The Massacre at Columbine: How Boys Can Become Murderers

Eric Harris (Left) and Dylan Klebold (Right) | Courtesy of Criminal Minds Wiki

Winner of the Spring 2018 StMU History Media Award for

Best Article in the Category of “United States History”

Best Descriptive Article

It was April 20, 1999 in Littleton Colorado. Seventeen-year-old Eric Harris and his eighteen-year-old friend Dylan Klebold both drove separately on a Tuesday morning to play a couple of frames of bowling before heading off to school. Before departing in their black trench coats, the teens stuffed their backpacks and two duffle bags into the trunk of their cars. When they arrived at their school campus later that morning, the two adolescents proceeded into the school, carrying the duffel bags, which contained two propane bombs.1 They kept the bombs inside the duffel bags and carried them into the cafeteria, setting up the bombs throughout the room, where they were rigged to detonate at precisely 11:17 AM. After setting up the bombs, Eric and Dylan then proceeded back to the school parking lot, where they waited for the bombs to explode. The boys had grave intentions on that day. Their intentions were to shoot up their high school, resulting in the most destructive school shooting to ever occur in the United States at the time. Their high school is known as Columbine, the most famous high school in America, for the wrong reasons.2

Parking Lot of Columbine High School | Courtesy of Flickr

In January 1998, about a year before this horrific event unfolded, best friends Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were suddenly surrounded by an aggressive and terrifying group of football players in the school cafeteria. The players proceeded to squirt ketchup packets at the two friends. Unable to fight back against the dominant jocks, Eric and Dylan were forced to wear their ketchup-stained clothes all day until they were able to go home from school. Around the cafeteria at Columbine, there were different classes of tables: the athletes had their table, and the weaker, outcast students had their table as well. While walking over to their table to sit at lunch, the athletes often threw skittles at Eric and Dylan and their outcast friends. While sitting at a lunch table with their few friends, the jocks kicked Eric and Dylan’s chairs, knocked their food trays down, and lunged food at them in the cafeteria. Bullying was not only a common occurrence to Eric and Dylan, but it also occurred to other students as well. Weaker students were shoved into lockers, called vile names, and also body slammed. They were the targets of the predators of the school. Everyone in the school, including Eric and Dylan, were afraid of the intimidating jocks, and for good reason. They were members of the trench coat mafia, which was a group that the two teens belonged to, which consisted of pro-Nazi outcasts, such as Eric and Dylan, and who also held a strong hatred for Christians. Their other trench coat mafia friends were able to shrug off the constant bullying. However, the same cannot be said about Eric and Dylan. The two friends took it in and absorbed it all, and their anger grew.3

As a result of the relentless harassment throughout Columbine, before going on a school-wide mass shooting spree, Eric Harris decided to dose on cough syrup, which he said, “is the best thing after a hard day of being called ‘gay’ by a schoolyard full of fashionable jocks and cheerleaders.”4 The two boys were outcasts of their school and members of this trench coat mafia subculture. At lunch for weeks, Eric and Dylan fantasized about blowing up the school, but because being harassed at Columbine was so common for outcast students, it was not unusual for students to speak of such outlandish events. So, when Eric and Dylan said this, other students did not believe they were serious; however, the intentions of the two teens were indeed grim and were not to be underestimated.5

The constant hatred towards his peers caused Eric to devise the plan of the shooting of his high school. Eric did most of the planning, while Dylan followed his lead and did what he said. Eric went into the cafeteria and observed when it was the most populated. He discovered that there were around 488 people inside the cafeteria at 11:17 a.m. Since this was the most populated time, they planned to bring two black duffel bags, each containing a propane tank that they would rig to explode at 11:17 a.m. In addition, they bought weapons, made bombs, and hid them in their trench coats and in the trunks of their cars. They carefully planned the terrible act for over a year prior to the shooting.6

After months and months of constant planning, Eric and Dylan were ready to put their diabolical plan into action. On April 20, 1999, around 11:20 AM, after placing the bombs in the cafeteria, Eric and Dylan were most likely bored of waiting in the parking lot for the bombs to explode. After the bombs failed to detonate around that time, the two adolescents began the destruction of their high school. They unzipped their trench coats, pulled out their guns, and opened fire in the parking lot of Columbine.7

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Image of Rachel Scott, Christian Victim of Columbine | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Outside of the school building on campus, seventeen-year-old Rachel Scott was eating lunch with her friend Richard Castaldo. Eric and Dylan came up to Rachel and Richard. The two shooters shot Richard multiple times in almost every part of his body, including his lungs. Then, they shot Rachel several times, hitting her thigh, left arm, and chest. They then turned their guns towards other fleeing students, shooting them as well. Rachel Scott laid on the ground, crying. Rachel, like many other victims of the shooting, was a Christian, which was the religion that the two pro-Nazi shooters despised. Eric went up to the poor and helpless Christian, and asked, “Do you believe in God?” Rachel said yes, and in response Eric said, “Then go be with Him,” and he shot her once again killing her.8 Rachel Scott died a martyr on that horrific day for her faith. Eric and Dylan resumed their carnage by entering into the school building itself. They went into the cafeteria, where most of the students had evacuated. While searching for students, the shooters began throwing bombs. Eric and Dylan then headed upstairs in the building. Coach Dave Sanders decided to stay back in the school to aid students, when Eric and Dylan ran into him. They shot Sanders in the back while he was fleeing, killing him instantly. After combing through the cafeteria, the shooters entered the library of Columbine, the deadliest room of the shooting. They began the bloodshed in the library by shooting behind the librarian’s desk. While in the commons, Eric and Dylan were taunting the students, yelling at them and cursing. They shouted at the horrified teens yelling, “All the jocks stand up!” They also targeted students who were wearing sports apparel. Isaiah Shoels was in the library on that nightmarish day. Isaiah was a football player at the school, which was not a good position to be in on April 20, 1999 at Columbine. Due to his African-American race, Eric and Dylan yelled racial slurs at Isaiah, and then they shot him. Unfortunately, there was more blood to be spilled. Eric then made his way towards Cassie Bernall, another Christian at Columbine, and asked her, “Do you believe in God”? Once again, just like Rachel Scott, Cassie firmly responded “yes,” and then they killed her. Just like Rachel Scott, Cassie Bernall became a martyr at the hands of Eric Harris while professing her faith. They did the same Christian interrogation to Val Schnurr, who admitted her faith and was killed for it. The outraged gunmen exited the commons, leaving ten students in the library shot in cold blood, and many others injured.9

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold on a hunt in the cafeteria | Courtesy of Flickr’s The Commons

While roaming the school, the campus was being surrounded by police, ambulances, and even the National Guard. They knew they were not leaving that building alive. After deciding that there was nowhere else to run, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold returned to the library, where they shot themselves in the head, putting an end to the bloody massacre of Columbine High School.10

The suicide of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold may have seemed like a definite conclusion to the horrific shooting for some; however, for others, it was only just the beginning. Many families of those slaughtered victims at Columbine could not even begin to comprehend the weight of the situation. Many parents, whose sons or daughters became victims of the shooting, feared for their own marriages, let alone their mental status. One mother of one of the injured victims of the shooting committed suicide years later, due to her daughter being paralyzed and forced into a wheelchair for the rest of her life.11 However, despite the catastrophes of the families, to Eric and Dylan, this was a major success. They planned everything from entering the building, all the way to their own deaths. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were constantly harassed both physically and verbally to the point where they could no longer absorb any more humiliation and mistreatment from their peers. The constant bullying that the adolescents endured resulted in them dealing with severe depression disorders that few people were aware of. Even Dylan’s own parents were unaware of his suicidal behavior and of his ongoing depression at Columbine. Several arguments can be made about the cause of Columbine and what was truly going on inside the teens’ heads. Many claim the cause of the shooting was bullying, while others claim the shooting to be caused by the influence of violent video games, like “Doom,” and goth music artists, like Marilyn Manson. Whatever the true intentions of Eric and Dylan were, we will never seem to understand entirely. However, one point can be made about the disastrous shooting of Columbine on that horrid day. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had a specific goal: to exact revenge on the students of Columbine High School.

  1. UXL Encyclopedia of U.S. History, 2009, s.v. “Columbine High School Shooting,” by Sonia Benson.
  2. American Decades, 2004, s.v. “Analysis: What the Two Young Colorado Gunmen Were Really Like,” by Cynthia Rose.
  3. Perspectives on Modern World History, 2012, s.v. “Columbine High School Had a Serious Bullying Problem,” by Ralph W. Larkin.
  4. Perspectives on Modern World History, 2012, s.v. “Columbine High School Had a Serious Bullying Problem,” by Ralph W. Larkin.
  5. Ralph W. Larkin, Comprehending Columbine (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007), 131.
  6. Ralph W. Larkin, Comprehending Columbine (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007), 131.
  7.  Wendy Murray Zoba, “Do you Believe in God?” Christianity Today, October 1999.
  8. Life Focus, “Rachel Scott Life Focus Documentary”, 12:45-13:24, February 15 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7M6MSM9o5Y4.
  9. Wendy Murray Zoba, “Do you Believe in God?” Christianity Today, October 1999.
  10. Wendy Murray Zoba, “Do you Believe in God?” Christianity Today, October 1999.
  11. US News and World Report, “Columbine Shooting: 10 Years Later,” 0:00-3:39, April 19, 2009, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XTIOs4YK_c.

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This Post Has 207 Comments

  1. Avatar

    This article helped describe very well one of the most tragic events to have ever occurred in a high school. Mostly everybody has heard about this tragic event, and to me it was surprising that they had actually planned this event from a year prior and also, in a way, warning the fellow students of their disastrous plan. The fact that all of the anger that they had towards the athletes and anybody who had bullied them goes to show the true effects that bullying can have on a person and what they are unfortunately capable of doing.

  2. Avatar

    Timothy Odekirk did a great job depicting the horror that many of the students had to feel when facing death at their high school. Odekirk’s mentioning that the school shooters were part of a Neo-Nazi cult is something that I did not know, but to me, answers the question of how Harris and Klebold could murder so easily. The hate-spewing ignorance that comes within those groups breeds disgusting reckless beings who have no empathy or remorse for others. As the article states, the mainstream media at the time tried to find blame on violent video games and “taboo” genres of music such as Marilyn Manson, which is surprising to me since if there’s anything to point fingers at, it is the hate group that these children were apart of.

  3. Avatar

    Stories like these is a fear of every parent and student in America. Unfortunately these incidents are getting more common as the years roll by. I think its very interesting that this article contained some pretty specific information on what what said between Eric or Dylan and a couple of their victims right before they were shot. I thought the article was very well written, however, hearing of these events is just so tragic.

  4. Avatar

    I had heard about Columbine but I really didn’t know the extent of the massacre. Eric and Dylan killed 13 and injured 21 more. Both Boys were filled with rage and had planned the murders of all the jocks and bullies. The boys had planned everything down to the minute. They had even planned their own deaths. Its was truly a horrible tragedy.

  5. Avatar

    An interesting article about a massacre, however the reason behind it was certainly tragic. It’s hard to imagine how much bullying Eric and Dylan took in school that pushed them towards their breaking point. Many people might tell those who were bullied to act strong, fight back or just ignore the bullies, but that was not the case. Even if you’ve done all of those things, the bullying won’t go away completely or in some cases gets even worse. It’s sad that many students including Eric and Dylan lost their lives at such a young age. Also the fact the school failed to realize the bullying and religion problems among the students, really makes me wonder what in the world were the school doing?

  6. Avatar

    As much as I hate to admit it, these boys were very smart when it came to planning the murder. It’s crazy how the treatment of people towards one another truly affects ones mindset. These boys were constant victims of bullying which untimely lead to the increase of anger that these boys sustained while undergoing their shootings and bombings. Words and actions can take a toll on people, something that so many people have a hard time understanding. This is definitely a sad moment in our history, but hopefully bringing awareness to both bullying and gun control regulations.

  7. Avatar

    I found it interesting to know what they actually did that day. It was strange to me that they went bowling that same morning. Everything about this story is tragic and sad. To this day, this is still talked about and remembered. It is so heartbreaking to learn about how many people died that day. The students of Columbine will never be forgotten.

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