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Thursday, 23 April 2009

The only boy to talk with the Columbine killers before their attack, Brooks Brown, has coauthored a book called No Easy Answers. Originally out in 2002, the second edition of 2006 adds little of substance beyond details of new evidence released by the Jefferson County police. In substance, the two editions are the same. Brown's beef with the local police consumes a lot of the final third of the book, and continues to constitute a significant problem for the public at large.

Brown wants more information released so that people at large may better understand the reasons Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold attacked their high school. He aims to prevent, in this way, more such attacks. Because of the continued incidence of school rampage attacks we see that he is right.

Most of the book, which is mainly written in the first person, is made up of reminiscences of Brown's friendships with the two boys. These sections of narrative are intercut with third-person pieces that fill in cogent details. It is the proximity of the narrator to the events that gives his story such weight. You could say that all school-age children should be encouraged to read Brown's book.

Like Ralph Larkin's book, which I reviewed last Sunday, Brown focuses on bullying at Columbine. Brown even goes further by pointing to bullying at another school he attended. Brown chose to leave that school even though it was a selective school and his parents wanted him to be there.

In this sense, Brown is an interesting person. We are lucky to have him. It is very unusual to have a first-person narrator telling such a story. His detailed narrative adds the kind of colour that makes it memorable. In remembering, we are more likely to act appropriately if faced with similar situations.

Brown's problems with the police go beyond the familiar complaint about access to material in that they deliberately targeted him when he and his family brought to public attention the fact that police might have prevented the attacks. This kind of tit-for-tat behaviour strikes a sour note in the reader, accustomed as we are to placing a large amount of trust in law authorities. But the fact remains that when Brown went to the media with information about Eric Harris' prior problems - problems the family had tried to interest the police in - the police immediately began to attack Brown.

Brown is also quite clear about the problem of bullying and an associated unwillingness on the part of school authorities to discipline favoured students. As we know also from Larkin's book, these favoured students were usually those who demonstrated prowess in sport. Brown tries to spread the blame to society at large but is not entirely successful.

In sum, if you want to get a firm grip on school rampage attacks, Brown's book should be compulsory reading for you. It is engaging, candid and enlightened. It is also an interesting story well told, thanks to the expert participation of journalist Rob Merritt.

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