|“||Sometime in April next year, me and V (Klebold) will get revenge and we'll kick natural selection up a few notches...It'll be like the L.A. Riots, the Oklahoma bombing, WWII, Vietnam, Duke and Doom all mixed together...I want to leave a lasting impression on the stupid world.||”|
— Typed rant by Harris
Eric David Harris and Dylan Bennet Klebold were a pair of school shooters responsible for the April 20, 1999 Columbine High School massacre. The massacre is today the deadliest high school massacre in American history and the fifth-deadliest school massacre in American history, behind the Bath School bombing, the Virginia Tech massacre, the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, and the University of Texas massacre.
Harris was born in Wichita, Kansas, on April 9, 1981. His father Wayne was a U.S. Air Force transport pilot who held eleven different positions in six bases at Ohio, Michigan, and New York. This forced the Harris family to move around frequently before Wayne was forced to retire in 1993 due to cutbacks and he became a part-time caterer. At this time, on the month of July, the family settled down in Littleton, Colorado, where they lived in a rented property for three years. While attending Ken Caryl Middle School, he met Klebold and the two became good friends. In 1995, Harris started attending Columbine High School, and the following year, the Harris family bought a house not far from Columbine. Eric's older brother Kevin was a popular athlete at Columbine and studied at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The first warning signs of his increasingly-hostile personality emerged during his freshman year at Columbine, when he met one Tiffany Typher in German class and the two went to homecoming together. Typher then didn't allow Harris to go out with her again (for unspecified reasons), to which Harris staged a fake suicide in which he sprawled himself on the floor with fake blood washed over him. Later, he wrote "Ich bin Gott" (a German translation for "I am God") on her yearbook. That same year, he and Klebold both found employment in Blackjack Pizza, a local pizzeria, where they would eventually meet Mark Manes, a man who would sell the TEC-DC9 semiautomatic pistol used in the massacre to them. Harris's increasingly unstable behavior later prompted Wayne to start a journal chronicling his son's emotional problems.
Klebold was born in Lakewood, Colorado, on September 11, 1981. His father Tom ran a small real-estate business from home and his mother Susan was an employment counselor. The Klebolds attended a Lutheran church, but also observed some Russian Jewish rituals, as Klebold's maternal grandfather believed in the religion. For the first and second grade, he attended Normandy Elementary School, then transferred to Governor's Ranch Elementary and became a member of CHIPS (Challenging High Intellectual Potential Students), a Colorado-based program for gifted children. He was also heavily involved with sports as a child. Transitioning into Ken Caryl Middle School (a process that was found by Klebold as extremely difficult), he met Harris and the two became good friends. Klebold then went to Columbine High School with Harris, becoming involved in the behind-the-scenes crews in school play productions, video productions, and the school's news network. He briefly became a hero for saving one of the school plays during a showing, when the music started becoming distorted and Klebold provided a backup tape to continue the music; ironically, Rachel Scott, the first fatal victim of the massacre, starred in that particular play at the time.
Early Criminal ActivitiesAccording to early accounts of the shooting, Harris and Klebold were very unpopular students and frequent targets of bullying at their high school, including homophobic remarks. They eventually began to bully other students; Harris and Klebold had written journal entries about how they themselves had bullied younger students and "fags". Klebold wrote that he tried not to pick on others, which seems to match with more recent hypotheses that Harris was the ringleader. Later, Harris began hosting a website where he posted home-made levels of Doom, a first-person shooter game which was notorious for its graphic violence and gore, and also of Quake. The levels later became known as the "Harris levels". Harris also began posting his personal thoughts about his parents, friends and school, but later started putting up instructions on how to make crude explosive devices and venting his personal hatred of people he knew, in particular fellow students, mostly school athletes who bullied him and Klebold for four years, and faculty members at their high school, Columbine High. In 1997, the parents of one of Harris's classmates, Brooks Brown, filed a formal complaint against him when they found a death threat directed at their son. Sometime earlier, Harris had thrown a chunk of ice at Brown's car. A book written by Brown later stated that the incidents occurred after Harris, for whom he gave rides to, complained about him being chronically late, to which Brown eventually told him to "find another ride to school", infuriating Harris.
On January 30, 1998, Harris and Klebold had broken into a van and stolen electrical equipment. They were later arrested on felony charges of criminal trespassing and theft and were sentenced to psychiatric treatment, counseling and community service. Harris also received anger management treatment and made such a good impression on his probation officer that their treatment program ended a few months early. After completing his court hearing, Harris seemed compliant. In his anger management essay video, he said "I'm happy to say, that with the help of this class, and some other diversion related experiences, I do want to try and control my anger." In his private journal, however, he expressed nothing but anger and resentment about being prosecuted. Their encounter with the law revealed the existence of a kind of parallel universe. While outwardly apologetic and reformed, Harris and Klebold were bonded by a shared rage. Klebold wrote in Harris's 1998 yearbook: "My wrath from January's incident will be GODLIKE! Not to mention our revenge in the Commons [the Columbine cafeteria]." Though Harris had removed the death threats from his website after his and Klebold's court hearing, he began putting up records of his gun collection, which they obtained by having friends buy the weapons for them, bomb-making, and even a hit list of specific people he intended to target in his and Klebold's upcoming massacre. At one point, Harris tried to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps, but his application was rejected because he was taking the antidepressant Luvox (his autopsy showed therapeutic levels of the drug in his body). A local sheriff once drafted an affidavit for a search warrant for Harris' home, but it was never filed.
Violence was very prominent in Harris and Klebold's school work. Together, they made a video titled Hitmen for Hire in which after being hired by a bullied student as mercenaries, they walked around the school's hallways with fake guns and pretended to shoot students that messed with their client. At the end of the video, they screamed at the camera, threatening to kill any person that messed with their former client. They both also wrote violent stories for their creative writing assignments and made video recording where they discuss their motivations. These tapes would eventually be called "The Basement Tapes", for all but one of the tapes were recorded in Harris' basement. In one tape made very shortly before the massacre began, they say goodbye to their parents and made a verbal will, naming friends and what they could have. Klebold wrote a short will in the last entry of his journal. A few days before the shooting, Klebold went to the prom with Robyn Anderson as his date. Anderson had bought the rifle and the shotguns used in the massacre because she was eighteen (the legal age limit to purchase a firearm in Colorado) while Harris and Klebold were still seventeen. They deceived her by saying they meant to cause no harm and only wanted them for harmless fun, shooting or hunting deer.
"Today the world's going to come to an end. Today's the day we die."
-Harris while in the cafeteria
After waiting a while, Harris and Klebold armed themselves and went inside through the West Entrance instead. They first threw a pipe bomb, which detonated, but didn't do any damage. The first to be shot were Rachel Scott and Richard Castaldo, both 17, who were sitting on a grassy knoll; Rachel was killed instantly by four shots, while Richard was severely injured and paralyzed by eight shots. It was later rumored that Harris and Klebold targeted Christians and first asked Scott whether she believed in God and gunned her down when she said, "You know I do." Castaldo reported this, though the FBI later concluded that it didn't happen. After killing Daniel Rohrbough, as well as injuring seven more students and teacher Patti Nielson, Harris and Klebold entered the school. Harris then briefly engaged in a gun battle with school reserve officer Niel Gardner, but after Harris' carbine jammed and the bullets stopped flying, he and Klebold continued their rampage inside the school, injuring another student and critically wounding teacher Dave Sanders, who saved many lives by evacuating the cafeteria with two other staff members. Sanders crawled into a science classroom full of 30 students, two of which administered first aid to him, but he died at approximately 3:00 p.m.
At 11:26 a.m., they entered the library, which contained a total of 56 hiding students and staff. Harris injured a school athlete, Evan Todd, and Klebold killed a special-education student before they both reloaded their guns. When Harris said "Let's go kill some cops", they both proceeded to have another shootout with Denver police, but no casualties were taken on either side. Then, Harris and Klebold killed nine more students and injured eleven in the deadliest part of their massacre. All the while, they taunted students, even using racial slurs, and screamed their rage. They left the library at 11:36 a.m. after seven minutes of killing students. Their movements through the school then seemed directionless, shooting into empty rooms. They once threatened students hiding in a restroom, but didn't go in. They even made eye contact with students through door windows, but did not enter any classrooms. They then entered the cafeteria in an attempt to detonate their bombs. Harris made his first suicide bit by firing his carbine at one of the bombs, but it failed to detonate. They walked around, taking sips from cups left by students. A Molotov cocktail thrown by Klebold managed to only partially detonate one of the bombs, causing a fire. They walked through the school, reentered the cafeteria and the kitchen, then made their way back to the library. After having a third, brief shootout with the police and lighting a Molotov cocktail on a table, Harris and Klebold turned their guns on themselves and committed suicide by shooting themselves in the head, ending the 49-minute-long rampage.
AftermathAfter the massacre at Columbine, the local police came under a great deal of criticism, both for not entering the school sooner and also for not searching Harris' home before the incident. The former later led to the introduction of Immediate Action Rapid Deployment, a police tactic where they actively approach a situation that could become immediately life-threatening to the public, such as in cases where the perpetrators are in possession of dangerous weapons, such as firearms, explosives, and/or WMDs. David Cullen, author of the non-fiction book Columbine, credits this tactic with saving a lot of lives during similar situations, including the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. The American school system was also affected; many schools heightened their security by implementing metal detectors, security guards and having students wear computer-generated ID cards and also introduced zero-tolerance policies against bullying, though a study made by the U.S. Secret Service concluded that it probably wouldn't be helpful. Violence in media was also examined when it came out that Harris and Klebold were fans of Doom, Quake, Wolfenstein 3D, and violent movies such as Natural Born Killers. A number of victims of Columbine and/or their families filed lawsuits against school officials, law enforcement, the manufacturer of the drugs which Harris had been prescribed, the people who helped him and Klebold get the guns they used, and even Harris and Klebold's parents. All of them were either settled or dismissed.
Also, rumors and conspiracy theories were made that there was at least one more shooter involved, including a rooftop gunman. This "gunman" was later identified as a custodian making repairs to the vents. One student that was suspected of being a potential third shooter was Chris Morris, a member of the Trench Coat Mafia. While he was not involved, Harris had attempted to recruit him for the massacre three times, starting on March 20, 1999. Chris refused on all counts, thinking Harris was just joking. Another theory was that Harris murdered Klebold before committing suicide. This theory was supported by the fact that Klebold was left-handed and the gun that was used, the TEC-DC9, was found in his right hand, and also because he was half-Jewish on his mother's side, which Harris was alleged to have disliked.The massacre prompted many incidents of teenagers attempting to commit similar shootings at their schools, or teenagers becoming inspired to commit school shootings. While most of these attempts were prevented before they could even take place, there were four instances where a plan to emulate Harris and Klebold succeeded. It should be noted that all four examples didn't involve any exact replication of Harris and Klebold's M.O., the perpetrators being merely inspired by the pair. They are:
- Todd Cameron Smith, a student at W. R. Myers High School in Taber, Alberta, Canada, who, on April 28, 1999 (just eight days after the Columbine massacre), shot at three students with a sawed-off .22-caliber rifle, killing one and injuring another. He was then apprehended by a gym coach. Possible motives were stated to be bullying and depression. Before going to trial, Smith temporarily suffered diminished mental capacity after falling into a coma during open-heart surgery meant to fix a heart ailment. He was eventually found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison and seven years of probation. Smith escaped after being released into a halfway house on March 2005, but turned himself in the next day and was most likely incarcerated again. Since then, Canadian media outlets have been disallowed to use Smith's name and photograph ever again.
- Thomas "TJ" Solomon, a student at Heritage High School at Conyers, Georgia, who, on May 20, 1999 (the one-month anniversary of the Columbine massacre), shot and injured six students with a .22-caliber long rifle. He then attempted to commit suicide with a .357-caliber revolver, but was talked down by an assistant principal. Solomon was then sentenced to 40 years in prison despite being recognized as mentally ill; the sentence was commuted to 20 years in 2001, making him eligible for parole in 2017, when he will be 33 years old.
- Charles Andrew Williams, a student at Santana High School at Santee, California, who, on March 5, 2001, shot and killed two students and injured an additional 13 with a .22-caliber revolver before surrendering to authorities. This shooting was the deadliest shooting at a high school since Columbine until the Red Lake massacre. There was no definite motive revealed for the shooting (though friends have stated that it might be bullying), and Williams was sentenced to 50 years in prison and will be eligible for parole in 2052, when he will be 66 years old.
- Alex Hribal, a student at Franklin Regional High School at Murrysville, Pennsylvania, who, on April 9, 2014 (Harris's 33rd birthday), attacked dozens of students with two knives taken from his kitchen, injuring 22 people, including a school resource officer, before being subdued by an assistant principal and a student. The attack was one of rare but nonexistent instances of mass stabbings in the U.S., as well as the first multiple-casualty mass stabbing to occur at a high school. No definitive motive has yet to be revealed for the stabbing, although it was revealed that Hribal was depressed and suicidal, and was also influenced by Harris and Klebold, having intended to commit the attack on April 20, 2014 (the fifteenth anniversary of the massacre).
- Seung-Hui Cho, the perpetrator of the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 that killed 32 people, and Kimveer Gill, the perpetrator of the Dawson College shooting in 2006 that killed one person and wounded 19 others, were influenced by Harris and Klebold, with the former even naming them as "martyrs" in his personal journals and videos, and the latter even (apparently) attempting to copycat the massacre by equipping himself with similar attire and weapons.
- Outside of school shootings, Vester Lee Flanagan II, the perpetrator of the on-air murders of journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward in 2015, closely identified with rampage killers in the U.S., especially Harris and Klebold.
Possible MotivesIn the wake of the massacre and years following it, the motivations behind the event have been heavily disputed amongst both investigators and the general public, as Harris and Klebold's writings in their journals never explicitly confirmed them. Violent video games and their role in American society have also come under fire when it was revealed that Harris and Klebold were fans of several of them, as aforementioned, with their favorite game being Doom, which Harris created new levels for. In the book Columbine by Dave Cullen, it states that Harris and Klebold, according to their attempt at a more grandiose, elaborate, and terrifying attack than the one they committed, wanted to commit the deadliest terrorist attack the U.S. has ever seen, by killing 240-500 people as planned; this seems to be supported by the focus on how they envisioned their assault found in both shooters' journals. In The Final Report, it has been stated that the massacre was an act of revenge against the local law enforcement following their January 30, 1998 arrest and bullies. In the Zero Hour documentary, it states that Harris's journals and video recordings clearly reveal a disturbed mind that concocts grandiose and destructive schemes, while Klebold's emotions are a mystery, though he did seem to be reduced to a gesture of repressed rage as the massacre in the library came to an end.
Psychiatrists have diagnosed Harris as a psychopath and Klebold as a manic-depressive respectively and believe that these two mental conditions influenced the two: Harris was influenced by sadism, Klebold revenge against those he was jealous of. For Harris, a list of hallmarks of psychopathy in juveniles was created by Dr. Robert Hare. It consisted of gratuitous lying, inability to feel remorse or guilt, indifference to the pain of others, defiance of authority figures, unresponsiveness to reprimands or threatened punishment, petty theft, persistent aggression, cutting classes and breaking curfews, cruelty to animals, early sexual promiscuity, vandalism and setting fires. Harris showed all of these except for animal cruelty (he wrote that he cried when his dog died). As for Klebold, he was consumed by despair and depression. He described himself in his journal as a "god of sadness" and summed up his life as "the most miserable existence in the history of time". He fell in love with a Columbine student, filling page after page with hearts and wrote about her, including letters that he didn't send to her, but apparently, she didn't return his feelings or even knew him. "I have no happiness, no ambitions, no friends and NO LOVE!!!".
The general public's most popular and widely-accepted theory of Harris and Klebold's motivation was four years of bullying by school athletes (known in the school as "jocks", who wore white baseball caps) and popular students. Harris wrote twice that "everyone" was always making fun of him, sometimes directly in his face, and that he would get revenge. They both spoke of their rage caused by their abusers to their video camera. Another recording also caught Harris, Klebold and another friend getting elbowed in the face at school by Columbine athletes and almost knocking the video camera out of Klebold's hands. Klebold even complained that his own older brother Bryon and his friends constantly "ripped on" and made fun of him and that "everyone but my family treated me like the runt of the litter". At one point during the massacre as they entered the school library, Klebold screamed their motive, "Everybody with white hats stand up! This is for all the s--- you've given us for the past four years!" Also, Nathan Vanderau, a friend of Klebold, and Alisa Owen, Harris' eighth-grade science partner, have both reported that Harris and Klebold were constantly picked on, the former noting that a "cup of fecal matter" was thrown at them. Chad Laughlin described an event were Klebold was pelted with ketchup covered tampons by seniors. Despite these facts and statements, this motive continues to remain unconfirmed as Harris and Klebold never mentioned their motives, as mentioned above.
Harris and Klebold arrived with a huge arsenal of weapons, making them possibly the most heavily-armed school shooters in American history, rivaling Charles Whitman's arsenal. Harris shot his victims with either a 9mm Hi-Point 995 Carbine rifle (his usual weapon of choice) or a 12-gauge Savage 67H pump-action, sawed-off shotgun. Klebold used a 9mm Intratec TEC-DC9M semiautomatic handgun (his usual weapon of choice) and a 12-gauge Stevens 311D double-barreled, sawed-off shotgun against his victims. The two also had two knives each, which they intended to use under the occasion that they were disarmed by resistance, or if they found killing their victims by shooting "boring". The knives were never used, despite Klebold saying "Maybe we should start kniving [sic] people, that might be more fun" after they said the thrill of shooting victims was gone.
Harris and Klebold's most notable portion of their large arsenal were their total of 99 explosive devices. They used three 20-pound propane bombs: two were placed in the cafeteria but failed to completely detonate, though one partially detonated during the massacre via a Molotov cocktail; the third was placed far from the school as a diversion, but it partially detonated. Klebold and Harris also used 48 carbon dioxide (CO2) bombs, 27 pipe bombs, eleven 1.5-gallon propane bombs, and seven gas/napalm bombs and Molotov cocktails. They also left booby-trap bombs in their cars that were timed to detonate when emergency personnel arrived. Only Klebold's car bomb detonated, but at 11:00 p.m. instead of 11:00 a.m. as planned, after police attempted to defuse it; no one was hurt.
- School shooters usually work alone, not in teams, for an extensive variety of reasons, mostly socially- or psychologically-related. However, while the prospect of two school shooters working together is an uncommon event, it should be noted that Harris and Klebold aren't the first examples of such. Other examples are:
- Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden, the perpetrators of the March 24, 1998 Westside Middle School massacre, the deadliest mass shooting to take place at an American middle school. Both were charged as juveniles and eventually released after completing their respective sentences, though Mitchell Johnson was arrested and incarcerated again for unrelated drug and unlicensed firearm charges.
- On May 6, 1925, a massacre occurred at a high school in Wilno, Poland. Details are extremely sketchy as to what happened during the massacre. One source says that two students opened fire on teachers and students after failing their exams before throwing hand grenades and committing suicide, effectively killing four students and a teacher; another source says that three students led a school rebellion, two of them opening fire on teachers, with the massacre ending after the third student accidentally dropped a hand grenade, which exploded and killed him, his two partners, the principal, and a student.
- Harris and Klebold's original plan for the massacre resembles Andrew Kehoe's attack on the Bath School. Both attacks started with a diversionary explosion, followed by the bombing of the school, then the detonation of car bombs. The biggest difference is Harris and Klebold's original plan failed, with their bombs fizzling and only partially detonating in some cases, with no loss of life due to the explosions.
On Criminal Minds
Harris and Klebold were mentioned in Jump Cut and The Perfect Storm as an example of team killers. Reid also mentions them in Hanley Waters while comparing them to the case, describing that while they documented their hatred of athletes at Columbine High, they switched their focus from the gymnasium, which housed the athletes who had bullied them, to the school cafeteria in order to "obtain the highest maximum body count". It should be noted, however, that security cameras installed in the cafeteria at the time recorded many athletes, all identified by white hats which was a common "uniform" for them, in the cafeteria that day.
Though Harris and Klebold were not mentioned in Painless, the episode was possibly based on the massacre they committed because:
- Two people were involved (although only one committed the massacre in Criminal Minds).
- Both massacres involved the usage of explosives and guns.
- Harris and Randy Slade, the perpetrator, were both posthumously diagnosed as psychopaths.
- Both used weapons in the school cafeterias.
- In both cases, the perpetrators committed suicide.
- Thirteen victims were killed in both massacres.
- The library massacre is somewhat alluded by Slade's SEMTEX bomb: both were the deadliest portions of the massacres and claimed the lives of the last ten victims. Also, Harris and Klebold also committed suicide in the library, while Slade committed a suicide attack with the SEMTEX bomb.
- Dozens were injured.
- Slade's narcissistic statements, such as when he declares himself God, bears some resemblance to the kind of grandiose statements Harris and Klebold made in their journals.
- In both cases, the perpetrators taunted students.
- At the Columbine massacre, Dylan Klebold taunted Evan Todd, an injured jock. But he decided to spare him, despite his hatred for him for calling him a "fag". In Painless, Slade taunted Jerry Holtz but decided to spare him, though this was revealed to be a false story made up by Jerry, as it was Robert Adams who was taunted.
- The way Slade kills Allison Humwald while she was praying is somewhat similar to a rumor that circulated in the aftermath of Columbine, but was concluded by the FBI and other witnesses not to have happened: the belief that Eric Harris asked a girl, Cassie Bernall, if she believed in God and shot her when she replied that she did. In reality, Dylan Klebold asked already injured student Valeen Schnurr if she believed in God. He spared her after she said yes and explained why.
- All three perpetrators had brothers, although Slade was the older brother while Harris and Klebold were the younger ones.
- The Columbine High School massacre
- Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold
- Todd Cameron Smith and the W. R. Myers High School shooting
- Thomas Solomon and the Heritage High School shooting
- Charles Andrew Williams and the Santana High School shooting
- Mitchell Johnson, Andrew Golden and the Westside Middle School massacre
- The Vilnius school massacre
- TruTV Crime Library articles about Harris and Klebold
- Evil Beyond Belief (2009)
- Columbine by Dave Cullen (2009)
- No Easy Answers by Brooks Brown (2002)
- Gameguru article that mentions Harris
- Westword Blogs' interview with Chad Laughlin, one of Klebold's friends
- ↑ As stated by Klebold on a video