An incisive study of one of the past year’s most significant mass shootings, with publication tied to the one-year anniversary.
Cullen spent 10 years researching and writing his book Columbine (2009), which meticulously documented the Colorado high school massacre, with an emphasis on the two students who planned it. This time, in the aftermath of the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, committed by a former student on Feb. 14, 2018, the author has produced an impressively deep account in just 10 months. Never naming the murderer of 14 students and three staff members, the author focuses on surviving students who coalesced to promote gun control by spreading their message, encouraging voter registration, and seeking to influence legislatures at the local, state, and national levels. Starting with his initial coverage of the story for Vanity Fair just after the shooting, Cullen immersed himself with the students, many of whom left classes to tour the nation. Throughout the book, the author demonstrates his rapport with the students as well as Parkland parents, teachers, and community leaders. When he deems it appropriate and relevant, Cullen effectively compares and contrasts the Columbine and Parkland experiences. As he notes, his years of immersion in the Columbine tragedy left him with secondary PTSD, so diving in to the Parkland aftermath felt personally risky. However, he persisted, believing that the hopeful messages of the students would outweigh the darkness. Chronicling how the mostly middle- or upper-class Parkland students eventually expanded their crusade to address other issues related to guns, Cullen memorably captures many of the interests they share with often stereotyped inner-city teenagers from violent neighborhoods. In nearly 60 pages of detailed endnotes, the author expands on the revelations in the main narrative, discusses his information-gathering methods, and discloses potential conflicts of interests due to the close relationships he has formed with survivors.
In both Columbine and this up-to-the minute portrait of the Parkland tragedy, Cullen has produced masterpieces that are simultaneously heartbreaking and hopeful about a saner future.