|Columbine High School massacre|
|Part of mass shootings in the United States|
|Location||Columbine, Colorado, U.S.|
|Date||April 20, 1999 |
11:19 a.m. – 12:08 p.m. (MDT (UTC−6))
|Target||Students and staff at Columbine High School, police and first responders|
|School shooting, mass murder, murder–suicide, arson, attempted bombing, shootout|
|Deaths||15 (including both perpetrators)|
|Injured||24 (21 by gunfire)|
|Perpetrators||Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold|
|Part of a series of articles|
The Columbine High School massacre was a school shooting and failed bombing that occurred on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado, United States.[a] The perpetrators, twelfth grade (senior) students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, murdered 12 students and one teacher. Ten students were killed in the school library, where the pair subsequently committed suicide. Twenty-one additional people were injured by gunshots, and gunfire was also exchanged with the police. Another three people were injured trying to escape. At the time, it was the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history.[b] The crime has inspired several copycats, including many deadlier shootings across the world,[c] and "Columbine" has become a byword for school shootings.
In addition to the shootings, Harris and Klebold planted several homemade bombs. Two of these were placed in the cafeteria, powerful enough to kill or seriously injure all people within the area, although they failed to detonate. Their cars in the parking lots were made into bombs which also failed to detonate, and at another location away from the school, two bombs were set up as diversions, only one of which partially detonated. The motive remains unclear, but they had planned for around a year, hoping to massacre the most victims in U.S. history, which then meant exceeding the death toll of the Oklahoma City bombing. USA Today said the attack was "planned as a grand, if badly implemented, terrorist bombing."
The police were slow to enter the school and were heavily criticized for not intervening during the shooting. The incident resulted in the introduction of the Immediate Action Rapid Deployment tactic, which is used in active shooter situations. Columbine also resulted in an increased emphasis on school security with zero tolerance policies. Debates and moral panic were sparked over guns and gun control laws, high school cliques, subcultures (e. g. goths), outcasts, and school bullying, as well as teenage use of pharmaceutical antidepressants, the Internet and violence in video games and movies.
Many impromptu memorials were created after the massacre, including victims Rachel Scott's car and John Tomlin's truck. Fifteen crosses for the victims and shooters were also erected on top of a hill in Clement Park. The crosses for Harris and Klebold were removed later following controversy. The Columbine Memorial began planning as a permanent memorial in June 1999 and opened to the public on September 21, 2007.
In 1996, 15-year-old Eric Harris created a private website on America Online (AOL).[d] It was initially to host levels (WADs) Harris created for use in the first-person shooter video games Doom and Doom II, as well as Quake.[e] On the site, Harris began a blog. It included details about Harris sneaking out of the house to cause mischief and vandalism, such as lighting fireworks, with his friend Dylan Klebold and others.
Harris worked at a fireworks stand, and had received several fireworks as a result. The mascot of Columbine High School (CHS) is the Rebels, and they called the sneaking out "Rebel Missions". Harris and Klebold adopted the nicknames "Reb" and "Vodka", respectively. Beginning in early 1997, the blog postings began to show the first signs of Harris's anger against society. By the end of the year, the site contained instructions on how to make explosives. Harris wrote: "the first true pipe bombs created entirely from scratch by the rebels (REB and VoDkA)... Now our only problem is to find the place that will be 'ground zero'."
Harris's site attracted few visitors and caused no concern until August 1997. Harris ended a blog post detailing murderous fantasies with "All I want to do is kill and injure as many of you as I can, especially a few people. Like Brooks Brown"; a classmate of his.[f] Brown claims that Klebold gave him the web address, in an effort to warn him of Harris's threats of violence against him. Others suggest that it was in fact discovered by Brooks' brother Aaron Brown.
After Brown's parents viewed the site, they contacted the Jefferson County (Jeffco) Sheriff's Office on August 7, 1997. When investigator Michael Guerra accessed the website, he discovered numerous violent threats directed against the students and teachers of CHS. Guerra wrote a draft affidavit, requesting a search warrant of the Harris household. The affidavit also mentioned the discovery of an exploded pipe bomb, and a suspicion of Harris being involved in the unsolved case. The affidavit was never submitted to a judge and, therefore, went ignored.
On January 30, 1998, Harris and Klebold were arrested for breaking into a white van parked near Littleton and stealing tools and computer equipment. They would subsequently attend a joint court hearing, where they pled guilty to the felony theft. The judge sentenced them to a juvenile diversion program. As a result, both delinquents attended mandatory classes such as anger management and talked with diversion officers.[g] They both were eventually released from diversion several weeks early because of positive actions in the program and put on probation.
Nearly a year before the massacre, Klebold wrote a message in Harris's 1998 yearbook: "killing enemies, blowing up stuff, killing cops!! My wrath for January's incident will be godlike. Not to mention our revenge in the commons." The commons was slang for the school cafeteria.
Harris and Klebold kept journals, which were released to the public in 2006. In the journals, the pair would eventually document their arsenal and plan of attack.
Shortly after the court hearing for the van break-in, Harris reverted his website back to just hosting user-created levels of Doom. He began to write his thoughts down in a journal instead. In both of these journals, Harris and Klebold would later plot the attack. Soon after beginning his journal, Harris typed out one plan of attack which included after the massacre possibly escaping to a foreign country or hijacking an aircraft at Denver International Airport and crashing it into New York City.
Klebold had already been keeping a personal journal since March 1997; As early as November of that year, Klebold had mentioned going on a killing spree. Klebold had used his journal to vent about his personal problems as well as what he'd wear and use during the attack.
Harris also made entries on topics such as his sexuality on his journal where he describes the desire for sex, especially his desire to raping and torturing them in his bedroom. Harris also expressed interest in cannibalism and stated that he would like to dismember a woman with whom he could have sex with.
Harris and Klebold also used their schoolwork to foreshadow the massacre.[h] They both displayed themes of violence in their creative writing projects. In December 1997, Harris wrote a paper on school shootings titled "Guns in School", and a poem from the perspective of a bullet. Klebold wrote a short story about a man killing students which worried his teacher so much that she alerted his parents.
Both had also actively researched war and murder. For one project, Harris wrote a paper on the Nazis and Klebold wrote a paper on Charles Manson. In a psychology class, Harris wrote he dreamed of going on a shooting spree with Klebold. Harris's journals described several experimental bomb detonations.
Harris and Klebold were both enrolled in video production classes and kept five video tapes that were recorded with school video equipment. Only two of these, Hitmen for Hire and Rampart Range, and part of a third known as Radioactive Clothing, have been released.[i]
The remaining three tapes detail their plans and reasons for the massacre, including the ways they hid their weapons and deceived their parents. Most of these were shot in the Harris family basement, and are thus known as the Basement Tapes. Thirty minutes before the attack, they made a final video saying goodbye and apologizing to their friends and families.
In December 1999, before anybody else had seen them, Time magazine published an article on these tapes. The victims' family members threatened to sue Jefferson County. As a result, select victim families and journalists were allowed to see them, and they were then kept from the public indefinitely for fear of inspiring future massacres. The tapes have since been destroyed. There are only transcripts of some of the dialogue, and a short clip recorded surreptitiously by a victim's father. The pair claimed they were going to make copies of the tapes to send to news stations, but never did so.
When an economics class had Harris make an ad for a business, he and Klebold made a video called Hitmen for Hire on December 8, 1998, which was released in February 2004. It depicts them as part of the Trench Coat Mafia, a clique in the school who wore black trench coats, extorting money for protecting preps from bullies. They were apparently not a part of the Trench Coat Mafia, but were friends with some of its members.[j] They wore black trench coats on the day of the massacre, and the video seemed a kind of dress rehearsal, showing them walking the halls of the school, and shooting bullies outside with fake guns.
Before the massacre, Harris left a micro cassette labeled "Nixon" on the kitchen table. On it Harris said "It is less than nine hours now," placing the recording at some time around 2:30 am. He went on to say "People will die because of me" and "It will be a day that will be remembered forever."
In the months prior to the attacks, Harris and Klebold acquired two 9 mm firearms and two 12-gauge shotguns. Harris had a Hi-Point 995 Carbine with thirteen 10-round magazines and a Savage-Springfield 67H pump-action shotgun. Klebold used a 9×19mm Intratec TEC-9 semi-automatic handgun with one 52-, one 32-, and one 28-round magazine and a Stevens 311D double-barreled shotgun. Harris's shotgun was sawed-off to around 26 inches (0.66 m) and Klebold shortened his shotgun's length to 23 inches (0.58 m), a felony under the National Firearms Act.
On November 22, 1998, their friend Robyn Anderson purchased the carbine rifle and the two shotguns for the pair at the Tanner Gun Show, as they were too young to legally purchase the guns themselves. After the attack, she told investigators that she had believed the pair wanted the items for target shooting, and that she had no prior knowledge of their plans. Anderson was not charged.[k] Three days before the shooting, Klebold attended the high school prom with Anderson.
Harris and Klebold both held part-time jobs at a local Blackjack Pizza. Through Philip Duran, a coworker, Klebold bought a TEC-9 handgun from Mark Manes for $500 at another gun show on January 23. Manes, Manes' girlfriend, and Duran are all in the Rampart Range video.
After the massacre, Manes and Duran were both prosecuted. Each was charged with supplying a handgun to a minor and possession of a sawed-off shotgun. Manes and Duran were sentenced to a total of six years and four-and-a-half years in prison, respectively.
These included pipe bombs, carbon dioxide cartridges filled with gunpowder (called "crickets"), Molotov cocktails, and propane tanks converted to bombs. The propane bombs were used in the cafeteria, in their cars, and in another location as a diversion. For ignition, they used kitchen matches, cannon fuse, and model rocket igniters as well as timing devices built from clocks and batteries for the cafeteria, car, and diversion bombs. During the massacre, they carried lighters as well as match strikers taped to their forearms to light the pipe bombs and crickets. They had 45 crickets, 8 of which detonated, and 9 Molotov cocktails, 2 of which functioned.
Harris also attempted to make napalm, and envisioned a kind of backpack and flamethrower. They both attempted to get another friend and coworker Chris Morris, who was a part of the Trench Coat Mafia, to keep the napalm at his house, but he refused. Harris also tried to recruit him to be a third shooter, but would play it off as a joke when rebuked.
Harris's website contained directions on making pipe bombs, including use of shrapnel. Harris's parents once discovered one of his pipe bombs. Harris's journal logged the creation of 25 pipe bombs.
Klebold scared his coworkers by once bringing a pipe bomb into work. They would give various nick-names to their pipe bombs. After the massacre, two pipe bombs had been left in Klebold's bedroom, one named "Vengeance" and another "Atlanta", presumably after the Olympic Park bombing.
They had in their possession 8 propane tanks all converted into bombs. The weekend before the shooting, Harris and Klebold bought two propane tanks and other supplies from a hardware store. They bought six propane tanks on the morning of the attack. Harris was caught on a Texaco gas station security camera at 9:12 a.m. buying a Blue Rhino propane tank. Both cafeteria bombs included a single 20 pound tank, attached pipe bombs, and supporting gasoline canisters alongside.
Both car bombs were made from two 20-pound propane tanks, pipe bombs, and various containers filled with gasoline were spread throughout the vehicles. Eight pipe bombs were placed in Klebold's car, and one in Harris's.
Harris and Klebold were both equipped with knives, but investigators do not believe they ever used them during the massacre. Harris had a boot knife on his belt and a "Khyber-pass" machete bowie knife, taped to the back of his ankle. Both had an "R" etched into the handle, and the machete had a swastika on the sheath. Klebold had a "Cobra" knife mounted to his belt on the left side as well as a switchblade in his right pocket.
According to their journals and video tapes, it is believed by investigators that the pair intended to detonate their propane bombs in the cafeteria at the busiest lunch hour, killing hundreds of students. After this, they would shoot and stab survivors, as well as lob bombs. Bombs set in their cars in the parking lot would also eventually detonate, killing more students as well as possibly any police officers, paramedics, firemen, or reporters who had come to the school.[l] However, this failed to occur since the bombs in the cafeteria and cars failed to detonate.
Several official sources claim they planned to shoot the fleeing survivors from the parking lot, but moved to the staircase on the hill at the west side of the school when the bombs failed. Other sources claim the top of the staircase where the massacre began was their preferred spot to wait for the bombs to go off all along.[m]
A total of 188 rounds of ammunition were fired by the perpetrators during the massacre. Firing nearly twice as much as Klebold, Harris fired his carbine rifle a total of 96 times, and discharged his shotgun 25 times. Klebold fired the TEC-9 handgun 55 times, and 12 rounds from his double-barreled shotgun. Law enforcement officers fired 141 rounds during exchanges of gunfire with the shooters.
On Tuesday morning, April 20, 1999, Harris and Klebold placed two duffel bags in the cafeteria. Each bag contained propane bombs, set to detonate during the "A" lunch shift, which began at 11:15 a.m.[n]
No witness recalled seeing the duffel bags being added to the 400 or so backpacks that were already in the cafeteria. The security staff at CHS did not observe the bags being placed in the cafeteria; a custodian was replacing the school security videotape at around 11:14 a.m. Shortly after the massacre, police speculated the bombs were placed during this "tape change". They also investigated whether the bombs were placed during the "after-prom" party held the prior weekend. Some internet sleuths claim the bomb placement can be seen on the surveillance video at around 10:58 am.
Jeffco Sheriff's Deputy Neil Gardner was assigned to the high school as a full-time school resource officer. Gardner usually ate lunch with students in the cafeteria, but on April 20 he was eating lunch in his patrol car at the northwest corner of the campus, watching students in the Smokers' Pit in Clement Park, a meadow adjacent to the school.
Two backpacks filled with pipe bombs, aerosol canisters, and small propane bombs were also placed in a field about 3 miles (4.8 km) south of CHS, and 2 mi (3.2 km) south of the fire station.[o] The bombs were intended as a diversion to draw firefighters and emergency personnel away from the school. Only the pipe bombs and one of the aerosol canisters detonated, causing a small fire, which was quickly extinguished by the fire department. It went off after first having been moved. Bomb technicians immediately examined the bombs and relayed to police at the school the possibility of devices with motion activators.
Harris and Klebold changed clothes and returned separately to CHS. Harris parked his vehicle in the junior student parking lot, and Klebold parked in the adjoining senior student parking lot. The school cafeteria was their primary bomb target; the cafeteria had a long outside window-wall, ground-level doors, and was just north of the senior parking lot. The library was located above the cafeteria in the second-story of the window-wall. Each car contained bombs.
As Harris pulled into the parking lot, he encountered classmate Brooks Brown, with whom he had recently patched up a longstanding series of disputes. According to Brown, who was smoking a cigarette, he was surprised to see Harris, whom he earlier noted had been absent from a class test. Brown confronted Harris about missing the test. Harris seemed unconcerned, commenting "It doesn't matter anymore." Harris went on: "Brooks, I like you now. Get out of here. Go home." Brown, feeling uneasy, and already prepared to skip his next class, walked away down South Pierce Street.
Meanwhile, Harris and Klebold armed themselves, using straps and webbing to conceal weapons beneath black trench coats (technically dusters). They lugged backpacks and duffel bags that were filled with pipe bombs and ammunition. Harris also had his shotgun in one of the bags. Beneath the trench coats, Harris wore a homemade bandolier and a white T-shirt that read "Natural selection" in black letters; Klebold wore a black T-shirt that read "Wrath" in red letters.
The cafeteria bombs failed to detonate. Had these bombs exploded with full power, they could have killed or severely wounded all of the 488 students in the cafeteria, and possibly made the ceiling collapse by destroying the pillars holding it up, dropping the library into the cafeteria.
At 11:19 a.m., 17-year-old Rachel Scott and her friend Richard Castaldo were having lunch and sitting on the grass next to the west entrance of the school. Klebold threw a pipe bomb towards the parking lot; the bomb only partially detonated, causing it to give off smoke. Castaldo thought it was no more than a crude senior prank. Likewise, several students during the incident first thought that they were watching a prank.
A witness reported hearing "Go! Go!" before Klebold and Harris pulled their guns from beneath their trench coats and began shooting. Scott was killed instantly when she was hit four times with rounds fired from Harris' carbine; one shot was to the left temple. Castaldo was shot eight times in the chest, arm, and abdomen; he fell unconscious to the ground and was left paralyzed below the chest.
Harris aimed his carbine down the west staircase in the direction of three students: Daniel Rohrbough, Sean Graves, and Lance Kirklin. The students figured they were paintball guns, and were about to walk up the staircase directly below the shooters. Harris fired, killing Rohrbough, while injuring Graves and Kirklin. William David Sanders, a teacher and coach at the school, was in the cafeteria when he heard the gunfire and began warning students.
The shooters turned and began firing west in the direction of five students sitting on the grassy hillside adjacent to the steps and opposite the west entrance of the school: Michael Johnson was hit in the face, leg, and arm, but ran and escaped; Mark Taylor was shot in the chest, arms, and leg and fell to the ground, where he faked death; the other three escaped uninjured.
Klebold walked down the steps toward the cafeteria. He came up to Lance Kirklin, who was already wounded and lying on the ground, weakly calling for help. Klebold said, "Sure. I'll help you," then shot Kirklin in the face with his shotgun. Although gravely injured, Kirklin would survive. Graves—paralyzed beneath the waist—had crawled into the doorway of the cafeteria's west entrance and collapsed. He rubbed blood on his face and played dead. After shooting Kirklin, Klebold walked towards the cafeteria door. He then stepped over the injured Graves to enter the cafeteria. Graves remembers Klebold saying, "Sorry, dude."
Klebold only briefly entered the cafeteria and did not shoot at the several people still inside. Officials speculated that Klebold went to check on the propane bombs. Harris was still on top of the stairs shooting, and severely wounded and partially paralyzed 17-year-old Anne-Marie Hochhalter as she tried to flee. Klebold came out of the cafeteria and went back up the stairs to join Harris. They shot at students standing close to a soccer field but did not hit anyone. They walked toward the west entrance, throwing pipe bombs in several directions, including onto the roof; only a few of these pipe bombs detonated. Witnesses heard one of them say, "This is what we always wanted to do. This is awesome!"
Meanwhile, art teacher Patti Nielson was inside the school; she had noticed the commotion and walked toward the west entrance with student Brian Anderson. Nielson had intended to walk outside to tell the two students, "Knock it off," thinking they were either filming a video or pulling a student prank. As Anderson opened the first set of double doors, the gunmen shot out the windows, injuring him with flying glass; Nielson was hit in the shoulder with shrapnel. Anderson and Nielson ran back down the hall into the library, and Nielson alerted the students inside to the danger, telling them to get under desks and keep silent. She dialed 9-1-1 and hid under the library's administrative counter. Anderson fell to the floor, bleeding from his injuries, then hid inside the magazine room adjacent to the library.
At 11:22 a.m., a custodian called Deputy Neil Gardner, the assigned resource officer to Columbine, on the school radio, requesting assistance in the senior parking lot. The only paved route took him around the school to the east and south on Pierce Street, where at 11:23 a.m., he heard on his police radio that a female was down, and assumed she had been struck by a car. While exiting his patrol car in the senior lot at 11:24, he heard another call on the school radio, "Neil, there's a shooter in the school."
Harris, at the west entrance, immediately turned and fired ten shots from his carbine at Gardner, who was 60 yards (55 m) away. As Harris reloaded his carbine, Gardner leaned over the top of his car and fired four rounds at Harris from his service pistol. Harris ducked back behind the building, and Gardner momentarily believed that he had hit him. Harris then reemerged and fired at least four more rounds at Gardner (which missed and struck two parked cars), before retreating into the building. No one was hit during the exchange of gunfire.[p] Gardner reported on his police radio, "Shots in the building. I need someone in the south lot with me." By this point, Harris had shot 47 times, and Klebold just 5. The shooters then entered the school through the west entrance, moving along the main north hallway, throwing pipe bombs and shooting at anyone they encountered. Klebold shot Stephanie Munson in the ankle, but she was able to walk out of the school. The pair then shot out the windows to the east entrance of the school. After proceeding through the hall several times and shooting toward—and missing—any students they saw, they went toward the west entrance and turned into the library hallway.
Deputies Paul Smoker and Paul Magor, motorcycle patrolmen for the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, were writing a traffic ticket north of the school when the "female down" call came in at 11:23 a.m. Taking the shortest route, they drove their motorcycles over grass between the athletic fields and headed toward the west entrance. When they saw Deputies Scott Taborsky, Rick Searle, and Kevin Walker following them in their patrol car, they abandoned their motorcycles for the safety of the car.
The six deputies had begun to rescue two wounded students near the ball fields when another gunfight broke out at 11:26, as Harris returned to the double doors and again began shooting at Deputy Gardner, who returned fire. From the hilltop, Deputy Smoker fired three rounds from his pistol at Harris, who again retreated into the building. As before, no one was hit.
Inside the school cafeteria, Dave Sanders and two custodians, Jon Curtis and Jay Gallatine, initially told students to get under the tables, then successfully evacuated students up the staircase leading to the second floor of the school. The stairs were located around the corner from the library hallway in the main south hallway. Sanders then tried to secure as much of the school as he could.
By now, Harris and Klebold were inside the main hallway. Sanders and another student were down at the end of the hallway, where he gestured for students in the library to stay. They encountered Harris and Klebold, who were approaching from the corner of the north hallway. Sanders and the student turned and ran in the opposite direction. Harris and Klebold shot at them both, with Harris hitting Sanders twice in the back and neck, hitting his teeth on exit, but missing the student. The latter ran into a science classroom and warned everyone to hide. Klebold walked over towards Sanders, who had collapsed, and tossed a pipe bomb, then returned to Harris up the library hallway.
Sanders struggled toward the science area, and a teacher took him into a classroom where 30 students were located. Due to his knowledge of first aid, student Aaron Hancey was brought to the classroom from another by teachers despite the unfolding commotion. With the assistance of a fellow student named Kevin Starkey, and teacher Teresa Miller, Hancey administered first aid to Sanders for three hours, attempting to stem the blood loss using shirts from students in the room, and showing him pictures from his wallet to keep him talking. Using a phone in the room, Miller and several students maintained contact with police outside the school.
As the shooting unfolded, pipe bombs were tossed in the hallways and down into the cafeteria. Patti Nielson in the library called 9-1-1, telling her story and urging students in the library to take cover beneath desks. According to transcripts, her call was received by a 9–1–1 operator at 11:25:18 a.m.
- Rachel Scott (aged 17), killed on grass outside west entrance by Harris
- Daniel Rohrbough (aged 15), killed at bottom of stairs leading to west entrance by Harris
- William David Sanders (aged 47), shot in hallway adjacent library by Harris; died of blood loss in a science classroom
- Kyle Velasquez (aged 16), killed while sat on a chair near the middle of the north computer table in the library by Klebold
- Steven Curnow (aged 14), killed at the west end of the south computer table in the library by Harris
- Cassie Bernall (aged 17), killed under library table No. 19 by Harris
- Isaiah Shoels (aged 18), killed under library table No. 16 by Harris
- Matthew Kechter (aged 16), killed under library table No. 16 by Klebold
- Lauren Townsend (aged 18), killed under library table No. 2 by Klebold
- John Tomlin (aged 16), killed next to library table No. 6 by Klebold; after being wounded by Harris
- Kelly Fleming (aged 16), killed next to library table No. 2 by Harris
- Daniel Mauser (aged 15), killed under library table No. 9 by Harris
- Corey DePooter (aged 17), killed under library table No. 14 by Klebold
- Eric Harris (perpetrator) (aged 18), self-inflicted gunshot wound
- Dylan Klebold (perpetrator) (aged 17), self-inflicted gunshot wound
At 11:29 a.m., Harris and Klebold entered the library. Fifty-two students, two teachers and two librarians were inside.
Harris fired his shotgun twice at a desk. Student Evan Todd had been standing near a pillar when the shooters entered the library and had just taken cover behind a copier. Todd was hit by wood splinters in the eye and lower back but was not seriously injured. He then hid behind the administrative counter.
The gunmen walked into the library, towards the two rows of computers. Sitting at the north row was disabled student Kyle Velasquez. Klebold fired his shotgun, fatally hitting him in the head and back. They put down their ammunition-filled duffel bags at the south—or lower—row of computers and reloaded their weapons. They then walked between the computer rows, toward the windows facing the outside staircase.
Throughout the massacre in the library, they ordered everybody to get up, saying that the library was going to explode. They said how long they had been waiting for this and seemed to be enjoying themselves, shouting things like, "Yahoo!" after shooting. While ordering the jocks to stand up, one of the two said, "Anybody with a white hat or a sports emblem on it is dead." Wearing a white baseball cap at Columbine was a tradition among sports team members. Nobody stood up, and several students tried to hide their white hats.
Windows were shot out in the direction of the recently arrived police. Officers returned fire, and the gunmen retreated from the windows; no one was injured. Klebold removed his trench coat. He then fired his shotgun at a nearby table, injuring three students: Patrick Ireland, Daniel Steepleton, and Makai Hall.
Harris walked toward the lower row of computer desks with his shotgun and fired a single shot under the first desk, while down on one knee. He hit 14-year-old Steven Curnow with a mortal wound to the neck. He then moved to the adjacent computer desk, injuring 17-year-old Kacey Ruegsegger with a shot which passed completely through her right shoulder, also grazing her neck and severing a major artery. When she started gasping in pain, Harris said, "Quit your bitching."
Harris then walked to a table south of the lower computer table, with two students underneath: Cassie Bernall and Emily Wyant. Harris slapped the surface of the table twice as he knelt, and said "Peek-a-boo" before shooting Bernall once in the head with the shotgun, killing her. Harris at this point held the gun with one hand, and the weapon hit his face in recoil, injuring his nose.[q] He told Klebold he had done so, and Klebold responded "Why'd you do that?"
After fatally shooting Bernall, Harris turned toward the next table, where Bree Pasquale sat next to the table rather than under it. Harris's nose was bleeding; witnesses later reported that he had blood around his mouth. Harris asked Pasquale if she wanted to die, and she responded with a plea for her life. Harris laughed and responded "Everyone's gonna die." When Klebold said "shoot her," Harris responded "No, we're gonna blow up the school anyway."
Klebold noticed Ireland trying to provide aid to Hall, who had suffered a wound to his knee. As Ireland tried to help Hall, his head rose above the table, Klebold shot him a second time, hitting him twice in the head and once in the foot. Ireland was knocked unconscious, but survived. Klebold then walked toward another table, where he discovered 18-year-old Isaiah Shoels, 16-year-old Matthew Kechter and 16-year-old Craig Scott (Rachel's younger brother), hiding underneath. Klebold called out to Harris that he found a "nigger" and tried to pull Shoels out from under the table.
Harris left Pasquale and joined him. According to witnesses, they taunted Shoels for a few seconds, making derogatory racial comments. The gunmen both fired under the table; Harris shot Shoels once in the chest, killing him, and Klebold shot and killed Kechter. Though Shoels was not shot in the head, Klebold said: "I didn't know black brains could fly that far." Meanwhile, Scott was uninjured; lying in the blood of his friends, feigning death. Harris then yelled; "Who's ready to die next?!"
He turned and threw a "cricket" at the table where Hall, Steepleton, and Ireland were located. It landed on Steepleton's thigh; Hall quickly noticed it and tossed it behind them, and it exploded in mid-air. Harris walked toward the bookcases between the west and center section of tables in the library. He jumped on one and shook it, apparently attempting to topple it, then shot at the books which had fallen.
Klebold walked to the east area of the library. Harris walked from the bookcase, past the central area to meet Klebold. The latter shot at a display case next to the door, then turned and shot toward the closest table, hitting and injuring 17-year-old Mark Kintgen in the head and shoulder. He then turned toward the table to his left and fired, injuring 18-year-olds Lisa Kreutz, Lauren Townsend, and Valeen Schnurr with the same shotgun blast. Klebold then moved toward the same table and fired several shots with the TEC-9, killing Townsend.
At this point, the seriously injured Valeen Schnurr began screaming, "Oh my God, oh my God!" In response, Klebold asked Schnurr if she believed in the existence of God; when Schnurr replied she did, Klebold asked "Why?" and commented "God is gay." Klebold reloaded but walked away from the table.
Harris approached another table where two girls were hiding. He bent down to look at them and dismissed them as "pathetic". Harris then moved to another table where he fired twice, injuring 16-year-olds Nicole Nowlen and John Tomlin. Tomlin moved out from under the table. Klebold shot him repeatedly, killing him.
Harris then walked back over to the other side of the table where Townsend lay dead. Behind the table, a 16-year-old girl named Kelly Fleming had, like Bree Pasquale, sat next to the table rather than beneath it due to a lack of space. Harris shot Fleming with his shotgun, hitting her in the back and killing her. He shot at the table behind Fleming, hitting Townsend, who was already dead, Kreutz again, and wounding 18-year-old Jeanna Park. The shooters moved to the center of the library, where they reloaded their weapons at a table. Harris then pointed his carbine under a table, but the student he was aiming at moved out of the way. Harris turned his gun back on the student and told him to identify himself. It was John Savage, an acquaintance of Klebold's. He asked Klebold what they were doing, to which he shrugged and answered, "Oh, just killing people." Savage asked if they were going to kill him. Possibly because of a fire alarm, Klebold said, "What?" Savage asked again whether they were going to kill him. Klebold said no, and told him to run. Savage fled, escaping through the library's main entrance.
After Savage left, Harris turned and fired his carbine at the table directly north of where he had been, hitting the ear and hand of 15-year-old Daniel Mauser. Mauser reacted by either shoving a chair at Harris or grabbing at his leg; Harris fired again and hit Mauser in the center of the face at close range, killing him.
Both shooters moved south and fired randomly under another table, critically injuring two 17-year-olds, Jennifer Doyle and Austin Eubanks, and fatally wounding 17-year-old Corey DePooter, at 11:35. There were no further victims. They had killed 10 people in the library and wounded 12.
At this point, Klebold was quoted as saying they might start knifing people, though they never did. They headed towards the library's main counter. Harris threw a Molotov cocktail toward the southwestern end of the library, but it failed to explode. They converged close to where Todd had moved after having been wounded.
Klebold pulled the chair out from the desk, then he pointed his TEC-9 at Todd, who was wearing a white hat. Klebold asked if he was a jock, and when Todd said no Klebold responded "Well, that's good. We don't like jocks." Klebold then demanded to see his face; Todd partly lifted his hat so his face would remain obscured. When Klebold asked Todd to give him one reason why he should not kill him, Todd said: "I don't want trouble." Klebold responded back angrily "Trouble? You don't even know what...trouble is!" Todd tried to correct himself: "That's not what I meant! I mean, I don't have a problem with you guys. I never will and I never did." Klebold then told Harris he was going to let Todd live, but that Harris could kill him if he wanted.
Harris seemed to pay little attention and said: "Let's go to the commons." Klebold fired a single shot into an open library staff break room, hitting a small television. While Harris was walking away, Klebold said, "One more thing!", then picked up the chair beside the library counter under which Patti Nielson was hiding, and slammed the chair down on top of the computer terminal and library counter.
Klebold joined Harris at the library entrance. The two walked out of the library at 11:36. Cautiously, fearing the shooters' return, 10 injured and 29 uninjured survivors began to evacuate the library through the north emergency exit door, which led to the sidewalk adjacent to the west entrance. Kacey Ruegsegger was evacuated from the library by Craig Scott. Had she not been evacuated at this point, Ruegsegger would likely have bled to death from her injuries. Patrick Ireland, unconscious, and Lisa Kreutz, unable to move, remained in the building. Patti Nielson crawled into the exterior break room, into which Klebold had earlier fired shots, and hid in a cupboard.
After leaving the library, Harris and Klebold entered the science area, where they caused a fire in an empty storage closet. It was extinguished by a teacher who had hidden in an adjacent room. The gunmen then proceeded toward the south hallway, where they shot into an empty science room. At 11:44 a.m., they were captured on the school security cameras as they re-entered the cafeteria. The recording shows Harris kneeling on the landing and firing a single shot toward one of the propane bombs left in the cafeteria, in an unsuccessful attempt to detonate it. As Klebold approached the propane bomb and examined it, Harris took a drink from one of the cups left behind. Klebold lit a Molotov cocktail and threw it at the propane bomb. About a minute later, the gallon of fuel attached to the bomb ignited, causing a fire that was extinguished by the fire sprinklers a few minutes later. They left the cafeteria at 11:46.
After leaving the cafeteria, they returned to the main north and south hallways of the school and fired several shots into walls and ceilings as students and teachers hid in rooms. They walked through the south hallway into the main office before returning to the north hallway. At 11:56, they returned to the cafeteria, and briefly entered the school kitchen. They returned up the staircase and into the south hallway at 12:00 p.m.
They re-entered the library, which was empty of survivors except for the unconscious Patrick Ireland and the injured Lisa Kreutz. Once inside, at 12:02, police were shot at again through the library windows and returned fire. Nobody was injured in the exchange. By 12:05, all gunfire from the school had ceased.
By 12:08, both gunmen had killed themselves. Harris sat down with his back to a bookshelf and fired his shotgun through the roof of his mouth; Klebold went down on his knees and shot himself in the left temple with his TEC-9. An article by The Rocky Mountain News stated that Patti Nielson overheard them shout "One! Two! Three!" in unison, just before a loud boom, however Nielson claimed that she had never spoken with either of the writers of the article.
In 2002, the National Enquirer published two post-mortem photos of Harris and Klebold in the library. Klebold's gun was underneath his body and so unseen in the photo, leading to speculation that Harris shot Klebold before killing himself. However, some of Klebold's blood was on Harris' legs. Also, just before shooting himself, Klebold lit a Molotov cocktail on a nearby table, underneath which Patrick Ireland was laying, which caused the tabletop to momentarily catch fire. Underneath the scorched film of material was a piece of Harris' brain matter, suggesting Harris had shot himself by this point.
By 12:00 p.m., SWAT teams were stationed outside the school, and ambulances started taking the wounded to local hospitals. A call for additional ammunition for police officers in case of a shootout came at 12:20. Authorities reported pipe bombs by 1:00, and two SWAT teams entered the school at 1:09, moving from classroom to classroom, discovering hidden students and faculty. They entered at the end of the school opposite the library, hampered by old maps and unaware a new wing had recently been added. They were also hampered by the sound of the fire alarms.
Meanwhile, families of students and staff were asked to gather at nearby Leawood Elementary School to await information. All students, teachers, and school employees were taken away, questioned, and offered medical care in small holding areas before being bussed to meet with their family members at Leawood Elementary. Some of the victims' families were told to wait on one final school bus that never came.
Patrick Ireland had regained and lost consciousness several times after being shot by Klebold. Paralyzed on his right side, he crawled to the library windows where, on live television, at 2:38 p.m., he stretched out the window, intending to fall into the arms of two SWAT team members standing on the roof of an emergency vehicle, but instead falling directly onto the vehicle's roof in a pool of blood. He became known as "the boy in the window." The team members, Donn Kraemer and John Ramoniec, were later criticized for allowing Ireland to drop more than seven feet to the ground while doing nothing to try to ensure he could be lowered to the ground safely or break his fall.
At 2:15 p.m., students placed a sign in the window: "1 bleeding to death," in order to alert police and medical personnel of Dave Sanders' location in the science room. Police initially feared it was a ruse by the shooters. A shirt was also tied to the doorknob. At 2:30, this was spotted, and by 2:40, SWAT officers evacuated the room of students and called for a paramedic. Hancey and Starkey were reluctant to leave Sanders behind. By 3:00, the SWAT officers had moved Sanders to a storage room, which was more easily accessible. As they did so, a paramedic arrived and found Sanders had no pulse. He had died of his injuries in the storage room before he could receive medical care. He was the only teacher to die in the shooting.
Lisa Kreutz, shot in the shoulder, arms, hand, and thigh, remained laying in the library. She had tried to move but became light-headed. Kreutz kept track of time by the sound of the school's bells until police arrived. Kreutz was finally evacuated at 3:22 p.m., along with Patti Nielson, Brian Anderson, and the three library staff who had hidden in the rooms adjacent to the library. Officials found the bodies in the library by 3:30.
By 4:00, Sheriff John P. Stone made an initial estimate of 25 dead students and teachers, fifty wounded, and referred to the massacre as a "suicide mission." President Bill Clinton later issued a statement.
Stone said that police officers were searching the bodies of the gunmen. They feared they had used their pipe bombs to booby-trap corpses, including their own. At 4:30 p.m., the school was declared safe. At 5:30, additional officers were called in, as more explosives were found in the parking lot and on the roof. By 6:15, officials had found a bomb in Klebold's car in the parking lot, set to detonate the gas tank. Stone then marked the entire school as a crime scene.
At 10:40 p.m., a member of the bomb squad, who was attempting to dispose of an un-detonated pipe bomb, accidentally lit a striking match attached to the bomb by brushing it against the wall of the ordnance disposal trailer. The bomb detonated inside the trailer but no one was injured.
The bomb squad disrupted the car bomb. Klebold's car was repaired and, in 2006, put up for auction.
On the morning of April 21, bomb squads combed the high school. By 8:30 a.m., the official death toll of 15 was released. The earlier estimate was ten over the true death toll count, but close to the total count of wounded students. The total count of deaths was 12 students (14 including the shooters) and one teacher; 20 students and one teacher were injured as a result of the shootings. Three more victims were injured indirectly as they tried to escape the school. It was then the worst school shooting in U.S. history.
At 10:00 a.m., the bomb squad declared the building safe for officials to enter. By 11:30 a.m., a spokesman of the sheriff declared the investigation underway. Thirteen of the bodies were still inside the high school as investigators photographed the building.
At 2:30 p.m., a press conference was held by Jeffco District Attorney David Thomas and Sheriff John Stone, at which they said that they suspected others had helped plan the shooting. Formal identification of the dead had not yet taken place, but families of the children thought to have been killed had been notified.
Throughout the late afternoon and early evening, the bodies were gradually removed from the school and taken to the Jeffco Coroner's Office to be identified and autopsied. By 5:00 p.m., the names of many of the dead were known. An official statement was released, naming the 15 confirmed deaths and 27 injuries related to the massacre.
On April 22, the cafeteria bombs were discovered.
In the days following the shootings, Rachel Scott's car and John Tomlin's truck became memorials, and impromptu memorials were held in Clement Park. On April 30, carpenter Greg Zanis erected fifteen 6-foot-tall wooden crosses to honor those who had died at the school. Daniel Rohrbough's father cut down the two meant for the gunmen. There were also fifteen trees planted, and he cut down two of those as well.
In November 2021, a report was leaked to NPR, about that year's National Rifle Association's convention in Denver. In a series of audios, Wayne LaPierre and other top officials, suggested raising one million dollars for the victims' families and the cancellation of the convention was considered by some within the organization.
Also on April 30, high-ranking officials of Jefferson County (Jeffco) and the Jeffco Sheriff's Office met to decide if they should reveal that Michael Guerra had drafted an affidavit for a search warrant of Harris's residence more than a year before the shootings, based on his previous investigation of Harris's website and activities. Since the affidavit's contents lacked the necessary probable cause, they decided not to disclose this information at a press conference held on April 30, nor did they mention it in any other way.
Over the next two years, Guerra's original draft and investigative file documents were lost. In September 1999, a Jeffco 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 Jeffco archives. Their loss was termed "troubling" by a grand jury convened after the file's existence was reported in April 2001. It was concealed by the Jeffco Sheriff's Office and not revealed until September 2001, resulting from an investigation by the TV show 60 Minutes. The documents were reconstructed and released to the public, but the original documents are still missing. The final grand-jury investigation was released in September 2004.
In the wake of the shooting, victims Rachel Scott and Cassie Bernall came to be regarded as Christian martyrs by Evangelical Christians. Christian churches used the martyr narrative of Scott's and Bernall's deaths to promote themselves and recruit members.
The closest living witness to Scott's death, Richard Castaldo, has stated Harris asked Scott if she believed in God, and murdered her after she answered "You know I do," but this has been questioned and Castaldo later stated he was not sure. Considerable media attention focused upon Bernall, who had been killed by Harris in the library and who Harris was reported to have asked, "Do you believe in God?" immediately prior to her murder. Bernall was reported to have responded "Yes" to this question before her murder. Emily Wyant, the closest living witness to Bernall's death, denied that Bernall and Harris had such an exchange. Joshua Lapp thought Bernall had been queried about her belief, but was unable to correctly point out where Bernall was located, and was closer to survivor Valeen Schnurr during the shootings. Likewise, another witness, Craig Scott, claimed the discussion was with Bernall. However, when asked to indicate where the conversation had been coming from, he pointed to where Schnurr was shot. Schnurr herself claims that she was the one questioned as to her belief in God.
Classes at Columbine were held at nearby Chatfield Senior High for the remaining three weeks of the 1999 school year. In August 1999, students returned to the school, and principal Frank DeAngelis led a rally of students clad in "We are Columbine" shirts.
Six months after the shootings, Anne Marie Hochhalter's mother killed herself. Several former students and teachers suffer from PTSD. Greg Barnes, a 17-year-old student who had witnessed Sanders' shooting, committed suicide in May 2000. Survivor Austin Eubanks, who was injured during the shooting, became heavily medicated, developing an opioid addiction. Eventually overcoming and later speaking publicly about the addiction, Eubanks died from an accidental overdose in 2019 at the age of 37.
The shooting was planned as a terrorist attack that would cause "the most deaths in U.S. history", but the motive has never been ascertained with any degree of certainty. Soon after the massacre, it was thought Harris and Klebold targeted jocks, blacks, and Christians. Both sought to provide answers in the journals and videotapes, but investigators found them lacking. In a letter provided with the May 15 report on the Columbine attack, Sheriff John Stone and Undersheriff John A. Dunaway wrote they "cannot answer the most fundamental question—why?" On May 3, 1999, an issue of Newsweek was dedicated to the massacre, with the cover asking "Why?" in large print.
The FBI concluded that the killers were victims of mental illness, that Harris was a clinical psychopath, and Klebold was depressive. Dr. Dwayne Fuselier, the supervisor in charge of the Columbine investigation, would later remark: "I believe Eric went to the school to kill and didn't care if he died, while Dylan wanted to die and didn't care if others died as well."
In April 1998, a year prior to the shooting, Harris wrote a letter of apology to the owner of the van as part of his diversion program. Around the same time, he derided him in his journal, stating that he believed himself to have the right to steal something if he wanted to. By far the most prevalent theme in Klebold's journals is his wish for suicide and private despair at his lack of success with women, which he refers to as an "infinite sadness." Klebold had repeatedly documented his desires to kill himself, and his final remark in the Basement Tapes, shortly before the attack, is a resigned statement made as he glances away from the camera: "Just know I'm going to a better place. I didn't like life too much."
The FBI's theory was used by Dave Cullen for his 2009 book Columbine. Harris was depicted as the mastermind, having a messianic-level superiority complex and hoping to demonstrate his superiority to the world. Klebold was a follower who primarily participated in the massacre as a means to simply end his life.
This theory has been met with criticism. Critics cite the fact that Klebold, not Harris, was the first to mention a killing spree in his journal. They also cite evidence that Harris was depressed as well, such as his prescription for antidepressants mentioned below.
There have been other attempts to diagnose Harris and Klebold with mental illness. Peter Langman believes Harris was a psychopath and Klebold was schizotypal. Professor Aubrey Immelman published a personality profile of Harris, based on journal entries and personal communication, and believes the materials suggested behavior patterns consistent with a "malignant narcissism…pathological narcissistic personality disorder with borderline and antisocial features, along with some paranoid traits, and unconstrained aggression."[r]
Opponents of contemporary psychiatry like Peter Breggin claim that the psychiatric medications prescribed to Harris may have exacerbated his aggressiveness. Toxicology reports confirmed that Harris had Luvox in his bloodstream at the time of the shootings, whereas Klebold had no medications in his system.
Also as a part of diversion, Harris began therapy with a psychologist and a psychiatrist. In one scheduled meeting with his appointed psychiatrist, Harris had complained of depression, anger, and suicidal thoughts, for which he was prescribed the antidepressant Zoloft. However, after complaining of feeling restless and having trouble concentrating, his doctor switched him to Luvox, a similar selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). Harris also wanted to join the United States Marine Corps, but his application was rejected shortly before the shootings because he had taken Luvox. According to the recruiting officer, Harris did not know about this rejection, though Brooks Brown said that he did.
Early stories following the massacre charged that school administrators and teachers at Columbine had long condoned bullying by jocks and this explained the motive. The link between bullying and school violence has attracted increasing attention since.
Accounts from various parents and school staffers reported bullying in the school. Reportedly, Harris and Klebold were regularly called "faggots." Klebold said on the Basement Tapes, "You've been giving us shit for years." And when talking to his father about jocks had stated, "They sure give Eric hell." Brown also noted Harris was born with mild chest indent. This made him reluctant to take his shirt off in gym class, and other students would laugh at him. Nathan Vanderau, a friend of Klebold, and Alisa Owen, who knew Harris, noted they were picked on. Vanderau recalled that a "cup of fecal matter" was thrown at them.
It has been alleged that Harris and Klebold were once both confronted by a group of students at CHS who sprayed them with ketchup while referring to them as "faggots" and "queers." Klebold told his mother it had been the worst day of his life. According to Brown, "That happened while teachers watched. They couldn't fight back. They wore the ketchup all day and went home covered with it." According to classmate Chad Laughlin, it involved seniors pelting Klebold with "ketchup-covered tampons" in the commons. Laughlin also stated "A lot of the tension in the school came from the class above us...There were people fearful of walking by a table where you knew you didn't belong, stuff like that. Certain groups certainly got preferential treatment across the board."
A year after the massacre, an analysis by officials at the U.S. Secret Service of 37 premeditated school shootings found that bullying, which some of the shooters described "in terms that approached torment", played the major role in more than two-thirds of the attacks. A similar theory was expounded by Brooks Brown in his book on the massacre, No Easy Answers; he noted that teachers commonly ignored bullying and that whenever Harris and Klebold were bullied by the jocks at CHS, they would make statements such as: "Don't worry, man. It happens all the time!"
Cullen and others dispute the theory of "revenge for bullying" as a motivation. While acknowledging the pervasiveness of bullying in high schools including CHS, Cullen claimed they were not victims of bullying. He noted Harris was more often the perpetrator than victim of bullying. In a fact check published on April 19, 2019, on the eve of the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the massacre, Gillian Brockell in The Washington Post underscored that, contrary to the popular view, their attack was not revenge for being bullied. Peter Langman also argues against bullying being the cause of the attack. Other researchers have also argued against the bullying hypothesis.
During and after the initial investigations, rejection was also highlighted as a cause. Social cliques within high schools such as the Trench Coat Mafia were widely discussed. One perception formed was that Harris and Klebold were both outcasts who had been isolated from their classmates, prompting feelings of helplessness, insecurity, and depression, as well as a strong need for power and attention. Harris's last journal entry reads, "I hate you people for leaving me out of so many fun things," while Klebold wrote "The lonely man strikes with absolute rage." In an interview, Brown described them as the school's worst outcasts, "the losers of the losers."
This concept too has been questioned, as both Harris and Klebold had a close circle of friends and a wider informal social group. Cullen and Brockell both also say they were not in the Trench Coat Mafia and were not isolated outcasts or loners. Peter Langman concurs by also arguing against the pair being loners and outcasts.
Though neither perpetrator mentioned either as the reason for the date of attack, the attack occurred on April 20 (the birthday of Adolf Hitler), and there is some evidence to suggest the attack was supposed to have occurred on April 19—the date of the Oklahoma City Bombing, which led to media speculation that the attack was political.
Some peers, such as Robyn Anderson, stated that the pair were not interested in Nazism, and they did not worship or admire Hitler in any way. However, in retrospect, Anderson also stated that there were many things the pair did not tell friends. Harris at least did revere the Nazis, often praising them in his journal.
Harris wished for more ammunition and, since one had to be 21 years of age to purchase such from K-Mart, used Mark Manes to get it. Manes gave it to Harris on the evening of April 19. Upon meeting, Manes asked if Harris was going shooting that night; Harris replied that he would the following day. In 2001, K-Mart announced it would no longer sell handgun ammunition.
Some still have argued that the attacks were meant to be revolutionary. On the Basement Tapes, Harris claimed they would "kick-start a revolution," and Klebold wore a Soviet Union pin on his boots during the massacre.
Sociologist Ralph Larkin has theorized that the massacre was to trigger a revolution of outcast students and the dispossessed: "[A]s an overtly political act in the name of oppressed students victimized by their peers.… The Columbine shootings redefined such acts not merely as revenge but as a means of protest of bullying, intimidation, social isolation, and public rituals of humiliation."
Who would not concede that terrorizing the American machine, at the very site where it exerts its most powerful influence, is a truly revolutionary task?… [D]on't dare disregard these modern radicals as anything less than the latest incarnation of disaffected insurgents waging the ongoing American revolution.
In contrast with the theory that attack was political, one author argues Columbine was only increasingly linked to terrorism after the September 11 attacks.
I think there's something going on that you can't see from the outside ... his whole thing is part of a drug-cultural type of thing, with a subculture of violence and killing and hatred, and anti-family values, anti-traditional values, anti-authority ... We're having an alarming rate of killings in schools, and youth violence and an increase in drugs. I would say that though they're not all to be blamed on a shock entertainer like Marilyn Manson, I think he promotes it and can be part of the blame.
—Michigan State Senator Dale Shugars' concerns on the influence of Marilyn Manson on his teenage fans.
In the late 1990s, Marilyn Manson and his eponymous band established themselves as a household name, and as one of the most controversial rock acts in music history. Their two album releases prior to the massacre were both critical and commercial successes, and by the time of their Rock Is Dead Tour in 1999, the frontman had become a culture war iconoclast and a rallying icon for alienated youth. As their popularity increased, the confrontational nature of the group's music and imagery outraged social conservatives. Numerous politicians lobbied to have their performances banned, citing false and exaggerated claims that they contained animal sacrifices, bestiality and rape. Their concerts were routinely picketed by religious advocates and parent groups, who asserted that their music had a corrupting influence on youth culture by inciting "rape, murder, blasphemy and suicide."
Immediately after the massacre, a significant portion of blame was directed at the band and, specifically, at its outspoken frontman. In the weeks following the shootings, media reports about Harris and Klebold portrayed them and the Trench Coat Mafia as part of a gothic cult. Early media reports alleged that the shooters were fans, and were wearing the group's T-shirts during the massacre. Although these claims were later proven to be false, news outlets continued to run sensationalist stories with headlines such as "Killers Worshipped Rock Freak Manson" and "Devil-Worshipping Maniac Told Kids To Kill." Speculation in national media and among the public led many to believe that Manson's music and imagery were the shooter's sole motivation, despite reports that revealed that the two were not big fans.
Despite this, Marilyn Manson were widely criticized by religious, political, and entertainment-industry figures. Under mounting pressure in the days after Columbine, the group postponed their last five North American tour dates out of respect for the victims and their families. On April 29, ten US senators (led by Sam Brownback of Kansas) sent a letter to Edgar Bronfman Jr.—the president of Seagram (the owner of Interscope)—requesting a voluntary halt to his company's distribution to children of "music that glorifies violence." The letter named Marilyn Manson for producing songs which "eerily reflect" the actions of Harris and Klebold. Later that day, the band cancelled their remaining North American shows. Two days later, Manson published his response to these accusations in an op-ed piece for Rolling Stone, titled "Columbine: Whose Fault Is It?", in which he castigated America's gun culture, the political influence of the National Rifle Association, and the media's irresponsible coverage, which he said facilitated the placing of blame on a scapegoat, instead of debating more relevant societal issues.
On May 4, a hearing on the marketing and distribution of violent content to minors by the television, music, film and video-game industries was held by the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The committee heard testimony from former Secretary of Education (and co-founder of conservative violent entertainment watchdog group Empower America) William Bennett, the Archbishop of Denver Charles J. Chaput, professors and mental-health professionals. Speakers criticized the band and its label-mate Nine Inch Nails for their alleged contribution to a cultural environment enabling violence such as the Columbine shootings. The committee requested that the Federal Trade Commission and the United States Department of Justice investigate the entertainment industry's marketing practices to minors. After concluding the European and Japanese legs of their tour on August 8, the band withdrew from public view to work on their next album, 2000's Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death) as an artistic rebuttal to the allegations leveled against them. Manson appeared on an April 2001 episode of The O'Reilly Factor, where he once again denied that the band's music was responsible for Columbine. Bill O'Reilly argued that "disturbed kids" without direction from responsible parents could misinterpret the message of his music as endorsing the belief that "when I'm dead [then] everybody's going to know me." Manson responded:
Well, I think that's a very valid point and I think that it's a reflection of, not necessarily this programme but of television in general, that if you die and enough people are watching you become a martyr, you become a hero, you become well known. So when you have these things like Columbine, and you have these kids who are angry and they have something to say and no one's listening, the media sends a message that says if you do something loud enough and it gets our attention then you will be famous for it. Those kids ended up on the cover of Time magazine twice, the media gave them exactly what they wanted. That's why I never did any interviews around that time when I was being blamed for it because I didn't want to contribute to something that I found to be reprehensible.
During the supporting tour for Holy Wood, Manson appeared in Michael Moore's 2002 documentary, Bowling for Columbine; his appearance was filmed during the band's first show in Denver since the shooting. When Moore asked Manson what he would have said to the students at Columbine he replied, "I wouldn't say a single word to them. I would listen to what they have to say and that's what no one did."
Harris and Klebold were both big fans of the German rock bands KMFDM and Rammstein. Harris's website contained lyrics from both artists, such as KMFDM's "Son of a Gun", "Stray Bullet", and "Waste", as well as translations for the songs done in German. In the same blog post which threatened Brown, Harris wrote: "I'll just go to some downtown area...and blow up and shoot everything I can. Feel no remorse, no sense of shame." The last sentence is a quote from the KMFDM song "Anarchy". As above, Klebold wrote in Harris's yearbook "My wrath for January's incident will be godlike," and he wore a shirt saying "Wrath" during the massacre. "Wrath" and "Godlike" are songs by KMFDM. On April 20, 1999 KMFDM released the album Adios. Harris noted the coincidence of the album's title and release date in his journal "a subliminal final 'Adios' tribute to Reb and Vodka. Thanks, KMFDM... I ripped the hell outa [sic] the system," quoting "Godlike". KMFDM's frontman Sascha Konietzko responded to the controversy with a statement:
First and foremost, KMFDM would like to express their deep and heartfelt sympathy for the parents, families and friends of the murdered and injured children in Littleton. We are sick and appalled, as is the rest of the nation, by what took place in Colorado yesterday. KMFDM are an art form—not a political party. From the beginning, our music has been a statement against war, oppression, fascism and violence against others. While some of the former band members are German as reported in the media, none of us condone any Nazi beliefs whatsoever.
They are able to hook into the Internet and play video games that are extraordinarily violent, that cause the blood pressure to rise and the adrenaline level to go up, games that cause people to be killed and the players to die themselves. It is a very intense experience. They are able to get into Internet chat rooms and, if there are no nuts or people of the same mentality in their hometown, hook up with people around the country. They are able to rent from the video store—not just go down and see Natural Born Killers or The Basketball Diaries—but they are able to bring it home and watch it repeatedly. In this case, even maybe make their own violent film. Many have said this murder was very much akin to The Basketball Diaries, in which a student goes in and shoots others in the classroom. I have seen a video of that, and many others may have.
In music, there is Marilyn Manson, an individual who chooses the name of a mass murderer as part of his name. The lyrics of his music are consistent with his choice of name. They are violent and nihilistic, and there are groups all over the world who do this, some German groups and others. I guess what I am saying is, a person already troubled in this modern high-tech world can be in their car and hear the music, they can be in their room and see the video, they can go into the chat rooms and act out these video games and even take it to real life. Something there is very much of a problem.
Parents of some of the victims filed several unsuccessful lawsuits against film companies, over films such as The Basketball Diaries, which includes a dream sequence with a student shooting his classmates in a trench coat. In the Basement Tapes, they debate on whether or not Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino are appropriate choices to direct films about the massacre. Their home videos also show inspiration taken from Pulp Fiction. Both were fans of the film Lost Highway. Apocalypse Now was found in Harris's VCR.
They were avid fans of the movie Natural Born Killers, and used the film's acronym, NBK, as a code for the massacre. In February 1998, Klebold envisioned a massacre with a girl like in the film, writing "Soon...either ill commit suicide, or I'll get w. [redacted girl's name] & it will be NBK for us." In April 1998, Harris wrote "When I go NBK and people say things like "oh it was tragic" or "oh he is crazy!" or "It was so bloody." I think, so...what you think that's a bad thing?" In Harris's yearbook Klebold wrote "the holy April morning of NBK." Around February 1999, he wrote "maybe going "NBK" (gawd) w. eric is the way to break free." In Harris's last journal entry, he wrote "Everything I see and I hear I incorporate into NBK somehow...feels like a...movie sometimes."
Violent video games were also blamed. Parents of some of the victims filed several unsuccessful lawsuits against video game manufacturers. Jerald Block believes their immersion in a virtual world best explains the massacre. While Brooks Brown disagrees that video games caused the massacre, he agrees elements of their plan came from video games.
Harris and Klebold were both fans of shooter video games such as Doom, Quake, Duke Nukem 3D and Postal. A file on Harris's computer read the massacre will "be like the LA riots, the Oklahoma bombing, WWII, Vietnam, Duke and Doom all mixed together." In his last journal entry, Harris wished to "Get a few extra frags on the scoreboard." After the massacre, it was alleged Harris created Doom and Duke Nukem 3D levels resembling CHS, but these were never found.
They were avid fans of Doom especially. Harris said of the massacre, "It's going to be like...Doom." He also wrote "I must not be sidetracked by my feelings of sympathy...so I will force myself to believe that everyone is just another monster from Doom." In Harris's yearbook, Klebold wrote "I find a similarity between people and Doom zombies."
Harris named his shotgun Arlene after a character in the Doom novels. Harris said the shotgun was "straight out of Doom." The TEC-9 Klebold used resembled an AB-10, a weapon from the Doom novels that Harris referenced several times.
Harris spent a great deal of time creating a large WAD, named Tier (German for 'animal', and a song by Rammstein), calling it his "life's work."[better source needed] The WAD was uploaded to the Columbine school computer and to AOL shortly before the attack, but appears to have been lost.
The other game mentioned specifically by Harris for what the massacre would be like was Duke Nukem 3D. The game has pipe bombs and one of the enemies is the "pig cop." Brooks Brown wrote that pipe bombs were set in the halls of the school with the intention of causing a chain reaction, because that's what happens in Duke Nukem 3D. Brown also wrote they shot wildly because it works in Duke Nukem 3D.
Eric David Harris (April 9, 1981 – April 20, 1999) was born in Wichita, Kansas. The Harris family relocated often, as Harris's father was a U.S. Air Force transport pilot. His mother was a homemaker. The family moved from Plattsburgh, New York, to Littleton, Colorado, in July 1993, when his father retired from military service.
The Harris family lived in rented accommodations for the first three years that they lived in the Littleton area. During this time, he attended Ken Caryl Middle School, and Harris met Klebold. In 1996, the Harris family purchased a house south of CHS. His older brother attended college at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Dylan Bennet Klebold (//; September 11, 1981 – April 20, 1999) was born in Lakewood, Colorado. His parents were pacifists and attended a Lutheran church with their children. Both Dylan and his older brother Byron attended confirmation classes in accordance with the Lutheran tradition. As had been the case with his older brother, Klebold was named after a renowned poet – in his case the playwright Dylan Thomas.
At the family home, the Klebolds also observed some rituals in keeping with Klebold's maternal grandfather's Jewish heritage. Klebold attended Normandy Elementary in Littleton, Colorado for the first two grades before transferring to Governor's Ranch Elementary and became part of the CHIPS ("Challenging High Intellectual Potential Students") program. He found the transition to Ken Caryl Middle School difficult.
Harris and Klebold often wore black baseball caps. As was typical in the 1990s, they wore them backwards. Harris wore a KMFDM cap, and apparently did not wear it during the massacre. Klebold's cap had a Colorado Avalanche logo on the front and a Boston Red Sox logo sewn onto the back.
Following the Columbine shooting, schools across the United States instituted new security measures such as see-through backpacks, metal detectors, school uniforms, and security guards. Some schools implemented the numbering of school doors in order to improve public safety response. Several schools throughout the country resorted to requiring students to wear computer-generated IDs.
Schools also adopted a zero tolerance approach to possession of weapons and threatening behavior by students. Despite the effort, several social science experts feel the zero tolerance approach adopted in schools has been implemented too harshly, with unintended consequences creating other problems. Despite the safety measures that were implemented in the wake of the tragedy at Columbine, school shootings continued to take place in the United States, including shootings at Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary School, and Stoneman Douglas High School.
Police followed a traditional tactic at Columbine: surround the building, set up a perimeter, and contain the damage. That approach has been replaced by a tactic known as the Immediate Action Rapid Deployment tactic. This tactic calls for a four-person team to advance into the site of any ongoing shooting, optimally a diamond-shaped wedge, but even with just a single officer if more are not available. Police officers using this tactic are trained to move toward the sound of gunfire and neutralize the shooter as quickly as possible. Their goal is to stop the shooter at all costs; they are to walk past wounded victims, as the aim is to prevent the shooter from killing or wounding more. Dave Cullen has stated: "The active protocol has proved successful at numerous shootings... At Virginia Tech alone, it probably saved dozens of lives."
After the massacre, many survivors and relatives of deceased victims filed lawsuits. Under Colorado state law at the time, the maximum a family could receive in a lawsuit against a government agency was $600,000. Most cases against the Jeffco police department and school district were dismissed by the federal court on the grounds of government immunity. The case against the sheriff's office regarding the death of Dave Sanders was not dismissed due to the police preventing paramedics from going to his aid for hours after they knew the gunmen were dead. The case was settled out of court in August 2002 for $1,500,000.
In April 2001, the families of more than 30 victims received a $2,538,000 settlement in their case against the families of Harris, Klebold, Manes, and Duran. Under the terms of the settlement, the Harrises and the Klebolds contributed $1,568,000 through their homeowners' policies, with another $32,000 set aside for future claims; the Manes contributed $720,000, with another $80,000 set aside for future claims; and the Durans contributed $250,000, with an additional $50,000 available for future claims. The family of victim Shoels rejected this settlement, but in June 2003 were ordered by a judge to accept a $366,000 settlement in their $250-million lawsuit against the shooters' families. In August 2003, the families of victims Fleming, Kechter, Rohrbough, Townsend, and Velasquez received undisclosed settlements in a wrongful death suit against the Harrises and Klebolds.
In 2000, youth advocate Melissa Helmbrecht organized a remembrance event in Denver featuring two surviving students, called "A Call to Hope." The library where most of the massacre took place was removed and replaced with an atrium. In 2001, a new library, the HOPE memorial library, was built next to the west entrance.
A permanent memorial began planning in June 1999. A permanent memorial "to honor and remember the victims of the April 20, 1999 shootings at Columbine High School" began planning in June 1999, and was dedicated on September 21, 2007, in Clement Park. The memorial fund raised $1.5 million in donations over eight years of planning. Designing took three and a half years and included feedback from victims' families, survivors, the high school's students and staff, and the community.
Soon after the massacre, music students at CU Boulder raised money to commission a piece of music to honor Columbine. The university band turned to Frank Ticheli, who responded by composing the wind ensemble work An American Elegy. The following year, the Columbine band premiered the piece at CU Boulder's concert hall. As of 2019, Ticheli's sheet music publisher estimates An American Elegy has been performed 10000 times.
The shooting resulted in calls for more gun control measures. The gun show loophole and background checks became a focus of a national debate. It was the deadliest mass shooting during the era of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. Victim Daniel Mauser's father Tom Mauser has become a gun control advocate.
In 2000, federal and state legislation was introduced that would require safety locks on firearms as well as ban the importation of high-capacity ammunition magazines. Though laws were passed that made it a crime to buy guns for criminals and minors, there was considerable controversy over legislation pertaining to background checks at gun shows. There was concern in the gun lobby over restrictions on Second Amendment rights in the United States. Frank Lautenberg introduced a proposal to close the gun show loophole in federal law. It was passed in the Senate, but did not pass in the House.
Michael Moore's 2002 documentary Bowling for Columbine focused heavily on the American obsession with handguns, its grip on Jeffco, and its role in the shooting.
In 2019, the MyLastShot Project was launched as a student-led gun violence prevention resource. The campaign was created by students from Columbine High School, and involves students placing stickers on their driver's licenses, student ID's, or phones that states their wishes to have the graphic photos of their bodies publicized if they die in a shooting.
Columbine students Jonathan and Stephen Cohen wrote a song called Friend of Mine (Columbine), which briefly received airplay in the US after being performed at a memorial service broadcast on nationwide television. The song was pressed to CD, with the proceeds benefiting families affected by the massacre, and over 10,000 copies were ordered. Shortly following the release of the CD single, the song was also featured on the Lullaby for Columbine CD.
Since the advent of social media, a fandom for shooters Harris and Klebold has had a documented presence on social media sites, especially Tumblr. Fans of Harris and Klebold refer to themselves as "Columbiners." An article published in 2015 in the Journal of Transformative Works, a scholarly journal which focuses on the sociology of fandoms, noted that Columbiners were not fundamentally functionally different from more mainstream fandoms. Columbiners create fan art and fan fiction, even cosplaying the pair, and have a scholarly interest in the shooting.
The Columbine shootings influenced subsequent school shootings, with several such plots mentioning it. Fear of copycats has sometimes led to the closing of entire school districts. Since Columbine, over 74 copycat cases have been reported, 21 of which resulted in attacks, while the rest were thwarted by law enforcement. In many of them, the perpetrators cited Harris and Klebold as heroes or martyrs.
Harris and Klebold have become what the Napa Valley Register have called "cultural icons" for troubled youth. According to psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey of the Treatment Advocacy Center, a legacy of the Columbine shootings is its "allure to disaffected youth."
Sociologist Ralph Larkin examined twelve major school shootings in the US in the following eight years and found that in eight of those, "the shooters made explicit reference to Harris and Klebold." Larkin wrote that the Columbine massacre established a "script" for shootings. "Numerous post-Columbine rampage shooters referred directly to Columbine as their inspiration; others attempted to supersede the Columbine shootings in body count."
A 2015 investigation by CNN identified "more than 40 people...charged with Columbine-style plots." A 2014 investigation by ABC News identified "at least 17 attacks and another 36 alleged plots or serious threats against schools since the assault on Columbine High School that can be tied to the 1999 massacre." Ties identified by ABC News included online research by the perpetrators into the Columbine shooting, clipping news coverage and images of Columbine, explicit statements of admiration of Harris and Klebold, such as writings in journals and on social media, in video posts,[s] and in police interviews, timing planned to an anniversary of Columbine, plans to exceed the Columbine victim counts, and other ties.
In 2015, journalist Malcolm Gladwell writing in The New Yorker magazine proposed a threshold model of school shootings in which Harris and Klebold were the triggering actors in "a slow-motion, ever-evolving riot, in which each new participant's action makes sense in reaction to and in combination with those who came before."
In February 2016, after Klebold's mother, Sue Klebold, surfaced to speak out on mental health and suicide prevention, she was condemned by then Attorney General of Colorado, Cynthia Coffman, who tweeted that Klebold had been "irresponsible and inflammatory" for her interview with Diane Sawyer, she also added on a follow-up tweet that Klebold had been "selfish" and that her interview could have "very negative consequences". Coffman's remarks were condemned by Ted Zocco-Hochhalter, father of a student paralyzed in the attack, who said there was nothing wrong with Klebold coming up as a remorseful mother trying to spark awareness on mental issues. Other mental health organizations echoed Zocco-Hochhalter's remarks.
The first copycat may have been the W. R. Myers High School shooting, just eight days after Columbine, when a 14-year-old Canadian student went into his school at lunchtime with a sawed-off .22 rifle under his dark blue trench coat, and opened fire, killing one student. A month after the massacre, Heritage High School in Conyers, Georgia had a shooting which Attorney General Janet Reno called a Columbine "copycat". A friend of Harris and Klebold, Eric Veik, was arrested after threatening to "finish the job" at CHS in October 1999.
In 2001, Charles Andrew Williams, the Santana High School shooter, reportedly told his friends that he was going to "pull a Columbine," though none of them took him seriously and played it off as a joke. In 2005, Jeff Weise, a teenager wearing a trench coat, killed his grandfather, who was a police officer, and his grandfather's girlfriend. He took his grandfather's weapon and his squad car, and drove to his former high school in Red Lake and murdered several students before killing himself. In an apparent reference to Columbine, he asked one student if they believed in God.
The perpetrator of the Dawson College shooting wrote a note praising Harris and Klebold. Convicted students Brian Draper and Torey Adamcik of Pocatello High School in Idaho, who murdered their classmate Cassie Jo Stoddart, mentioned Harris and Klebold in their homemade videos, and were reportedly planning a "Columbine-like" shooting. The perpetrator of the Emsdetten school shooting praised Harris in his diary.
In November 2007, Pekka-Eric Auvinen imitated Columbine with a shooting in Jokela in Tuusula, Finland. He wore a shirt that said "Humanity is Overrated" and attempted to start a fire inside the school but failed.
In December 2007, a man killed two at a Youth with a Mission center in Arvada, Colorado and another two at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs before killing himself. He quoted Harris prior to the attack under the heading "Christianity is YOUR Columbine".
In a self-made video recording sent to the news media by Seung-Hui Cho prior to his committing the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, the deadliest school and campus shooting, he referred to the Columbine massacre as an apparent motivation. In the recording, he wore a backwards baseball cap and referred to Harris and Klebold as "martyrs." Adam Lanza, the perpetrator of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, the deadliest shooting at a primary school in U. S. history, had "an obsession with mass murders, in particular, the April 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado."
In April 2014, shortly before the 15th anniversary, a 16-year-old boy went on a stabbing rampage at his school in Pennsylvania, injuring 24 people, including himself. The boy said he was inspired by Columbine and that he intended to attack on the date of the anniversary but that due to the fact that there were no classes on that day, he chose Eric Harris's birthday to carry out his actions.
In June 2014, a married young couple killed two Las Vegas Police Department officers and a civilian before being confronted by police. The man was fatally shot by police and the woman committed suicide. They were later quoted as wanting to commit the "next Columbine" and reportedly idolized Harris and Klebold.
The Tumblr fandom of the Columbine shooters gained widespread media attention in February 2015 after three of its members conspired to commit a mass shooting at a Halifax mall on Valentine's Day. In 2017, two 15-year-old school boys from Northallerton in England were charged with conspiracy to murder after becoming infatuated with the crime and "hero-worshipping" Harris and Klebold.
The Santa Fe High School shooting, in which ten people were killed, strongly resembled the Columbine massacre; the perpetrator, Dimitrios Pagourtzis, used a pump-action shotgun and homemade explosives, wore similar clothing as Harris and Klebold (including a black trench coat and combat boots) and reportedly yelled "Surprise!" to a victim during the shooting, a possible reference to the library massacre at Columbine.
The Kerch Polytechnic College massacre appears to be a copycat crime. The shooter wore a white shirt which said "Hatred" (in Russian), one fingerless glove, planted bombs, and committed suicide with a shotgun in the library.
In September 2021, two teens were arrested in Lee County, Florida and were accused of plotting a school shooting. A search conducted of the teen's homes showed a map of the school with security cameras labeled. Several knives and a gun were also found. The Sheriff Department said the teens had a "particular interest in Columbine" and that they had been ordered to undergo mental evaluation before possible charges being filed. Additionally four teenagers were charged in Pennsylvania, after a police investigation found detailed evidence of a plan to target Dunmore High School outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania on April 20, 2024 on the 25th anniversary of the attack. Text messages between the students planning the attack, claiming "dibs" on certain potential victims, and that they wanted everything to go down like Columbine. In October 2021, a 15-year-old girl was arrested in Weber County, Utah for planning a "mass casualty incident like Columbine" at her school. She was charged with use of a weapon of mass destruction, a first-degree felony.
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