Sue Klebold on 20/20

It’s the end of a 4-day weekend, and the wind is blowing so hard that I know it’s not safe to be out and about, so what do I do? Watch Sue Klebold’s interview with Diane Sawyer.

I have never felt anything but sympathy for Sue. Maybe because I taught her son, and all I ever saw was a sweet, quiet boy. Granted, that was two years before the shootings, but that was the only Dylan I could bring to my mind’s eye. My own son was 8 at the time of the shootings, and I remember looking at him and wondering what he would be like at 17. What would I fail to see in him? What was Dylan like at 8?

There are other things about me that keep me from judging her as so many others do. First, I came home to both of my healthy children after the event. I do not judge the victims’ parents who judge her. I have no right to judge anyone in any direction. Also, I remember very vividly who I was the morning of April 20th. People who weren’t there who now insist that they would see what Sue Klebold did not do not remember as I do. You see, the me I was then died that day. Some parts have since been resurrected, but I know what I buried—the denial, the steadfast belief that nothing like that could ever happen to me, that I would see such a thing in one of my students. I totally get her denial while Dylan was alive. I get why she didn’t rifle through her son’s room, why she believed that no child she loved so could ever be so messed up. I have nothing but compassion for her, as well as for those who hate her for what her son did to their children or to themselves as kids, physically and/or psychologically. I don’t give a shit about the judgments of anyone else. If you weren’t there, you don’t know jack.

For those who are so certain they could never be in her shoes, I ask, how do you know? My son went through bouts of depression as a teen. As one of Dylan Klebold’s former teachers, it worried me horribly. In the end, my son was a normal kid, going through the normal mood swings of adolescence. Depression can be a part of that, you know, regardless of how loving and aware parents are. Where are the bright lines: this side normal, that side suicidal, over there homicidal?

My daughter seemed moody to us. We knew she was introverted, physically in need of time to herself, but we worried about that, too. Later, she told us about the darkness of her depression, but she didn’t tell us at the time, and we were close, the kind of parents who would have listened without judging. It’s just not all black and white.

I have been a teacher of teens for nearly 30 years, and let me tell you, every one of them has a secret internal life that parents can never know. If you think you know everything about your child, you are the one in denial.

What have we learned? At least kids have learned that they can and should tell on each other, whether they worry that a friend is suicidal or possibly dangerous. Last year a kid came to me to tell me he thought his heroine-addicted friend was using again. We called the friend’s mom. He was using again. His mom knew. She wasn’t in denial. She got her son treatment, listened to him, loved him, was tough when she needed to be. He died this past year of an overdose. We do what we can. We do more now than we did in ’99. The world is still fatally imperfect.

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Paula is an author of historical fiction as well as a wife, mom, and teacher.
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18 Responses to Sue Klebold on 20/20

  1. I didn’t watch 20/20, but I read an interview with her. Of course I thought of you.

  2. Dave Cullen says:

    Beautifully said. Thanks, Paula.

  3. Denise Read says:

    Thank you for your candid words. I am a teacher too–something died in all of us that day.

  4. Suzanne McClung says:

    Thanks Paula for all the thoughts you share so eloquently. I’m so sorry for everything you went through and continue to go through. I’m so grateful for the person you are.

  5. Laura says:

    There are always two sides to a classroom- the teacher’s point of view, and the students’. It is individual students as well as the collective students, and we, as teachers, only get rare glimpses into the students’ side. We all do the best we can to give support to the emotional side of the difficult task of growing up. Weathering the storm of adolescence takes a crew of caring adults as well as each student’s friends.

  6. Pattty says:

    Paula thank you for your graceful response. I would never want to judge if your reaction to her interview was right or wrong because I wasn’t there. As I sat and watched the interview, I too looked at it through the eyes of a mom of two boys. I too have anguished over if this was just a phase or something more to be worried about. My son also has experienced depression through High School. I prayed it would pass and held onto the hope that it was just being an adolescent boy. We do look at the world differently now than we did before that day. No parent could ever imagine that there child could do such a horrific thing. Thank you for also seeing the sweet side of Dylan as she did. You always want to see the good in your child. I am sure it was still a part of him that she saw glimpses of from time to time. As a parent you also just associate this to them becoming more independent and pulling away from you as a parent and becoming their own man. Yes we can all sit back and judge her but I saw a women who wasn’t making excuses for her son. I saw a mom who was hurting as any mother would. Paula thank you for your blog. It was thoughtful and respectful.

  7. Joanie says:

    I so appreciate the honestly in your blog!! I find it so hard to openly admit compassion for Dylan & Eric’s parents. I am a mom of three sons as well – all teens now, and have seen & worried about mood swings.. if anger would turn violent.. if my sweet, sensitive boys would someday do the unthinkable.. if it’s just teenage angst, or something deeper and darker. Who, of us, have been closer to people who have committed the unthinkable? We see there are shades of gray. There are sides to almost all of us that are kept hidden. Remembering my teenaged self wracked with sadness that nobody knew about. My heart breaks for them. All of the parents. All of the victims.

  8. Kathy Love says:

    Hi Paula. I’m not sure you remember me, as an honorary member of The Debs. After watching the 20/20 interview, I’d been hoping you would post your feelings on this, since I knew you were there, and I knew you could offer an insight those of us who were not never could. I was deeply moved by Sue Klebold’s cantor, by her obvious self analysis of what she missed, what she could have done differently, and her pain. And since watching it, I have questioned a lot about my own parenting. As a mom of a 13 year old girl, this interview was hard to watch, but also necessary. We cannot know everything going on in our children’s heads. We cannot know everything they talk about with their friends. But I do know I will take any warning signs seriously. I will listen. I will ask questions. I will be more aware of signs of real problems. If anything good could come out of Columbine, maybe this is it. An awareness that we need to be aware. Because pre-Columbine, pre-all this school violence, I think I would have been like Sue Klebold and simply believed “I would have known.” Thank you for your thoughts.

  9. Mary Ann Jacob says:

    I thought of all of you when I saw this and of course of us. you’ve articulated so much of what I feel. Who am I to judge, pass judgement, forgive or not to forgive? Our Amish friends told me, after losing in two beautiful children that it is not their burden to forgive, only God’s. I was humbled by that, and much of the anger disseminates when you don’t feel that burden. Miss you all and thinking of you as the spotlight again shines your way, unwanted as always, even after so many years.

  10. I, too, appreciate this post, Paula. I wrote my own on my own blog, as well, although my approach to all of this was a little different than as a parent. I can provide the link if you’d like, but only with your permission. Let me know, please.

    The thing that set me off on the interview with Sue Klebold is that the Colorado Attorney General’s Office tweeted what I consider to be one of the most idiotic statements I think I’ve ever had the misfortune to see. My post was directed, at least initially, at their apparent idiocy in how they dealt with their “official” position on Sue even trying to do what she did.

    Again, let me know one way or the other. Or, anyone can go to our FB page: The PEACE Challenge and find the link there.

    Peace to you and everyone else following you on this ongoing journey.

    Ted Zocco-Hochhalter

  11. Tom Biddle says:

    Hi, Paula. Nice blog. I often think of that day and what you and Marti had to go through with the loss of Dan and Rachel… We all died a little that day and never fully recovered.

  12. Nancy Duffy says:

    Thank you for your words Paula. I have been thinking about all of my Columbine friends after watching 20/20. Raising 3 teenage boys right now. I think about all I do not know about them. I am not in denial. I know there is a life beyond what a parent sees, no matter how involved. I can only strive to keep the channels of communication open, love and support as much as humanly possible. Sending all my love to you all.

  13. Barbara Gal says:

    Thanks for writing this, as we can count on you to be more articulate, and show our better selves. I liked reading the comments too, and especially liked Tom’s when he said “we all died a little that day and never fully recovered.” That is so true, sad as it seems. My heart goes out to Sue and her struggles. Those of us who made it through raising a challenging teen can relate. I didn’t know half of what mine was up to, let alone what he was thinking…..Luckily he turned into a wonderful, responsible, productive member of society and a great father!

  14. Terri Straut says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post Paula. Jerry and I watched it and we were both very touched by Sue’s frank words. Our son Patrick’s name has been beside Dylan’s at AFSP events, though I have never met her. My heart goes out to her as she attempted to explain her thoughts and actions. Hindsight is 20/20.

  15. Kavita says:

    Thank you for breaking your silence. I have always wondered. Now I don’t have to. Your post and descriptions of Sue Klebold’s interview only inspire the warrior within ( cyber for now) on gun control. With an almost 13 year old, I am reminded that no matter how close we are, she will have a world I may never know about. Humbling

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