Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: School shooting
Number of victims: 13
Date of murders: April 20, 1999
Date of birth: April 9, 1981
Victims profile: Rachel Scott, 17 / Daniel Rohrbough, 15 / William David Sanders, 47 / Kyle Velasquez, 16 / Steven Curnow, 14 / Cassie Bernall, 17 / Isaiah Shoels, 18 / Matthew Kechter, 16 / Lauren Townsend, 18 / John Tomlin, 16 / Kelly Fleming, 16 / Daniel Mauser, 15 / Corey DePooter, 17
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Columbine, Jefferson County, Colorado, USA
Status: Committed suicide by gunshot to the roof of the mouth the same day
On April 20, 1999, Eric Davis Harris (1981-1999) and Dylan Bennet Klebold (1981-1999) killed 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado before committing suicide. The tragedy sparked national debates about school safety. The FBI assisted local law enforcement by investigating additional threats and Internet leads, conducting witness interviews, and processing physical evidence. The FBI’s file details the initial investigation and contains witness interviews between April 21, 1999 and May 5, 1999.
State of Colorado – Department of Law
Office of the Attorney General
Report of the Investigation into the 1997 Directed Report and Related Matters Concerning the Columbine High School Shootings in April 1999
United States Secret Service and United States Department of Education
The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative
U.S. Fire Department / Technical Report Series
Wanton Violence at Columbine High School
American Journal of Forensic Psychiatry
Lessons from Columbine: Virtual and Real Rage, by Jerald J. Block, M.D.
American Behavioral Scientist
Rampage Shootings as Political Acts, by Ralph W. Larkin
The Search for Truth at Columbine, by Peter Langman, Ph.D.
Eric David Harris (April 9, 1981 – April 20, 1999) and Dylan Bennet Klebold (September 11, 1981 – April 20, 1999) were the two American high school seniors who committed the Columbine High School massacre. The pair killed 13 people and injured 24 others, three of whom were injured as they escaped the attack. The two then committed suicide in the library, where they had killed 10 of their victims.
Eric David Harris was born in Wichita, Kansas. The Harris family relocated often, as Eric’s father, Wayne Harris, was a U.S. Air Force transport pilot. His mother, Katherine Ann Poole, was a homemaker. The family moved from Plattsburgh, New York, to Littleton, Colorado, in July 1993, when Wayne Harris retired from military service.
The Harris family lived in rented accommodations for the first three years that they lived in the Littleton area. During this time, Eric met Dylan Klebold. In 1996, the Harris family purchased a house south of Columbine High School. Eric’s older brother, Kevin, attended college at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Dylan Bennet Klebold was born in Lakewood, Colorado, to Thomas and Susan Klebold (née Yassenoff). His parents attended a Lutheran church with their children, and Dylan and his older brother, Byron, attended confirmation classes in accordance with Lutheran tradition. At home, the family also observed some rituals in keeping with Klebold’s maternal grandfather’s Russian heritage. Klebold attended Normandy Elementary in Littleton, Colorado for the first two grades before transferring to Governor’s Ranch Elementary and became part of the CHIPS (“Challenging High Intellectual Potential Students”) program. He found the transition to Ken Caryl Middle School difficult.
At Columbine High, Harris and Klebold were active in school play productions, operated video productions and became computer assistants maintaining the school’s computer server.
According to early accounts of the shooting, Harris and Klebold were very unpopular students and targets of bullying. While sources do support accounts of bullying directed toward the pair, accounts of them being outcasts have been reported to be false.
Harris and Klebold were initially reported to be members of a group that called themselves the “Trenchcoat Mafia”, although in truth they had no particular connection with the group, and did not appear in a group photo of the Trenchcoat Mafia in the 1998 Columbine yearbook. Harris’s father stated that his son was “a member of what they call the Trenchcoat Mafia” in a 911 call he made on April 20, 1999. Klebold attended the high school prom three days before the shootings with a classmate named Robyn Anderson.
Harris and Klebold linked their personal computers on a network and both played many games over the Internet. Harris created a set of levels for the game Doom, which later became known as the Harris levels. Harris had a web presence under the handle “REB” (short for Rebel, a nod to the nickname of Columbine’s sports teams) and other cyber aliases, including “Rebldomakr”, “Rebdoomer”, and “Rebdomine”, while Klebold went by the names “VoDKa” and “VoDkA”.
Harris had various websites that hosted Doom and Quake files, as well as team information for those he gamed with online. The sites openly espoused hatred for the people of their neighborhood and the world in general. When the pair began experimenting with pipe bombs, they posted results of the explosions on the websites. The website was shut down by America Online after the shootings and was preserved for the FBI.
Initial legal encounters
In March 1998, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office investigator Michael Guerra looked at Harris’s website after the parents of Brooks Brown, a fellow student of Harris and Klebold, discovered Harris was making threats aimed at their son after a falling out between them. Guerra wrote a draft affidavit for a search warrant, but the affidavit was never filed. This information was not revealed to the public until September 2001 by 60 Minutes, though it was known by the police the entire time.
The two boys got into trouble with the law for breaking into a locked van and stealing computers. In January 1998, they were charged with mischief, breaking and entering, trespassing, and theft. They both left good impressions on the juvenile officers, who offered to expunge their criminal records if they agreed to attend a diversionary program to include community service, received psychiatric treatment, and obeyed the law. Harris was required to attend anger management classes where, again, he made a favorable impression. They were so well-behaved that their probation officer discharged them from the program a few months earlier than the due date. Of Harris, it was remarked that he was “a very bright individual who is likely to succeed in life”, while Klebold was said to be intelligent, but “needs to understand that hard work is part of fulfilling a dream.” In May 1998, Harris typed a letter of apology to the owner of the van, saying he was sorry he did it. However, he was writing in his journal at the same time: “Why shouldn’t we, the gods, have the right to break into a van that some motherfucker left in the middle of nowhere?!”
Hitmen for Hire
The two made a video for a school project that showed them pretending to shoot fake guns and “snuffing” students in the hallway of their school as Hitmen for Hire. The video is known for its swearing scenes, in which they yelled at the camera and said violent things. They both displayed themes of violence in their creative writing projects for school; of a Doom-based tale written by Harris on January 17, 1999, Harris’s teacher said: “Yours is a unique approach and your writing works in a gruesome way—good details and mood setting.”
Day of the massacre
On April 20, 1999, while smoking a cigarette at the start of lunch break, Brooks Brown saw Harris arrive at school. Brown had severed his friendship with Harris a year earlier because Harris had thrown a chunk of ice at his car windshield; Brown patched things up with Harris just prior to the shooting. Brown scolded Harris for skipping the morning class, because Harris was always serious about schoolwork and being on time. Harris reportedly said, “It doesn’t matter anymore” and also said, “Brooks, I like you now. Get out of here. Go home.” Brown quickly left the school grounds. At 11:19 a.m., he heard the first gunshots after he had walked some distance away from the school, and he informed the police via a neighbor’s cell phone.
By that time, Dylan Klebold had already arrived at the school in a separate car and the two boys left two gym bags, each containing a 20-pound propane bomb, inside the school cafeteria. When these devices failed to detonate, Harris and Klebold armed themselves with guns and launched a shooting attack against their classmates. It remains the deadliest attack ever perpetrated at an American high school. Harris was responsible for eight of the 13 confirmed deaths, including that of a teacher, while Klebold was responsible for the remaining five. There were 25 wounded, most in critical condition.
At 12:02 p.m., Harris and Klebold returned to the library. This was 20 minutes after their lethal shooting spree had ended, leaving 12 students and one teacher dead, and another 24 students injured. Ten of their victims had been killed in the library, with their bodies strewn about the floor. Harris and Klebold went to the west windows and opened fire on the police outside. Six minutes later, they walked to the bookshelves near a table where Patrick Ireland lay badly-wounded and unconscious. Student Lisa Kreutz, injured in the earlier library attack, was also in the room, unable to move.
At 12:08 p.m., art teacher Patti Nielson, who had locked herself inside a break room with student Brian Anderson and library staff, overheard Harris and Klebold shout out in unison: “One! Two! Three!” followed immediately by the sound of gunfire. Harris had fired his shotgun through the roof of his mouth, damaging his face and blasting off the back of his head. Klebold had shot himself in the left temple with his TEC-9 semi-automatic handgun, a bullet slicing through his head.
Because Harris and Klebold were both underage at the time, Robyn Anderson (with whom Klebold attended the prom three days before the shooting), an 18-year-old Columbine student and old friend of Klebold’s, made a straw purchase of two shotguns and Hi-Point carbine for the pair.
In exchange for her cooperation with the investigation that followed the shootings, no charges were filed against Anderson. After illegally acquiring the weapons, Klebold sawed off his Savage 311-D 12-gauge double-barrel shotgun, shortening the overall length to approximately 23 inches (0.58 m), a felony under the National Firearms Act, while Harris’s Savage-Springfield 12-gauge pump shotgun was sawed off to around 26 inches (0.66 m).
The shooters also possessed a TEC-DC9 semi-automatic handgun, which had a long history. The manufacturer of the TEC-DC9 first sold it to Miami-based Navegar Incorporated. It was then sold to Zander’s Sporting Goods in Baldwin, Illinois in 1994. The gun was later sold to Thornton, Colorado, firearms dealer Larry Russell. In violation of federal law, Russell failed to keep records of the sale, yet he determined that the purchaser of the gun was twenty-one years of age or older. He was unable to identify the pictures of Klebold, Anderson, or Harris shown to him by police after the shooting. Two men, Mark Manes and Philip Duran, were convicted of supplying weapons to the two.
The bombs used by the pair varied and were crudely made from carbon dioxide canisters, galvanized pipe, and metal propane bottles. The bombs were primed with matches placed at one end. Both had striker tips on their sleeves. When they rubbed against the bomb, the match head would light the fuse. The weekend before the shootings, Harris and Klebold had purchased propane tanks and other supplies from a hardware store for a few hundred dollars. Several residents of the area claimed to have heard glass breaking and buzzing sounds from the Harris family’s garage, which later was concluded to indicate they were constructing pipe bombs. Harris purchased more propane tanks on the morning of the attack.
More complex bombs, such as the one that detonated on the corner of South Wadsworth Boulevard and Ken Caryl Avenue, had timers. The two largest bombs built were found in the school cafeteria and were made from small propane tanks. Only one of these bombs went off, only partially detonating. It was estimated that if any of the bombs placed in the cafeteria had detonated properly, the blast could have caused extensive structural damage to the school and would have resulted in hundreds of casualties.
There was controversy over whether the perpetrators should be memorialized. Some were opposed, saying that it glorified murderers, while others argued that the perpetrators were also victims. Atop a hill near Columbine High School, crosses were erected for Harris and Klebold along with those for the people they killed, but the father of Daniel Rohrbough (the second student to be killed) cut them down, saying that murderers should not be memorialized in the same place as victims.
Harris and Klebold wrote much about how they would carry out the massacre, but less about why. A journal found in Harris’s bedroom contained almost every detail that the boys planned to follow after 5:00 a.m. on April 20, 1999.
In journal entries, the pair often wrote about events such as the Oklahoma City bombing, the Waco Siege, the Vietnam War, and other similar events, including blurbs and notes on how they wished to “outdo” these events, focusing especially on what Timothy McVeigh did in Oklahoma City. They mentioned how they would like to leave a lasting impression on the world with this kind of violence. That the shooters initially planned and failed to blow up the high school, and not just shoot students, is an indication of how they had wished to overshadow the events that had occurred, respectively, four and six years earlier.
Much speculation occurred over the date chosen for their attack. The original intended date of the attack may have been April 19; Harris required more ammunition from Mark Manes, who did not deliver it until the evening of April 19.
Harris and Klebold were both avid fans of KMFDM, an industrial band led by German multi-instrumentalist Sascha Konietzko. It was revealed that lyrics to KMFDM songs (“Son of a Gun”, “Stray Bullet”, “Waste”) were posted on Harris’ website, and that the date of the massacre, April 20, coincided with both the release date of the album Adios and the birthday of Adolf Hitler. Harris noted the coincidence of the album’s title and release date in his journal.
The media was quick to jump on the apparent connection of the massacre to violent entertainment and Nazism. In response, Konietzko issued a statement:
“First and foremost, KMFDM would like to express their deep and heartfelt sympathy for the parents, families and friends of the murdered and injured children in Littleton. We are sick and appalled, as is the rest of the nation, by what took place in Colorado yesterday.
“KMFDM are an art form—not a political party. From the beginning, our music has been a statement against war, oppression, fascism and violence against others. While some of the former band members are German as reported in the media, none of us condone any Nazi beliefs whatsoever.”
The attack occurred on Hitler’s birthday, which led to speculation in the media. Some people, such as Robyn Anderson, who knew the perpetrators, stated that the pair were not obsessed with Nazism nor did they worship or admire Hitler in any way. Anderson stated, in retrospect, that there were many things the pair did not tell friends. Dave Cullen, author of the 2010 book Columbine, cites evidence that Harris did revere the Nazis. He praised them often in his journal, and some of his friends grew irritated at his frequent Nazi salutes and quotations in the months leading up to the shooting. At a certain point, Harris realized he needed to reduce this behavior, for fear of revealing his plans. He commented in his journal about how hard it was to wait until April to express all his hatred for the human race.
In his journal, Harris mentioned his admiration of what he imagined to be natural selection, and wrote that he would like to put everyone in a super Doom game and see to it that the weak die and the strong live. On the day of the massacre, Harris wore a white T-shirt with the words “Natural selection” printed in black.
One of Harris’ last journal entries read: “I hate you people for leaving me out of so many fun things. And no don’t … say, ‘Well that’s your fault,’ because it isn’t, you people had my phone #, and I asked and all, but no. No no no don’t let the weird-looking Eric KID come along.”
Dylan Klebold said on the Basement Tapes, “You’ve been giving us shit for years. You’re fucking gonna pay for all the shit! We don’t give a shit. Because we’re gonna die doing it.”
Accounts from various parents and school staffers describe the bullying that has been described as “rampant” at the school. Nathan Vanderau, a friend of Klebold, and Alisa Owen, Harris’s eighth-grade science partner, reported that Harris and Klebold were constantly picked on. Vanderau noted that a “cup of fecal matter” was thrown at them. “People surrounded them in the commons and squirted ketchup packets all over them, laughing at them, calling them faggots,” Brooks Brown says. “That happened while teachers watched. They couldn’t fight back. They wore the ketchup all day and went home covered with it.” In his book, No Easy Answers: The Truth Behind Death at Columbine, Brown wrote that Harris was born with mild chest indent. This made him reluctant to take his shirt off in gym class, and other students would laugh at him.
“A lot of the tension in the school came from the class above us,” Chad Laughlin states. “There were people fearful of walking by a table where you knew you didn’t belong, stuff like that. Certain groups certainly got preferential treatment across the board. I caught the tail end of one really horrible incident, and I know Dylan told his mother that it was the worst day of his life.” That incident, according to Laughlin, involved seniors pelting Klebold with “ketchup-covered tampons” in the commons.
Harris and Klebold as modern revolutionaries
Nick Turse suggested that the murderers were acting as revolutionaries. He wrote, “Who would not concede that terrorizing the American machine, at the very site where it exerts its most powerful influence (high school), is a truly revolutionary task? To be inarticulate about your goals, even to not understand them, does not negate their existence. Approve or disapprove of their methods, vilify them as miscreants, but don’t dare disregard these modern radicals as anything less than the latest incarnation of disaffected insurgents waging the ongoing American revolution.”
Historian David Farber of Temple University wrote that Turse’s assertion “only makes sense in an academic culture in which transgression is by definition political and in which any rage against society can be considered radical.”
Journals and investigation
Harris began keeping a journal in April 1998, a short time after the pair was convicted of breaking into a van, for which each received ten months of juvenile intervention counseling and community service in January 1998. They began to formulate plans then, as reflected in their journals.
Harris wanted to join the United States Marine Corps, but his application was rejected shortly before the shootings because he was taking the drug fluvoxamine, an SSRI antidepressant, which he was required to take as part of court-ordered anger management therapy. According to the recruiting officer, Harris did not know about this rejection.
Though some friends of Harris suggested that he had stopped taking the drug beforehand, the autopsy reports showed low therapeutic or normal (not toxic or lethal) blood-levels of Luvox (fluvoxamine) in his system, which would be around 0.0031-0.0087 mg%, at the time of death. After the shootings, opponents of contemporary psychiatry like Peter Breggin claimed that the psychiatric medications prescribed to Harris after his conviction (ostensibly for obsessive-compulsive disorder) may have exacerbated his aggressiveness.
In April 2009, Professor Aubrey Immelman, Ph.D of the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, published a book, Columbine: A True Crime Story; A Victim, the Killers and the Nation’s Search for Answers, which includes a personality profile of Eric Harris, based on journal entries and personal communication. Immelman’s profile believes the materials suggested behavior patterns consistent with a “malignant narcissism … (with) pathological narcissism, antisocial features, paranoid traits, and unconstrained aggression”. The report notes that such a profile should not be construed as a direct psychiatric diagnosis, which is based on face-to-face interviews, formal psychological testing, and collection of collateral information.
In his journal, Klebold wrote about his view that he and Harris were “god-like” and more highly evolved than every other human being, but his secret journal records self-loathing and suicidal intentions. Page after page was covered in hearts, as he was secretly in love with a Columbine student. Although both had difficulty controlling their anger, Klebold’s anger had led to his being more prone to serious trouble than Harris. Klebold was known to swear at teachers and fight with his boss at Blackjack Pizza. After their arrest, which both recorded as the most traumatic thing they had ever experienced, Klebold wrote a letter to Harris, saying how they would have so much fun getting revenge and killing cops, and how his wrath from the January arrest would be “god-like”. On the day of the massacre, Klebold wore a black T-shirt which had the word “WRATH” printed in red.
It was speculated that revenge for the arrest was a possible motive for the attack, and that the pair planned on having a massive gun battle with police during the shooting. Klebold wrote that life was no fun without a little death, and that he would like to spend the last moments of his life in nerve-wracking twists of murder and bloodshed. He concluded by saying that he would kill himself afterward in order to leave the world that he hated and go to a better place. Klebold was described as “hotheaded, but depressive and suicidal.”
Some of the home recorded videos, called “The Basement Tapes”, have been withheld from the public by the police. Harris and Klebold reportedly discussed their motives for the attacks in these videos and gave instructions in bomb making. Police cite the reason for withholding these tapes as an effort to prevent them from becoming “call-to-arms” and “how-to” videos that could inspire copycat killers.
Initially, the shooters were believed to be members of a clique that called themselves the “Trench Coat Mafia”, a small group of Columbine’s self-styled outcasts who wore heavy black trench coats. Early reports described the members as also wearing German slogans and swastikas on their clothes. Additional media reports described the Trench Coat Mafia as a cult with ties to the Neo-Nazi movement which fueled a media stigma and bias against the Trench Coat Mafia. The misinformation might have stemmed from the jocks calling females who interacted with the Trench Coat Mafia ‘Nazi lesbians’.
In reality, the Trench Coat Mafia was a group of friends who hung out together, wore black trench coats, and prided themselves on being different from the ‘jocks’ who had been bullying the members and who also coined the name Trench Coat Mafia. The trench coat inadvertently became the members’ uniform after a mother of one of the members bought it as an inexpensive present.
Investigation revealed that Harris and Klebold were only friends with one member of the group, Chris Morris, and that most of the primary members of the Trench Coat Mafia had left the school by the time that Harris and Klebold committed the massacre. Most did not know the shooters, apart from their association with Morris, and none were considered suspects in the shootings or were charged with any involvement in the incident.
In the aftermath of the attacks, some North American high school students attended compulsory seminars that encouraged tolerance and condemned bullying, since that was believed, at least initially, to be one of the causes of the attacks.
Rapper Eminem mentioned the massacre in multiple songs from The Marshall Mathers LP, most notably “The Way I Am.” Marilyn Manson dubbed them “The Nobodies” in his song of that name from his 2000 album Holy Wood, addressing the allusion that the pair gave as their motivation for the planned killing in their journal.
Manson and Eminem were blamed by the media in the wake of the Columbine shooting, and Manson responded to criticism in an interview with Michael Moore, in which he was asked, “If you were to talk directly to the kids at Columbine and the people in the community, what would you say to them if they were here right now?”, to which he replied, “I wouldn’t say a single word to them—I would listen to what they have to say, and that’s what no one did.”
One official report suggested that Harris was a psychopath and Klebold was a depressive, and consequently that Harris was influenced by sadism, whereas Klebold was influenced by revenge. This report suggested that all of the reasons the boys gave for the shooting were justifications in order to present themselves as killers with a cause.
Although early media reports attributed the shootings to a desire for revenge on the part of Harris and Klebold for bullying that they received, subsequent psychological analysis indicated Harris and Klebold harbored serious psychological problems. According to Dave Cullen, Harris, who conceived the attacks, was a “cold-blooded, predatory psychopath” and an intelligent, charming liar with “a preposterously grand superiority complex, a revulsion for authority and an excruciating need for control”. In Cullen’s assessment, Harris lacked remorse or empathy for others, and sought to punish them for their perceived inferiority. According to Principal Frank DeAngelis, Harris was “the type of kid who, when he was in front of adults, he’d tell you what you wanted to hear.”
According to Robert Hare, one of the psychologists consulted by the FBI about Harris and Klebold, the media focused on the hatred exhibited by Harris’ journal and web site, and interpreted this as an indication that the killings were motivated by revenge.
Hare says, “Unlike psychotic individuals, psychopaths are rational and aware of what they are doing and why. Their behavior is the result of choice, freely exercised.” In analyzing the pages of enraged writings in Harris’ journals, Hare concludes the writings are not an expression of anger stemming from being ostracized or bullied, but are indicative of a deep superiority complex that seeks to punish the entire human race for its inferiority. Says Hare, “It’s more about demeaning other people.” According to Supervisory Special Agent Dwayne Fuselier, the FBI’s lead Columbine investigator and a clinical psychologist, Harris exhibited a pattern of grandiosity, contempt, and lack of empathy or remorse, distinctive traits of psychopaths that Harris concealed through deception. Fuselier adds that Harris engaged in mendacity not merely to protect himself, as Harris rationalized in his journal, but also for pleasure, as seen when Harris expressed his thoughts in his journal regarding how he and Klebold avoided prosecution for breaking into a van. Other leading psychiatrists concur that Harris was a psychopath.
Reaction of Susan Klebold
Susan Klebold, mother of Dylan Klebold, spoke about the Columbine High School massacre publicly for the first time in an essay that appeared in the October 2009 issue of O: The Oprah Magazine. In the piece, Klebold wrote: “For the rest of my life, I will be haunted by the horror and anguish Dylan caused,” and, “Dylan changed everything I believed about myself, about God, about family, and about love.” Stating that she had no clue of her son’s intentions, she said, “Once I saw his journals, it was clear to me that Dylan entered the school with the intention of dying there.”
In Andrew Solomon’s 2012 book, Far From the Tree, she acknowledged that on the day of the massacre, when she discovered that Dylan was one of the shooters, she prayed he would kill himself. “I had a sudden vision of what he might be doing. And so while every other mother in Littleton was praying that her child was safe, I had to pray that mine would die before he hurt anyone else.”
Lawsuits against their families
In April 2001, the families of more than 30 victims were given shares in a $2,538,000 settlement by the families of the perpetrators, Mark Manes, and Phillip Duran. The Harrises and the Klebolds contributed $1,568,000 to the settlement from their own homeowners’ policies, the Manes contributed $720,000, and the Durans contributed $250,000. The Harrises and the Klebolds were ordered to guarantee an additional $32,000 be available against any future claims. The Manes were ordered to hold $80,000 against future claims, and the Durans were ordered to hold $50,000. One family had filed a $250-million lawsuit against the Harrises and Klebolds in 1999 and did not accept the 2001 settlement terms. A judge ordered the family to accept a $366,000 settlement in June 2003. In August 2003, the families of five other victims received undisclosed settlements from the Harrises and Klebolds.
The Harris levels
Eric Harris created several known levels for the computer game Doom (known as WADs), and purportedly for the game Quake. The largest and most popular level is called U.A.C. Labs, and is still available for download. Some of the Harris level packs have graphical modifications that enhance the violent content of the game. The levels were not meant to be recreations of the interior of Columbine High School as often rumored.
According to one of the boys’ friends, Joseph Stair, Klebold was an avid Doom level creator just like Harris. Klebold had created a level that resembled the school and showed Stair, but he wasn’t interested in playing Doom, and never obtained a copy of the file, and the whereabouts of this level pack are unknown.
In popular culture
In the 1999 black comedy, Duck! The Carbine High Massacre, which is inspired by the Columbine shooting, the two shooters are played by William Hellfire and Joey Smack, who also co-wrote, directed and produced the film. The shooters are named “Derrick and Derwin”, a play on Harris’ and Klebold’s first names.
The 2002 Michael Moore documentary film Bowling for Columbine focuses heavily on a perceived American obsession with handguns, its grip on Jefferson County, Colorado, and its role in the shooting.
The 2003 Gus Van Sant film Elephant depicts a fictional school shooting, though some of its details were based on the Columbine massacre, such as one scene, in which one of the young killers walks into the evacuated school cafeteria and pauses to sip from someone’s glass, as Harris himself did during the shooting. In the film, the killers are called “Alex and Eric”.
In the 2003 Ben Coccio film Zero Day, which was inspired by the Columbine shooting, the two shooters are played by Cal Gabriel and Andre Kriegman.
Also in 2003, the Uwe Boll film Heart of America: Home Room was released. The film’s main plot focuses on two bullied students, Daniel Lynn and Barry Shultz, who plan to carry out a school shooting on the last day of school after being tortured by the school jocks. Barry, the main character, has second thoughts and quits at the last minute, while Daniel carries out the plan with a female accomplice, Dara McDermott. Barry is played by Michael Belyea, Daniel is played by Kett Turton, and Dara is played by Elisabeth Rosen. The film is also believed to have been inspired by several shootings that are listed before the credits, Columbine being among them.
Also in 2004, the shooting was dramatized in the documentary Zero Hour, in which Harris and Klebold were played by Ben Johnson and Josh Young, respectively.
In 2007, the massacre was documented in an episode of the National Geographic Channel documentary series, The Final Report.
In the 2009 film April Showers, which was written and directed by Andrew Robinson, who was a senior at Columbine High School during the shooting, the single shooter, Ben Harris, is played by Benjamin Chrystak.
The Columbine High School massacre was a school shooting which occurred on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School in Columbine, an unincorporated area of Jefferson County in the State of Colorado. In addition to shootings, the complex and highly planned attack involved a fire bomb to divert firefighters, propane tanks converted to bombs placed in the cafeteria, 99 explosive devices, and bombs rigged in cars. Two senior students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, murdered a total of 12 students and one teacher. They injured 24 additional students, with three other people being injured while attempting to escape the school. The pair then committed suicide.
Although their motives remain unclear, the personal journals of the perpetrators document that they wished their actions to rival the Oklahoma City bombing. The attack has been referred to by USA Today as a “suicidal attack [which was] planned as a grand – if badly implemented – terrorist bombing.” The Columbine High School massacre is the deadliest mass murder committed on an American high school campus, and is noted as one of the first and most serious of a series of high profile spree shootings which have since occurred.
The massacre sparked debate over gun control laws, the availability of firearms within the United States and gun violence involving youths. Much discussion also centered on the nature of high school cliques, subcultures and bullying, in addition to the influence of violent movies and video games in American society. The shooting resulted in an increased emphasis on school security, and a moral panic aimed at goth culture, social outcasts, gun culture, the use of pharmaceutical anti-depressants by teenagers, teenage Internet use and violent video games.
Preliminary activities and intent
In 1996, Eric Harris created a private website on America Online. Harris initially created the site to host gaming levels of the video game Doom, which he and his friend, Dylan Klebold, had created, primarily for friends. On this site, Harris began a blog, which included jokes and short journal entries with thoughts on parents, school, and friends. By the end of the year, the site contained instructions on how to cause mischief, as well as instructions on how to make explosives, and blogs in which he described the trouble he and Klebold were causing. Beginning in early 1997, the blog postings began to show the first signs of Harris’s ever-growing anger against society.
Harris’s site attracted few visitors, and caused no concern until late 1997. Klebold gave the web address to Brooks Brown, a former friend of Harris. Brown’s mother had filed numerous complaints with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office concerning Harris, as she thought he was dangerous. The website contained numerous death threats directed against Brown: Klebold knew that if Brooks accessed the address, he would discover the content and inform his parents, and likely the authorities would be notified. After Brown’s parents viewed the site, they contacted the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. The investigator Michael Guerra was told about the website. When he accessed it, Guerra discovered numerous violent threats directed against the students and teachers of Columbine High School. Other material included blurbs which Harris had written about his general hatred of society, and his desire to kill those who annoyed him. Harris had noted on his site that he had made pipe bombs. In addition, he mentioned a gun count and compiled a hit list of individuals (he did not post any plan on how he intended to attack targets). As Harris had posted on his website that he possessed explosives, Guerra wrote a draft affidavit, requesting a search warrant of the Harris household. He never filed it. The affidavit was concealed by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and not revealed until September 2001, resulting from an investigation by the TV show 60 Minutes.
After the revelation about the affidavit, a series of grand jury investigations were begun into the cover-up activities of Jefferson County officials. The investigation revealed that high-ranking county officials had met a few days after the massacre to discuss the release of the affidavit to the public. It was decided that because the affidavit’s contents lacked the necessary probable cause to have supported the issuance of a search warrant for the Harris household by a judge, it would be best not to disclose the affidavit’s existence at an upcoming press conference, although the actual conversations and points of discussion were never revealed to anyone other than the Grand Jury members. Following the press conference, the original Guerra documents disappeared.
In September 1999, a Jefferson County investigator failed to find the documents during a secret search of the county’s computer system. A second attempt in late 2000 found copies of the document within the Jefferson County archives. The documents were reconstructed and released to the public in September 2001, but the original documents are still missing. The final grand jury investigation was released in September 2004.
On January 30, 1998, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold stole tools and other equipment from a van parked near the city of Littleton. Both youths were arrested and subsequently attended a joint court hearing, where they pleaded guilty to the felony theft. The judge sentenced the duo to attend a juvenile diversion program. There both boys attended mandated classes and talked with diversion officers. One of their classes taught anger management. Harris also began attending therapy classes with a psychologist. Klebold had a history of drinking and having failed a dilute urine test, but neither he nor Harris attended any substance abuse classes.
Harris and Klebold were eventually released from diversion several weeks early because of positive actions in the program; they were both on probation. Harris wrote a letter to the owner of the equipment which they stole, apologizing and offering empathy to the owner for his and Klebold’s actions. Harris continued scheduled meetings with his psychologist until a few months before he and Klebold committed the Columbine High School massacre.
Shortly after his and Klebold’s court hearing, Harris’s online blog disappeared. His website was reverted to its original purpose of posting user-created levels of the online video game Doom. Harris began to write a paper journal, in which he recorded his thoughts and plans. There he boasted of having faked his letter of regret to the owner of the van from which he and Klebold had stolen items and praised himself for his deception.
Harris dedicated a section of his website to posting content regarding his and Klebold’s progress in their collection of guns and building of bombs (they subsequently used both in attacking students at their school.) (After the website was made public, AOL permanently deleted it from its servers.)
In one of his scheduled meetings with his psychiatrist, Eric Harris complained of depression, anger and possessing suicidal thoughts. As a result, he was prescribed the anti-depressant Zoloft. He complained of feeling restless and having trouble concentrating; in April, his doctor switched him to Luvox, a similar anti-depressant drug. At the time of his death, Harris had therapeutic Luvox levels in his system. Some analysts, such as psychiatrist Peter Breggin, have argued that one or both of these medications may have contributed to Harris’s actions. Breggin said that side-effects of these drugs include increased aggression, loss of remorse, depersonalization, and mania.
Journals and videos
Harris and Klebold both began keeping journals soon after their arrests. The pair documented their arsenal with video tapes they kept secret.
Their journals documented their plan for a major bombing to rival that of the Oklahoma City bombing. Their entries contained blurbs about ways to escape to Mexico, hijacking an aircraft at Denver International Airport and crashing into a building in New York City, as well as details about the planned attack. The pair hoped that, after setting off home-made explosives in the cafeteria at the busiest time of day, killing hundreds of students, they would shoot survivors fleeing from the school. Then, as police vehicles, ambulances, fire trucks, and reporters came to the school, bombs set in the boys’ cars would detonate, killing these emergency and other personnel. In the event, the explosives in their cars did not detonate.
The pair kept videos that documented the explosives, ammunition, and weapons they had obtained illegally. They revealed the ways they hid their arsenals in their homes, as well as how they deceived their parents about their activities. The pair shot videos of doing target practice in nearby foothills, as well as areas of the high school they planned to attack. On April 20, approximately thirty minutes before the attack, they made a final video saying goodbye and apologizing to their friends and families.
In the months prior to the attacks, Harris and Klebold acquired two 9 mm firearms and two 12-gauge shotguns. Their friend Robyn Anderson bought a rifle and the two shotguns at the Tanner Gun Show in December 1998. Through Philip Duran, another friend, Harris and Klebold later bought a handgun from Mark Manes for $500.
Using instructions acquired upon the Internet, Harris and Klebold constructed a total of 99 improvised explosive devices of various designs and sizes. They sawed the barrels and butts off their shotguns to make them easier to conceal. They committed numerous felony violations of state and federal law, including the National Firearms Act and the Gun Control Act of 1968, before they began the massacre.
On April 20, Harris was equipped with a 12-gauge Savage-Springfield 67H pump-action shotgun, (which he discharged a total of 25 times) and a Hi-Point 995 Carbine 9 mm carbine with thirteen 10-round magazines, which he fired a total of 96 times.
Klebold was equipped with a 9 mm Intratec TEC-9 semi-automatic handgun with one 52-, one 32-, and one 28-round magazine and a 12-gauge Stevens 311D double-barreled sawed-off shotgun. Klebold primarily fired the TEC-9 handgun, for a total of 55 times.
April 20, 1999: The massacre
On the morning of Tuesday, April 20, 1999, Harris and Klebold placed a small fire bomb in a field about three miles south of Columbine High School, and two miles south of the fire station. Set to explode at 11:14 a.m., the bomb was a diversion to draw firefighters and emergency personnel away from the school. (It partially detonated and caused a small fire, which was quickly extinguished by the fire department.)
At 11:10 a.m. Harris and Klebold arrived separately at Columbine High School. Harris parked his vehicle in the Junior student parking lot, by the south entrance, and Klebold parked in the adjoining Senior student parking lot, by the west entrance. The school cafeteria, their bomb target, with its long outside window-wall and ground-level doors, was between their parking spots.
After parking their cars, the duo met near Harris’s car and armed two 20 pound (9 kg) propane bombs before entering the cafeteria a few minutes prior to the beginning of the A lunch shift. The youths placed the duffel bags containing the bombs—set to explode at approximately 11:17 a.m.—inside the cafeteria before returning to their separate vehicles to await the explosion, and to shoot survivors fleeing the building. Had the bombs exploded with full power, they would have killed or severely wounded all 488 students in the cafeteria and possibly collapsed the ceiling, dropping part of the library into the cafeteria.
A Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputy, Neil Gardner, was assigned to the high school as a full-time uniformed and armed school resource officer. Gardner usually ate lunch with students in the cafeteria, but on April 20 he was eating lunch in his patrol car at the northwest corner of the campus, watching students in the Smokers’ Pit in Clement Park.
The security staff at Columbine did not observe the bombs being placed in the cafeteria, since a custodian was replacing the school security video tape as it happened. The bags holding the bombs were first visible on the fresh security tape, but they were not identified as suspicious items. No witness recalled seeing the duffel bags being added to the 400 or so backpacks already in the cafeteria.
As the two youths returned to their vehicles, Harris encountered Brooks Brown, a classmate with whom he had recently patched up a longstanding series of disagreements. Brown was surprised to see Harris; whom he had earlier noted had been absent from an important class test. Harris seemed unconcerned when reminded of this fact, commenting, “It doesn’t matter anymore.” Harris then elaborated: “Brooks, I like you now. Get out of here. Go home.” Brown, feeling uneasy, walked away. Several minutes later, students departing Columbine for their lunch break observed Brown heading down South Pierce Street away from the school. Meanwhile, Harris and Klebold armed themselves by their vehicles and waited for the bombs to explode.
Shooting begins 11:19 a.m.
When the cafeteria bombs failed to explode, Harris and Klebold convened and walked toward the school. Both armed, they climbed to the top of the outdoor West Entrance steps, placing them on a level with the athletic fields west of the building and the library inside the West Entrance, directly above the cafeteria. From this vantage point, the cafeteria’s west entrance was located at the bottom of the staircase, next to the Senior parking lot.
At 11:19 a.m., a witness heard Eric Harris yell “Go! Go!” The two gunmen pulled their guns from beneath their trenchcoats and began shooting at two 17-year-old students who had been sitting in the grass next to the West Entrance of the school. Rachel Scott was hit four times and killed instantly. Richard Castaldo was shot eight times in the chest, arm and abdomen and paralyzed below the chest. It is unknown who fired first or which gunman shot and killed Scott.
Many rumors afterward related to the cause of the attacks and possible targeting of Christians. One such rumor related to the murder of Rachel Scott claimed that the shooters had first asked Scott if she believed in God, and killed her after she said yes. The FBI later concluded that this interaction did not take place.
After the first two shootings, Harris removed his trench coat and aimed his 9 mm carbine down the West Staircase toward three youths: 15-year-olds Daniel Rohrbough and Sean Graves and 16-year-old Lance Kirklin. The three friends had been ascending the staircase directly below the shooters. Kirklin later reported seeing Klebold and Harris standing at the top of the staircase, before opening fire. All three youths were shot and wounded. Harris and Klebold turned and began shooting west in the direction of five students sitting on the grassy hillside adjacent to the steps and opposite the West Entrance of the school. 15-year-old Michael Johnson was hit in the face, leg and arm, but ran and escaped; 16-year-old Mark Taylor was shot in the chest, arms and leg and fell to the ground, where he feigned death. The other three escaped uninjured.
Klebold walked down the steps toward the cafeteria. He shot Kirklin in the face, critically wounding him. Daniel Rohrbough and Sean Graves had descended the staircase when Klebold and Harris’s attention was diverted by the students on the grass; Graves had crawled into the doorway of the cafeteria’s west entrance and collapsed. Klebold shot Rohrbough through the upper left chest at close range, killing him and then stepped over the injured Sean Graves to enter the cafeteria. Officials speculated that Klebold went to the cafeteria to check on the propane bombs. Harris shot down the steps at several students sitting near the cafeteria’s entrance, severely wounding and partially paralyzing 17-year-old Anne-Marie Hochhalter as she tried to flee. Klebold came out of the cafeteria and went back up the stairs to join Harris.
They shot toward students standing close to a soccer field, but did not hit anyone. They walked toward the West Entrance, throwing pipe bombs, very few of which detonated. Patti Nielson, a teacher, had noticed the commotion and walked toward the West Entrance with a 16-year-old student, Brian Anderson. She had intended to walk outside to tell the two students to “Knock it off,” thinking Klebold and Harris were either filming a video or pulling a student prank. As Anderson opened the first set of double doors, Harris and Klebold shot out the windows, injuring him with flying glass and hitting Nielson in the shoulder with shrapnel. Nielson stood and ran back down the hall into the library, alerting the students inside to the danger and telling them to get under desks and keep silent. She dialed 9-1-1 and hid under the library’s administrative counter. Anderson remained behind, caught between the exterior and interior doors.
Police response 11:22 a.m.
At 11:22, the custodian called Deputy Neil Gardner on the school radio, requesting assistance in the Senior parking lot. The only paved route took him around the school to the east and south on Pierce Street, where, at 11:23 he heard on his police radio that a female was down, struck by a car, he assumed. He turned on his lights and siren. While exiting his patrol car in the Senior lot at 11:24, he heard another call on the school radio, “Neil, there’s a shooter in the school”. Harris, at the West Entrance, immediately fired his rifle at Gardner, who was sixty yards away. Gardner returned fire with his service pistol. He was not wearing his prescription eyeglasses, and was unable to hit the shooters.
Thus, five minutes after the shooting started, and two minutes after the first radio call, Gardner was engaged in a gun fight with the student shooters. There were already two dead and ten wounded. Harris fired ten shots and Gardner fired four, before Harris ducked back into the building. No one was hit. Gardner reported on his police radio, “Shots in the building. I need someone in the south lot with me.”
The gunfight distracted Harris and Klebold from the injured Brian Anderson. Anderson escaped to the library and hid inside an open staff break room. Back in the school, the duo moved along the main North Hallway, throwing pipe bombs and shooting at anyone they encountered. They shot Stephanie Munson in the ankle, although she was able to walk out of the school. The pair shot out the windows to the East Entrance of the school. After proceeding through the hall several times and shooting toward—and missing—any students they saw, Harris and Klebold went toward the West Entrance and turned into the Library Hallway.
Deputy Paul Smoker, a motorcycle patrolman for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, was writing a traffic ticket north of the school when the “female down” call came in at 11:23. Taking the shortest route, he drove his motorcycle over grass between the athletic fields and headed toward the West Entrance. When he saw Deputy Scott Taborsky following him in a patrol car, he abandoned his motorcycle for the safety of the car. The two deputies had begun to rescue two wounded students near the ball fields when another gunfight broke out at 11:26, between Harris, back at the West Entrance, and Gardner, still in the parking lot. Deputy Smoker returned fire from the hilltop, and Harris retreated. Again, no one was hit.
Meanwhile, William David Sanders, a computer and business teacher and a varsity coach, had evacuated the cafeteria, taking students up a staircase leading to the second floor of the school. The stairs were located around the corner from the Library Hallway in the main South Hallway. (It is believed, but not confirmed, that having evacuated the cafeteria, Sanders was rushing toward the library to evacuate students there when he encountered Harris and Klebold.) As Sanders and a student walked down the Library Hallway, they encountered Harris and Klebold, who were approaching from the corner of the North Hallway. Sanders and the student turned and ran in the opposite direction. Harris and Klebold shot at them both, hitting Sanders twice in the chest but missing the student. The latter ran into a science classroom and warned everyone to hide. Harris and Klebold returned up the North Hallway.
Sanders struggled toward the science area, and a teacher took him into a classroom where 30 students were located. They placed a sign in the window: “1 bleeding to death,” in order to alert police and medical personnel of Sanders’ location. Two students administered first aid to him and tried to stem the blood loss using shirts from students in the room. Using a phone in the room, the teacher and several students kept in contact with police outside the school. All the students in this room were evacuated safely, but Sanders died that afternoon at approximately 3:00 p.m. He was the only teacher killed in the school shooting.
Library massacre 11:29 a.m. to 11:36 a.m.
As the shooting unfolded, Patti Nielson talked on the phone with emergency services, telling her story and urging students to take cover beneath desks. According to transcripts, her call was received by a 9-1-1 operator at 11:25:05 a.m. The time between the call being answered and the shooters entering the library was four minutes and ten seconds. Before entering, the shooters threw two bombs into the cafeteria, both of which exploded. They then threw another bomb into the Library Hallway; it exploded and damaged several lockers. At 11:29 a.m., Harris and Klebold entered the library, where a total of 52 students, two teachers and two librarians had concealed themselves.
Harris yelled, “Get up!,” in a tone so loud that he can be heard on Patti Nielson’s 9-1-1 recording at 11:29:18. Klebold yelled, “Everybody get up!” Staff and students hiding in the library exterior rooms later said they also heard the gunmen say:
“Everyone with white hats, stand up! This is for all the shit that you’ve given us for the past four years!” and: “All jocks stand up! We’ll get the guys in white hats!”
(Wearing a white baseball cap at Columbine was a tradition among sports team members.) When no one stood up, Harris said, “Fine, I’ll start shooting anyway!” He fired his shotgun twice at a desk, not knowing that a student named Evan Todd was hiding beneath it. Todd was hit by wood splinters but was not seriously injured.
The shooters walked to the opposite side of the library, to two rows of computers. Todd hid behind the administrative counter. Kyle Velasquez, 16, was sitting at the north row of computers; police later said he had not hidden underneath the desk when Klebold and Harris had first entered the library, but had curled up under the computer table. Klebold shot and killed Velasquez, hitting him in the head and back. Klebold and Harris put down their ammunition-filled duffel bags at the south—or lower—row of computers and reloaded their weapons. They walked back toward the windows facing the outside staircase. Noticing police evacuating students outside the school, Harris said: “Let’s go kill some cops.” He and Klebold began to shoot out the windows in the direction of the police, who returned fire.
After firing through the windows at evacuating students and the police, Klebold fired his shotgun at a nearby table, injuring three students named Patrick Ireland, Daniel Steepleton, and Makai Hall. He removed his trench coat. As Klebold fired at the three, Harris grabbed his shotgun and walked toward the lower row of computer desks, firing a single shot under the first desk without looking. He hit 14-year-old Steven Curnow with a mortal wound to the neck. Harris shot under the adjacent computer desk, injuring 17-year-old Kacey Ruegsegger in the hand, arm and shoulder. When she started gasping in pain, Harris told her to “quit your bitching”.
Harris walked over to the table across from the lower computer row, slapped the surface twice and knelt, saying “Peek-a-boo” to 17-year-old Cassie Bernall before shooting her once in the head, killing her instantly. Harris had been holding the shotgun with one hand at this point and the weapon hit his face in recoil, breaking his nose. Three students who witnessed Bernall’s death, including one who had been hiding beneath the table with her, have testified that Bernall did not exchange words with Harris after his initial taunt.
After fatally shooting Bernall, Harris turned toward the next table, where Bree Pasquale sat next to the table rather than under it. Harris asked Pasquale if she wanted to die, and she responded with a plea for her life. Witnesses later reported that Harris seemed disoriented — possibly from the heavily bleeding wound to his nose. As Harris taunted Pasquale, Klebold noted Ireland trying to provide aid to Hall, who had suffered a wound to his knee. As Ireland tried to help Hall, his head rose above the table; Klebold shot him a second time, hitting him twice in the head and once in the foot. He was knocked unconscious, but survived.
Klebold walked toward another set of tables, where he discovered 18-year-old Isaiah Shoels and 16-year-olds Matthew Kechter and Craig Scott (the younger brother of Rachel Scott), hiding under one table. All three were popular athletes. Klebold tried to pull Shoels out from under the table. He called to Harris, shouting, “Reb! There’s a nigger over here”. Harris left Pasquale and joined him. Klebold and Harris taunted Shoels for a few seconds, making derogatory racial comments. Harris knelt down and shot Shoels once in the chest at close range, killing him. Klebold also knelt down and opened fire, hitting and killing Kechter. Scott was uninjured; he lay in the blood of his friends, feigning death. Harris turned and threw a CO2 bomb at the table where Hall, Steepleton, and Ireland were located. It landed on Steepleton’s thigh, and Hall quickly threw it away.
Harris walked toward the bookcases between the west and center section of tables in the library. He jumped on one and shook it, then shot in an unknown direction within that general area. Klebold walked through the main area, past the first set of bookcases, the central desk area and a second set of bookcases into the east area. Harris walked from the bookcase he had shot from, past the central area to meet Klebold. The latter shot at a display case located next to the door, then turned and shot toward the closest table, hitting and injuring 17-year-old Mark Kintgen in the head and shoulder. He turned toward the table to his left and fired, injuring 18-year-olds Lisa Kreutz and Valeen Schnurr with the same shotgun bullet. Klebold then moved toward the same table and fired with the TEC-9, killing 18-year-old Lauren Townsend.
Harris approached another table where two girls had hidden. He bent down to look at them and dismissed them as “pathetic”. The two shooters approached an empty table where they reloaded their weapons. Schnurr, who had been badly wounded by gunshot wounds and shrapnel, began to cry out, “Oh, God help me!” Klebold approached her and asked her if she believed in God. Schnurr first replied “no” and then “yes”, in an attempt to appease Klebold. In response, Klebold asked her why; she said that it was what her family believed. He taunted her, reloaded his shotgun, then walked away. The slightly injured Todd also reported that at this point, Klebold had said, “God is gay.” (The exchange between Schnurr and Klebold was subsequently, and incorrectly, attributed to the verbal exchange between Harris and Cassie Bernall.)
Harris then moved to another table where he fired twice, injuring 16-year-olds Nicole Nowlen and John Tomlin. When Tomlin attempted to move away from the table, Klebold kicked him. Harris then taunted Tomlin’s attempt at escape before Klebold shot the youth repeatedly, killing him. Harris then walked back over to the other side of the table where Lauren Townsend lay dead. Behind the table, a 16-year-old girl named Kelly Fleming had, like Bree Pasquale, sat next to the table rather than beneath it due to a lack of space. Harris shot Fleming with his shotgun, hitting her in the back and killing her instantly. He shot at the table behind Fleming, hitting Townsend and Kreutz again, and wounding 18-year-old Jeanna Park. An autopsy later revealed that Townsend died from the earlier gunshots by Klebold.
The shooters moved to the center of the library, where they continued to reload their weapons at a table there. Harris noticed a student hiding nearby and asked him to identify himself. It was John Savage, an acquaintance of Klebold’s. Savage said his name and asked Klebold what they were doing, to which he answered, “Oh, just killing people.” Savage asked if they were going to kill him. Possibly because of a fire alarm, Klebold said, “What?” Savage asked again whether they were going to kill him. Klebold hesitated, then told him to leave. Savage fled immediately, and escaped through the library’s main entrance.
After Savage had left, Harris turned and fired his carbine at the table directly north of where they’d been, grazing the ear of the 15-year-old Daniel Mauser. Harris fired again and hit Mauser in the face at close range, killing him. Both shooters moved south and fired randomly under another table, critically injuring two 17-year-olds, Jennifer Doyle and Austin Eubanks, and fatally wounding 17-year-old Corey DePooter. DePooter, the last to die in the massacre, at 11:35, was later credited with having kept his friends calm during the ordeal.
There were no further injuries after 11:35 a.m. They had killed 10 people in the library and wounded 12. Of the 56 library hostagees, 34 remained unharmed. The shooters had enough ammunition to have killed them all.
At this point, several witnesses later said they heard Harris and Klebold comment that they no longer found a thrill in shooting their victims. Klebold was quoted as saying, “Maybe we should start knifing people, that might be more fun.” (Both youths were equipped with knives.) They moved away from the table and went toward the library’s main counter. Harris threw a Molotov cocktail toward the southwestern end of the library but it failed to explode. Harris went around the east side of the counter and Klebold joined him from the west; they converged close to where Todd had moved after having been wounded. Harris and Klebold mocked Todd, who was wearing a white (jock) hat. When the shooters demanded to see his face, Todd partly lifted his hat so his face would remain obscured. When Klebold asked Todd to give him one reason why he should not kill him, Todd said: “I don’t want trouble.” Klebold said, “You [Todd] used to call me a fag. Who’s a fag now?!” The shooters continued to taunt Todd and debated killing him, but they eventually walked away.
Harris’s nose was bleeding heavily, which may have caused him to decide to leave the library. Klebold turned and fired a single shot into an open library staff break room, hitting a small television. He slammed a chair down on top of the computer terminal on the library counter, directly above the bureau where Patti Nielson had hidden.
The two walked out of the library at 11:36 a.m., ending the hostage situation there. Cautiously, fearing the shooters’ return, 34 uninjured and 10 injured survivors began to evacuate the library through the north door, which led to the sidewalk adjacent to the West Entrance. Patrick Ireland, unconscious, and Lisa Kreutz, unable to move, remained in the building. Patti Nielson joined Brian Anderson and the three library staff in the exterior break room, into which Klebold had earlier fired shots. They locked themselves in and remained there until they were freed, at approximately 3:30 p.m.
For the next 32 minutes, Harris and Klebold wandered the building, firing guns and setting off bombs, but causing no further injury. They committed suicide at 12:08, two minutes after the first SWAT team entered the building, but this fact was not discovered for more than three hours.
Suicide of the perpetrators
After leaving the library, Harris and Klebold entered the science area, where they threw a small fire bomb into an empty storage closet. It caused a fire which was put out by a teacher hidden in an adjacent room. The duo proceeded toward the south hallway, where they shot into an empty science room. At approximately 11:44 a.m., Harris and Klebold were captured on the school security cameras as they re-entered the cafeteria.
The recording shows Harris kneeling on the landing and firing a single shot toward one of the propane bombs he and Klebold had earlier left in the cafeteria, in an unsuccessful attempt to detonate it. He took a sip from one of the drinks left behind as Klebold approached the propane bomb and examined it. Klebold lit a Molotov cocktail and threw it at the propane bomb. As the two left the cafeteria, the Molotov cocktail exploded, partially detonating one of the propane bombs at 11:46 a.m. Two minutes later, approximately one gallon of fuel ignited in the same vicinity, causing a fire that was extinguished by the fire sprinklers.
After leaving the cafeteria, the duo returned to the main north and south hallways of the school, shooting aimlessly. Harris and Klebold walked through the south hallway into the main office before returning to the north hallway. On several occasions, the pair looked through the windows of classroom doors, making eye contact with students hidden inside, but neither Harris nor Klebold tried to enter any of the rooms. After leaving the main office, Harris and Klebold walked toward a bathroom, where they taunted students hidden inside, making such comments as: “We know you’re in there” and “Let’s kill anyone we find in here.” Neither attempted to enter the bathroom. At 11:55 a.m., the two returned to the cafeteria, where they briefly entered the school kitchen. They returned up the staircase and into the south hallway at 11:58 a.m.
At 12:02 p.m., Harris and Klebold re-entered the library, which was empty of surviving students except the unconscious Patrick Ireland and the injured Lisa Kreutz. Once inside, they shot at police through the west windows but did not hit anyone.
At approximately 12:08 p.m, Patti Nielson, who had locked herself inside a break room with a student and library staff, overheard Harris and Klebold suddenly shout in unison: “One! Two! Three!” These words were followed by the sound of gunfire. Both had committed suicide: Harris by firing his shotgun through the roof of his mouth; Klebold by shooting himself in the left temple with his TEC-9 semi-automatic handgun.
Patrick Ireland had regained and lost consciousness several times after being shot by Klebold. He crawled to the library windows where, at 2:38 p.m., he stretched out the window, falling into the arms of two SWAT team members standing on the roof of an emergency vehicle. They were later criticized for allowing Ireland to drop more than seven feet to the ground, while doing nothing to try to ensure he could be lowered to the ground safely or break his fall. 18-year-old Lisa Kreutz, shot in the shoulder, arms, hand and thigh, remained in the library. In a subsequent interview, she recalled hearing a comment such as, “You in the library,” around the time of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold’s suicides. Kreutz lay in the library, keeping track of time by the sound of the school’s bells, until police arrived. She had tried to move but became light-headed. She was finally evacuated at 3:22 pm, along with Ms. Nielson, Brian Anderson and the three library staff who had hidden in the break room.
The crisis ends
By noon, SWAT teams were stationed outside the school, and ambulances started taking the wounded to local hospitals. Meanwhile, families of students and staff were asked to gather at nearby Leawood Elementary School to await information.
A call for additional ammunition for police officers in case of a shootout came at 12:20 p.m. The killers had ceased shooting just minutes earlier. Authorities reported pipe bombs by 1:00 p.m., and two SWAT teams entered the school at 1:09 p.m., moving from classroom to classroom, discovering hidden students and faculty. All students, teachers, and school employees were taken away, questioned, and offered medical care in small holding areas before being bussed to meet with their family members at Leawood Elementary. Officials found the bodies in the library by 3:30 p.m.
By 4:00 p.m. the sheriff made an initial estimate of 25 dead students and teachers. The estimate was ten over the true count, but close to the total count of wounded students. He said that police officers were searching the bodies of Harris and Klebold. At 4:30 p.m. the school was declared safe. At 5:30 p.m. additional officers were called in, as more explosives were found in the parking lot and on the roof. By 6:15 p.m., officials had found a bomb in Klebold’s car in the parking lot. The sheriff decided to mark the entire school as a crime scene; thirteen of the dead, including the shooters, were still inside the school at the time. At 10:45 p.m. the bomb in the car detonated when an officer tried to defuse it. The car was damaged, but no one was injured.
The total count of deaths was twelve students and one teacher; twenty-four students were injured as a result of the shootings. Three more were injured indirectly as they tried to escape the school. Harris and Klebold are thought to have committed suicide about forty-five minutes after they started the massacre.
On April 21, bomb squads combed the high school. At 10:00 a.m., the bomb squad declared the building safe for officials to enter. By 11:30 a.m., a spokesman of the sheriff declared the investigation underway. Thirteen of the bodies were still inside the high school as investigators photographed the building.
At 2:30 p.m., a press conference was held by Jefferson County District Attorney David Thomas and Sheriff John Stone, at which they said that they suspected others had helped plan the shooting. Formal identification of the dead had not yet taken place, but families of the children thought to have been killed had been notified. Throughout the late afternoon and early evening, the bodies were gradually removed from the school and taken to the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office to be identified and autopsied. By 5:00 p.m., the names of many of the dead were known. An official statement was released, saying there were 15 confirmed deaths and 27 injuries related to the massacre.
On April 30, high-ranking officials of Jefferson County and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office met to decide if they should reveal that Michael Guerra, a Sheriff’s Office detective, had drafted an affidavit for a search warrant of Harris’s residence a year before the shootings, based on his previous investigation of Harris’s website and activities. They decided not to disclose this information at a press conference held on April 30, nor did they mention it in any other way. Over the next two years, Guerra’s original draft and investigative file documents were lost. Their loss was termed “troubling” by a Grand Jury convened after the file’s existence was reported in April 2001.
In the months following the shooting, considerable media attention focused upon Cassie Bernall, who had been killed by Eric Harris in the library and who Harris was reported to have asked, “Do you believe in God?,” immediately prior to her murder. Bernall was reported to have responded “Yes” before being killed. Valeen Schnurr claims that this exchange was with her, and Emily Wyant, the only living witness to Bernall’s death, confirms that Bernall did not have the discussion. But Bernall and Rachel Scott came to be regarded as Christian martyrs by Evangelical Christians. The official investigation attributed the statement to survivor Valeen Schnurr. The student Joshua Lapp thought Bernall had been queried about her belief, but was unable to correctly point out where Bernall was located, and was closer to Schnurr during the shootings. Another witness, Craig Scott, whose sister Rachel Scott was also portrayed as a Christian martyr, claimed that the discussion was with Bernall. When asked to indicate where the conversation had been coming from, he pointed to where Schnurr was shot.
The search for rationale
In the aftermath, speculation occurred about the killers’ motivation and whether the murders could have been prevented. Unlike many previous school shootings, as both shooters committed suicide, the massacre was particularly difficult to assess.
In their investigation into how Harris and Klebold had acquired their firearms, police learned they had acquired one through a friend Mark Manes. Manes and Philip Duran, who had introduced the duo to Manes, were eventually prosecuted for their roles in supplying guns to Harris and Klebold. Each was charged with supplying a handgun to a minor and possession of a sawed-off shotgun. Manes and Duran were sentenced to a total of six years and four-and-a-half years in prison, respectively.
The link between bullying and school violence has attracted increasing attention since the 1999 attack at Columbine High School. Both of the shooters were classified as gifted children and had allegedly been victims of bullying for four years. A year later, an analysis by officials at the US Secret Service of 37 premeditated school shootings found that bullying, which some of the shooters described “in terms that approached torment,” played the major role in more than two-thirds of the attacks. A similar theory was expounded by Brooks Brown in his book on the massacre; he noted that teachers commonly looked the other way when confronted with bullying.
Early stories following the shootings charged that school administrators and teachers at Columbine had long condoned a climate of bullying by the so-called jocks or athletes, allowing an atmosphere of intimidation and resentment to fester. Critics said this could have contributed to triggering the perpetrators’ extreme violence. Reportedly, homophobic remarks were directed at Klebold and Harris.
One author has strongly disputed the theory of “revenge for bullying” as a motivation for the actions of Harris and Klebold. David Cullen, author of the 2009 book Columbine, while acknowledging the pervasiveness of bullying in high schools including Columbine, has claimed that the two were not victims of bullying. Cullen said that Harris was more often the perpetrator than victim of bullying.
Psychopathy and depression
In July 1999, the FBI organized a major summit on school shooters in Leesburg, Virginia. Attending were psychologists, psychiatrists, and representatives from recent school shootings, including a large Columbine contingent. Attorney General Janet Reno attended. The FBI eventually published a major report on school shooters, though it did not pinpoint the causes of any individual case.
On the fifth anniversary of Columbine, the FBI’s lead Columbine investigator and several psychiatrists published their conclusions in a news article. They said Harris was a clinical psychopath and Klebold was depressive. They believed Harris had been the mastermind, having a messianic-level superiority complex, and hoped to demonstrate his superiority to the world.
The attack was the culmination of more than a year of planning, firearms acquisition, and bomb building. Harris’s journals, in particular, show methodical preparation over a long period of time, including several experimental bomb detonations. The massacre was anything but a failure of impulse control.
For prior behavioral issues, Harris had been prescribed the SSRI antidepressant Fluvoxamine. Toxicology reports confirmed that Harris had Fluvoxamine in his bloodstream at the time of the shootings.
Jerald Block, a US psychiatrist, has differed with the FBI opinion of psychopathology and depression, arguing that the killers’ actions are not well explained by such diagnoses. Rather, he believes that the students’ immersion in video games caused them to feel most gratified while playing in a virtual world.
Both Harris and Klebold were fans of video games such as Doom and Wolfenstein 3D. Harris often created levels for Doom that were widely distributed; these can still be found on the Internet as the Harris levels. Rumors that the layout of these levels resembled that of Columbine High School circulated, but appear to be untrue. Harris spent a great deal of time creating another large mod, named Tier, calling it his “life’s work.” The mod was uploaded to the Columbine school computer and to AOL shortly before the attack, but appears to have been lost. One researcher argued that it is almost certain the Tier mod included a mock-up of Columbine High School.
Following their January 1998 arrest for theft, both youths had computer access restricted. Block believes that their personal anger, which was initially projected into video games, was now unleashed into the real world. In addition, the restriction of their computer access opened up substantial amounts of idle time that would have otherwise gone towards their online activities. Block said Harris and Klebold increasingly used this free time to express their anger, with their antisocial tendencies likewise increasing. This, in turn, generated further restrictions. Ultimately, after the 1998 arrest and their being banned from personal computer access for approximately one month, the two teens became homicidal and began documenting plans to attack the school. Block writes that the plan to attack the school first appears in Klebold’s writings, and that Klebold may have considered using a different partner-in-crime than Harris. This person’s name was redacted from Klebold’s journal by police.
Parents of some of the victims filed several unsuccessful lawsuits against video game manufacturers. Harris and Klebold were fans of the movie Natural Born Killers, and used the film’s acronym, NBK, as a code in their home videos and journals.
Other factors explored
During and after the initial investigations, social cliques within high schools were widely discussed. One perception formed was that both Klebold and Harris had been isolated from their classmates, prompting feelings of helplessness, insecurity, and depression, as well as a strong need for attention. This concept has been questioned, as both Harris and Klebold had a close circle of friends and a wider informal social group.
In the weeks following the Columbine shootings, media reports about Harris and Klebold portrayed them as part of a Gothic cult. An increased suspicion of Gothic subculture subsequently manifested. Harris and Klebold had initially been thought to be members of “The Trenchcoat Mafia;” an informal club within Columbine High School. Later, such characterizations were considered incorrect.
Blame for the shootings was directed on a number of metal or ‘dark music’ bands such as KMFDM and Rammstein. The majority of that blame was directed at Marilyn Manson and his eponymous band. After being linked by news outlets and pundits with sensationalist headlines such as “Killers Worshipped Rock Freak Manson” and “Devil-Worshipping Maniac Told Kids To Kill,” many came to believe that Manson’s music and imagery were, indeed, Harris and Klebold’s sole motivation, despite later reports that the two were not fans.
In the immediate aftermath, the band canceled the remaining North American dates of their Rock Is Dead Tour out of respect for the victims, while steadfastly maintaining that music, movies, books or video games were not to blame. Manson stated:
“ The [news] media has unfairly scapegoated the music industry and so-called Goth kids and has speculated, with no basis in truth, that artists like myself are in some way to blame. This tragedy was a product of ignorance, hatred and an access to guns. I hope the [news] media’s irresponsible finger-pointing doesn’t create more discrimination against kids who look different. ”
On May 1, 1999, Manson expanded his rebuttal to the accusations leveled at him and his band in his Rolling Stone magazine op-ed piece, “Columbine: Whose Fault Is It?” He castigated the ensuing hysteria and moral panic and criticized the news media for their irresponsible coverage; he chastised America’s habit of hanging blame on scapegoats to escape responsibility. Columbine and America’s fixation on a culture of guns, blame, and ‘celebrity by death’ was further explored in the group’s 2000 album Holy Wood.
In 2002, Manson appeared in Michael Moore’s documentary, Bowling for Columbine; his appearance was filmed during the band’s first show in Denver since the shooting. When Moore asked Manson what he would have said to the students at Columbine, he replied, “I wouldn’t say a single word to them. I would listen to what they have to say and that’s what no one did.”
Sascha Konietzko of KMFDM said their music denounced “war, oppression, fascism and violence against others.”
Harris and Klebold as modern revolutionaries
Nick Turse ascribed a revolutionary motive to the actions of Harris and Klebold. He wrote, “Who would not concede that terrorizing the American machine, at the very site where it exerts its most powerful influence, is a truly revolutionary task? To be inarticulate about your goals, even to not understand them, does not negate their existence. Approve or disapprove of their methods, vilify them as miscreants, but don’t dare disregard these modern radicals as anything less than the latest incarnation of disaffected insurgents waging the ongoing American revolution.” Historian David Farber of Temple University wrote that Turse’s assertion “only makes sense in an academic culture in which transgression is by definition political and in which any rage against society can be considered radical.”
Choice of date
Due to ambiguities in the written record of the students’ planning, various theories have formed about their choice of date for the shootings. One theory says the original date was April 19, as Robyn Anderson (a close friend of Klebold who purchased some of the weaponry used) would not be present on that date. Due to delays in the manufacturing of the propane bombs and in acquiring ammunition, they moved the date to April 20. As April 19 was the fourth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing and the date of the immolation of the Waco Siege, it seemed to support the theory saying it was the intended date. Both Harris and Klebold had said in their homemade videos that they had hoped to surpass the earlier events by their actions.
The date of the shooting happened to be the birthday of Adolf Hitler, leading some journalists to speculate that Harris and Klebold were Neo-Nazis.
Impact on school policies
Secret Service report on school shootings
A United States Secret Service study concluded that schools were placing false hope in physical security, when they should be paying more attention to the pre-attack behaviors of students. Zero-tolerance policies and metal detectors “are unlikely to be helpful,” the Secret Service researchers found. The researchers focused on questions concerning the reliance on SWAT teams when most attacks are over before police arrive, profiling of students who show warning signs in the absence of a definitive profile, expulsion of students for minor infractions when expulsion is the spark that push some to return to school with a gun, buying software not based on school shooting studies to evaluate threats although killers rarely make direct threats, and reliance on metal detectors and police officers in schools when the shooters often make no effort to conceal their weapons.
In May 2002, the Secret Service published a report that examined 37 US school shootings. They had the following findings:
Incidents of targeted violence at school were rarely sudden, impulsive acts.
Prior to most incidents, other people knew about the attacker’s idea and/or plan to attack.
Most attackers did not threaten their targets directly prior to advancing the attack.
There is no accurate or useful profile of students who engaged in targeted school violence.
Most attackers engaged in some behavior prior to the incident that caused others concern or indicated a need for help.
Most attackers had difficulty coping with significant losses or personal failures. Moreover, many had considered or attempted suicide.
Many attackers felt bullied, persecuted, or injured by others prior to the attack.
Most attackers had access to and had used weapons prior to the attack.
In many cases, other students were involved in some capacity.
Despite prompt law enforcement responses, most shooting incidents were stopped by means other than law enforcement intervention.
Following the Columbine shooting, schools across the United States instituted new security measures such as see-through backpacks, metal detectors, school uniforms, and security guards. Some schools implemented school door numbering to improve public safety response. Several schools throughout the country resorted to requiring students to wear computer-generated IDs. At the same time, police departments reassessed their tactics and now train for Columbine-like situations after criticism over the slow response and progress of the SWAT teams during the shooting.
In response to expressed concerns over the causes of the Columbine High School massacre and other school shootings, some schools have renewed existing anti-bullying policies, in addition to adopting a zero tolerance approach to possession of weapons and threatening behavior by students. Despite the Columbine incident, several social science experts feel the zero tolerance approach adopted in schools has been implemented too harshly, with unintended consequences creating other problems.
One significant change to police tactics following Columbine is the introduction of the Immediate Action Rapid Deployment tactic, used in situations with an active shooter. Police followed the traditional tactic at Columbine: surround the building, set up a perimeter, contain the damage. That approach has been replaced by a tactic which takes into account the presence of an active shooter whose interest is to kill, not to take hostages. This tactic calls for a four-person team to advance into the site of any ongoing shooting, optimally a diamond-shaped wedge, but even with just a single officer if more are not available. Police officers using this tactic are trained to move toward the sound of gunfire and neutralize the shooter as quickly as possible. Their goal is to stop the shooter at all costs; they are to walk past wounded victims, as the aim is to prevent the shooter from killing or wounding more. David Cullen, author of Columbine, has stated: “The active protocol has proved successful at numerous shootings during the past decade. At Virginia Tech alone, it probably saved dozens of lives.”
The shooting resulted in calls for more gun control measures. In 2000 federal and state legislation was introduced that would require safety locks on firearms as well as ban the importation of high-capacity ammunition magazines. Though laws were passed that made it a crime to buy guns for criminals and minors, there was considerable controversy over legislation pertaining to background checks at gun shows. There was concern in the gun lobby over restrictions on Second Amendment rights in the US. In 2001, K-Mart, which had sold ammunition to the shooters, announced it would no longer sell handgun ammunition. This action was encouraged by and documented in the film Bowling for Columbine.
In 2000 youth advocate Melissa Helmbrecht organized a remembrance event in Denver featuring two surviving students, called the “Day of Hope.”
A permanent memorial “to honor and remember the victims of the April 20, 1999 shootings at Columbine High School” was dedicated on September 21, 2007, in Clement Park, a meadow adjacent to the school where impromptu memorials were held in the days following the shooting. The memorial fund raised $1.5 million in donations over eight years of planning.
Becoming part of the vernacular
Since the shooting, “Columbine” or “the Columbine incident” has become a euphemism for a school shooting. Charles Andrew Williams, the Santana High School shooter, reportedly told his friends that he was going to “pull a Columbine,” though none of them took him seriously. Many foiled school shooting plots mentioned Columbine and the desire to “outdo Harris and Klebold.” Convicted students Brian Draper and Torey Adamcik of Pocatello High School in Idaho, who murdered their classmate Cassie Jo Stoddart, mentioned Harris and Klebold in their homemade videos, and were reportedly planning a “Columbine-like” shooting.
In a self-made video recording posted by Seung-Hui Cho to the news media immediately prior to his committing the Virginia Tech massacre, Seung-Hui refers the Columbine Massacre in an apparent reference to his motivation for his own acts. In the recording, he refers to Klebold and Harris as being “martyrs.”
Injuries and deaths in initial incident
1. Rachel Scott, age 17. Killed by shots to the head, torso and leg alongside the West Entrance of the school.
2. Richard Castaldo, age 17. Shot in the arm, chest, back and abdomen alongside the West Entrance to the school.
3. Daniel Rohrbough, age 15. Killed by a shot to the chest at the base of the West Staircase.
4. Sean Graves, age 15. Shot in the back, foot and abdomen on the West Staircase.
5. Lance Kirklin, age 16. Critically injured by shots to the leg, neck and jaw on the West Staircase.
6. Michael Johnson, age 15. Shot in the face, arm and leg to the west of the staircase.
7. Mark Taylor, age 16. Shot in the chest, arms and leg to the west of the staircase.
8. Anne-Marie Hochhalter, age 17. Shot in the chest, arm, abdomen, back, and left leg near the cafeteria’s entrance.
9. Brian Anderson, age 16. Injured near the West Entrance by flying glass.
10. Patti Nielson, age 35. Hit in the shoulder by shrapnel near the West Entrance.
11. Stephanie Munson, age 16. Shot in the ankle inside the North Hallway.
12. William David Sanders, age 47. Died of blood loss after being shot in the neck and back inside the South Hallway.
Injuries and deaths in the library
13. Evan Todd, age 15. Sustained minor injuries from the splintering of a desk he was hiding under.
14. Kyle Velasquez, age 16. Killed by gunshot wounds to the head and back.
15. Patrick Ireland, age 17. Shot in the arm, leg, head and foot.
16. Daniel Steepleton, age, 17. Shot in the thigh.
17. Makai Hall, age 18. Shot in the knee.
18. Steven Curnow, age 14. Killed by a shot to the neck.
19. Kacey Ruegsegger, age 17. Shot in the hand, arm and shoulder.
20. Cassie Bernall, age 17. Killed by a shotgun wound to the head.
21. Isaiah Shoels, age 18. Killed by a shot to the chest.
22. Matthew Kechter, age 16. Killed by a shot to the chest.
23. Lisa Kreutz, age 18. Shot in the shoulder, hand, arms and thigh.
24. Valeen Schnurr, age 18. Injured with wounds to the chest, arms and abdomen.
25. Mark Kintgen, age 17. Shot in the head and shoulder.
26. Lauren Townsend, age 18. Killed by multiple gunshot wounds to the head, chest and lower body.
27. Nicole Nowlen, age 16. Shot in the abdomen.
28. John Tomlin, age 16. Killed by multiple shots to the head and neck.
29. Kelly Fleming, age 16. Killed by a shotgun wound to the back.
30. Jeanna Park, age 18. Shot in the knee, shoulder and foot.
31. Daniel Mauser, age 15. Killed by a single shot to the face.
32. Jennifer Doyle, age 17. Shot in the hand, leg and shoulder.
33. Austin Eubanks, age 17. Shot in the hand and knee.
34. Corey DePooter, age 17. Killed by shots to the chest and neck.
Suicide of perpetrators
35. Eric Harris, age 18. Committed suicide by a single shot to the mouth.
36. Dylan Klebold, age 17. Committed suicide by a single shot to the head.
The Columbine High School Massacre
By Fiona Steel – TruTV.com
The morning of Tuesday, April 20, 1999 started much the same as any other day in the middle-class town of Littleton, Colorado. None could know, as they went about their normal business, that beneath the calm, an anger had been raging in the hearts and minds of two young men, Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17. At 11:35 a.m. on that fateful Tuesday, the 110th anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s birth, the two teenagers began a rampage through the corridors of Columbine High School that ultimately ended their lives. In their wake they left 13 dead, 25 injured, many seriously, and a town shaken to its core.
Eric and Dylan had arrived in the school parking lot and entered through the back cafeteria door. They were wearing the long black trench coats that were the trademark of the small clique of students, “The Trench Coat Mafia,” of which they were peripheral members. It was not until the teenagers began firing, from the semi-automatic weapons they had carried, concealed under their coats, that students and staff who filled the cafeteria realized that something was wrong.
Teacher and coach Dave Sanders was shot twice as he attempted to herd as many students as possible out of the cafeteria and away to safety. His quick thinking and bravery saved the lives of many students but, unfortunately, at the cost of his own. By the time he was able to get out of the cafeteria he was bleeding heavily from gunshot wounds to his chest and shoulders and was already coughing up blood. Students attempted to stem the blood flow from Sanders’ wounds, as they cowered behind desks and tables in terror, but he died shortly after rescue teams finally reached him.
As Harris and Klebold marched through the building, heading toward the library, students and teachers fled. Some hid in bathrooms, some in storage rooms; others had no more protection than the tables under which they had crawled. From outside the building, police and SWAT teams who had begun to arrive could hear the sounds of gunfire and explosions. Students poured out of doors and windows, crying, screaming, some with injuries. They fled as far from the building as they could go. Ambulance workers and police tried to keep track of them as they made their escape. The injured were tended to as the SWAT teams tentatively entered the building, not knowing what was in store for them.
Homemade bombs and explosive devices were found planted around the building. The first priority was to evacuate the school before any of them could detonate. As the police scoured the ground floor looking for bombs, victims and the persons responsible for the carnage, Harris and Klebold were continuing their “mission” on the second floor, hunting down any stray students who were hiding in classrooms. In the library, students who had only moments before been studying were shot down in a blaze of gunfire. Several survivors later reported that Harris and Klebold were smiling and laughing as they shot their fellow students. The last shots heard were at 12:30 p.m. when Harris and Klebold took their own lives.
SWAT teams still did not know how many shooters there were, whether they were dead, or quietly waiting to ambush the police. As each bomb was located, it had to be defused. Students, injured and frantic with fear, had to be escorted from the building to ensure their safety. Each one was also searched for bombs and weapons. It was not until 4:00 p.m. that police declared the building secure. All survivors had been evacuated. The bodies of the two killers were found with their guns in their hands and explosive devices hidden under their coats. Police were able to announce the death toll, including the shooters, as being 15.
State of Emergency
All of the six district hospitals had been put on alert as soon as news of the shooting had been reported by the school’s security guard at 11:35. They had swung automatically into emergency procedures. By 12:00 p.m., when the first of the victims began to arrive, they were ready for anything. Twenty- five people were admitted for treatment. Twenty-three had bullet wounds. Three were in a critical condition.
Terrified parents flocked to the school, watching helplessly as students ran from the building, hoping to catch a glimpse of their sons and daughters. In the midst of the chaos, someone began to organize a list of all known survivors. Parents read through the lists, searching for the names of their children. Many would have to wait a long and agonizing time before word of their children would bring relief. For others, the relief would never come.
When the sun set that night, it was on a different Littleton. Everyone in the town was to be affected by the tragic and frightening events of Tuesday, April 20, 1999. They were no longer innocents. No longer could they live secure in the knowledge that such things could never happen to them. It had happened. The next few months would bring the painful grief, self-recrimination and blame that is a natural process of coming to terms with such a violent and tragic event.
Over the next few days, as citizens of Littleton erected memorials and held services for the fallen, police and SWAT teams cordoned off the school, which was considered a major crime scene. The bodies of the dead lay where they fell until nightfall on Wednesday, April 21. Families whose children were still unaccounted for waited nearby for the final identification of the victims. Unable to face the worst, they desperately held to any other possible explanation for why their children had not yet been found, hope not leaving them until the last, when they heard their children’s names called from the list of the dead.
Schools in the district were closed on Wednesday as students and parents alike came to terms with the horror. Columbine would close for the rest of the school year. Many students would express their reluctance to ever return. Mourners from all over the district met at Clement Park, not far from the school, attempting to gain some solace in the other mourners around them. Flowers, candles, and posters were laid at makeshift memorials, as much for the living as the dead.
Wayne and Kathy Harris and Sue and Tom Klebold, the parents of the two teenage shooters, sat stunned in their homes as police searched for bombs, weapons and other material that might help them to understand what had occurred on Tuesday morning. Filled not only with grief for the death of their own children, they bore the weight of responsibility for the deaths of the people their sons had murdered. They were overwhelmed by disbelief. That their sons could have behaved in the way described by police and witnesses was beyond their comprehension.
It would take many months of intense investigation, in what has been described as the state’s most complex police investigation, before anyone would come close to some of the answers. The answers they found led to more questions, many of which may never be fathomed.
On the Surface
As the police investigation progressed, the background of the two boys gradually unfolded. Initially it seemed that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were just two average teenagers — intelligent, well-mannered kids who had come from good homes.
Eric Harris was born onf April 9, 1981 in Wichita, Kansas. His parents Wayne, and Kathy Harris had both been born in Colorado but Wayne’s career as an Air Force transport pilot had meant that the family had moved often. They had lived in Ohio, Michigan and New York. When Wayne Harris retired, he and Kathy chose to settle in Littleton in 1996. There Wayne worked at the Flight Safety Services Corporation in Englewood. Kathy worked at a catering company in the same area. Friends, neighbors and associates of the Harrises in all of the areas in which they had lived described Wayne and Kathy as good people, supportive and considerate of both of their sons.
During his childhood, Eric Harris had played Little League and was a Boy Scout. Eric and Dylan became firm friends soon after the Harrises moved to Littleton. Before long they had linked their home computers and would spend many hours playing video games.
Eric had hoped to be accepted into the Marine Corps but had been informed, several days before the massacre, that his application had been rejected. The reason given was that Eric had been taking the anti-depressant Luvox, which was often used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder. Luvox is a commonly prescribed drug, which normally does not cause any physical or psychological side effects unless taken with other drugs or alcohol. No evidence of drugs or alcohol had been found in Harris’s body after his death.
Dylan Klebold, like Eric Harris, came from a stable middle-class family which was held in high regard by friends, neighbors and associates. Dylan was born on September 11, 1981 in Lakewood, Colorado. He had lived in Littleton for many years with his parents Sue and Tom Klebold and older brother Byron.
Tom Klebold, a former geophysicist, operated a mortgage management business from their family home while Sue worked at the State Consortium of Community Colleges providing accessibility for disabled students. Close friends felt that Dylan began to change after he befriended Eric Harris during 1996.
As far as anyone knew there had only been one incident of criminal behavior in the past. In March the previous year, the boys had been arrested on felony charges of criminal trespass and theft for breaking into a car and stealing some tools. Klebold and Harris had made such a good impression on the juvenile officers involved in the case that they were offered to have their records cleared if they promised to stay out of trouble and participate in a diversionary program. Harris was required to attend anger management classes. Again, he had made a good impression on authorities.
However, it would not take long before a contrasting picture began to emerge. A picture of two young men, angry at the world they thought had wronged them, who had sought, for some time, a way to accomplish their revenge.
It was soon discovered that Eric Harris had a website posted which openly expressed his anger toward the people of Littleton, especially teachers and students at Columbine High School. On this site, Harris had begun to express his desire for revenge against everyone that had irritated or annoyed him. The words “God, I can’t wait until I can kill you people,” and “I’ll just go to some downtown area in some big (expletive) city and blow up and shoot everything I can” were posted as early as March 1998. It was also around this time that both Harris and Klebold began experimenting with pipe bombs, posting the results of their tests on the site.
A number of students told of incidents where Harris and Klebold had bragged that they would one day seek revenge on the “jocks” at the school, whom they felt had ridiculed them and treated them as outcasts. A video made as a school project by the pair showed them walking through the corridors of the school wielding guns, killing all who stood in their way. They had been disappointed when their teacher had not allowed the video to be viewed by the rest of the school because of its violence. Harris was also known for his violent themes in creative writing projects.
Many of their teachers described the youths as being depressed, angry, and admirers of Nazism. In the minds of some teachers, Harris and Klebold had shown many disturbing signs of their violent tendencies; these same teachers had reported their concerns. Unfortunately, no action could be taken against the boys, as they had in fact done nothing to warrant it, although, one of the boys had been suspended the year before for hacking into the school’s computer system. Despite the growing concern of many of their teachers, the Klebolds and Harrises claim that they had never been informed of their sons’ behavioral problems.
The lack of communication between the juvenile authorities, school officials and their parents enabled Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to maintain the appearance of normalcy to those closest to them, while secretly planning the fulfillment of their angry, violent fantasies.
Police investigations into the worst case of school violence in America’s history began on Wednesday, April 21, 1999. At Columbine High School, the bodies of 12 students were recovered. All had died from gunshot wounds. In the library, the bodies of Harris and Klebold were found with explosive devices attached to them. The four guns they had used in the shooting were lying next to them. They had both died of self-inflicted gun shot wounds. It was reported that, over the next few days, between 30 and 50 bombs and explosive devices were found throughout the school, in cars, the school parking lot and in Eric Harris’s home. A search of the homes of the two teenage gunmen uncovered evidence that suggested to police that Harris and Klebold might have had one or more accomplices and had spent over a year planning and preparing for the shooting. A website and journal owned by Harris confirmed their suspicions.
The first mystery police had to solve was how Harris and Klebold were able to obtain the four guns used in the shooting. The two shotguns and the rifle could have been purchased legally by Harris, who had turned 18 less than two weeks earlier but the semi-automatic, identified as a TEC-DC9, could not be legally purchased by anyone under the age of 21.
It was soon revealed that a close friend of Dylan Klebold had purchased the guns for him at a gun show in the Denver area in November or December 1998. The young woman was identified as Robyn K. Anderson, an 18-year-old student at Columbine High School. She and Klebold had been close friends for some time and, although not romantically involved, had attended the school prom together three days before the shooting. Police investigations concluded that Anderson, who was in the running to be school valedictorian, had no prior knowledge of Klebold and Harris’s plans for the guns and would not be considered as a suspect in the case.
The TEC-DC9 proved to be much more difficult to trace. The manufacturer initially sold it to a Miami-based company, Navegar Inc. In 1994, it was sold to Zander’s Sporting Goods in Baldwin, Illinois. Zander’s then sold the gun to a dealership near Westminster, which sold it, legally, to someone over the age of 21. At some point the gun was sold to Larry Russell, a Thornton firearms dealer, who sold it at the Tanner Gun Show. Although Russell did not keep records of the purchaser, he is definite that the person was over the age of 21. He was not able to identify Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, or Robyn Anderson as the purchaser from photographs shown to him by police.
For some time police suspected that Chris Morris, a member of the “Trench Coat Mafia” and an employee of a pizza restaurant where Harris and Klebold also worked, may have acted as a middle-man in the sale of the gun to the gunmen. Their suspicions were allayed when a person, who has not yet been identified by police, came forward to tell police that he had sold the gun to Harris. Two men have since been charged with supplying the guns to Harris.
Morris was also questioned extensively by police regarding the possibility that Harris and Klebold may have had one or more accomplices prior to the shooting. Early in the investigation there were as many as 10 people who police considered as possible suspects. Three teenagers, wearing black boots and trench coats, were detained during the confusion after the shooting but were later cleared of any involvement. Another teenager, who fled before the shooting began, is suspected of helping Harris and Klebold to carry duffel bags filled with bombs into the school. A teenager, wearing a white tee shirt was also seen with Harris and Klebold in the parking lot just before the gunmen entered the school, and Klebold’s black BMW was seen 40 minutes before the shooting began, driving near the school with four teenagers inside. Police believe that, while there may have been others with prior knowledge of the shooting, Harris and Klebold were the only shooters.
Well Laid Plans
Harris had indicated in his website, using code names, that his plans included at least two other teenagers. The first name, “Vodka,” was quickly identified as Dylan Klebold but the identity of the other name, “KiBBz,” could not be determined. On this website, Harris’s anger toward students and teachers at Columbine was clearly revealed and his desire for revenge was vented in vivid detail. Also posted was a detailed account of his, Klebold’s and KiBBz’s experiments with making and detonating pipe bombs. Police intended to review the dozen or more cases of bomb detonations in the Jefferson County in the past 12 months to determine whether they could be linked to Harris and Klebold.
Police believe that Harris and Klebold had learned about bomb making on the Internet. Many sites include recipes for pipe bombs and other explosive devices. Although details of the construction of the 30 or more bombs planted at the Columbine school have not been revealed, it has been reported that they were made from materials that could be easily purchased at local hardware stores. As yet, police have been unable to confirm a report from a sales clerk at a local hardware store that Harris and Klebold had bought five large propane filled tanks, nails, wire, screws and duct tape a week before the assault. He also claims that there were two other teenage boys in the car with Harris and Klebold.
Captain Phil Spence of the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s department described some of the bombs as being crude and simple, made of carbon dioxide canisters, galvanized pipe or metal propane bottles. Others, like the one which exploded on the corner of South Wadsworth Boulevard and Ken Caryl Avenue minutes before the attack, were equipped with timing devices and were much more sophisticated. Many of the simpler bombs were primed with matches stuck in one end of the pipes. Harris and Klebold had striker strips attached to their sleeves, which they rubbed over the match heads as they walked past. Despite their simplicity, they were still powerful.
One bomb blew a hole through a wall in the library. The largest bomb, found in the kitchen was made out of a pipe bomb, two propane tanks, and several smaller fuel cylinders. Evidence suggests that Harris and Klebold had opened fire on this bomb when it failed to explode. If they had been successful in detonating this and all of the other bombs they had planted, the death toll could have been as many as three hundred.
In the journal found in Harris’s bedroom, his and Klebold’s intention to kill as many as 500 people had been clearly stated. They had decided to start their attack in the cafeteria at 11:00 a.m., as the highest number of students would be there at that time. Every detail of their intended movements for Tuesday, April 20, 1999 was chronicled in the journal, beginning with an early start at 5:00 a.m. It appears from Harris’s writing that Columbine High School was intended to be just the beginning of their rampage. Their ultimate hope had been to continue the massacre in neighboring homes, then to hijack a plane. The grand finale was to crash the plane into New York City. Only a long trail of death and destruction would have satisfied Harris’s and Klebold’s need for revenge for the perceived wrongs done to them.
Days after the massacre was over, Littleton faced the threat that Harris and Klebold’s death was not to be the end of the destruction. A letter was received by the Denver-area Rocky Mountain News. The note, apparently authored by Eric Harris, blamed their murderous scheme on the parents, teachers, and students of Columbine High. The students were blamed for their ridicule and non-acceptance of those who were different, and the parents and teachers blamed for training them to be sheep. The note ended with the threatening words:
“You may think the horror ends with the bullet in my head, but you wouldn’t be so lucky. All that I can leave you with to decipher what more extensive death is to come is “12Skizto.” You have until April 26th. Goodbye.”
As police made inquiries as to the authenticity of the note, schools in the district made preparations to increase security for the following Monday. The threats were not fulfilled and the police soon announced that they believed the note to have been a hoax.
The Finger of Blame
As the initial shock waves from the massacre rippled through the community, citizens were drawn together in their grief. Thousands attended memorial services for the slain, offering and receiving comfort as mourners attempted to come to terms with the tragedy that had befallen them. A spirit of forgiveness was even displayed toward the two teenage perpetrators in the form of two crosses placed alongside those of their 13 victims. Within days however, the mood began to change as grief turned to anger and all that were touched by the tragedy looked desperately for someone or something to blame. Before six months had passed, the need to hold someone accountable had turned the small community upon itself.
Blame was first pointed at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. Many believed that it had taken police too long to secure the building, leading to many unnecessary deaths. Teacher and coach Dave Sanders was wounded minutes after the shooting began but died just moments after paramedics reached him four and a half hours later. Police officials quickly defended their actions, explaining that due to the number of undetonated bombs in the building, it had been necessary to go through each room, 250 in total, one by one. Even if they had been told that Sanders was injured somewhere, they would not have been able to get to him any sooner. When asked why police didn’t storm the building and confront the shooters, a commander of one of the SWAT teams, Denver police Lieutenant Frank Vessa answered “We’re not the military. We can’t have collateral damage. Our job was to save the lives of as many innocent as we could.”
With the investigation in full swing, the blame began to shift in a new direction. When it was reported that bombs, a shotgun barrel, a journal and several hand written notes had been found in clear view in Eric Harris’s bedroom, the parents of the two teenage shooters took the brunt of the community’s anger. The Harrises and Klebolds were accused of being negligent parents who had ignored their sons’ violent tendencies. The anger of some was so great that the Klebolds began to receive death threats. This was in stark contrast to the placard, conveying the love and support of friends and neighbors, left on their front lawn immediately after the massacre.
Friends and neighbors of the two families quickly jumped to their defense, claiming that they were good parents who had been completely unaware of their sons’ disturbing behavior. A fellow student who had known Harris well believes that Harris had always hidden his anti-social behavior from his parents, the only reason he would have left things in the open that day was because he knew he wasn’t coming back. According to close friends, the parents were as distressed and mystified by the boys’ actions as everyone else in the community was. At no time had the school informed them of the dark poetry, anti-social behavior or the video they had made. Nor were they informed of several complaints about Harris, which were made to police by parents of another Columbine student.
Police Under Fire
In response to police criticisms of the Harrises and Klebolds, Randy and Judy Brown reported to a local paper and News4 that police had done nothing when the Browns had complained to police about Eric Harris the year before. The Browns told reporters that they had had many run-ins with Harris over the past two years. In March 1998, they turned to the police when Harris threatened their son’s life. Then they went to the sheriff’s office with copies of 15 pages they had downloaded from Harris’s Internet site. The writings included plans to shoot up the school, details of experiments with pipe bombs and, more specifically, a threat to kill the Browns’ 17-year-old son, Brook. When the Browns had not heard anything from police, they called the sheriff’s office. They were told that there was no record of such a complaint ever being made.
Having had no success with the police, the Browns went to see Harris’s parents themselves. Judy Brown felt that both Wayne and Kathy Harris had reacted as strongly as any normal parent would and they did talk to their son, but Judy believes that Harris had succeeded in deceiving his parents about the seriousness of the situation. This belief was soon confirmed when they received an email, written by Harris, which described how he had fooled his father.
As they still hadn’t received any word from police, and the email repeated Harris’s threats against their son, Judy and Randy decided to make a second visit to the sheriff’s office. They met with a detective who said that the Internet postings they showed him were some of the worst he had seen. When he looked up police records, he found that Harris had been arrested recently for a car break-in. Despite this, no further action was taken and officials handling Harris and Klebold’s break-in charges were not informed of the Browns’ report.
A police report regarding the Browns’ complaints was forwarded to Neil Gardner, the sheriff’s deputy stationed at Columbine High School, but no further action was taken. According to Jefferson County Schools’ spokesman, Rick Kaufmann, the report was not forwarded to the school’s district office but he did not know if anyone in the school received the report.
The district attorney’s office says that it never received a copy of the report. Sheriff John Stone explained that his office received many complaints, known as “suspicious incidents,” in any given period. They are usually given very low priority, although he did concede that the information regarding Harris’s and Klebold’s pipe bomb experiments should have been followed up more thoroughly.
According to Denver lawyer Scott Robinson, who reviewed Harris’s web pages, the reports of building and detonating pipe bombs could have been used as probable cause to persuade a judge to issue a search warrant for Harris’s house.
The need to find someone responsible for the horrific events at Columbine has resulted in the filing of at least 18 lawsuits before the October cut-off was reached. Anyone who may have any degree of culpability in the massacre — gun makers, Harris’s and Klebold’s parents, the school district and the sheriff’s department – will all be required to defend their position, if and when these cases come to court. With several lawsuits being filed against them, the Klebolds have filed their own suit against the sheriff’s department in an attempt to cover the possible costs incurred if the cases against them are successful. Harriet Hall, the mental health worker responsible for providing counseling to the Columbine victims, was not surprised at the dissension that occurred in the community since the massacre. “I’d be worried if there weren’t disagreements… This is a natural response to what the community has been through,” she said.
A Growing Problem
Debate in the House of Representatives over a major concealed-weapons bill ignited a new furor about school safety. The shooting at Columbine, while the worst act of school violence in America to date, was not the first.
On April 16, 1999, a high school sophomore fired two shotgun blasts in a school hallway in Notus, Idaho. There were no injuries.
On May 21, 1998, a 15-year-old boy opened fire at a high school in Springfield, Oregon. Two teenagers were fatally shot and 20 people were injured. The boy’s parents were found slain in their home.
On May 19, 1998, an 18-year-old honor student opened fire in a parking lot at a high school in Fayetteville, Tennessee. A classmate who was dating the student’s ex-girlfriend was killed.
On April 24, 1998, a 14-year-old student shot a science teacher to death at an eighth-grade graduation dance in Edinboro, Pennsylvania.
On March 24, 1998, in Jonesboro, Arkansas, two boys, aged 11 and 13, opened fire on teachers and students as they left a middle school building during a false fire alarm. Four girls and a teacher were killed and 10 people were wounded.
On December 1, 1997, a 14-year-old student was arrested after three students were killed and five others wounded in a hallway at Heath High School, West Paducah, Kentucky. One of the injured girls is paralyzed.
On October 1, 1997, a 16-year-old boy in Pearl, Mississippi killed his mother then shot nine students, two fatally.
According to a survey conducted in 1997 by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 10% of the participating high school students said they had carried a weapon onto school property. In Colorado, 506 students were expelled during the 1997-98 school year for taking weapons to school. This is an 18 % increase from the previous year.
The Search for Solutions
With statistics such as these rising every year, school authorities are at a loss as to what they can do. Large student populations during lunchtimes are impossible to control and it is impractical and illegal to lock children in schools. Many schools, such as Columbine, have law enforcement officers on the premises but their effectiveness is questionable. None of the schools in the Denver metropolitan area have metal detectors permanently in place, as they are impractical and, as Denver Public Schools spokesman, Mark Stevens, said “…if they’d had metal detectors at Columbine, the first fatality might well have been the metal detector operator.” Many experts say schools can take precautionary action by erecting fences around the property to limit access, installing security cameras, and training teachers to spot problem children.
Throughout the country, school administrators have been working with school psychologists to put together a behavior checklist to help teachers spot potentially violent students before any problems start. The intention of such a profile would be to alert teachers and parents of potentially violent students so that they can receive counseling, be transferred to an alternative education facility, or be expelled, depending on the situation.
There are a number of character checklists now available for teachers. The National School Safety Center in Westlake Village, California has created a list of 20 warning signs. The American Psychological Association and MTV produced a guide called Warning Signs In the Memphis Conference: Suggestions for Preventing and Dealing with Student Initiated Violence which includes criminologist William Reisman’s list of 50 indicators. Early Warning, Timely Response: A Guide to Safe Schools was commissioned by President Clinton and distributed to schools nationwide. Compiled by the National Association of School Psychologists, the U.S. Department of Education, and other agencies, the guide identifies 16 features that may distinguish violence-prone children, including social withdrawal, feelings of rejection and poor academic performance.
Many critics of “student profiling” programs believe there is a danger that children who do not reflect a desired image may be unfairly labeled. American Civil Liberties Union spokeswoman, Emily Whitfield says “Not only are students being unfairly targeted but, in some cases, there’s not a whole lot of thought going into it.” Recognizing such dangers, Elizabeth Kuffner, spokesperson for the National Association of School Psychologists warns, “Definitely there are warning signs. Definitely, there are things to look for. But to just say a kid fits this profile, we don’t think this is a good idea.”
While the police investigation into the shooting at Columbine High School has done much to reveal the events of Tuesday, April 20,1999 the question as to why is still very much a mystery.
How do two seemingly normal teenagers become mass murderers? Why is school violence on the increase and what can we do to stop it? How can we protect our children from such atrocities occurring again?
These questions have ignited much public and private debate. Anti-gun lobbyists believe that if guns were not so readily available our children would not be at risk. On the other hand, pro-gun supporters argue that it is people, not guns, who kill. Others believe that violence in the media is poisoning our children’s minds, but isn’t the media content a reflection of the public’s demands? All sides of the debate have some degree of validity, yet none offer a complete answer. Are there much deeper issues involved?
Perhaps our fascination for violence, whether as a participant or spectator, stems from our basic need for control, a need which, when unfulfilled, drives us to exert power over others, the most extreme expression of this is taking the life of another.
You do not have to look too far back in history to see the pattern. Every nation that has lusted for power has won it with violence, and in time, turned that violence in upon itself, ultimately ending in its own destruction. As we finish another millennium we can see that not much has changed except in the form in which it is expressed.
Perhaps in time, if we search deeply enough, we will find the answers. In the meantime, we continue to mourn for those who are cut down at the hands of others, knowing only that it shouldn’t happen.
Developments & Discoveries
By Marilyn Bardsley
On October 12, 2002, Associated Press reported that “four videotapes made by the Columbine High School killers — showing the teen gunmen brandishing weapons they used in the attack and donning the clothes they wore — will remain in lawyers’ offices.
“The tapes are evidence in a lawsuit brought by a Columbine survivor against the pharmaceutical company that made an anti-depressant taken by gunman Eric Harris. The parents of Harris and Dylan Klebold had sought to keep the videotapes under lock and key during the trial, for fear they would be leaked to the media. But U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer turned the parents down Friday, saying: ‘In preparing a case for trial, you need to have the matters you will deal with to work on, and you need it in your office.'”
Other videos in which the killers said how they were going to carry out the attacks will remain locked up, along with writings by the killers.
Mike Montgomery, a lawyer for the Harris family, said, “the parents do not want to run the risk that the videotapes could be broadcast on television, offered in video rental stores or over the Internet, potentially glorifying the attack.”
The lawsuit was brought by Columbine survivor Mark Taylor against Solvay Pharmaceuticals, which makes the anti-depressant Luvox. Taylor, who was wounded by Harris, claims Luvox made Harris homicidal.
Also as reported in October 2002 by the Associated Press, CNN and other news sources, based on an article in The Rocky Mountain News, records about Eric Harris that previously had been closed revealed that he had told counselors that he had trouble controlling his violent thoughts. When he’d get anxious, his anger would build until it felt explosive. He’d punch walls and think about killing himself.
A year before the massacre, he reportedly made death threats against another boy and that boy’s parents had filed a police report stating that he put messages on the Internet about bombs and mass murder. This incident was investigated, but no action was taken.
Harris apparently told his parole officer around this same time that he thought a lot about violence against others and himself. The parole officer enrolled him in a course on anger management.
Harris was already in a juvenile diversion course with Dylan Klebold, his partner in crime, because in January 1998 they were caught breaking into a van and stealing a briefcase, tools, and a flashlight. They went through the program, but were allowed out early in February 1999, three months before their attack on the high school.
“Eric is a very bright young man who is likely to succeed in life,” news reports quoted a diversion officer as writing. “He is intelligent enough to achieve lofty goals as long as he stays on task and remains motivated.”
Of Klebold, the same officer noted: “Dylan has earned the right for an early termination. … He is intelligent enough to make any dream a reality but he needs to understand hard work is part of it.”
Each teen completed 45 hours of community service, paid fines, received counseling and wrote an apology letter to the person whose van they had entered.
Apparently in their case, the program failed to work. They put on the appearance that everyone wanted to see, but in their private space, they were creating a nightmare. In fact, after the anger management sessions, Harris wrote, “I learned that the thousands of suggestions are worthless if you still believe in violence.” Klebold had been fantasizing since 1997 about getting a gun and going on a killing spree. He had written in a journal that he wanted to die. Together, they appeared to be a self-destructive team.
The disclosure of this sealed report is controversial, but some officials and families are pressing for yet more open files. Many feel that the red flags were all there well ahead of time and should have been acted on more effectively. Apparently there are many documents still sealed that potentially could throw light on a case still shrouded in darkness.
It does seem clear that even as these two boys were meeting with counselors in a program meant to help them, they were already planning their assault. Had they managed to escape, they indicated in journals, they would plant many more bombs to blow things up and then go live on an island. If they couldn’t manage that, they’d hijack a plane and crash it into New York City.
In another development, on Sunday, October 20, 2002, CNN reported that “some parents of children killed in the Columbine massacre praised a new documentary about the killings, saying it contributes to the fight for tighter gun control. Others said the film exploits tragedy.
“Bowling for Columbine, shown Saturday at the Starz Denver International Film Festival, uses the slayings as a launching point to examine violence and gun culture in America. The film is by Michael Moore, the left-wing author and documentary maker known for his film about GM, Roger & Me, and his best-selling book Stupid White Men.”
The quest by families of the victims, the media and public officials to fully understand the Columbine massacre in the hope that such a tragic event can be prevented in the future has been a six year battle, fought on many fronts, that is still not over.
In all there were 17 lawsuits filed by victims of the school tragedy who sought to make someone accountable for the tragic events. Those named in suits included school officials, law enforcement officials, the manufacturer of a drug prescribed for Harris – Taylor and Solvay Pharmaceuticals Inc.- gun dealers and three young people who helped the teen shooters obtain guns, in addition to the killers’ parents. All were either settled or dismissed.
While many of the settlements were confidential and several families turned down the money they were offered, the largest single settlement made public was $1.5 million from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, which went to the family of teacher Dave Sanders.
The disclosure in the early stages of the Columbine investigation that there had been several incidents in the two years prior to the shooting in which both Harris’ and Klebold’s propensity toward violence were made known to the police, the school and the boy’s parents raised the question of whether this tragedy could have been prevented – could more have been done?
Finding an answer to this question has been a legal struggle of mammoth proportions.
It would take four years for video tapes and writings of Harris and Klebold to be declared “criminal justice records” and therefore available to the public, but still who they should be made available to is being debated. Some argue that much can be learned about warning signs which may help to prevent a future Columbine, while others are concerned that unrestricted public access may only serve to retraumatize the community and may glorify Harris and Klebold and their actions.
The fact that the videos had been made using the school’s video equipment and a copy of one of the videos was found on a school computer fuelled the accusations that the school was negligent in not taking further action to stem the growing violence of Harris and Klebold.
A report compiled by the school’s attorneys that includes interviews with the boys’ teachers, which parents believe could help prevent another tragedy by shedding light on any warning signs that were missed or ignored at Columbine High School, cannot be released because it was compiled to help school officials defend themselves in court from lawsuits filed in the wake of the Columbine shootings, and is therefore, according to attorneys, covered by the attorney-client privilege exception in state open-records laws.
In February, 2004 the Jefferson County Public Schools superintendent declared that the interviews with teachers in the report would never be made public. In an attempt to reach a compromise school’s spokesman Rick Kaufman announced that Columbine staff members would speak with the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado.
A notebook, kept by the father of Eric Harris, seized from their home on the day of the shooting, which was a record of dealings with his son, including contacts from law enforcement and his school has also been the subject of much controversy. Attempts by many parents of victims to have the notebook made public in the hope that it would help answer lingering questions about what school and sheriff’s officials knew about Harris before the Columbine tragedy have so far been fruitless. In May 2002 Jefferson County District Judge Brooke Jackson ruled that “items seized from the killers’ homes did not automatically fall under state open records laws.” This ruling is still under appeal.
The sworn testimony of Tom and Sue Klebold, and Wayne and Kathy Harris, taken during a lawsuit filed against them by Daniel Rohrbough’s and other victims’ families, is believed by parents to reveal much about how the next Columbine could be averted but, despite many attempts to have the testimony made public the courts continue to uphold the decision to keep those records closed.
In July 2004 State Attorney General Ken Salazar was involved in negotiations to try to win the cooperation of the parents of the Columbine killers for a wide-ranging study of the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. To date those negotiations have not been successful.
The revelation that there had been a complaint made against Eric Harris to police on August 7, 1997, a full seven months prior to that made by Columbine parents Randy and Judy Brown sparked a new investigation and again raised the specter of a coverup by police. Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar launched an independent investigation into the handling of the report in October 2003.
The investigation learned that the 1997 report was made by a deputy, Mark Burgess, and forwarded to investigator John Hicks – the same detective who later handled the Browns’ report and who had a hand in drafting an affidavit for a search warrant for Harris’ home in 1998 that was never followed through on. The fact that part of the Browns’ report was found with the 1997 report indicates that someone in the Sheriff’s department had already made the connection.
In 2001, a judge ordered the sheriff’s office to release the draft affidavit for a warrant to search Harris’ home written with Hicks’ assistance. The affidavit showed that investigators had linked Harris to an unsolved pipe bomb case and that the Browns had met with Hicks on the day they claimed, a fact that had previously been denied by officials.
The report into the investigation was released in January, 2004 showed sheriff’s deputies were well aware of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold – with 15 contacts in six incidents – many months before their horrific April 20, 1999, attack on the school.
Included in the report is the claim by Hick’s that top Jefferson County sheriff’s officials lied to the public after the Columbine tragedy about their knowledge of the killers. Another former deputy claimed that one official, then-Lt. John Kiekbusch, effectively ended a March 1998 investigation of the soon- to-be killers when he decided detectives didn’t have enough evidence to search the Harris home.
Salazar also acknowledged that his investigators were still searching for missing documents, including a file belonging to a former sheriff’s deputy that deals with the 1998 report.
As a result of the investigation Ken Salazar requested Jefferson County District Attorney Dave Thomas, on April 27, to convene a grand jury investigation into lingering questions about events that preceded the attack. It was not clear what criminal charges, if any, could arise from the grand jury’s investigation.
In September, 2004 the grand jury found that:
•In a private meeting with Jefferson County officials a few days after the Columbine shooting it was decided not to disclose a draft search warrant for the home of Columbine killer Eric Harris that had been rejected because at the time it was believed there was not enough evidence to justify the search. Among those at the meeting, held in a conference room in the offices of the Jefferson County Open Space Department, were District Attorney Dave Thomas, then-County Attorney Frank Hutfless and then-sheriff’s Lt. John Kiekbusch.
It had been alleged that Kiekbusch ordered the destruction of a “pile” of Columbine records and uncovered evidence that key documents were apparently purged from the computer system at the sheriff’s office in the summer of 1999.
That the meeting was called to discuss the “potential liabilities” of the draft affidavit and “how to handle press inquiries that may arise concerning the document.”
A Jefferson County sheriff’s deputy, Mike Guerra, spent two hours at the Columbine High School as part of his ongoing investigation into allegations that a junior named Eric Harris had posted violent writings on the Internet, some threatening mass murder. While he was there, he briefed the deputy assigned to the school, Neil Gardner, about the probe. He described Harris and Klebold as “misfit kids that weren’t a problem to anybody.” Columbine Principal Frank DeAngelis, as well as the school district’s spokesman, Rick Kaufman, and attorney, Bill Kowalski, all said they had no knowledge of any visit by Guerra.
The report by Mike Guerrra, as well as some computer files, had gone missing and as yet had not been found.
That the daily logs were probably destroyed as part of the normal practice of purging records after the passing of a couple of years.
No indictments were made following the conclusion of the grand jury investigation.
Once again there is no definitive conclusion to be reached – no single event or action that can be held up as the one thing that could have prevented the Columbine School shooting. While in retrospect the signs might seem all too clear, is there anything that the school, parents and police could have done? The school had notified the parents of their concerns, the parents had been involved in discussions with both the school and police, and the police had placed the boys in the standard counselling programs available at the time – should they have done more? Would it have changed the outcome? Hopefully in time, the answers will become clearer.