Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Joran van der Sloot & Bethany Storro help illuminate Columbine killers

Some readers have struggled to understand how Eric Harris and especially Dylan Klebold could have gone through with the Columbine attack.

Two current cases getting a lot of attention can help.

(I laid out Eric & Dylan's very different motives in this short video on the Columbine shootings.)


Eric is much more straightforward: psychopaths have little or no conscience, no regard for other humans. Psychopathy is a pretty easy concept to grasp, but hard for some people to actually believe: that fellow human beings can be that cold-blooded.

If that sounds like you, I suggest following the Joran van der Sloot story, particularly his endless series of lies, complete lack of remorse, and blaming the victim.

(Joran confessed to killing a woman in Peru this spring, exactly five years after Natalee Holloway disappeared in Aruba.)

Criminologists are well-acquainted with people who will destroy the lives of others for very little gain, but if you think they only exist in movies, just watch this guy.

As an aside, I want to give a huge pat on the back to Natalee's mother Beth Twitty, who flew down to Peru late last week to confront van der Sloot in the notorious maximum-security Castro Castro prison.

I think she knows what van der Sloot is, and had no illusions that he would recant or help or show remorse. She just needed to get some things off her chest. Every victim is different and has to find her own process to grieve and heal, and Beth Twitty seems to have figured out what she needed and taken the bold step to do it. That makes me happy. I hope it helped.


Did is much tougher for most people to fathom, including me. We get that he was tragically depressed, and deeply influenced by Eric, but how does a person reach such a desperation point to actually kill people over it?

My response is generally that it's very hard to understand how a person makes that final irrational leap, but that we have a long history of people who do. (Most of them kill far fewer, and the vast majority of angry depressives do not kill, yet there is no shortage of those who have.)

I offer the case of  Bethany Storro, the young woman in Oregon who admitted last week that no one threw acid in her face--she did it herself.

We are only beginning to learn the details of what happened here, and why, and it remains to be seen how closely her circumstances resembled Dylan's. That's not the point. Her situation is not evidence, it's an illustration.

I personally thought of Dylan about one millisecond after my completely unoriginal thought of "What could possibly make her do such a thing?" It appears that she was severely depressed. Does that explain it? Not really. I get the depression, but how does disfiguring your face forever help that? Wouldn't it just make things worse?

That's the point. These are not rational actions. They do not accomplish any rational objective. But desperate you people sometimes lash out in desperate ways that don't solve anything. They just do them out of desperation.

And for those who die in the act, that's as close as we're likely to come to understanding.

Luckily, Dylan left a great deal of material behind to show us the condition of his psyche. His deep depression is virtually impossible to deny. He provide any satisfying answers of how killing people made any sense, because it didn't.

We'll probably never get a rational explanation out of Bethany either. It's hard to believe one exists.


  1. After reading your book the thing that stuck with me the most was the story of Dylan. I felt like there were opportunities, if the right people had noticed the right things about him, to have helped him. I imagine he could have grown up and become a productive and even happy member of society. Eric is one of those people that are beyond help or at least that is what I think. I don't think we have any data to suggest that you can help a psychopath. Your book on Columbine should be read by every parent and teacher. What will your write next?

  2. Kathleen, I had similar feelings. I think there were so many times and ways to stop Dylan (save him from himself), but no one realized how desperate he was.

    Unfortunately, we have yet to find a treatment for psychopaths. What we have tried often makes them worse (more skillful).

    I'm still exploring ideas for my next book. I have too many ideas, as usual, but working on turning one or two into magazine pieces to start, and we'll see from there.

    Thanks for asking.

  3. Columbine had occured while I was pregnant with my daughter and a little less than a year after my father had killed himself. We'd also had a child come up missing in a local community. Needless to say, I had a lot of things filling my mind BEFORE Columbine.
    Other than the mention of Columbine whenever a shooting would occur (esp Virginia Tech)...I had largely let it fade away...other than using it as a cautionary tale to my kids to do their best to not agitate others and be aware of what's going on around them.
    THEN I picked up a Nook and your book was, I believe, the first one I checked out from our library and read. I had a very hard time putting it down. My heart ached for Dylan since he WAS trying but he was able to put on a good enough "show" that he slid away. As for Eric...each time I "heard" him, I thought my jaw couldn't possibly drop any more but it did. I am sorry for Columbine but I have lived within an hour of Wright-Patt AFB, so the fact he was that close for awhile gave me chills.
    If you combine reading this with The Dark Knight, I don't how it COULDN'T impact someone. I remember the banter back and forth with "Alfred" and "Bruce Wayne" as they were discussing his physical limitations and the motive for Joker's behavior. "Some people just want to watch the world burn." I feel like that's Eric as well.
    Dylans parents appear to have genuine sorrow that they could not help their son and for the pain he caused everyone. Eric's father angers me..I'm neutral on his mother. I have seen how callous military families can get and that's what I see how of his father's "journalling". A quick, here's what we do to resolve it, without trying to figure out what his son was actually doing. Of course he learned quickly how to avoid his father's attention..unless he wanted it. The more oblivious his parents were, the more confident Eric became. The one or two times his father really nailed it, he just made matters worse because then Eric knew another thing to dance around to avoid the trouble.
    The whole thing saddens me. And I think that a lot of people have become prejudiced and afraid of people with mental illnesses because of it. It makes me sick to my stomach that every shooting from then on has highlighted how horribly depressed or disturbed and either a news outlet or the family talking about "how sad" because they stopped taking their medicine for schizophrenia or whatever and that must have made them snap. People need to wake up and realize that medication alleviates the symptoms, not fix the underlying problem. And regardless of how many medications you out someone on, if they're not ready to help, it's all in vain.
    Thank you for your time and research into this book. I had been allowed to let the memory fade because I do not live in that area, but if people don't start taking this tragedy seriously, it's going to keep happening. Disturbed kids and young adults got their pattern from Eric. And every time someone follows it, he "lives" that much longer.

  4. Thanks, Anon. And yes, they keep happening, because we don't face the underlying causes.

  5. Your book was so true to the tragedies of these young boys. Dylan is so much easier to understand than Eric. Most of us have gone through periods of extreme sadness, anxiety and/or desperation, particularly in the teenage years. It helps us understand the feelings that Dylan must have been battling as he spiralled out of control. Few of us can fathom the lack of caring, compassion or empathy of the psychopath. It is completely beyond my understanding although I know all too well it exists and have had first hand experiences with these people. Their backgrounds are all so different and yet they are so much the same that is hard to say bad parenting is the issue. The fact that psychopaths often become worse with therapy because they use the lessons they learn to become better manipulators makes me wonder whether they do not do this with their parents from a very young age. But why? And if therapy makes them worse then what? They are dangerous people. And I agree with you that Joran is like Eric in so many ways but at this point in time all we can do is remove them from society by restricting their freedom. And we must continue investigating the causes of psychopathy.

  6. Carol, I agree on all that. For now, removing them from society is right. And I think that means educating judges and juries and parole boards about psychopathy so they don't buy into false remorse and go lenient.

    And yes, we can save a lot of money in the long run by more research into both causes and treatment.