The terrible poignancy of seemingly random events: parents call out “Have a good day!” as their children tumble into schools around the country, Mark Barden reflects that his son Daniel would’ve been starting his sophomore year in high school had he not been killed at age 7, attending Sandy Hook, and Sue Klebold records a Ted talk about her son Dylan, one of the Columbine killers.
We’ll focus on the latter today, and for those growing weary of the topic, next week will consider the energetic St. Hildegard of Bingen. But it’s well worth 15 minutes to see and hear Mrs. Klebold: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXlnrFpCu0c. She leads with a heart-breaking admission: “My son Dylan, with his friend Eric killed 12 students and a teacher, wounded 20 others on April 20, 1999.” Her audience is receptive and sympathetic, probably marveling at what it must cost this woman to stand before them.
She must speak with hope that her painful, candid revelations will help other parents to recognize the signs she missed before the tragedy. The question “How could I not know?” has haunted her as she’s combed through memories and later information. She gradually made the horrible discovery that Dylan was in agony, cutting himself and wanting to die, during a two-year downward spiral that could have offered plenty of time to get him help.
But her son was a perfectionist, unwilling to ask for aid. He was filled with rage at school bullying that debased him, and he interpreted reality through a filter of pain. He wasn’t alone: 75-90% of suicides have diagnosable mental health conditions, many never treated, and suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-34.
Mrs. Klebold is remarkably restrained and credible as she says, “It was appallingly easy for a 17-year old boy to buy guns.” She has paid the price for the tragedy with her own cancer and mental health issues, and speaks with the integrity of one who has suffered profoundly. Shortly after the Columbine slaughter, some of us glibly judged the parents: “Where were they?” It’s humbling to know now how rashly we once rushed to judgment.
Homilists encouraging us to broaden our compassion often use the example of the homeless person on the street. But it’s an unusual and commendable stretch to forgive and include the mother of a murderer/suicide.