Excerpt: ‘A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy,’ After Columbine

Photo: Columbine High School roses (AP Photo)
A boy looks through the fence at the Columbine High School tennis courts in Littleton, Colo., days after the April 20, 1999 shootings.

Photo: Columbine High School roses (AP Photo)​Sue Klebold, the mother of one of the two teenagers behind the mass shooting at Columbine HighSchool in 1999, Dylan Kleebold, spoke with Colorado Matters on Feb. 15 about her new book, "A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy." Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

“There’s Been a Shooting at Columbine High School”

April 20, 1999, 12:05 p.m.

I was in my office in downtown Denver, getting ready to leave for a meeting about college scholarships for students with disabilities, when I noticed the red message light on my desk phone flashing.I checked, on the off chance my meeting had been canceled, but the message was from my husband, Tom, his voice tight, ragged, urgent.

“Susan—­this is an emergency! Call me back immediately!”

He didn’t say anything more. He didn’t have to: I knew just from the sound of his voice that something had happened to one of our boys.

It felt as if it took hours for my shaking fingers to dial our home phone number. Panic crashed over me like a wave; my heart pounded in my ears. Our youngest son, Dylan, was at school; his older brother, Byron, was at work. Had there been an accident?

Tom picked up and immediately yelled: “Listen to the television!” But I couldn’t make out any distinct words. It terrified me that whatever had happened was big enough to be on TV. My fear, seconds earlier, of a car wreck suddenly seemed tame. Were we at war? Was the country under attack?

“What’s happening?” I screamed into the receiver. There was only static and indecipherable television noise on the other end. Tom came back on the line, finally, but my ordinarily steadfast husband sounded like a madman. The scrambled words pouring out of him in staccato bursts made no sense: “gunman . . . shooter . . . school.”

I struggled to understand what Tom was telling me: Nate, Dylan’s best friend, had called Tom’s home office minutes before to ask, “Is Dylan home?” A call like that in the middle of the school day would have been alarming enough, but the reason for Nate’s call was every parent’s worst nightmare come to life: gunmen were shooting at people at Columbine High School, where Dylan was a senior.

There was more: Nate had said the shooters had been wearing black trench coats, like the one we’d bought for Dylan.

“I don’t want to alarm you,” he’d said to Tom. “But I know all the kids who wear black coats, and the only ones I can’t find are Dylan and Eric. They weren’t in bowling this morning, either.”

Tom’s voice was hoarse with fear as he told me he’d hung up with Nate and ripped the house apart looking for Dylan’s trench coat, irrationally convinced that if he could find it, Dylan was fine. But the coat was gone, and Tom was frantic.

“I’m coming home,” I said, panic numbing my spine. We hung up without saying good-­bye.

Helplessly fighting for composure, I asked a coworker to cancel my meeting. Leaving the office, I found my hands shaking so uncontrollably that I had to steady my right hand with my left in order to press the button for my floor in the elevator. My fellow passengers were cheerfully chatting with one another on the way out to lunch. I explained my strange behavior by saying, “There’s been a shooting at Columbine High School. I have to go home and make sure my son’s okay.” A colleague offered to drive me home. Unable to speak further, I shook my head.

As I got into the car, my mind raced. It didn’t occur to me to turn on the radio; I was barely keeping the car safely on the road as it was. My one constant thought, as I drove the twenty-­six miles to our home: Dylan is in danger.

Paroxysms of fear clutched at my chest as I sifted again and again through the same jagged fragments of information. The coat could be anywhere, I told myself: in Dylan’s locker or in his car. Surely a teenager’s missing coat didn’t mean anything. Yet my sturdy, dependable husband had sounded close to hysterical; I’d never heard him like that before.

The drive felt like an eternity, like I was traveling in slow motion, although my mind spun at lightning speed and my heart pounded in my ears. I kept trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together so it would come out okay, but there was little comfort to be found in the meager facts I had, and I knew I’d never recover if anything happened to Dylan.

As I drove, I talked out loud to myself and burst into uncontrollable sobs. Analytic by nature, I tried to talk myself down: I didn’t have enough information yet. Columbine High School was enormous, with more than two thousand students. Just because Nate hadn’t been able to find Dylan in the chaos didn’t necessarily mean our son was hurt or dead. I had to stop allowing Tom’s panic to infect me. Even as terror continued to roll over me in waves, I told myself we were probably freaking out unnecessarily, as any parent of an unaccounted-­for child would in the same situation. Maybe no one was hurt. I was going to walk into our kitchen to find Dylan raiding our fridge, ready to tease me for overreacting.

I nonetheless couldn’t stop my mind from careening from one terrible scenario to another. Tom had said there were gunmen in the school. Palms sweaty on the wheel, I shook my head as if Tom were there to see. Gunmen! Maybe no one knew where Dylan was because he had been shot. Maybe he was lying injured or dead in the school building—­trapped, unable to get word to us. Maybe he was being held hostage. The thought was so awful I could barely breathe.

But there was, too, a nagging tug at my stomach. I’d frozen in fear when I heard Tom mention Eric Harris. The one time Dylan had been in serious trouble, he’d been with Eric. I shook my head again. Dylan had always been a playful, loving child, and he’d grown into an even-­tempered, sensible adolescent. He’d learned his lesson, I reassured myself. He wouldn’t allow himself to get drawn into something stupid a second time.

Along with the dozens of other frightening scenarios whirling through my fevered brain, I wondered if the horror unfolding at the school might not be an innocently planned senior prank, spun terribly out of hand.

One thing was for sure: Dylan couldn’t possibly have a gun. Tom and I were so adamantly anti-­gun, we were considering moving away from Colorado because the laws were changing, making it easier to carry concealed firearms. No matter how hideously ill-­conceived the stunt, there was no way Dylan would ever have gotten involved with a real gun, even as a joke.

And so it went, for twenty-­six long miles. One minute I was awash with images of Dylan hurt, wounded, crying out for help, and then I’d be flooded with happier snapshots: Dylan as a boy, blowing out his birthday candles; squealing with happy pleasure as he rode the plastic slide with his brother into the wading pool in the backyard. They say your life flashes before you when you die, but on that car ride home, it was my son’s life flashing before me, like a movie reel—­each precious frame both breaking my heart and filling me with desperate hope.

That hellish ride home was the first step in what would become a lifetime’s work of coming to terms with the impossible.

• • •

When I arrived home, my panic kicked into an even higher gear. Tom told me what he knew in spotty bursts: shooters at the school, Dylan and Eric still unaccounted for. Whatever was happening was serious. He’d called our older son, Byron, who’d said he would leave work and come to us immediately.

Tom and I raced around the house like demented wind-­up toys, flooded with adrenaline, unable to stop or to complete a task. Our wide-­eyed pets crouched in the corners, alarmed.

Tom was single-­minded in his focus on the missing coat, but I was personally confounded by Nate saying Dylan had missed bowling. He’d left the house that morning with more than enough time to get there; he’d said good-­bye as he left. Thinking about it, I found myself haunted by the peculiar nature of that farewell.

That morning, the morning of April 20, my alarm had gone off before first light. As I dressed for work, I watched the clock. Knowing how much Dylan hated to get up early, Tom and I had tried to talk him out of signing up for a 6:15 a.m. bowling class. But Dylan prevailed. It would be fun, he said: he loved bowling, and some of his friends were taking the class. Throughout the semester, he’d done a good job of getting himself to the alley on time—­not a perfect record, but nearly. Still, I needed to keep an eye on the time. No matter how dutifully he set his alarm, on bowling mornings Dylan usually needed an extra call-­out from me at the bottom of the stairs to get him out of bed.

But on the morning of April 20, I was still getting dressed when I heard Dylan bounding heavily down the stairs, past our closed bedroom door on the main floor. It surprised me that he was up and dressed so early without prompting. He was moving quickly and seemed to be in a hurry to leave, though he had plenty of time to sleep a little more.

We always coordinated our plans for the day, so I opened the bedroom door and leaned out. “Dyl?” I called. The rest of the house was too dark for me to see anything, but I heard the front door open. Out of the blackness, his voice sharp and decisive, I heard my son yell, “Bye,” and then the front door shut firmly behind him. He was gone before I could even turn on the hallway light.

Unsettled by the exchange, I turned back to the bed and woke Tom. There had been an edge to Dylan’s voice in that single word I’d never heard before—­a sneer, almost, as if he’d been caught in the middle of a fight with someone.

It wasn’t the first sign we’d had that week to indicate Dylan was under some stress. Two days before, on Sunday, Tom had asked me: “Have you noticed Dylan’s voice lately? The pitch of it is tight and higher than usual.” Tom gestured toward his vocal cords with his thumb and middle finger. “His voice goes up like that when he’s tense. I think something may be bothering him.” Tom’s instincts about the boys had always been excellent, and we agreed to sit down with Dylan to see if something was on his mind. It certainly made sense that Dylan would be feeling some anxiety as his high school graduation loomed. Three weeks before, we’d gone to visit his first-­choice college, the University of Arizona. Though Dylan was highly independent, leaving the state for school would be a big adjustment for a kid who’d never been away from home.

But I was unsettled by the tight quality I’d heard in Dylan’s voice when he said good-­bye, and it bugged me that he hadn’t stopped to share his plans for the day. We hadn’t yet had the chance to sit down and talk with him, as Dylan had spent most of the weekend with various friends. “I think you were right on Sunday,” I told my sleepy husband. “Something is bothering Dylan.”

From bed, Tom reassured me. “I’ll talk to him as soon as he gets home.” Because Tom worked from home, the two of them usually shared the sports section and had a snack together when Dylan got back from school. I relaxed and continued to get ready for work as usual, relieved to know that by the time I arrived home, Tom would know if something was bothering Dylan.

In the wake of Nate’s phone call, though, as I stood in our kitchen trying to piece together the fragments of information we had, I felt chilled by the memory of the nasty, hard flatness in Dylan’s voice as he’d said good-­bye that morning, and the fact that he’d left early but hadn’t made it to class. I’d figured he was meeting someone early for coffee—­maybe even to talk through whatever was bugging him. But if he hadn’t made it to bowling, then where on earth had he been?

The bottom didn’t fall out from my world until the telephone rang, and Tom ran into the kitchen to answer it. It was a lawyer. My fears so far had been dominated by the possibility that Dylan was in danger—­that either he’d been physically hurt or done something stupid, something that would get him into trouble. Now I understood that Tom’s fears also included something for which Dylan could need a lawyer.

Dylan had gotten into trouble with Eric in his junior year. The episode had given us the shock of our lives: our well-­mannered, organized kid, the kid we’d never had to worry about, had broken into a parked van and stolen some electronic equipment. As a result, Dylan had been put on probation. He’d completed a Diversion program, which allowed him to avoid any criminal charges. In fact, he’d graduated early from the course—­an unusual occurrence, we were told—­and with glowing praise from the counselor.

Everyone had told us not to make too much of the incident: Dylan was a good kid, and even the best teenage boys have been known to make colossally stupid mistakes. But we’d also been warned that a single misstep, even shaving cream on a banister, would mean a felony charge and jail time. And so, at the first indication that Dylan might be in trouble, Tom had contacted a highly recommended defense attorney. While part of me was incredulous that Tom imagined Dylan could be involved in whatever was happening at the school, another part of me felt grateful. In spite of Tom’s worry, he’d had the foresight to be proactive.

I was still miles away from the idea that people might actually be hurt, or that they’d been hurt by my son’s hand. I was simply worried that Dylan, in the service of some dumb practical joke, might have jeopardized his future by carelessly throwing away the second chance he’d been given with the successful completion of his Diversion program.

The call, of course, brought much, much worse news. The lawyer Tom had contacted, Gary Lozow, had reached out to the sheriff’s office. He was calling back to tell Tom the unthinkable was now confirmed. Although reports were wildly contradictory, there was no doubt something terrible involving gunmen was happening at Columbine High School. The district attorney’s office had confirmed to Gary Lozow that they suspected Dylan was one of the gunmen. The police were on their way to our home.

When Tom hung up the phone, we stared at each other in stunned horror and disbelief. What I was hearing couldn’t possibly be true. And yet it was. And yet it couldn’t possibly be. Even the most nightmarish worst-­case scenarios I’d played out in my mind during the car ride home paled with the reality now emerging. I’d been worried Dylan was in danger or had done something childish to get himself into trouble; now it appeared that people had been hurt because of whatever he was doing. This was real; it was happening. Still, I could not get my brain to grasp what I was hearing.

Then Tom told me he was going to try to get into the school.

I yelled, “No! Are you crazy? You could get killed!”

He looked at me steadily, and then he said, “So?”

All of the noisy confusion swirling around us came to a dead stop as we stared at each other. After a moment, I bit back my protests and turned away. Tom was right. Even if he died, at least we’d be sure he’d done everything he could to stop whatever was happening.

Shortly after one o’clock, I called my sister, my fingers shaking as I dialed. My parents were both dead, but my older sister and younger brother lived near each other in another state. My entire life, my sister has been the one I reach out to when things are going well, and the one I reach out to when they aren’t. She has always taken care of me.

The minute I heard her voice, whatever composure I’d been maintaining collapsed, and I burst into tears. “Something horrible is happening at the school. I don’t know if Dylan is hurting people or if he’s hurt. They’re saying he’s involved.” There was nothing Diane could say to stem my tears, but she did promise to call our brother and the rest of the family. “We’re here for you,” she said fiercely as we said good-­bye so I could keep the line free. I had no idea then how much I would need her over the years to come.

By the time our older son, Byron, arrived, my frenzied attempts to do something—­anything—­had ground to a halt, and I was sitting at the kitchen counter, sobbing into a dish towel. As soon as Byron put his arms around me, every ounce of strength left my body and I collapsed, so he was holding me up more than he was hugging me.

“How could he do this? How could he do this?” I kept asking. I had no idea what “this” was. Byron shook his head in silent disbelief, his arms still around me. There was nothing to say. Part of me thought, I’m his mother. I should pull myself together, be a role model here, be strong for Byron. But it was impossible for me to do anything other than weep helplessly, a rag doll in my son’s arms.

The police began to arrive, and they escorted us out of the house to wait in the driveway. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm, the kind of day that makes you feel like spring might finally be here to stay. Under other circumstances, I’d be rejoicing we’d survived another long Colorado winter. Instead, the beauty of the weather felt like a slap in the face. “What are they looking for? What do they want?” I kept asking. “Can we help?” Eventually, an officer told us they were searching our house and our tenant’s apartment for explosives.

It was the first time we’d heard anything about explosives. We could find out nothing more. We were not allowed into our house without a police escort. Tom would not be permitted to go to the school, or anywhere else. Later, we learned that no one had been allowed in the school. The first responders hadn’t entered the building until long after Dylan and Eric were dead, surrounded by the bodies of their victims.

As we stood there, waiting in the sunny driveway, I noticed that three or four of the officers were wearing SWAT team uniforms and what appeared to be bulletproof vests. The sight of them was more puzzling than alarming. Why were they at our house instead of at the school? They crouched and entered our home through the front door, their guns drawn and held at arm’s length with both hands as if in a movie. Did they think we were harboring Dylan? Or that Tom and I would somehow be a danger to them?

It was completely surreal, and I thought very clearly: We are the last people on earth anyone would expect to be in this situation.

We spent hours pacing the driveway like frightened animals. Byron was still smoking then, and I watched him light cigarette after cigarette, too overwhelmed to protest. The police would not engage with us, though we begged for information. What had happened? How did they know Dylan was a suspect? How many gunmen were there? Where was Dylan? Was he okay? Nobody would tell us a thing.

Time warped, as it does in emergencies. Media and police helicopters began circling noisily overhead. Our tenant, Alison, who lived in the studio outbuilding on our property, brought us bottles of water and granola bars we couldn’t bear to eat. If we needed to use the bathroom, we did so with two armed policemen guarding the other side of the door. I wasn’t sure if they were protecting us or if we were suspects. Both options horrified me: I’d never done anything illegal in my life, and it had never, ever occurred to me to be afraid of my son.

As the afternoon stretched on, we continued to pace the driveway. Conversation was impossible. The Rocky Mountain foothills surrounding our home had always soothed me; Tom and I often said we didn’t feel any need to travel because we already lived in the most beautiful place on earth. But that afternoon, the tall stone cliffs seemed cold and forbidding—­prison walls around our home.

I looked up to see a figure coming up the driveway. It was Judy Brown, the mother of one of Dylan’s childhood friends, Brooks. Alerted by the Littleton rumor mill that Dylan was involved in the events at the school, she had come to our house.

I was startled to see her. Our boys had been good friends in first and second grades and then reunited in high school, but they hadn’t been close, and I’d only seen Judy a few times in the years since elementary school. We’d chatted warmly a few weeks before, at a school event, but we’d never done anything together except when our boys were involved, and I wasn’t sure I could manage any social niceties. I was too disoriented to question why she was there, but it did seem odd for her to have materialized during this most private of times. She and Alison sat on either side of me on our brick sidewalk, urging me to drink the water they’d brought. Tom and Byron paced up and down the front walk with brooding expressions as we all struggled with our own splintered thoughts.

My mind was a chaotic swirl. There was no way to square the information we had with what I knew about my life, and about my son. They couldn’t be talking about Dylan, our “Sunshine Boy,” such a good kid, he always made me feel like a good mother. If it was true that Dylan had intentionally hurt people, then where in his life had this come from?

Eventually, the detective in charge told us he wanted to interview each of us separately. Tom and I were happy and eager to cooperate, especially if there was anything we could do to shed light on whatever was happening.

My interview took place in the front seat of the detective’s car. It’s unthinkable now, but during that interview, I really believed I could straighten the whole mess out if I could only explain why everything they were thinking about Dylan was wrong. I did not realize I had entered a new phase in my life. I still thought the order of the world as I’d known it could be restored.

I pressed my trembling hands together to still them. Solemn and intimidating, the detective got right to the point: Did we keep any weapons in our home? Had Dylan been interested in weapons or in explosives? I had little of relevance to share with him. Tom and I had never owned any guns. BB guns were standard fare for young boys where we lived, but we’d bucked the trend for as long as we could—­and then made our kids create and sign handwritten safety contracts before giving in. They’d used the BBs for target practice for a while, but by the time Dylan was a young teenager, the air rifles had found their way to a shelf in the garage with the model airplanes and G.I. Joe action figures and the other forgotten relics of the boys’ childhoods.

I remembered aloud that Dylan had asked the year before if I would consider buying him a gun for Christmas. The request was made in passing and came out of the blue. Surprised, I had asked why he wanted a gun, and he’d told me it would be fun to go to a shooting range sometime for target practice. Dylan knew how avidly anti-­gun I was, so the request had taken me aback—­even though we’d moved to a rural area, where hunting and hanging out at the shooting range were popular pastimes. As alien as it might have been to me personally, guns were an accepted part of the culture where we lived, and many of our neighbors and friends in Colorado were recreational firearm enthusiasts. So while I would never allow a gun under our roof, Dylan’s request for one didn’t set off any special alarm bells.

I’d suggested we search for his old BB gun instead. Dylan rolled his eyes, a teasing smile on his face: Moms. “It’s not the same thing,” he said, and I shook my head decisively. “I can’t imagine why you’d want a gun, and you know how your dad and I feel about them. You’re going to be eighteen shortly, and if you really want one, you can get one for yourself then. But you know I would never, ever buy you a gun.”

Dylan nodded fondly at me, and smiled. “Yeah, I knew you’d say that. I just thought I’d ask.” There was no intensity to the request, and no animosity when I dismissed it. He never mentioned a gun to me again, and I filed it in the same category as the other outlandish Christmas requests he’d made over the years. He hadn’t seriously thought we were going to get him a muscle car or gliding lessons, either.

The detective had another question: Was Dylan interested in explosives? I thought he was asking about firecrackers, and I answered truthfully: Dylan did like those. He’d accepted fireworks as payment when he’d worked at a fireworks display stand, one of his first summer jobs. (It’s legal to sell them in Colorado.) So he had a lot of them, which he kept safely stored in a big rubber bin in the garage. He set the firecrackers off on the Fourth of July, and enjoyed them; the rest of the year, they sat in the bin in the garage, forgotten. Dylan was a collector of a lot of things. I hadn’t heard anything yet about propane tanks or pipe bombs, so I had no idea what the detective was really asking me.

I felt small and frightened in the front seat of the detective’s car, but I was dedicated to answering his questions fully and truthfully. When he asked if I had ever seen any gun catalogs or magazines around the house, his question jarred something loose in my memory. A few catalogs with guns on the cover had arrived in the stacks of unwanted junk mail we received on a daily basis. I hadn’t paid any more attention to them than I had to the catalogs advertising personalized baby clothes or orthopedic devices for the elderly, and had thrown them away without looking at them. Dylan had pulled one of those catalogs out of the trash. He’d been looking for a pair of heavy-­duty work boots to fit his large feet, and he found a pair of boots he liked in the catalog. When we learned they didn’t carry his size, I threw the catalog away a second time. He’d eventually found a pair of boots at an army surplus store.

I felt like the detective was looking at me with knowing eyes. Gotcha. Suddenly defensive and self-­conscious, I heard myself begin to babble, trying to get this police officer to understand how many catalogs came every day, and why I hadn’t checked the addressee. I thought he’d understand if only I could make myself heard. I had always relied on my aptitude for addressing problems logically, and on my ability to communicate effectively. I did not yet understand—­and would not for some time—­that my version of reality was the one out of sync.

The detective asked about recent events, and I told him everything I could remember. A few weeks earlier, we’d visited the University of Arizona. Dylan had been accepted, and we wanted him to be able to plant his feet on the ground of his number-­one pick to make sure the fit felt right. Just three days before, Dylan, handsome in a tuxedo, had posed with his prom date, smiling awkwardly while we snapped a picture. How could that boy be the one they were accusing?

But there was no answer forthcoming, nor any hope. The interview was over. As I climbed out of the detective’s car, I felt as if I were about to explode into a thousand pieces, bits of me spinning out into the stratosphere.

We still weren’t permitted into the house. Tom and Byron were still pacing the driveway. A police officer told us the investigators were waiting for the bomb squad, a piece of information that only added to our terror and confusion. Were they looking for a bomb? Had our home been booby-­trapped by someone Dylan knew? But nobody would answer any of our questions, and we couldn’t tell if this was because they didn’t yet know exactly what had happened, or because we were suspects.

Because we had been standing for so long in our driveway, cut off from any media or news updates, we probably knew less than anyone else in Littleton—­or the rest of the world, for that matter—­about what was going on. Cell phones were not yet as ubiquitous as they are now; although Tom had one for work, its signal was blocked by the sandstone cliffs surrounding our house. The police had commandeered our home phone. Frightened and bewildered, all we could do was pray for our son.

We waited outside in the sun, perched on concrete steps or leaning against parked cars. Judy approached me. Dropping her voice confidentially, she told me about a violent website Eric had made. Still out of my mind with worry about Dylan, I didn’t understand why she was telling me about it, until I did: she’d known Eric was disturbed and dangerous for a long time.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked, genuinely baffled. She’d told the police, she said.

The house phone rang constantly. The detective called me to the phone to speak to my elderly aunt. She’d heard about a shooting in Littleton. (Dylan’s name had not yet been mentioned on air.) She was in frail health, and I worried about telling her the truth, but realized that protecting her would soon be impossible.

I said as gently as possible, “Please prepare yourself for the worst. The police are here. They think Dylan is involved.” As she protested, I repeated what I had already said. What had been inconceivable hours before had already begun to solidify into a new and horrible reality. Just as nebulous shapes resolve into letters and numbers with every progressive click of the machine at the eye doctor’s, so was the magnitude of the horror starting to come into focus for me. Everything was still an incomprehensible blur, but I already knew two things: this would not be the case for much longer, and the confusion was resolving into a truth I did not believe I could bear.

I promised my aunt I would be in touch, and hung up to keep the line open for communication from the school.

As the shadows lengthened, time slowed. Tom and I muddled through our uncertainty in hushed whispers. We had no choice but to accept Dylan’s involvement, but neither of us could believe he had participated in a shooting under his own free will. He must have become mixed up with a criminal, somehow, or a group of them, who forced him to participate. We even considered that someone had threatened to harm us, and he had gone along in order to protect us. Maybe he had gone into the school thinking it was a harmless joke, some kind of theater, only to learn at the last minute he was using live ammunition?

I simply could not, would not, believe Dylan participated voluntarily in hurting people. If he had, the kind, funny, goofy kid that we loved so much must have been tricked, threatened, coerced, or even drugged into doing it.

Later we would learn that Dylan’s friends spun similar explanations for the events unfurling around them. Not one of them considered he might willingly be involved. None of us would learn the true level of his involvement—­or the depths of his rage, alienation, and despair—­until many months later. Even then, many of us would struggle to reconcile the person we knew and loved with what he’d done that day.

We stayed out there in the driveway, suspended in limbo, the passing hours marked only by our helpless confusion as we careened from hope to dread. The phone rang and rang and rang. Then the glass storm door of our house once again swung open, and this time I could hear the television Tom had left on in our bedroom, echoing inside the empty rooms. A local news anchor was reporting from outside Columbine High School. I heard him say the latest reports had twenty-­five people dead.

Like mothers all over Littleton, I had been praying for my son’s safety. But when I heard the newscaster pronounce twenty-­five people dead, my prayers changed. If Dylan was involved in hurting or killing other people, he had to be stopped. As a mother, this was the most difficult prayer I had ever spoken in the silence of my thoughts, but in that instant I knew the greatest mercy I could pray for was not my son’s safety, but for his death.

Reprinted from A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy with permission of Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright (c) Sue Klebold, 2016.