“It’s gonna be like Doom!”
On April 20, 1999, two seniors at Columbine High School unleashed the deadliest high school shooting in history — a morbid record they would hold for almost twenty years.
Born on April 9, 1981, Eric David Harris was the son of an Air Force pilot. Like many military families, the Harris’ moved every few years — a situation that upset Eric. He would later complain during their infamous “Basement Tapes” that every move reset him to the bottom of the social ladder at each new school.
In 1993, Eric’s father retired from the Air Force and relocated his family one final time to Littleton, Colorado, a short ten mile drive from Columbine. Eric was variously described as shy, but not a loner; bright; a “preppy” dresser; and a “solid” soccer player. He seemed to have a knack for computers and hosted a handful of personal websites devoted to various ramblings and his favorite video game Doom.
Dylan Bennet Klebold was born September 11, 1981, making him nearly five months younger than Eric. The Klebold family was already living in Colorado just twenty minutes from Columbine when Dylan was born. His father was a sculptor and engineer and his mother worked with disabled children.
Dylan was a good student, described as “exceptionally bright.” At times he could be very shy and awkward, but seemed to have little difficulty making friends. Dylan’s best friend going back to the first grade was Brooks Brown, and they played several sports together. Dylan’s other childhood interests were the Boy Scouts and technology — especially computers. He dabbled in hacking, getting adept enough to access locker combinations from his school’s computer system.
Though there aren’t a lot of details about Dylan and Eric’s friendship, it appears that they met in the seventh grade. Due to common interests in sports, music, video games, and computers, they quickly became close friends — spending so much time together that rumors circulated among their schoolmates that they were gay. It’s unclear whether they were aware of the rumor, and there seems to be no evidence pointing to it being true.
The duo spent nearly all of their time together. They got jobs at the same pizza place, played and designed video games, shot movies for school projects, and jammed to their favorite bands — particularly German metal. Their favorite video game was Doom, a space/paranormal first-person-shooter, considered to be especially violent and gory for the early 1990’s (though quite tame by 21st Century standards). Dylan and Eric also shared a fascination with guns, explosives, and other weapons.
It was during their sophomore year that Eric’s friends noticed a change in his personality. He took on a sullen disposition and turned on friends – except for Dylan of course. Eric had grown angry and vengeful. The targets of his hatred were all over the board — Mexicans, Jews, Christians, blacks, homosexuals, “jocks”, and rich kids. Eric hated religion and when he found out that Dylan was Jewish, he said something to the effect of, “That’s too bad.” Eric also grew to dislike Dylan’s longtime friend Brooks, posting death threats and murderous ideations about him online.
That same year, Dylan grew depressed and suicidal. He chatted in the evenings via e-mail with a female friend from his theater class about his hatred for school and love for alcohol. They lost touch when Dylan dropped out of the class. Dylan also later quit his job at the pizza parlor. In his journals he referred to self-harming with phrases like, “I was Mr. Cutter tonight — I have 11 depressioners on my right hand now.”
When together, which was a lot, Klebold and Harris seemed to feed off each other’s worst qualities. Dylan began to share Eric’s hatred, and Eric joined Dylan in a suicide pact. In a November ’97 diary entry, Klebold fantasized about getting a gun and going on a killing spree. They gravitated towards various fringe groups and ideologies, though not really settling on a single defined worldview. They expressed anarchist sentiments, but also obsessed over Hitler and his Nazi movement — often rendering Nazi salutes to each other. They voluntarily made themselves outcasts. Eric adopted the nickname “Reb;” Dylan chose “Vodka.” They latched on to the film Natural Born Killers as their go-to movie — a film about a couple who go on a three-state killing spree, murdering 52 people.
The “Van Incident”
On January 30, 1998, Klebold and Harris were arrested while breaking into a van to steal tools and electronics inside. They plead guilty to felony theft and were sentenced to attend a “diversion” or rehabilitation program. They completed the program as prescribed.
Things that Go Boom
Through their writings, private video recordings, and the small arsenal they began to collect, Eric and Dylan fantasized about bringing Doom to life. They collected and set off large amounts of fireworks. They eventually upgraded to “crickets” — small, but potent explosives made from CO2 cartridges. Before long they were making and setting off pipe bombs.
At least eight months before their April 20, 1999 attack, Klebold and Harris began to devise their attack on the school. Inspired by previous school shootings and the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing, they set a goal of killing at least 250 of their fellow students. This also meant they needed guns.
To facilitate this need for firearms, they used three sources: first, they preyed upon an unsuspecting female friend Robyn who happened to be eighteen — the legal age to purchase a long gun (rifle or shotgun). Dylan and Eric visited a gun show and identified several private party vendors who would sell a long gun without running a background check — as long as you were eighteen. They returned the next day with Robyn who completed the purchase on their behalf. They came home with two shotguns and a 9mm carbine rifle. Next they purchased a “Tec-9” pistol through a coworker named Philip Duran who acquired the gun for $500 from a small-time criminal named Mark Manes. Lastly they purchased several magazines for their guns from Green Mountain Guns.
The Basement Tapes
In the final weeks leading up the the attack on their school, Dylan and Eric made several final preparations. The first was a series of video recordings usually referred to as “The Basement Tapes,” as many of them were filmed in the basement of Eric’s home. They consisted of a cacophony of angry rants, try-ons of their gear, showing off their weapons, a room tour of their hidden explosives, and Klebold and Harris hashing out their attack plans. Initially they suggested an attack on downtown Denver before settling on their high school. They said they hoped to start a nation-wide revolution of outcasts rising up.
The last entry of the Basement Tapes was their goodbye and apology for what they were about to do. Interestingly, Eric said “I love you” to a girl he dated for about three weeks more than a year prior. The tapes were confiscated during the police raid following the shootings. Portions of them have been released, mainly excluding the parts where they lay out their plan for the school shooting. Those portions likely never will be released.
One of the released tapes is called Hitmen for Hire, which was actually shot at their school. It depicts Klebold and Harris wearing all black while shooting “jocks” with fake guns.
Another tape called Rampart Range shows Klebold and Harris doing target practice with their guns at a shooting range.
A third video called Radioactive Clothing is about clothing that comes to life after an atomic bomb explosion and must be killed.
Though not an official “Basement Tape,” another video called Eric in Columbine is available which is basically a vlog of them at school walking to the cafeteria and then sitting at tables while talking to various students. Some viewers claim it depicts Eric being bullied by jocks and ignored by girls.
Besides Eric’s online rants, both he and Dylan wrote prolifically in notebooks. They quoted violent lyrics from their favorite songs; made crude, racist, and gory drawings; and talked about suicide, murder, and other topics of hate. Seven years after their attack, the Jefferson County Sheriff made the decision to release their journals.
The “Nixon” Tape
Early on the morning of the shooting, Eric made an audio recording on a tape labeled “Nixon.” The name “Nixon” is not a reference to the President, but rather to the last name of a man they interviewed for a school project. Harris recorded over a portion of the original tape stating, “It is less than nine hours now. People will die because of me. It will be a day that will be remembered forever.”
Three days prior to the shooting, Dylan agreed to go with his friend Robyn to Columbine’s senior prom. They joined other students in sharing a limo. Dylan bought Robyn a corsage and appeared happy in photographs of them together. Eric attended prom also, but dateless — having been turned down by several girls. After the shooting, police initially believed that Eric and Dylan had placed explosives in the school during prom, but this was later debunked.
The date chosen for their attack has been the subject of considerable debate. April 20th was Hitler’s birthday. However, it’s possible that this was either a coincidence or a back-up date. Klebold and Harris had an interest in the Oklahoma City Bombing, and it was carried out on April 19th. Some sources say that they were waiting for more ammunition or magazines that didn’t get delivered until the 19th, forcing them to push back their rampage until the 20th. Others have suggested that the attack was intended for even earlier in the month, but the duo decided to delay it until after prom.
On the morning of April 20, 1999, Klebold and Harris’ first class was bowling. They were absent — though a student later reported that she’d seen them in the parking lot and said “Hi.” The rest of the morning’s timeline is mostly a subject of speculation. Dylan had written out a basic schedule for the day of the shooting:
5:00 Get up
6:00 Meet at KS
7:00 Go to Reb’s house
7:15 He leaves to fill propane
I leave to fill gas
8:30 Meet back at his house
9:00 Make duffel bag, set up car
9:30 Practice gear ups
10:30 Set up 4 things
11:00 Go to school
11:10 Set up duffel bags
11:12 Wait near cars, gear up
From what I can tell, they mostly followed that timeline. At 7:54 a.m., Harris was caught on a convenience store security camera buying a 20-pound propane tank. Wikipedia lists another propane tank being purchased at 9:12 a.m.
They drove separately and arrived at Columbine High School ahead of schedule. Each wore a custom-made t-shirt. Klebold’s shirt said “WRATH” and Harris’ said “NATURAL SELECTION.” To blend in, they initially wore long-sleeve plaid shirts over their custom t-shirts. Shortly before 11:00 a.m., the high school went on lunch break. This was Harris and Klebold’s time of attack.
Lots of Bombs
A common misconception of the Columbine Massacre is that it was a school shooting by design. That is not the case. Shooting was secondary to their plan. Rather the attack was intended to be primarily a school bombing. While in the parking lot, they rigged their cars to explode with homemade pipe bombs, napalm, and gas cans. Inside large duffel bags, they placed more pipe bombs, gas cans, and the propane tanks plus a clock timer set to go off at 11:17 a.m. — the middle of the busy lunch hour. They also hand-carried several more pipe bombs and their “cricket” bombs.
They intended the duffel bag bombs to detonate inside the cafeteria, causing mass casualties, and then, from outside the school, shoot any fleeing survivors. Klebold and Harris fully expected to be shot by police and their two car bombs were designed to kill first responders. They had also discussed planting several additional bombs in other locations both on and off school property to act as diversionary devices and slow down the police response. They greatly scaled down this part of their plan, leaving just two backpacks filled with pipe bombs and aerosol cans about three miles away from the school in a field. In total, they detonated 30 explosive devices during the attack.
10:58 First Harris, then Klebold enter the school cafeteria (called The Commons) carrying their duffel bag bombs. They left them under tables, unnoticed among the backpacks of the 488 students there for lunch.
- They return to their cars, remove their plaid shirts, and gear up. Both don black trench-coats over their custom shirts. About this time, Brooks Brown has a chance encounter with the shooters. He inquires about them missing their Philosophy exam that morning. Despite his former animosity towards Brooks, Harris replies, “It doesn’t matter anymore. Brooks, I like you now. Get out of here. Go home.” Brooks takes Eric’s advice and leaves the school.
- Fully armed and geared up, Harris and Klebold wait for the mayhem to begin. Despite researching bomb-making online and having successfully detonated several pipe bombs and cricket bombs in the past, throughout the attack most of their explosive devices failed to detonate. 11:17 a.m. passes and the cafeteria is still intact — the duffel bag bombs also did not explode.
11:19 A 911 call comes in reporting a grass fire from the diversionary bomb left in the field.
Near simultaneously, Harris and Klebold grow impatient and decide to enter the school to check on their bombs. Harris yells “Go! Go!” and they advance on the school firing their weapons.
- They first targeted two students seated outside in the grass. Rachel Scott, whom Harris and Klebold had previously mocked in one of the Basement Tapes for being a Christian, was killed. The other student was paralyzed but survived.
- Three students exiting the cafeteria are spotted by Harris and Klebold and fired upon. All three are struck — Dan Rohrbough is killed.
- Five students seated in the grass nearby at first assumed the shooting was fake or part of a senior prank. Now, realizing it was all too real, they attempt to flee. Two of the students are struck with gunfire, but survive — one by playing dead.
- One of the three students, from the 2nd group that had been shot, Lance Kirlkin, called for help. Klebold replied, “Sure, I’ll help you,” and then shot him in the face. Miraculously he survived.
- A girl who had been seated nearby was shot as she fled. She fell, paralyzed. A friend dragged her next to the wall where she played dead.
- At this point, Harris removed his trench coat and gloves and discarded them on the ground. Klebold kept his on until inside the school library.
11:22 Klebold enters the cafeteria. It’s filled with students hiding under tables. Klebold accidentally steps on a student who was lying on the floor and says, “Sorry dude.” He leaves without firing a single shot.
- Back outside, Harris and Kelbold fire potshots at a group of students seated at the soccer field. None are injured. Dylan throws several pipe bombs.
11:23 The 1st 911 call from the school reporting a female student down, maybe paralyzed. A deputy who had been enroute to the diversionary device turns his lights on and heads for Columbine High School.
- A female student dashes into the cafeteria frantically reporting the shooting. Several students flee, while a senior goes outside to investigate. He witnesses Klebold and Harris firing indiscriminately. Something grazes his cheek and he runs back inside.
- A teacher, Patti Nielson, and a 17-year-old student see Harris and Klebold outside. As they walk towards the glass doors to confront what they think is another film production, they are fired upon. The bullets miss, but glass and metal shrapnel injure both of them. They flee to the library.
11:24 Coach Dave Sanders, enters the cafeteria to investigate the commotion. Upon realizing there’s a shooting in progress, he, along with two custodians and a school safety officer, order students to run or hide under tables.
- The first police officer arrives. Klebold and Harris had just entered the school when Deputy Neil Gardner arrived in his patrol car. He was immediately fired upon by Harris. They exchanged gunfire, neither being struck. The shooters retreat inside the school.
- Klebold and Harris walk down the hallway firing randomly and throwing pipe bombs, laughing and cheering as they go.
11:25 After firing upon and missing several students, a female student is struck in the ankle as she fled outside.
- Patti Nielson calls 911 while hiding in the library. The call lasts for approximately twenty minutes, though Nielson speaks for only four minutes of it. The rest of the call records background noise from the attack.
11:26 Deputy Gardner radios for backup and two additional police officers arrive on scene. They rescue two injured students lying in the grass.
- Klebold and Harris encounter Coach Sanders at the end of the south hallway. As Sanders turned to flee, he is struck twice with gunfire in the neck and upper back. He’s able to crawl to a science classroom where three students are hiding. They attend to his injuries and call 911.
11:27 Harris fires outside at police officers who return fire. Nobody is hit.
- Klebold throws multiple pipe bombs into the cafeteria. The explosion is caught on the security camera. The duffel bag bombs still do not explode.
11:29 Harris fires on a student outside the library, missing, but still injuring him with shards of wood that exploded off either a door or counter.
Harris and Klebold enter the library. 56 people were inside at the time. The shooters would carry out 10 out of their 13 murders here. They yell for the students to get up. When no one responds, one of the shooters says, “Fine, I’ll start shooting.” Their first library victim, shot by Klebold, was a mentally challenged student named Kyle Velasquez who had been too confused to hide.
- The gunmen next fire shots outside through the window at the police before returning to the tables inside the library. Klebold removes his trench coat and then fires underneath a table, injuring three students.
11:30 Harris fires under a table, striking a female student and a male student, Steve Curnow, who is killed. The female student plays dead.
11:31 Harris slaps his hand twice on top of a table, ducks his head underneath and says “Peek-a-boo!” before fatally shooting Cassie Bernall. Harris had fired his shotgun one-handed and was unable to control the recoil. The shotgun barrel smashed into his face, breaking his nose and several other facial bones.
- Harris moves to another table and points his gun in the face of Bree Pasquale, but didn’t fire. Bree hears Harris say, “Everyone’s gonna die. We’re gonna blow up the school anyway.” In the immediate aftermath of the massacre, she gave a viral, tearful interview.
- Patrick Ireland (who would come to be know as “The Boy in the Window”), though wounded crawled out of his hiding place to administer aid to an injured friend. Klebold shoots him twice in the head and once in the foot. He miraculously survived.
- Both Harris and Klebold fire under another table, killing Isaiah Shoels and Matthew Kechter respectively. Shoels was the only black student killed, and both shooters were heard directing racial slurs at him before his death. Eric throws a cricket bomb under a table. An injured student quickly throws it away and it explodes mid-air.
11:32 Klebold fires under a table, hitting a student in the head and shoulder. He then turns to the table beside it with five girls huddle underneath and fires. Two of the girls are hit. Klebold then fires eight rapid-fire shots, followed by a ninth that kills Lauren Townsend.
11:33 While reloading their guns, Valeen Schurr, who had been injured in the last volley of gunfire, begins crying, “Oh my God, help me!” Klebold asks her if she believes in God. At first she doesn’t answer, and then she says “No,” but quickly changes her answer to “Yes.” Klebold replied, “Why?” Schurr then crawled back under the table and played dead.
- Harris walks to another table and fires, injuring two more students. One of them, John Tomlin, asks, “Don’t you think you’ve done enough?” He is then killed by Klebold. The other student plays dead.
- Harris walks to another table and shoots Kelly Flemming in the back, killing her. He fires under another table, injuring two students.
11:34 Harris walks to a table, sticks his gun underneath, and asks its occupant to identify himself. The student answers “It’s John.” Klebold joins Harris and asks, “John Savage?” John says, “Hi, Dylan. What are you doing?” Klebold answers nonchalantly, “Oh, just killing people.” John asks, “Are you going to kill me?” Klebland replies, “No dude, get out of here, just run.” While they spared other students, John Savage was the only student they allowed to leave after the attack had begun.
11:35 Daniel Mauser is spotted under a table. Harris makes fun of his glasses and then shoots him. Mauser tries to attack Harris with a chair, but is fatally shot — potentially making Mauser the only student known to have fought back.
- Both Harris and Klebold fire underneath another table, striking three students, killing Corey Depooter. Depooter would be their final victim.
- The shooters then discover a student hiding under the library admin desk. It was the student who had been wounded by shrapnel before Klebold and Harris entered the library. Klebold demands, “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you.” The student replies, “I don’t want any trouble. I don’t have a problem with you guys. I never will and I never did.” Klebold doesn’t fire and says that Harris he can have him. They both walk away. He would later be known briefly as “Unnamed Boy” because after escaping, he left the school grounds.
11:36 Klebold slams a chair against a computer on the desk Patti Nielson is hiding under but he does not investigate further. They finally exit the library and make their way back to the cafeteria. Despite having plenty of remaining ammunition, only 22 of the 56 library occupants were shot. Those alive and able to move escape outside.
- Jefferson County SWAT team arrives.
11:38 Klebold and Harris throw multiple bombs into the cafeteria before making their way to the science corridor. They peak inside several classrooms containing students — even making eye contact with some, but leave without firing a shot.
11:40 A bomb is thrown into a storage room, starting a small fire.
11:44 Harris appears on the cafeteria security camera kneeling to shoot at one of the duffel bag bombs. It still does not explode.
11:45 Harris drinks from an abandoned cup on a cafeteria table and then yells, “Today the world’s going to come to an end. Today’s the day we die!” Klebold tries and fails to detonate the same duffel bag bomb that Harris had just shot.
- Harris shoots at the bomb again followed by Klebold throwing another explosive at it. Finally it partially detonates (the attached pipe bombs and gasoline cans ignite, but not the 20lb propane canister). The blast blows out the cafeteria windows and starts a fire that activates the sprinkler system. Both shooters flee the the cafeteria, anticipating the massive explosion they had hoped for all along.
For the next twelve minutes, Klebold and Harris walk around the school firing their weapons at nobody in particular, injuring no one.
11:49 SWAT receives official authorization from the Jefferson County under-sheriff to immediately enter the school.
11:51 Police dispatch disconnects the 911 call from the library after not hearing anything for a while.
11:57 Klebold and Harris return to the cafeteria. Their posture on the security camera has been described by some as depicting defeat and disappointment. Their two duffel bag bombs had killed no one, and the sprinkler system had extinguished the fire from earlier.
- They try to access a kitchen storage room where several people were hiding, but it was barricaded from the inside.
12:00 Klebold and Harris exit the cafeteria for the last time and return to the library.
- They discover that the rest of the students had escaped. They spend a few minutes exchanging gunfire with police, neither party successfully hitting anyone. One of Harris and Klebold’s goals had been to go out in a shootout with the police. Yet now 40 minutes after they had begun their rampage, the police had only engaged them from a distance.
12:02 SWAT begins to approach the high school, shielded by a commandeered firetruck.
12:05 Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris committed suicide. Harris had 18 9mm bullets and 14 shotgun shells left. Klebold had just 3 9mm bullets and 14 shotgun shells. They lit a molotov and set it on a table. It did not explode, only starting a small fire. Harris sat against a bookshelf in the library and killed himself with his shotgun — he died instantly. Klebold then knelt next to him and shot himself with his TEC-9. The gunshot did not immediately kill Klebold, and he likely took several seconds to a few minutes to die.
12:06 The first SWAT team enters the school.
13:15 Investigators descend upon the Klebold and Harris homes.
13:57 SWAT receives word from dispatch of the injured Coach Sanders receiving CPR from students inside the school.
14:15 A SWAT sniper reports a sign in a windows that reads: “1 bleeding to death” — a reference to the injured Coach Sanders.
14:42 SWAT arrives at Coach Sanders and radios for paramedics.
15:22 SWAT enters the library. The final injured student as well as Patti Nielson are evacuated. Klebold and Harris are found dead.
15:55 Klebold and Harris’ booby-trapped cars are discovered.
16:45 Coach David Sanders is officially pronounced dead inside the science classroom where he had taken refuge, though he had already been determined to be deceased at approximately 15:00 by a paramedic.
In just 16 minutes, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and 1 teacher. They also injured 20 others with gunfire. Four additional students received injuries while escaping.
Perhaps the most dramatic story of survival is that of Patrick Ireland. He had been among the first shot in the library. After being shot twice in the head, he blacked out. He remained unconscious until 12:08 when the library fire alarm awakened him. He heard the dying Klebold take his last tortured breath. For the next 2 1/2 hours, while slipping in and out of consciousness, Ireland managed to scoot on his back to a broken library window and eventually pull himself to a standing position. SWAT teams below saw him in the window and yelled for him to stay put. They drove a vehicle under the window and then told him to jump. The surreal rescue was broadcast on national TV.
Another student, 17-year-old Greg Barnes, though uninjured in the Columbine massacre, lost one of his friends in the shooting as well as witnessing the death of Coach Sanders. Barnes tragically committed suicide one year later.
From the Author
Where to Begin?
This horrendous act of violence has been one of the most documented criminal acts in history. Due to the duration of the attack, the unfolding tragedy was televised nationally both during and after the attack for months on end. Additionally, with the release of the Klebold and Harris diaries, portions of their videos, and transcripts of the unreleased videos, while a gold-mine for True Crime enthusiasts, from a blogger standpoint, the amount of material to sift through is astronomical. There have also been numerous books written, case studies put forth, countless news articles published, and entire websites devoted to chronicling the library of evidence surrounding this case.
I say all that to say, that it is impossible for me to provide a comprehensive analysis of every aspect of this case. As much as I’d enjoy discussing the police response, the missed red flags, the parents, and a hundred other facets of this case — I’m going to limit my analysis to the psychology of the shooters themselves. For all the other things that could and should be said about the case, I’ll provide some links for your further personal study at the end of this article.
My Analysis of Klebold and Harris
Eric Harris is commonly described as a “budding psychopath.” Though a lot of psychologists agree with that analysis, I’m not 100% convinced. Harris certainly had several of the traits for psychopathy — low empathy, compulsive lying, narcissism — yet he exhibited some inconsistencies with the standard diagnosis of a psychopath.
He did not exhibit psychopathic traits until his teen years. He loved animals. He also seemed to demonstrate concern and remorse leading up to the attack. In the Basement Tapes, he both apologized to his parents and thanked them for how they’d cared for him — which by all accounts was very lovingly. He also specifically told investigators not to blame his parents, that they’d done nothing wrong. Psychopaths typically demonstrate an unwillingness to accept responsibility while blaming everyone around them for their actions. Harris did not.
Harris also wrote in one of his journal entries that he wished he was a psychopath so that he could be truly remorseless. In another entry, he wrote, “I must not be sidetracked by my feelings of sympathy,” and then encouraged himself to dehumanize his future victims by imagining them as zombies. In the transcripts of the unreleased Basement Tapes, Eric was said to be crying as he shuts off the video — immediately after discussing the upcoming attack.
I did not subject myself to the hundreds of pages of the Harris and Klebold journal entries. I did read a great deal of them though. The personality profile(s) that seem most to line up with my research are borderline-personality-disorder (BPD) and grandiose narcissism. The relevant BPD characteristics for Harris are: paranoia, extreme anger, inability to control anger and hatred, suicidal thoughts, and depression.
Grandiose narcissism is characterized by: a belief that oneself is special, unique, and superior; persistent fantasies of power; a tendency to take advantage of others; envy; selfishness; arrogance; entitlement; quick anger; hostility; and aggression. Eric often talked about how he was “evolved” beyond everyone else and considered himself “above human.” He referred to his journals as “the writings of god.”
These two personality profiles/disorders created a destructive combination. Read some more of Eric’s own words at the end of this blog post.
For about a year prior to the attack, Eric took a drug called Luvox to treat OCD (which he may or may not have had). Luvox has since shown to be unsafe in adolescents, particularly those with depression. Luvox affects how the body absorbs the naturally occurring chemical in the brain called serotonin — which among other things, regulates moods. Side effects include delusional thinking, aggression, irritability, and an increase in suicide risk. The drug carried a warning that it could increase violent behaviors in children.
I certainly do not blame the use of Luvox for the Columbine school shooting, even though I believe prescribing it to Harris was unwise (it was removed from the market for six years following the shooting). I do however agree with Dr. Peter R. Breggin that Harris’ use of the drug likely intensified his feelings of rage and violent tenancies.
Much less has been said about the personality profile/psychopathy of Dylan Klebold. He was also not nearly as prolific of a writer as Harris. That being said, it’s clear from his own words that he was depressed, suicidal, felt unloved, and also angry.
For Klebold’s personality disorder I settled on vulnerable narcissism. Typically people think of narcissistic personality disorder being manifested through the egomania of Harris. Vulnerable narcissists however feel the same superiority and feelings of power as the grandiose narcissist — their feelings are just hidden under a veil of introversion. The vulnerable narcissist is thin-skinned and comes off as shy and even avoiding of people in public — despite their inward feelings of arrogance and rage.
Compared to Harris, Klebold was significantly less psychopathic, and probably less dangerous overall. Yet they seemed to have a shared psychopathy — “needing” one another for the commission of their crime. Harris (maybe) could’ve carried out the massacre alone, but certainly having Klebold at his side made that task easier, as Harris fed off of praise and approval. Klebold, on the other hand, I do not believe was capable of the attack without Harris, though he did fantasize about killing others. As you see, personality disorders are a tricky thing to nail down.
The predominate narrative that has been held to by many people for the last 20+ years is that Eric and Dylan were the victims of intense bullying and rejection that drove them to “fight back” — that their attack was a retaliation against those they felt had bullied them. I’ve even encountered terms like “bullycide” and there is a shocking number of people who consider Klebold and Harris as much of a victim as those they shot — or even in some cases the “true” victims. Some even go so far as to suggest that those who died deserved it.
That narrative has been thoroughly debunked, despite it still hanging on for all these years. While bullying culture certainly existed at Columbine, there is little evidence that Eric and Dylan were the targets of excessive bullying or alienation more than others. In fact, when Eric began to withdraw socially in the 10th grade, some of his former friends expressed genuine confusion as to why Eric had cut them off. Additionally, in Eric’s rants he once expressed a desire to blow up downtown Denver and to kill people at random. Also many of those targeted seemed to not even know who Eric or Dylan were. And certainly not all of the 488 students they hoped to kill in the cafeteria had bullied the shooters. Bulling, while maybe a contributing factor, certainly was not the motive.
There was also a lot of talk about “The Trenchcoat Mafia,” a non-violent group of teens at Columbine who dressed in trench coats and hung out together. Because Dylan and Eric began their attack while wearing trench coats, it was immediately assumed that the shooters were members of the group. That also was proven not true. It seems that Dylan and Eric knew who the Trenchcoat Mafia were, but they were not a part of the group — perhaps simply idolizing their “fashion” style.
Violent Video Games, Film, and Music?
Following the shooting, there was an intense discussion about the kind of video games, movies, and music that Harris and Klebold enjoyed — particularly the c0mputer game Doom and the rock singer Marilyn Manson (whom the shooters actually were not fans of). The Senate even held a special session to discuss concerns of teens consuming these violent entertainment mediums. While I do believe in the old phrase “garbage in, garbage out,” and that games, movies, and particularly music are not entirely neutral, at the same time I also do not believe that their entertainment choices sparked or inspired their rampage — even though they expressed that the attack would be “like Doom,” and referred to their plan as “NBK” (short for the film Natural Born Killers).
Thing is, millions of other teens play Doom (and worse), listen to edgy music, and watch gory films — and do not go on to kill anybody, much less attempt to blow up and massacre their school. Rather I believe Klebold and Harris were drawn to these forms of entertainment because they expressed similar sentiments to what they were already feeling — the entertainment was not creating feelings or driving their actions. It’s like when someone is sad and listens to sad music — the music is relatable because of how they already feel. Eric was filled with hate and a desire to perpetrate violence, and for a time Doom was his outlet for expressing those feelings and desires. Until it wasn’t enough and they attacked their school.
My Conclusion then:
Eric was filled with rage at many different people who had never done him any kind of wrong. In his yearbook he put “X’s” on the faces of almost every student. It didn’t take much to make Harris hate you — he once wrote a poem that repeated the phrase, “I am a nice guy who hates when people open their pop can just a little.”
Eric fired his weapons nearly twice as many times as Dylan did.
Dylan was also hateful, but was probably more so suicidal.
Dylan randomly spared two students he aimed his gun at.
Eric’s motive for killing was hatred and a twisted idea that he was a god pronouncing judgement upon anyone he wished.
For Dylan, the rampage was a means to the end of taking his own life.
I do not at all believe that bullying, music, or video games were significant factors, but rather that their rampage was a product of their own hatred and an entitled sense of superiority over those they targeted. Klebold and Harris simply seemed hell-bent on exacting mayhem on as many people as possible, seeing the entire world as worthy of death. Eric once wrote that he wanted to kill everyone except for like five people. Eric also expressed animosity towards girls who wouldn’t date him — lots of boys get rejected by girls and that doesn’t constitute bullying. And it’s possible that their first victim, Rachel Scott was singled out because of her Christian faith.
So in the end, as they shot a mentally challenged student, girls, boys, a beloved teacher, and targeted random people who didn’t even know them — Harris and Klebold ended up being the bullies, not the other way around.
Why did They Stop?
One of the questions that came up in my mind, and that I encountered several times while searching for the answer was “Why did they stop killing” or “Why did they kill so few students despite having the opportunity to kill many more?” I believe the answer is complex.
1. Again, the primary intended component of their attack was a massive explosion that, if it had been successful, would’ve most likely brought the entire library down upon the cafeteria below. A bombing is an impersonal form of murder. Shooting meant they had to face their victims. I believe they were disappointed that their main attack was a failure. They had hoped to surpass the death-toll of the Oklahoma City Bombing 4 years prior (which killed 168 people) — and when their bombs failed, they felt a sense of defeat. They could still kill students, but the “kill count” would be far lower than they hoped.
2. It’s also likely that the adrenaline or the “fun/novelty” of their shooting spree wore off. I believe they simply grew tired of it.
3. When Harris shot Cassie Bernall, the recoil from his gun broke his nose and several facial bones. Bree Pasquale described Harris as bleeding profusely from his nose. I’m sure it hurt like the dickens. I believe the injury snapped him out of his god-like delusion. Other survivors reported a change in Harris’ demeanor after he broke his nose.
4. I believe that the lack of police engagement (the police did fire 141 rounds, though all from a distance) was also a factor for them stopping. The shooters had talked beforehand of wanting to kill “pigs” (police). It also is likely they wanted to die via “suicide by cop.” When the police held back and their attempts from the inside the school to shoot police failed — it became another failed part of their plan. It’s not uncommon for serial killers to fall into depression following their crimes when certain aspects don’t go like they had fantasized. (read more about that in this blog post)
As far as why they directly spared three students and allowed dozens more in the library to escape unharmed despite having more than enough bullets remaining — it was perhaps because of their narcissistic “god-like” fantasy. By randomly sparing some of the students in the library, it meant that they were in control of who lived and who died. Though they even failed in that regard — some of the most seriously injured students whom Harris and Klebold believed they had killed ended up surviving..
In the Killers’ Words
I have a short temper
I get angry at almost anything
I hate too many things
I hate everything unless I say otherwise
I’m full of hate and I love it
I can’t wait until they die
No one should survive
I’m better than everyone
I want to show them who is god
– eric harris
It’s interesting when I’m in my human form, knowing I’m going to die
Today is the day the world comes to an end
Today is the day we die
– dylan klebold
CNN Compilation of Public Information and Evidence
Psychological Profile of Klebold and Harris by Dr. Grande
Cafeteria Security Camera Video with 911 Calls and Radio Dispatch (can be somewhat difficult to hear due to the overlap of audio)
Brooks Brown 911 Call
GMA Interview of Robyn Anderson
Post-attack Fire Department Walkthrough of the school (content warning for graphic images)
Reddit Master List of Videos – Includes Basement Tapes (content warning for language)
Ripples of Columbine Influence on other Mass Shooters
Thanks for reading!
Hi there! Writing a blog post like this means hours of research and website formatting — in fact this was my most in-depth blog post to date. Ultimately I’m just grateful you’re here reading my content, but if you’d like to say thanks back, you can buy me a coffee ☕