Last updated on 23 February 2019
On 20 April 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold stormed Columbine High School with pipe bombs and gunshots. They killed 12 students, a teacher, injured 21 people, and committed suicide after. The day coincided with Hitler’s birthday and the release of KMFDM’s album, “Adios“.
No one saw it coming. The massacre became the deadliest high school shooting in US history.
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were senior students of Columbine High School in Colorado. Both loved to play video games like Doom, Duke Nukem and Wolfenstein.
In 1996, Harris created a private website on AOL. It hosted Doom gaming levels he and Dylan created for friends to use. Later on, Harris started a blog about jokes and his thoughts on school, parents, and friends. A year after, Harris posted how to do mischief and how to create bombs.
Harris informed his friend Brooks Brown of his website. Eventually, Brooks’ parents saw the website and have read some threats directed to Brooks. They then filed a complaint at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office. Investigator Michael Guerra found the website disturbing, too. So he wrote an affidavit requesting for a search warrant of the Harris household. But, the affidavit was never filed.
In January 1998, authorities arrested Eric and Dylan for stealing some tools and equipment from a parked van. Both pleaded guilty to the felony theft. They attended a juvenile diversion program where both boys attended mandatory classes which included anger management. They were released from diversion several weeks early because of positive actions in the program.
Harris and Klebold both began keeping journals soon after their 1998 arrests. In these journals, the pair documented their feelings and plans. They also kept videos that documented how they obtained their weapons. They told how they deceived their parents about their activities. They even recorded their target practice in nearby foothills. Approximately thirty minutes before the attack, they made a final video saying goodbye and apologizing to their friends and families.
In the early morning of 20 April 1999, Harris and Klebold placed bombs south of Columbine High School. The bombs were set to explode at 11:14 a.m. and intended to divert the attention of firefighters and emergency personnel away from the school.
At 11:10 a.m., Harris and Klebold arrived separately at school. They met and brought duffel bags inside the cafeteria carrying a bomb set to detonate. Then, they went outside and waited for the bombs to explode. They met Brooks Brown along the way and Harris told Brooks to go home.
When the bombs failed to explode, the two returned inside the school. They threw a pipe bomb which partially detonated. Students who saw and heard it thought it was just one of those crude pranks. Then they heard Eric Harris shouted “Go! Go!” Both pulled their guns beneath their trench coats and started shooting. They even exchanged gun fires with policemen.
The shooting took almost 50 minutes but it felt like an eternal nightmare. At around 12:08 p.m., a student overheard Harris and Klebold counted “One! Two! Three!” in unison followed by a loud boom. Eric and Dylan died next to each other. Harris fired his shotgun through the roof of his mouth; Klebold shot himself in the left temple.
The Investigation and Trial
Authorities marked the entire school as a crime scene. They discovered more pipe bombs around the school premises. 15 died and 27 injured. People speculated about Eric’s and Dylan’s motivation. It also raised the issue whether this could have been prevented. The suicide of the two killers made this event difficult to assess.
Police learned that Eric and Dylan had acquired the guns through friends like Mark Manes and Philip Duran. Manes and Duran were charged and sentenced to jail.
The Aftermath and Unanswered Questions
The event sparked debate over gun control laws, high school subcultures (cliques, jocks, nerds, etc.), and bullying. It also raised questions on the use of anti-depressants among teens, Internet use, and violence in video games and films.
Psychologists considered Eric Harris as a clinical psychopath and Dylan Klebold as depressive. People believed that Harris was the mastermind whereas Klebold participated only to end his life.
Also, the event became the script for the next school shootings that happened. Out of twelve school shootings within eight years after Columbine, eight made reference to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.
In October 2009, Susan Klebold, Dylan’s mother, spoke for the first time about the incident. She said that she had no clue of her son’s intentions. In an interview with Diane Sawyer, she said she dismissed Dylan’s behavior as something teens usually go through and regretted it. “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,” she said about the shooting. She admitted that the incident will haunt her of the horrors and the anguish Dylan caused. She also wrote a book and had spoken about it on TED Talk. She started promoting mental health awareness and intervention to cope with her loss and “guilt”.
At that time, mental health awareness was not yet a big deal, although we already have known different mental health cases and interventions. Nowadays, it is easy to get advice from professionals even online.
But what baffled me while reading the history of this event is the affidavit Michael Guerra had drafted. Why was it never filed in 1997? Had it been filed, the massacre plot could have been discovered and foiled.
Then on April 30, high-ranking officials decided not to mention the affidavit at the press conference. 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 found to be reconstructed. It was released to the public in September 2001, but the original documents are still missing. The final grand jury investigation was released in September 2004.
But where are the original documents? What was written in that original report? What could have been the difference between the original and the reconstructed document?