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'The young man I saw that day was someone I didn't know': Sue Klebold and the other side of the Columbine shooting

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Sue Klebold, mother of Columbine High School shooter Dylan Klebold, opens up about living in the aftermath of the infamous tragedy.

On April 20, 1999, teenagers Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. They shot and killed 12 students and one teacher, before taking their own lives.

For years, the public has tried to make sense of what happened and why. Some said they had been bullied, or watched too many video games. Others wondered: Who could have raised such kids? Hadn't the parents seen any signs that something was wrong?

The answer to that is not so easy, as Dylan's mother Sue Klebold writes in a new book, "A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy." It is a searing, raw and honest book, and all author profits from it will be given to charity. 

Sue and Dylan in the snow.
Photo courtesy of Sue Klebold
Sue and Dylan in the snow.

Sue Klebold joined host Alex Cohen to tell more about her grieving process, and what it was like to live in the aftermath of one of the most infamous shootings in America's history.

Interview Highlights

People were outraged, and angry, and hurt, and a lot of those people assumed that you and your husband were somehow to blame in some way… Part of the title of your book is "Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy." Can you talk about what happens to someone in that situation? How do you live through that aftermath?

"First of all, there was just overwhelming horror and sorrow that he had hurt so many people, he had killed people. And with that came terrible humiliation. I felt like a fool. I felt like just a complete idiot to not have known what was going on in his head. I felt a great deal of sorrow and empathy for the individuals who were victims of this tragedy. There is the specter of the media at all times, so I was afraid everywhere I went. I was afraid to be in public, I was afraid to write a check or hand a credit card to a clerk, because I didn't know when I met somebody if they had had a family member injured or killed. I remember being in a doctor's office and just praying that they wouldn't call my name when it was time for the appointment."

Looking back, do you feel there was anything you would have done differently, or could have done differently, as his mom?

"One of the things about this kind of trauma — and I refer to Dylan's death as a murder-suicide because he had gone into this planning to kill others and then planning to kill himself. So much of my investigation and trying to understand this was based on my understanding the suicidal mind. Anytime we lose someone we love to suicide, I think it is very common to look back and think of things we wish we had done differently, we wish we had said. I certainly wish I had talked to him differently. I wish I had asked him questions that were more probing and open-ended, for example, 'Tell me something about yourself that no one else knows but gives you pain.' And I would have hoped that I could have listened, and not talked, and not responded, and not tried to fix his feelings, given him an open opportunity to talk without reacting. And then, 'Tell me more.' These are the things that I regret the most, that I wasn't listening. I tried to ask him questions. I said, 'You seem tired.' 'Are you OK?' 'Do you want me to fix you some scrambled eggs?' I mean, this is what you do when you're a mom. But I always feel that I might have said something — could have said something different. That's why I wanted to write this book, to try to say to people, someone you love may be hurting very much inside. Someone you love may be struggling with thoughts of suicide. And unless we can find better ways of eliciting a response, and assuring them that we will listen without reacting, that we will try to help them, we don't — we can't help someone unless we try, and we ask."

To listen to the full interview with Sue Klebold, click on the blue audio player above. You can also read an excerpt from her book, below.

Correction: An earlier version of this post stated Columbine High School was located in Columbine, Colorado; it is in Littelton. We regret this error.

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