"I want to know what Eric's and Dylan's parents knew," he says. "I want to know if any of their friends knew this was going to happen. I want to know what happened with the search warrant. And I want to know why the people in Jefferson County don't give a damn that the cops won't protect you when something like this happens."

Brown's book ends with a call for a wider dialogue about the roots of violence, one that would include more young people and those who, as he puts it, "think outside the norm." Toward that end, he's set up his own Web site for discussion of nonviolent protest (www.atlasisshrugging.org). He's also acquired an interest in filmmaking after assisting Michael Moore in the making of his documentary, Bowling for Columbine. (He's visible but not identified in the movie's Kmart sequence, in which Moore and former Columbine students shame the chain into discontinuing sales of handgun ammo.) Recently, director Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy, To Die For) contacted him about possibly serving as a consultant on a feature film dealing with school shootings, one of several Hollywood projects in various stages of development that could keep the issues of Columbine before the public for years to come.

Poised to set out on a book tour, Brown isn't finished talking about Columbine; if anything, he's just starting. "If this book does well, I might do another one," he says. "There's so much about this that people don't understand."


The Contender

Unless he's really, really busy, Russ Cook answers his own phone. It's a habit that has earned the Golden police chief high marks from reporters over the years -- and left some of them wondering what he's trying to pull. Who ever heard of a cop who actually welcomes calls from the press?

Cook insists it's no act. He figures if he's forthright and candid, then the media will give him a fair hearing. "I won't engage in spin control," he says. "Obviously, if we did something, we're going to try to explain our side of it and put our best front forward -- but not to the degree to hide something. You don't want it to look like some goofball game. We serve the public. The truth should come out, and we should learn from what comes out."

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