About the Author
Brooks Brown graduated from Columbine High School in 1999; this is his first book. Most recently, Brooks worked and consulted on Michael Moore's latest documentary called Bowling for Columbine. He lives in Littleton, Colorado. Rob Merritt graduated from the University of Iowa School of Journalism in 1998 and currently works as a newspaper writer in Marshalltown, Iowa.
|Publisher:||Baker & Taylor, Inc.|
|Edition description:||New Edition|
|Product dimensions:||6.01(w) x 8.99(h) x 0.78(d)|
Read an Excerpt
no easy answersthe truth behind death at columbine
By brooks brown and rob merritt
Lantern BooksCopyright © 2002 Brooks Brown and Rob Merritt
All right reserved.
"get out of here"
THE LAST TIME I STOOD IN THIS SPOT, THE WORLD AS I KNEW IT WAS about to be shattered.
I'm alone on a staircase outside Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. The spot is a quiet one, bordered by concrete recesses that merge into a sidewalk leading up toward the math wing. I've stood here many times before; this place was always secluded enough for me to get in one last quick drag before an administrator would yell at me to quit smoking on school grounds.
Today it's far away from the pool of media trucks gathered nearby in Clement Park, and from the gymnasium where the big assembly of students and teachers is taking place. It's a good place for me to just stop and think.
It's also a good place to mourn.
I haven't stood here since April 20, 1999. I haven't stood here since exactly one year ago this minute.
* * *
For the first two periods of April 20, it had been a typical day at Columbine, no different from any other in the past four years. Finished first hour, went outside, had a cigarette. Went to second hour, where I worked as an assistant to Mrs. Caruthers, the theatre teacher. She handed me some papers to help her review and grade. When theperiod ended, I went out and had a cigarette.
Looking around during that smoke break, I realized what a beautiful day it was, especially for April, when in Colorado we're used to rain. The sun was out, the sky was clear and blue; and temperatures were finally warming up after the past few months of winter. I was wearing a white T-shirt and jeans; I hadn't even bothered bringing a coat to school.
I finished my cigarette and headed for philosophy class. We had a test that day on Chinese philosophy. I was never a great student at Columbine, but I felt all right about this particular test. Mr. Kritzer was the kind of teacher who truly understood the material he taught-and knew that allowing students to contribute their own ideas, without being judgmental, is critical in the teaching of philosophy. His approach made me enjoy the class, which in turn made me work harder. I had a good feeling about today.
That was when I noticed something odd. Eric wasn't there.
It didn't seem right. My friend Eric Harris skipped class all the time, but he knew this wasn't just a quiz we were taking that morning. The test was going to be worth a good third of our final grade. To miss it was basically to write off the rest of the term.
I tried to shrug it off as his loss. Still, I was a little concerned. Eric was a good student, and his parents drove him hard when it came to grades. I knew I'd have to give him shit about it the next time I saw him.
I finished my test and brought it up to the front of the room. The period ended, and off I went to have another cigarette. Then l headed to fourth-hour creative writing.
Once again, no Eric. This time, no Dylan, either.
Normally, this wouldn't have seemed that odd. Eric was best friends with Dylan Klebold, and the two of them ditched creative writing all the time. However, they usually had at least one of their other friends from this class with them, too. Today, though, Becca Heins, Nate Dykeman, and I had all showed up for class. Apparently none of us had been invited along.
I don't really remember what Mrs. Kelly had us do that day. I was already thinking about going home after fourth period and missing my last class. I had stayed up late on my computer the night before, and I was tired. I already had my cigarettes in hand by the time the bell rang to signify the end of the period.
I had no idea that this would be the last time I would ever attend a class at Columbine High School. That it was the last time I'd ever take a philosophy test, or write a paper for Mrs. Kelly, or grade papers for Mrs. Caruthers, or play dodgeball in gym class.
The world I knew was about to be altered forever.
* * *
As I took a drag on my cigarette, I was a little surprised to see Eric suddenly pull into the parking lot right in front of me. It seemed strange that he would skip two classes, then suddenly show up back at school.
Even more bizarre, he was pulling into a spot other than his assigned space.
I wanted to talk with him. I still couldn't believe he'd skipped philosophy. I walked right up to his car, just as he was getting out, and with a mix of concern and friendly cruelty, I started cussing him out.
"What the hell's wrong with you, man?" I said. "You weren't in third hour today. You missed the test!"
I didn't know how to read the look he gave me. It wasn't the "Oh, damn" look of someone who had just realized what was about to happen to his grades, or the look of annoyance that your friends give you when you rib them about a screw-up. This was something very different.
He laughed at me, as if he couldn't believe I had even brought the subject up. "It doesn't matter anymore," he said. He pulled a light blue gym bag out of the backseat and set it down on the ground.
"Yeah, whatever," I muttered, taking another drag on my cigarette. Eric was a weird guy-cool, but not as good a friend as Dylan. But today he was acting a little stranger than usual.
Eric stopped. He looked straight at me.
"Brooks, I like you now," he said. "Get out of here. Go home."
His tone was bizarre-intense, but almost chuckling. I'd never heard him talk that way before.
That's when I noticed Eric wasn't wearing his hat. A pretty small detail, I suppose; he was wearing his usual attire of black pants and a white T-shirt, so everything else seemed normal. But Eric always wore his hat. Always.
Eric didn't even hold my gaze after he spoke. He turned his back to me and started pulling another duffel bag out of his back seat.
"Uh, okay, whatever," I said.
Eric didn't say anything else. He wasn't even looking at me anymore. My presence didn't seem to mean anything to him now.
I took another drag off my cigarette-and that's when I got hit by this uneasy feeling. Didn't know where it came from, but somehow, in the back of my mind, I knew something wasn't right. The hat. Eric's demeanor. The test he'd skipped. I couldn't pin down why alarms are going off in my head. But they were. Something was telling me that I needed to walk away.
Eric was a very serious person. You didn't screw with him. I knew that from last year, when he'd posted messages on the Internet about how badly he wanted me dead. We had made peace afterwards; I thought all of that was behind us now. But maybe those memories were coming back to unsettle me all over again.
Whatever the reason, somehow I knew that Eric was not one to be antagonized any further at this moment.
I didn't say anything else. I walked across the parking lot back down to Pierce Street, still holding the same cigarette I had lit when I walked out of class. I tried to just keep smoking like nothing had happened. Yet deep down, I knew that something was wrong, and that it had to do with Eric.
Was he going to play a prank? Mess with the school's ventilation system? Shoot paint balls? Set off a pipe bomb in the parking lot?
I saw an image of Bart Simpson flushing a lit firecracker down the toilet right before Principal Skinner brings his mother in to use the facilities. It had always made me laugh in the past. For some reason it didn't now.
I finished the cigarette and tossed it. I tried to forget about Eric for a moment and decide whether I was going to skip fifth hour or not.
Then I heard a loud crack in the distance.
I looked around. Funny, I thought, that almost sounded like a gunshot. I looked to my left. On the other side of Pierce, there was a whole block of housing construction going on. Had I just heard a nail gun? Maybe. The pounding of nails will echo everywhere. You can't pinpoint where it came from when it's that loud.
I heard a few more cracks. They sounded different from nails. Couldn't be sure. Then I heard something much louder than what had come before.
That wasn't any goddamn nail.
In that instant, I knew something horrible was happening. Panic washed over me, and without even thinking about it, I started moving. I didn't know what was going on, but somehow I knew I had to get as far away from there as possible.
I heard more loud cracks. Something that sounded like explosions. A bomb. I wasn't walking anymore, I was running on Pierce Street, wanting in that instant to get as far away from Columbine as possible.
One block. Another. Loud noises coming from behind me, sounds I knew meant unimaginable horror.
I reached a little green generator next to the sidewalk and sat down for a moment. I could just barely see the front edge of Columbine, at the top of the hill in the distance, and I could still hear the shots.
"All right-gotta figure out what I'm doing-gotta figure out what I'm doing-"
I had no idea what I was going to do.
I tried to calm myself down. Maybe it's a prank, I thought. Maybe it's exactly what I thought before. Maybe Eric tossed a couple of pipe bombs, scared the teachers, and now he's hiding behind a few cars in the parking lot, laughing his ass off.
If it was a prank, and I ran to someone's house and started screaming that there were bombs and explosions going off at Columbine, what would be the first thing they'd do? Call the cops. If I was wrong, what would happen then? I'd get slapped with a fine. Nailed. You get in trouble real bad for making false reports in Littleton.
Besides, I thought, maybe I didn't hear anything. Maybe I'm just losing it. Maybe if I just get up and walk back, I'll see that nothing happened and everything's all right.
Jesus. I didn't know what the hell to think.
But I couldn't stay there on that generator, out in the open. I knew that.
I got up and kept moving away from the school. I was three blocks away from Columbine when I reached a concrete bicycle underpass that goes right under Pierce Street. I jumped down off the sidewalk and disappeared into it.
I'd gone down here to smoke with friends in the past. I'd never done it to try to protect myself.
My hands were shaking as I pulled out another cigarette. I had to clear my mind.
I replayed everything from the past ten minutes. The explosions. The shotgun blast. It had to be a shotgun blast. Had to be, had to be ... I thought back to my conversation with Eric. Had I missed something? A detail, something sticking out of his bag? Anything?
And then it hit me-the sick realization.
Son of a bitch.
I suddenly remembered all the articles I'd read about Jonesboro and Pearl and Paducah, and Kip Kinkel and Michael Carneal and Luke Woodham. I remembered those times when we'd laughed in speech class that Columbine was next. We'd said that if any school was ripe to get shot up, it was ours.
Now it was happening, and my friend was behind it.
Oh, man. No. No. Jesus, Eric, what the hell are you doing?
Christ, I thought. Get it together. Come on. What if I'm the only one who knows? What if the cops don't have a name? I've got to find a phone. I have to get out of here.
I heard police cars driving overhead as I hurried back out from the underpass. I looked out across the empty lots, to where the closest house was, several hundred yards away.
Then I heard it. I turned around just in time to see a massive barrage of police cruisers, a dozen of them if not more, thundering north on Pierce toward the school with sirens wailing. If I needed any further confirmation that this was real, I found it when I saw half the police force of Jefferson County descending on Columbine.
I ran to the first house I saw and started hammering on the door. Nothing. I ran for the next one and did the same thing, I don't know if I was yelling through the door or not. It didn't seem to matter.
As I ran to the next one, I saw a woman getting into her car with her daughter. She looked like she was rushing.
"I need your phone!" I yelled to her. "Please let me use your phone!"
"No, no," she said, hurrying into her car. "I have to leave."
With that, she barreled out of there. I think I scared her.
As she left, I saw two other women outside the house. One of them was Mrs. Taylor; I knew her daughter Anna, a very sweet girl who had been in several classes with me over the years. Her mother recognized me-and saw the look on my face.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
"I need to use your phone." I was breathing hard, sweating, scared out of my mind. She asked me why.
I said I didn't want to freak her out, but that I thought there had been a shooting at Columbine.
Mrs. Taylor stayed calm. "Okay," she said. "You lie down. Lie on your back. I'll go get the phone. You just try to relax for a second."
I sat down, burying my head in my lap. Then I lay back with my arm over my face, trying to regain my composure. I still didn't know for sure what was happening. I still felt panicked.
Mrs. Taylor gave me the phone. I called my dad at work.
"Have you heard anything on the news?" I said.
"No," he replied. "Why? Brooks, what's going on?"
"Well, first of all, I want you to know that I'm all right. I'm out of the school and I'm fine."
"Dad, I think Eric's shooting up Columbine."
There was a pause on the other end. "What?!"
"Dad, something's going on," I continued. "I don't know what to do."
"I'll be there in ten minutes! Where do you want me to meet you?"
I looked down the street, trying to place my own location.
"I'll meet you by Steve's house on Upham Street. I'm right by there." Steve was my drum teacher, so my dad knew where he lived.
"Okay. Ten minutes, Brooks. Thanks."
My dad hung up and I handed the phone back to Mrs. Taylor. I thanked her, and apologized if I had panicked her. I knew her daughter was in choir right now.
That was when I realized. My brother's still in there.
My little brother Aaron, two grades below me, was also a student at Columbine. He and Eric didn't get along. If Eric was still in the school, and he came across my brother ... I felt terror overwhelming me all over again.
I started walking toward Steve's house. A lot of cars were already driving by; the first thing I did was look among them for people I knew.
First I saw Mr. Johnson and Mr. Bath, two of my teachers from Columbine, and waved them down. They pulled over and asked me why I wasn't in class. They were laughing.
I just blurted out what I thought: Eric Harris was involved in a shooting of some kind. They both became very quiet.
"You know, he's in my psychology class," Mr. Johnson said after a beat.
Mr. Bath asked if I was okay. I told them yeah, and they said they would see me later. Then they drove off. I kept walking, until my friend Ryan Schwayder drove up in his Jeep Grand Cherokee.
"Hey, Brooks," he said. "What's going on? We tried to go back to school and they've got the road blocked off."
I didn't answer him. I just opened the door, threw my book bag into the back of the Jeep and jumped in. Inside were two other Columbine students, Matt Houck and Deanna Shaffer.
Ryan took one look at me and instantly became concerned. "What's wrong?"
I tried to explain, but I was talking too fast for them to understand. Ryan kept asking me to slow down. I took a couple of deep breaths, and asked Ryan to drive closer to Columbine, so I could get a better look.
"Why? What's wrong?"
I took a moment. "There's a shooting at the school."
For two seconds, dead silence filled the Jeep.
Then Deanna's hands went to her face, and she started crying. Ryan's entire body just sank in his seat; I could literally see the energy escape him.
"Oh, God," Matt said quietly.
I tried to explain about seeing Eric, and what he had said to me. "Oh, man, I think he had a duffel bag with him," I said.
I asked Ryan if I could use his phone to call 911. Almost like a zombie, he handed it to me. I called the police and told them I had information about what was happening.
They seemed to have trouble transferring my call at first. I wound up getting forwarded to the Arapahoe County office. As this was happening, all of us looked up to see multiple helicopters descending on our school.
Excerpted from no easy answers by brooks brown and rob merritt Copyright © 2002 by Brooks Brown and Rob Merritt
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book provides invaluable insight into the lives and events surrounding the Columbine massacre. Brooks Brown not only paints a fascinating picture of April 20, 1999, but also of the lives of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold; the social culture that bred two killers and countless other victims; and an in-depth theoretical analysis of how the system failed everyone: before, on the day of, and after the massacre. Brown's words are filled with the insight and poise of a timeless novel whose engaging intellectual essence brought me to my knees. I went into reading this book with an open mind and welcoming heart for whatever I would learn. I found that my interest in the event and my raw compassion for any and all who were directly affected grew exponentially. Through the perspective of some of the strongest individuals I can imagine, including the author himself, I was shown a new way of existence: how to live a life of harmony in a world of unpredictable chaos.
Brings back memories of high school that i remember. Although i did not attend colmbine my denver high school had a simmilar mentality. I have read several books about columbine this one is good.
An incredible first source account of the events that happened in Columbine. Brooks does a great job of offering a very unique perspective from the point of view of someone who knew Harris and Klebold personally. This is a raw, uncensored take on the causes and aftermath of the shooting without an external agenda. This book leaves no unrealistic fluffy answers; it gets down to the facts and gives the reader the exact environment the shooters and victims alike were submerged in and successfully avoids sugar-coating any part of what happened. One of the truest and most factual accounts of Columbine to date. Not for the faint of heart. Props to Brooks for painting an honest picture of his former friends.
I've done a lot of research about Columbine and everything leading up to it, more than a seventeen year old should probably know. The thing is, Brooks Brown knew Eric and Dylan on a personal level, not just from their journals, or from the reports that came out about it. If you want the truth behind what happened, read this book.
I graduated from high school ten years before this tragedy yet as I read this, I could picture old friends I went to high school with who could have easily been Eric or Dylan. My group of friends were predecessors to Brooks group of friends. We experienced the same bullying and saw the same favoritism towards jocks and preps. I absolutely understand that this violence was not simply a product of video games and music. If only it were! As that would be much simpler to remedy. My youngest of four kids is now a Sophomore. Unfortunately, with the social media frenzy, the bullying has skyrocketed. Kids nowadays can not escape the ruthless and relentless rumors, gossip, sabotage and vicious bullying. Its in their face around the clock. While the violence has also escalated, it is a wonder there are not more full out "Columbines" out there. But then again, we know well that this threat does not end with graduation. We would be wise to keep in mind that theatre, mall and military base shooters were not made over night. They may have taken longer to reach that boiling over point but very often, the same kinds of things built them up to that point. Its a bleak picture. But...all is not hopeless. Schools do tend to take bullying more seriously these days. (to the point of overkill sometimes.) A good story to end on...one of my daughters was a very quiet, tiny 90 lb girl. As a Sophomore, she watched a big bully football player get on the bus day after day for months and make fun of a boy with Downs Syndrome as he walked by him towards the back of the bus. Nobody spoke up until one day, my daughter had had enough. Just before the jock got to her seat, she stood up and punched him hard enough in the stomache that it knocked him flat on his butt. She then said "Pick on someone your own size!" and sat back down. The entire bus was stunned. Nobody said a word to her (not even the jock) until they got to the school. As she got off the bus, the bus driver gave her a discreet smile and thumbs up. Too bad he didn't put a stop to the bullying himself long before!! but still, I was glad he never reported her and let it slide. The jock did not pick on the kid on the bus again.
Great book. Very insightful. It gave me chills every time I read a new page.
Eye opening. Alarming to see how school authoritues are able to turn a blind eye to the peer on peer torture happening in thier classrooms. As a victim of school bullying i understand the daily anguish and attempt to mentally lose yourself while enduring this abuse on a daily basis. I commend the Brown parents for thier relentless quest for the truth. Thanks Brooks for telling your story and helping others deal with not being accepted. Shame on Sheriff Stone. May he never have a peaceful nights rest. His actions and there lack of make it easy to see how one cannot have faith in our justice system. Kodos to Micheal Moore. Another good Columbine read is that written by Dave Cullin. By the way... i am apalled at Charleton Heston. I did not realize he was such a heartless gun loving racist.
I have always been very interested in Columbine. I have purchased quite a few books on the subject, and this one is definitely the best. While books that are written by journalists or the like are informative, no one can beat a book written by someone who actually lived it. Brooks Brown offers a special view of the situation, considering he was friends with Harris and Klebold. He also a great writer. I highly recommend!
I did not know any more about Columbine before reading this than what was played out in the media. Who better to write a book then someone who actually knew the killers first hand. This book is incredible in that sense as you get a feel for who they were and a glimpse into their lives. It is amazing what the media comes up with when not given accurate information and how blown out of proportion some things get. I must say that Jeffco police are pathetic to say the least after reading this as well. If they are who are protecting this country god help us all! The authors did an amazing job getting the truth out there (the amount of lies you have heard before are unreal). Excellent read that you will not be able to put down, highly recommended!!
i had originally picked this up for a paper, but i hold it as one of my favorite books. i was just blown away by things that had happened before and after Columbine that i had never even heard anything about before. i'm going to thank Brooks for sharing his personal story, because for one, i'd imagine it was hard for him; and two, because i probably would have never learned about some of the events from anywhere else.
This was a great book. I loved everything about it from the style of writing to the insight of what really happened on April 20, 1999, the warning signs that were missed, the failure of the police, teachers, and administrators to do their jobs and what needs to be focused on to prevent another tragedy. Brooks Brown has great talent in writing as well as a different point of view to the story of Columbine High School than anyone else can give you.
This book is extremelly well-written and well worth waiting for (I had pre-ordered it). Brooks Brown asks a lot of questions that the mainstream media is too wimpy to ask and even provides some potential solutions. The problem of bullied children has never been so beautifully addressed, and in this book it's addressed by one of the bullying victims - and one who didn't turn to violence and vengeance as a solution, either. Very well done and readable! Everyone, parents, teachers, students, and our media - can learn something from this book.
Brooks Brown has written an EXCELLENT book which tells what goes on in the hallways and locker rooms of every public school in America. I tried in vain to get my voice heard, as I was a teacher who dealt daily with the bullying which happened in the schools I taught at. The significant and importance of this book is that Brooks did not wait years until life experiences had softened his memories. He got his book out while his experiences were fresh and his memories were able to be readily accessed. This book will hit the Top Ten list.
I will say, intuitively, that I would recommend this book. Unlike those who have read it, I can only speak from my experience in talking with Brooks' family members about him. Brooks impresses me as a very caring, sensitive, honest and intelligent young man. The book is probably unpretentious. For boys and young men of today, that takes immense courage. Sadly, I believe, our society still negates true emotional honesty in boys. That causes much inner turmoil and a "disconnect" from whom they really are. We can all learn from a thoughtful young man who experienced challenges while attending Columbine H.S., being friends with Dylan and Eric and others who died, and having the courage to tell the truth, even when he was made a scapegoat. I definitely will read this book. CG, Youth Counselor
This book gave insights to who these two were. It is worth reading for a first hand look at a community, a school, and local and state governments try to handle such a loss of young people at the hands of young people.
No doubt in my mind that this book was in no way easy for Brooks Brown to write, but he had the courage to tell his side of this story as best as he could. I am not a crier, yet I cried at certain points of this book. If you have kids or if you are a kid, you need to understand the important message Brooks gives throughout this book. Please do not ignore it for the sake of those lives lost on 4/20/99.
How does one survive a mass killing at a school .? Brook Brown tells a story that lets you in to the soul of a survivor
Where Brooks Brown does have some merit, he can tell a story that no else can from his viewpoint, he misses some very key information. Dave Cullen's book "Columbine" does a much better job giving us the full scale of details and 10 years of research to back it up. I would have given the book 2.5 stars but since I think it was only rated by his family I'm trying to 'even it out' a little.