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'Columbine' author Dave Cullen examines the Aurora tragedy

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Journalists have pooh-poohed it to me, saying the names are out there. That's misunderstanding the point.

We're not trying to hide their names, and we're not going to keep anyone from finding them out. The point is to use them as little as possible, so the act is known and talked about but the names are not recognized. That's pretty doable.

Q: Still, in this case, the Aurora suspect's face has been all over the media. I found myself staring into it intensely on the TV screen and trying to figure out what I could discover about him. Is that OK? When do we go too far in trying to comprehend someone like him?

A: That's national human curiosity and also intellectual curiosity, wanting to know. That's normal and there's nothing wrong with it.

When you start making guesses about what's going on in his head, that's OK at the water cooler and around the dinner table. But not so much on TV.

Q: You write in your book about how a myth of Columbine – that two young men were bullied and in turn targeted jocks – turned into the prevailing story line, even though it wasn't true. Why is that a problem?

A: Once the public believes something, there's a window where everyone is paying attention and they're riveted to the information, and after that they stop paying attention. It doesn't really matter what you tell them anymore.

Once we get it wrong, it's with us forever. There's no untelling the story.

Now, in Aurora, we're getting close to the end of the window of the first phase.

If we think we don't know why [the shooter] did it, and we're waiting for the trial to find out, that's healthy. If we're collectively made up our mind that it's XYZ motive, we'll be stuck with that. And if it's wrong, we'll learn inappropriate things from it.

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