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'Columbine' author Dave Cullen examines the Aurora tragedy

'Columbine' author Dave Cullen on how best to understand the Aurora shootings and the lessons that such catastrophes have taught us.

By Randy Dotinga / July 26, 2012

Author Dave Cullen, who wrote the definitive book on the Columbine tragedy, discovered last week that a friend's brother was injured in the Aurora shooting.


Thankfully, mass murders are rare in the United States. But the ripples of these horrors can extend for thousands of miles and dozens of years.

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Consider how two journalists – both experts on killing sprees – found themselves connected to other mass tragedies by pure chance within just the past few years.

This week, I interviewed author Arnie Bernstein, who uncovered the hidden history of a Michigan town devastated by a 1927 school bombing. Four years ago, he told me, Bernstein found himself comforting a student who had just lost two friends to a gunman at Northern Illinois University.

And then there's Dave Cullen, a journalist who wrote 2009's "Columbine," the definitive book about the killings there. A few days ago, he discovered that a friend's brother was one of the people injured last week in Aurora, Colo. The brother, fortunately, is recovering well.

I myself can remember being a teenager and sitting at home in a San Diego suburb on a July afternoon in 1984, watching the unfolding news about a nearby shooting spree. I desperately worried that my mother, who was out, might have gone to that McDonald's, just a few miles away in San Ysidro, for a bite. (She hadn't.)

Years later, I'd have another distant connection to a similar tragedy. A newspaper co-worker of mine would get a job in Denver and suffer emotional scars from the wrenching task of covering the Columbine attacks.

Cullen, who helps journalists recover from the trauma of reporting on tragedy, wrote a commentary for the New York Times last Sunday about the importance of not rushing to conclusions about the Aurora gunman: "Resist the temptation to extrapolate details prematurely into a whole."

I called Cullen to ask him about how we can best understand the horror in Aurora, what we can learn from Columbine and where we can find hope amid the senseless.  
Q: The perpetrators of these acts often seem to want to become famous. Is the media wrong to give them the very publicity they may crave?


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