How a writer from Elk Grove ended up writing a book on Parkland shooting

  • Author Dave Cullen, left, spent most of last year covering the movement that grew out of the Feb. 14, 2018, mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, for his book "Parkland," released today. Here he meets with students, from left to right, Daniel Duff, Alfonso Calderon and Ryan Deitsch a month after the tragedy.

    Author Dave Cullen, left, spent most of last year covering the movement that grew out of the Feb. 14, 2018, mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, for his book "Parkland," released today. Here he meets with students, from left to right, Daniel Duff, Alfonso Calderon and Ryan Deitsch a month after the tragedy. Courtesy of Dave Cullen

  • Elk Grove Village native Dave Cullen spent most of last year with the students from Marjory Stone Douglas High School in the wake of the shooting that killed 17 students and staff members at the school in Parkland, Florida. His book, "Parkland," comes out today and takes readers inside the movement that followed.

    Elk Grove Village native Dave Cullen spent most of last year with the students from Marjory Stone Douglas High School in the wake of the shooting that killed 17 students and staff members at the school in Parkland, Florida. His book, "Parkland," comes out today and takes readers inside the movement that followed. Courtesy of Justin Bishop

  • As the fourth child in the Cullen family of Elk Grove Village, Dave Cullen, far right, would later get five younger siblings as well. After graduating from Elk Grove High School and the University of Illinois, Cullen has become a best-selling author and an expert on mass shootings.

    As the fourth child in the Cullen family of Elk Grove Village, Dave Cullen, far right, would later get five younger siblings as well. After graduating from Elk Grove High School and the University of Illinois, Cullen has become a best-selling author and an expert on mass shootings. Courtesy of Dave Cullen

  • After last year's Valentine's Day shooting killed 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stone Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the students immediately began working for change. Elk Grove Village native and best-selling author Dave Cullen covers that movement in his new book, "Parkland."

    After last year's Valentine's Day shooting killed 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stone Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the students immediately began working for change. Elk Grove Village native and best-selling author Dave Cullen covers that movement in his new book, "Parkland." Courtesy of Dave Cullen

 
 
Updated 2/12/2019 8:27 AM

With his critically acclaimed best-seller "Columbine," author and Elk Grove Village native Dave Cullen examined the shock, the why and the how in the wake of the deadly school shooting in 1999. Two decades later, Cullen's "Parkland," which goes on sale today, focuses on the movement in response to the Feb. 14, 2018, slaughter of 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Cullen spent a decade reporting and writing about the two killers, the 12 murdered students and the one slain teacher in Columbine, a suburb south of Denver. By the time he finished, Cullen became such an expert on the subject that he says he became the "go-to mass-murder guy" for television interviews.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"America was suffering from collective post-traumatic stress disorder when I started that book," Cullen says, noting that he also was still struggling with his own secondary PTSD from covering Columbine. "I knew it was horrible, but I didn't know it was a precursor of things more horrible. Even 10 years out, when I finished Columbine, we couldn't imagine the trajectory."

He wrote dozens of articles and went on the air to talk about shootings that killed 32 students in 2007 at Virginia Tech University, or 20 children and six teachers in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. "I looked like one of those president's before-and-after photos where I aged in five days," Cullen says, recounting the frustration, the grind and the weariness that followed Sandy Hook.

He thought, "I'm never doing this again," but by the time of the Parkland shootings, things were different.

"There were no vacant stares from the Parkland survivors," Cullen writes. "This generation had grown up on lockdown drills -- and this time, they were ready."

The morning after the shooting, Cullen was at CNN headquarters in New York. He watched a live feed where 17-year-old student David Hogg "called out Adult America for letting our kids die," Cullen says. "The uprising had begun."

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After a gunman killed 17 people at his high school in Parkland, Florida, student David Hogg immediately responded with a call to action. Elk Grove Village native and best-selling author Dave Cullen tells that story in his new book, "Parkland."
After a gunman killed 17 people at his high school in Parkland, Florida, student David Hogg immediately responded with a call to action. Elk Grove Village native and best-selling author Dave Cullen tells that story in his new book, "Parkland." - Courtesy of Dave Cullen

A few days later, Cullen was in Parkland, meeting with Hogg, Emma Gonzalez, Jackie Corin, Cameron Kasky, Alfonso Calderon, Alex Wind, Delaney Tarr, Ryan Deitsch, Sarah Chadwick and other students, who were all over social media with #NeverAgain and a call for action.

"'Wow! Something is going on here,'" Cullen remembers thinking. "These kids are so articulate and so amazing. … Are they really doing this themselves?"

The kids received a $500,000 donation from George and Amal Clooney and other donations from Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and other celebrities, and they were blasted by critics as "crisis actors" and pawns for some gun-grabbing agenda. They were the subjects of nasty tweets, mocking memes, outright lies and death threats.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Cullen says he went to Florida suspecting that some adults might be pulling the strings but soon discovered that the teenagers were in charge.

"They put this together," Cullen says, explaining how the kids, smart and eloquent speakers, collaborated and came up with the best tweets or messages before sharing them.

"The professionals would be lucky to be this good," he says. "These refreshing kids are being themselves and being sincere, and that's why they're succeeding. They know their strengths and weaknesses."

- Courtesy of HarperCollins

While Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg became speakers for the group, Jackie Corin and others handled the production and scheduling end of things, he says. They organized a nationwide school walkout on the one-month anniversary of the shootings. They bused supporters to Tallahassee and got new laws banning bump stocks, raising the gun purchase age to 21 and adding a three-day waiting period for most long-gun purchases.

Within six weeks of the shooting, they organized a massive March For Our Lives in Washington, with similar marches across the country.

Using Martin Luther King Jr.'s Six Principles of Nonviolence, they quickly learned that "nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people" and launched a massive Road To Change bus trip to meet with black and Latino students victimized by gun violence in Chicago and concerned students in Naperville, and throughout areas typically resistant to changes in gun laws, including stops in Texas, Alabama, Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina, Utah and North Dakota. They registered voters and got credit for increasing young-voter turnout in Florida by 68 percent.

Traveling, visiting, calling and texting with the students throughout 2018, Cullen watched the movement unfold and has hopes for a safer America.

"It did recharge me, because now I can talk about solutions and kids doing something," says Cullen, who is doing plenty of media appearances this week to mark the anniversary of Parkland and discuss his second book about school shootings. "My worst nightmare is that I will have to write a third one. I want to be done with this. I want America to be done with this."

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