When major television folks descend on the fly-over states to rehash some notorious tragedy, they're generally better at playing the heartstrings than pushing for answers. That was certainly the case when Barbara Walters sat down with John Ramsey a few months ago, to bat around a few whiffle-ball questions about the 1996 murder of his daughter while neglecting to mention that a grand jury had secretly voted to indict John and Patsy Ramsey as accomplices in that death back in 1999.
Diane Sawyer's exclusive interview last week with Sue Klebold, mother of Columbine killer Dylan Klebold, wasn't that kind of ghastly whitewash. It was largely an exploration of the anguish and isolation facing a parent whose child has done something inconceivably monstrous, and living with the guilt, infamy and finger-pointing that results. As a launch party for Klebold's memoir, proceeds of which will go to mental-health advocacy, it was a smashing success.
There is no doubting Klebold's sincerity or the genuine bafflement she expressed about how a kid she knew as sweet and gentle became a mass killer. Her apologies to victims' families and efforts to try to shed light may be a bit belated, seventeen years after the shock of it all, but better late than never.
Still, Sawyer seemed bent on milking the emotional nature of the interview and not getting too hung up on the details. That's understandable; in hindsight, certain "warning signs" of pending violence always loom larger than they probably did at the time. But to truly understand the extent of the parents' apparent cluelessness, or the degree to which they were in some sort of denial about what their kid was turning into, you wish Sawyer had known the material better and pressed a bit more. Here are some particular areas that deserve better answers:
1. Did Dylan's escalating criminal behavior — stealing a laptop, scrawling something about "fags" on a locker, hacking into the school's computer system, getting arrested for breaking into a van — generate real concern? If so, why did your supervision of his activities diminish rather than increase in the final months leading up to the attack?
2. Were you aware of the report made to school authorities by the mother of one student that Dylan had been harassing him and threatening him five months before the attack?
3. When an English teacher contacted you, weeks before the attack, concerning a violent paper Dylan wrote — a fantasy in which a trenchcoated avenger ruthlessly executes a bunch of "preps" — why didn't you insist on reading it?
4. You have stated that you were aware that your good friend Judy Brown "didn't like" Eric Harris. Were you aware that Brown had gone to the police about threats Eric Harris had made against her family and his boasts on the Internet that he and Dylan were making pipe bombs?
5. You told the police that Dylan had not exhibited any aberrant behavior in the months leading up to the shootings. Do you consider "having sleepovers" as a senior and falling asleep in class aberrant?
6. Eric Harris spent the night at your house four days before Columbine. He brought with him a large duffel bag so packed with something that he had to drag it into the house with both hands. Did you have any curiosity about what was in the bag?
7. Were you aware that Dylan was spending virtually all of his free time with Harris and had become increasingly isolated from his other friends?
8. If you weren't concerned about his social isolation, why did you pay him $250 to take a (definitely platonic) date to the prom?
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9. Ever notice how the look Dylan adopted in the months leading up to Columbine, with granny shades and trenchcoat, aped the look of Woody Harrelson in Natural Born Killers?
10. What do you make of this statement Dylan made on the basement tapes, addressed to his own parents: "I'm sorry I have so much rage, but you put it in me." What the hell is he talking about?
Here's a segment from Good Morning America in which Diane Sawyer talks about her interview with Sue Klebold.