"Tell Me About Dylan": A Conversation With Sue Klebold About Her Son's Teenage Years

In this conversation with Sue Klebold, I asked her to:

  1. Tell me about Dylan
  2. As you think of the past say what comes to your mind when you think, "If only..."
  3. As you think of the future and about lessening school shootings, murder/suicides and just plain suicides say what comes to your mind when you think, "What if..."

Continuing from Part 1:

Dr. G: So tell me more about Dylan. I've seen a lot of your interviews and read them, but I want you to just feel free to say whatever you feel like saying.

Sue: Well, let's get to his teen years when he got in trouble.

Dr. G: Ok.

Sue: Because I think that was really a critical time that was really a life and death... a window into a life and death situation that I feel that I missed. And he got in trouble with Eric and they stole something one night, they stole some electronic equipment from a parked van, and it was parked on a country road in the dark. It wasn't like, in a mall or any public place, it was isolated.

They were arrested and it was an expensive piece of equipment so it would get a felony and then they were, um, whatever it is the words are, I don't know, not arraigned, but I don't know what those terms are.

Anyway, they ended up in a diversion program. Now at that time, Dylan was showing signs. He had gotten in trouble at school. First, he'd gotten in trouble for breaking into... he hacked, he and his friends hacked into the school's locker combinations, but I truly believe, and there's nothing to contradict this, I think Dylan was doing it because he wanted to see if he could, because he was one of the computer geeks at the school. He was one of the ones who helped the teachers, and helped with the computer labs... that was his role. And when he got into those locker combinations, I don't think he had any intent to use them in any way to harm anyone. I think he tested one locker to see if they'd actually found a current list.

It was one of his friends that used the information to get into a locker and leave a threatening note to the boyfriend of a girl he liked, and so stupid boy stuff.

The school didn't quite know the best way to handle this and told us that they would treat it as if someone were bringing a weapon to school and therefore suspended him.

I do remember saying to Dylan personally that I thought that was an overreaction, but I said I don't see any way we can get around it without making things worse and so I guess you're going to have to do the suspension, and are you ok? But I think at that time in Dylan's life, he was beginning to show that he was fraying, I mean, these are the incidents... we look back and we see writings where he was talking about feeling suicidal, from even the previous year.

From my perspective, I was just trying to get him through this, make him feel supported, have some kind of a parental response, so we limited some of his access to things by way of a consequence, but tried to make him feel that we were on his side. And then that's when I said, "Dylan, you're scaring me. Do you think you need to see a counselor?"

And I told the diversion people, "This has never happened, I've never had a kid get in trouble like this. Do you think he needs counseling?"

And they turned to Dylan and said, "I don't know, Dylan, do you think you need counseling?" And he said, "No, I don't think I do," and that's when he said, "I will prove to you that I don't need counseling. I'll prove it to you."

And he did. He got everything back on track, he got his schoolwork back in order and he applied to all these colleges. But I think all this work to look normal and act normal, I really think it was taking a toll on him and I think he was just working very hard to appear normal.

Dr. G: Do you think Dylan felt alone during that time?

Sue: I think he felt completely alone. I think he felt frightened and frustrated because he couldn't, no matter what he did, he tried, he was struggling in his head to behave right, do the right things, he was full of self-judgment, self-loathing and I don't think anybody understood him. I don't think he really understood what was going on himself.

Dr. G: Say more about his not feeling understood.

Sue: Um... I don't know, my thought is that I just didn't listen enough. I mean, I think my guilt comes from talking to fill the spaces and not being quiet enough to just listen to what he was experiencing. And I think we expected a lot of him and we were very proud of him, and we were very proud of the fact that at least one of our kids was willing to go to college because the other one did not, and I think that put pressure on him. And so I think he picked that up, and when he didn't feel motivated or wasn't getting good grades or whatever happened, he just turned that around on himself, I think he just beat himself up with anything that he thought was our perception of him not meeting our expectations.

Dr. G: And what about anger he felt towards the world?

Sue: Anything that we ever heard him experience any anger about were things that had happened to him in school. He felt the environment was very unfair. That the jocks and the high-priority kids, in any incident, would not get punished, but that the people around them would get blamed for things. He did talk a lot about that in the school, how the school was unfair, really perceived it to be unfair. And he talked about... he thought kids were picking on him or bullying him. That one time where he scratched the locker, and afterwards he perceived that these freshman were pushing him around.

Dr. G: Do you think Dylan might have been feeling hurt, pain and fear over and over again, plus injustice and that there didn't seem to be any relief from it? And if so, do you think Dylan was suicidal before he was homicidal, because he just wanted the pain to end?

Sue: Yes, I think that is very true. That's my understanding of what Dylan was experiencing. I really think that's true. And some of this stuff, like in his journal, we read after his death, he had also fantasized about this girl that he had a crush on, and she literally didn't even know him. She didn't know he existed. But he did some writing, some letters to her that he didn't send, talking about... implying that they would die together, there would be some sort of a double suicide... it wasn't real clear exactly what he was talking about, but he had this huge fantasy that if he could find love, everything would be fine.

And one of the experts I talked to said, if he just had a girlfriend, he probably would have been ok and would've gotten past this. But love was so important to him and he would long for this girl, and he fantasized about their being happy together, and state of bliss. And the other thing that I'm sure you remember from the book is that... how much Dylan's writings are about love and longing and hurt and talking about the state of wanting to be with someone who understands him and someone who loves him... that he had this love-fantasy relationship with.

It contrasted so deeply with Eric's writings, which just looked like madness and anybody who looked at them couldn't help but think this was a very sick person. So that's part of this too, I mean, as a mom, I'm wondering... I always wonder what I could've said. The only thing I keep coming back to is listening and asking him something so he didn't perceive that he was alone. And that's what I keep beating myself up about.

Dr. G: I'm sure that you do keep beating yourself up about that but somehow I'm guessing that Dylan wouldn't blame you. You know, it's interesting what you say about the sexual thing... a friend of mine is an expert in anti-terrorism and he said that a high percentage of Americans who go over to ISIS are young men who have never held the hand of a girl.

Sue: Oh. (tearful) How touching and how very true.

Dr. G: So speak to what you're feeling and remembering right now?

Sue: Oh dear, I guess it started when you said that he wouldn't blame me. Because I have this great sense of... that I let him down and that my own ignorance... because of my own ignorance... that he slipped through my fingers and I allowed him to die. And I've always had a great sense of wanting to apologize to him, but I know you're right, that if he were here, he'd say, "Mom, it wasn't your fault."

Dr. G: Do you have trouble believing that?

Sue: I try, but it's very hard to believe it (becoming emotional).

Dr. G: Do you think Columbine was kind of a negative watershed event and that people before it didn't think angry or sullen teenagers would become violent?

Sue: Right. And I tried to, of course, explain that when people attacked me viciously and I'd try to defend myself. You know, how could you not know there were guns in your house? How could you not know this? And it's hard to apologize for what you don't know. I mean, I never even thought to look for those things. We never had guns in our house. Never thought my son would own one. Why should I be looking for them? It's like, do you have purple mushrooms in your house? Well, of course not.

Dr. G: A lot of parents don't believe awful things will happen to them. Was that true for you?

Sue: It wasn't supposed to happen to me or mine (tearful). I never... there was nothing in my life... well that's why I wanted to write a book, to say to people, "Be alert, be aware, because just because you love somebody and you think they're wonderful, that doesn't mean they're not struggling."

Dr. G: So I guess we've covered some of the 'if only's," but now use the "if only" prompt and just go with it and see where it takes us.

To be continued - "If only..." and "What if..." - A Free Flowing Conversation with Sue Klebold - Part 3 and Conclusion in a Series