On April 20, 1999, when Sue Klebold heard about a shooting incident at Columbine High School, her thoughts immediately turned to her 17-year-old son, Dylan, who was a senior there. “In the very beginning, I didn’t know what to think,” Sue tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “I was aware that there was a shooting incident occurring at the school. I didn’t know if Dylan was in danger, if someone was trying to shoot him, if he was doing something.” Gradually the truth emerged: Dylan and his friend, 18-year-old Eric Harris, had gone on a shooting rampage at the school, murdering 13 people and injuring 24 others before killing themselves. For a long time, Sue was in denial about her son’s role in the massacre. She told herself that Dylan had been brainwashed or coerced into the plan — or that he hadn’t really shot anyone. But then she saw the “Basement Tapes,” a set of videos Dylan and Harris had made in which they brandished guns and bragged about the destruction they were planning, and her understanding of Dylan’s role in the rampage changed.
“Seeing those tapes was one of the most shocking, dramatically traumatic things that happened in the aftermath of this, because I had been living with such a different construct to try to cope with what I believed to be true,” she says. In her new memoir, A Mother’s Reckoning, Sue describes the guilt, despair, shame and confusion that have plagued her in the 17 years since the Columbine massacre. She hopes that her book will honor the memories of the people her son killed, and perhaps help other parents whose children may be struggling with mental health issues. (All of the author revenues from the book, minus expenses, will be donated to research and charitable foundations focusing on mental health issues). As for Dylan, Sue says she wishes she had listened to him more carefully in the years preceding the shooting. She wonders what questions she could have asked that might have encouraged her son to open up about whatever he was feeling. She adds that despite everything, she has never stopped loving him. “I will love him until I breathe my last breath,” she says. “He’s like an invisible child that I carry in my arms everywhere I go, always.” MORE