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Columbine

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One of the most terrible massacres that has ever been committed by pupils occurred in Littleton, Colorado, on April 20th, 1999. Eric Harris (18 years old) and Dylan Klebold (17 years) shot twelve of their schoolmates and a teacher at Columbine High School on that day. They injured 24 more persons. After the homicides they killed themselves. They died in the school library next to ten students they had murdered just a couple of minutes before.

Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris

Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris

Writings of Eric Harris show that the bloodbath, which had been prepared for one year, was supposed to be even crueler and more extensive than how it was actually executed (cf. Berliner Zeitung 1999). Originally, the two adolescents had planned to wipe out the families of two of their schoolfellows, then to drive to their school and to murder at least 500 more students. Then, they wanted to attack nearby apartments. In the unexpected case that they would survive, they wanted try to escape to another country. If this should not be possible, they wanted to hijack an airplane and then crash it in New York City in order to kill more people (cf. Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office 2006: 427f.). But in the days and weeks before the attack, the absurdity of this aim must have become clear to them. Self-made video tapes showed that they intended to die in their school. Before that, they wanted to kill as many pupils as possible (cf. Lowe 2000).

Harris wrote the following about the effects which he wanted to obtain with the massacre:

    “itll be like the LA riots, the oklahoma bombing, WWII, vietnam, duke and doom all mixed together. maybe we will even start a little rebelion or revolution to fuck things up as much as we can. i want to leave a lasting impression on the world.” (Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office 2006: 427; the spelling errors correspond to the original)

By April 20th, 1999, they made around 100 bombs. They took 90 of them to the school and let 30 explode. Due to a number of lucky circumstances, no pupil was seriously injured or even killed by one of them though (cf. Lowe 2000; Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Report 2000).

A few minutes before the shooting, they placed two ten kilogram bombs in the school cafeteria without being noticed. Via time fuses, they were supposed to explode at 11.17 - at a moment when the maximum number of students were in the room. Afterwards, they wanted to kill the survivors of the assault while running out of the school building. They had also prepared a time bomb in one of their cars. It was supposed to kill policemen later on. If their bombs had exploded in the cafeteria as planned, probably many of the 488 students there would have been killed (cf. CNN.com 2000).

Because of the fact that their bombs had a malfunction, however, they had to change their plans. They went back to the school and shot two students on their way. Then they opened fire on students inside the building. They shouted, “This is what we always wanted to do. This is awesome!” and laughed when students ran away.

Their behaviour was especially cynical and cruel in the school library. Shortly before the two killers entered the room, most of the 52 students there had hidden themselves under their desks, due to instruction by teacher Patti Nielson (ibid.). However, this helped them only a little. When Eric Harris saw the 17 year old Cassie Bernall, he said, “Peekaboo!” - the same way one scares little children. Then he bent down, pressed his shotgun at her neck and shot. When the weapon rebound, he broke his nose (ibid.; see also Brinkbäumer 2000).

Within only seven and a half minutes, they killed ten students in the library and injured twelve more. Then they left the room and went to the cafeteria. Harris tried to blast the two bombs there with his shotgun. After this had failed, they returned to the library. From a window, they opened fire to policemen and ambulance men who were trying to rescue wounded pupils. Then they lit a Molotov cocktail for the last time and killed themselves with shots to their heads (cf. CNN.com 2000).

Cafeteria

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold in the school cafeteria

After the massacre, the police secured five video tapes made by the two assassins. On one of them they said that they had declared war on the human race. Harris went on, “This is just a two-man war against everything else.” With their deed, they wanted to “kick-start the revolution” and become famous throughout the whole country (cf. Lowe 1999; Gibbs/Roche 1999).

In a film that they made in Harris’ basement room on March 15, 1999, they also presented their weapon arsenal. Besides semi-automatic arms, sawn-off shotguns and pipe bombs, this included several combat knives as well. On one of these knives, a swastika was carved (cf. Luzadder et. al. 1999). They described their relationship to the Nazis with the words, “Gotta love the Nazis. Nazis are so efficient” (cf. Lowe 1999).

The actual stimulus to carry out the crime came probably from Eric Harris. Of the two killers, he was the one who was leading and giving the crucial impulses. Harris came from a military family, his father had been at the US Air Force. He said to a classmate that he intended to fight in Kosovo. Because he liked bombs and explosions, he wanted to fight there at the foremost front and “kill a lot of people”. He even had applied for the US Marine Corps. But the recruiting officer told his family on April 15th, 1999, that the marines had rejected him. The reason for this was the fact that Harris was dependent on “Luvox”, an antidepressant. The rejection could have been the final cause, to realize his cruel ideas (cf. Bartels/Crowder 1999).

Harris as well as Klebold had appeared in long dark trench coats at the beginning of the massacre, mainly in order to hide their weapons. Since 1996, they were befriended with a group of youths which had been given the nickname “Trench Coat Mafia”. They were not members of this group, but they wore the same clothing: long dark trench coats, black shirts and trousers, and combat boots. They also listened to the same music: dark, gloomy Industrial Metal of bands like Rammstein and KMFDM. Because of their strange appearance, the members of this group and their friends were subjected to regular gibes by their schoolfellows.

The members of the “Trench Coat Mafia” were especially tormented by the “Jocks”. This was a group of athletic youths, who belonged to the school elite. The “Jocks” blocked their way, scolded them, threw them against school lockers and tossed cans, cups and food at them. Sometimes they even threw stones at them from their cars (ibid.). One member of the former “Trench Coat Mafia” gang described in an interview a few days after the massacre the life in his school as “pure hell”. According to his statements, Harris and Klebold were bullied as well. Because Harris was weaker than Klebold, he had to suffer more (cf. Greene 1999). Testimonies of witnesses later confirmed that bullying was a daily phenomenon at Columbine High School and that the school administration ignored it (cf. Pankratz 2000).

The permanent humiliations must have caused the mentally unstable Harris to think that the whole world is against him. He announced on his website that he would appear one day armed to the teeth and kill all and everything:

    “...im comin for EVERYONE soon, and i WILL be armed to the fuckin teeth and i WILL shoot to KILL and i WILL fucking KILL EVERYTHING!... My belief is that if I say something, it goes. I am the law, if you don’t like it, you die. If I don’t like you or I don’t like what you want me to do, you die... So thats the only way to solve arguments with all you fuckheads out there, I just kill! God I cant wait till I can kill you people...” (cf. Acolumbinesite.com 2006; the spelling errors correspond to the original)

The parents of a student who was threatened on Harris’ website (Brooks Brown) became aware of the hate-filled pamphlets in March 1998. They sent a printout to the local police which was 12 sides long. But nothing happened. Although Harris described on his site the way to build pipe bombs, the file vanished in the drawer of a police detective. One month later, Harris removed some of his pages from the web as a precaution. By that time, he had already made the first bombs. He mentioned this fact on his website as well (cf. Bartels/Crowder 1999; Poley 1999).

Harris and Klebold attended German courses in their school. According to classmates, they talked a lot about the Second World War, Hitler and the Nazis. A few weeks before the massacre, they are said to have shouted “Sieg Heil!” and “Heil Hitler!” at their bowling class and raised their arms to the Nazi salute. During his lessons, Harris sometimes wore boots with steel toe caps and a German cross. At the day of the assault, he was dressed with a white shirt, at which were the cynical words “Natural Selection”. This was no coincidence. On his website, he had called it the best thing that ever occured to earth (cf. Bartels/Crowder 1999; Cullen 1999).

As executers of the “natural selection” he had chosen himself and Klebold. This can be concluded from a document (NBK.doc) which was found in his room:

    “I would love to see all you fuckheads die. NBK. I love it! sometime in April me and V will get revenge and will kick natural selection up a few notches.” (Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office 2006: 427)

In his diary, that began with the words „I hate the fucking world”, there are social-darwinian statements as well (ibid.: 84). On April 21st, 1998, he made for example the following entry:

    “I will sooner die than betray my own thoughts. but before I leave this worthless place, I will kill whoever I deem unfit for, anything at all, especially life. and all you pissed me off in the past, you will die if I see you...” (ibid.: 88)

Harris drew direct comparisons between himself and the Nazis in the diary. While the Nazis wanted to kill all Jews, he wanted to kill all human beings. Harris in his own words:

    “If you recall your history the Nazis came up with a ‘final solution’ to the Jewish problem: kill them all. well incase you havent figured it out yet, I say ‘Kill mankind.’ no one should survive.” (ibid.: 91)

But because it is not possible to kill all people, he and Klebold restricted their aggressions to that place where they had to suffer the most abasements: Columbine High School. Harris wrote at the end of October 1998:

    “Once I finally start my killing, keep this in mind, there are probably about 100 people max in the school alone who I dont want to die, the rest, MUST FUCKING DIE!” (ibid.: 94)

Harris described himself as “racist” in his diary and made no secret about his admiration of the Nazis:

    “I love the nazis too... by the way, I fucking cant get enough of the swastika, the SS and the iron cross. Hitler and his head boys fucked up a few times and it cost them the war, but I love their beliefs and who they were, what they did, and what they wanted.” (ibid.: 96)

Already in the middle of November 1998, he had chosen April 1999 for the massacre. He also described the reason for it:

    “It’ll be very fucking hard to hold out until April... If people would give me more compliments all of this might still be avoidable... but probably not. Whatever I do people make fun of me, and sometimes directly to my face. I’ll get revenge soon enough. fuckers shouldn’t have ripped on me so much.” (ibid.: 96)

The fact that the assault on the high school occurred at April 20th, 1999, the 110th birthday of Hitler, caused speculations that Klebold and Harris had chosen this day intentionally. However, according to findings of the police, the two wanted to attack their school one day earlier (at the anniversary of the massacres of Waco and Oklahoma City). Because they needed more ammunition, they delayed the assault on April, 20th (cf. Lowe 2000).

One of the few opportunities they had to give free rein to their imagination were violent computer games. Harris and Klebold were passionate players of Doom, a first person shooter game. Via modem, they played often several hours against each other in “Deathmatches”.

Often, the participants of such computer tournaments give themselves nicknames. That was also the same with Harris and Klebold. While Harris called himself “REB” (short for “Rebel”) and “Rebdoomer”, Klebold chose the name “VoDKa”: vodka was one of his favorite drinks, DK in the middle stood for “Dylan Klebold”. Klebold wrote the words “VoDKa Vengeance” on some of the pipe bombs he used during the massacre (cf. Gibbs/Roche 1999).

Harris even created several levels for Doom and Doom 2, all in all more than eleven (cf. Bredel 2002: 338). In a letter to ID Software, he inquired if there were plans for Doom 3 or a Doom movie. Furthermore, he proposed himself as level designer for the company, “With my background and love for the game, I don’t think there are many people at all in the world who know more about Doom than I do” (Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office 2006: 712).

UACLabs

Scene from Eric Harris’ U.A.C.Labs level for Doom 2

In August 1998, he listed Doom on first place among the 25 things which were most important for him:

    “Doom is so burned into my head my thoughts usually have something to do with the game. Whether it be a level or environment or whatever. In fact a dream I had yesterday was about a “Deathmatch” level that I have never even been to.” (ibid.: 272)

The importance of Doom for him became clear in a videotape he made on March 15th, 1999, as well. He described the forthcoming assault on Columbine High School with the words:

     “It’s going to be like fucking Doom. Tick, tick, tick, tick… Haa! That fucking shotgun is straight out of Doom!”

While he was saying this, he kissed his sawn-off shotgun and called it “Arlene” (cf. Gibbs/Roche 1999). In his diary, he mentioned the reason for it: Arlene Sanders is a character of the Doom series of books who especially liked the shotgun. Harris had read all four volumes of that series (cf. Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office 2006: 98 and 712).

Drawings

Drawings by Eric Harris

The two young killers were also inspired by several movies (cf. Bredel 2002: 342f.). Among Harris’ favourite films were Alien, Starship Troopers and Natural Born Killers (NBK). According to Harris, the two had originally planned to appear with shirts with the letters “NBK” on the frontside at the day of the attack (cf. Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office 2006: 427). He and Klebold were also fans of the film The Basketball Diaries which is based on a novel by Jim Carroll. In one scene of this movie the leading actor Leonardo DiCaprio enters his classroom and shoots six of his hated classmates. He is clothed in a long black trench coat (cf. Carter 1999). Harris and Klebold re-enacted this scene in a video tape (cf. Kruttschnitt/Lutterbeck 1999).

Furthermore, they were influenced by the music CDs they listened to. Eric Harris, who had a part-time job in a pizzeria, is said to have played CDs of Rammstein to his colleagues. Afterwards, he translated them the lyrics of this band from German into English. Among his favorite bands was KMFDM as well. Harris had a poster of KMFDM at the ceiling of his room, he himself wore sometimes a cap and a shirt with the initials “KMFDM” (cf. Bartels/Crowder 1999). On his computer, the investigators found a file named KMFDM.doc after the massacre. There, Harris had listed under the title “The shit list” the names of all students he hated. Above that were the German words: “Kein mitleid fur die merheit” (in English: no mercy for the majority) - his interpretation of the word KMFDM (cf. Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office 2006: 934).

The KMFDM songs “Son of a Gun” and “Stray Bullet” were his favorite songs. He wrote about “Son of a Gun”, “This song shows the way I feel about myself sometimes and it also gives me energy and adrenaline so I play this song before my soccer games and such.” About “Stray Bullet”, “I believe that this song describes my actions and thoughts the best” (ibid.: 638ff.). How much Harris was influenced by this music is disputable, however. Rammstein as well as KMFDM rejected every responsibility for the massacre afterwards (cf. MTV.com 1999).

Well, how was it possible that two American teenagers were able to commit such a horrible crime? There are some strong indications such as the permanent humiliations by schoolmates, Harris’ and Klebold’s preference for weapons and bombs, and their tendency to violent video games, films and songs. Both were mentally unstable, depressed and filled with hate. Influenced by the inhuman ideology of the Nazis, they believed they had the right to kill all people that they despised and hated. They wanted to obtain as much attention by the media as the fictional killer pair in the movie “Natural Born Killers” and go down in history. Unfortunately, they succeeded.

 

Sources:

Acolumbinesite.com (2006). “Eric Harris' Webpages.”

Bartels, Lynn & Crowder, Carla (1999). “Fatal Friendship.” RockyMountainNews.Com. August 22, 1999.

Berliner Zeitung (1999). Articles about Columbine. April 22 to 27, 1999.

Bredel, Holger (2002). Skinheads – Gefahr von rechts? Berlin: Rhombos, 323-343.

Brinkbäumer, Klaus (2000). “Die Gespenster von Littleton.” Spiegel Online. January 17, 2000.

Carter, Nick (1999). “Linking of 'Basketball Diaries,' Columbine shootings upsets author.” Journal Sentinel. May 6, 1999.

CNN.com (2000). “Official Columbine Shooting Report.” May 16, 2000.

Cullen, Dave (1999). “Kill Mankind. No One Should Survive.” Salon.com. September 23, 1999.

Gibbs, Nancy & Roche, Timothy (1999). “The Columbine Tapes.” Time Magazine. December 20, 1999.

Greene, Susan (1999). “Teen Describes School Life Filled with Taunts, Abuse.” Denver Post. April 24, 1999.

Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Report (2000).

Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office (ed.) (July 2006). Columbine Documents. JC-001-025923 through JC-001-026859.

Kruttschnitt, Christine & Lutterbeck, Claus (1999). “Das angekündigte Massaker.” Stern 18/1999. April 29, 1999. p. 206.

Lowe, Peggy (1999). “Excerpts.” Denver Post. December 14, 1999.

Lowe, Peggy (2000). “Facts Clarify but can’t Justify Killers’ Acts.” Denver Post. March 12, 2000.

Luzadder, Dan et. al. (1999). “Chilling Goodbye from Killers.” Denver Rocky Mountain News. December 13, 1999.

MTV.com (1999). “KMFDM and Rammstein Speak Out about Columbine.” April 23, 1999.

Pankratz, Howard (2000). “Columbine Bullying no Myth, Panel Told.” Denver Post. October 3, 2000.

Pooley, Eric (1999). “Portrait of a Deadly Bond.” Time Magazine. May 10, 1999.

 

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Last update on 05/02/14.