When I blogged about school bullying yesterday, I completely forgot that it’s almost been ten years since the Columbine High School massacre, which took place on April 20, 1999. Most of you probably remember how you felt that day, I know I do.
As a blog comment response, I said that the Columbine killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had been picked on in school. For the past ten years, news reporters have been telling the world that these were two troubled teenage boys who were teased and depressed, and the combination ended in twelve deaths. USA Today just released a report on the real story of Columbine, and apparently, these two guys were anything but bullied loners who wasted their days away learning from violent video games:
The killings ignited a national debate over bullying, but the record now shows Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold hadn’t been bullied — in fact, they had bragged in diaries about picking on freshmen and “fags.”
Even though children who have been teased have been known to bring guns to school, it takes a mentally ill person to murder another over harassment. The Columbine shooters had psychological issues, and Harris seemed to have a heart filled with hate:
Harris, who conceived the attacks, was more than just troubled. He was, psychologists now say, a cold-blooded, predatory psychopath — a smart, charming liar with “a preposterously grand superiority complex, a revulsion for authority and an excruciating need for control,” Cullen writes.
Harris, a senior, read voraciously and got good grades when he tried, pleasing his teachers with dazzling prose — then writing in his journal about killing thousands.
“I referred to him — and I’m dating myself — as the Eddie Haskel of Columbine High School,” says Principal Frank DeAngelis, referring to the deceptively polite teen on the 1950s and ’60s sitcom Leave it to Beaver. ”
According to Cullen, one of Harris’ last journal entries read: “I hate you people for leaving me out of so many fun things. And no don’t … say, ‘Well that’s your fault,’ because it isn’t, you people had my phone #, and I asked and all, but no. No no no don’t let the weird-looking Eric KID come along.”
As he walked into the school the morning of April 20, Harris’ T-shirt read: Natural Selection.
Harris seemed to feel superior to everyone — he once wrote, “I feel like God and I wish I was, having everyone being OFFICIALLY lower than me.”
Harris sort of reminds me of Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech killer, only Harris was better at feigning normalcy. According to many news sources, many classmates and faculty members saw Cho as a threat, and he had been referred to Psychological Services on multiple occasions. He stalked women, didn’t respond to anyone when addressed, wrote perverse fiction in his creative writing courses, and reportedly rarely left his room. Other sources have said that he was teased as a child and that he deeply resented wealthy white kids. Virginia Tech had many warnings about this guy, and unfortunately, Columbine was unprepared for the contemporary “Eddie Haskel,” Eric Harris to execute equally insane plans for mass murder.
Then there’s Dylan Klebold, who seemed much different than his partner-in-crime:
Harris drew swastikas in his journal; Klebold drew hearts.
As laid out in their writings, the contrast between the two was stark.
Harris seemed to feel superior to everyone — he once wrote, “I feel like God and I wish I was, having everyone being OFFICIALLY lower than me” — while Klebold was suicidally depressed and getting angrier all the time. “Me is a god, a god of sadness,” he wrote in September 1997, around his 16th birthday.
Klebold also was paranoid. “I have always been hated, by everyone and everything,” he wrote.
On the day of the attacks, his T-shirt read: Wrath.
But in the end, suicidal murderers do tend to overlap:
Along the way, they saved money from after-school jobs, took Advanced Placement classes, assembled a small arsenal and fooled everyone — friends, parents, teachers, psychologists, cops and judges.
“These are not ordinary kids who were bullied into retaliation,” psychologist Peter Langman writes in his new book, Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters. “These are not ordinary kids who played too many video games. These are not ordinary kids who just wanted to be famous. These are simply not ordinary kids. These are kids with serious psychological problems.”
What’s now beyond dispute — largely from the killers’ journals, which have been released over the past few years, is this: Harris and Klebold killed 13 and wounded 24, but they had hoped to kill thousands.
The pair planned the attacks for more than a year, building 100 bombs and persuading friends to buy them guns. Just after 11 a.m. on April 20, they lugged a pair of duffel bags containing propane-tank bombs into Columbine’s crowded cafeteria and another into the kitchen, then stepped outside and waited.
Had the bombs exploded, they’d have killed virtually everyone eating lunch and brought the school’s second-story library down atop the cafeteria, police say. Armed with a pistol, a rifle and two sawed-off shotguns, the pair planned to pick off survivors fleeing the carnage.
As a last terrorist act, a pair of gasoline bombs planted in Harris’ Honda and Klebold’s BMW had been rigged apparently to kill police, rescue teams, journalists and parents who rushed to the school — long after the pair expected they would be dead.
The pair had parked the cars about 100 yards apart in the student lot. The bombs didn’t go off.
He got a good look at the boys’ writings only in the past couple of years. Among the revelations: Eric Harris was financing what could well have been the biggest domestic terrorist attack on U.S. soil on wages from a part-time job at a pizza parlor.
“One of the scary things is that money was one of the limiting factors here,” Cullen says.
Had Harris, then 18, put off the attacks for a few years and landed a well-paying job, he says, “he could be much more like Tim McVeigh,” mixing fertilizer bombs like those used in Oklahoma City in 1995. As it was, he says, the fact that Harris carried out the attack when he did probably saved hundreds of lives.
“His limited salary probably limited the number of people who died.”
We have more answers than we did in the past. Is it a coincidence that Eric Harris, who drew swastikas in his diary, chose Adolf Hitler’s birthday to execute his shooting? If he had been planning the massacre for a year, he had everything calculated. It makes sense for a twisted, disturbed, anxiety-ridden young adult like Cho to be a candidate for murder, but it doesn’t quite add up for Harris, who was wrongly reported as a bullied teen. Harris did well in school and seemed stable. And he killed twelve people. Klebold exhibited suicidal tendencies and depression, so perhaps he was more prone to acting out, but judging from this report, it seems like Harris took the lead on the Columbine murders. Klebold was just as involved, but didn’t seem nearly as spiteful and angry.
And no one had any idea of how seriously sick and twisted Harris was. This shows that there is no general profile for mass murderers. Whether they’re painfully obvious candidates like Cho or deceptive like Eric Harris and Ted Bundy, they exist everywhere, and the scariest thing is that sometimes these people have absolutely no reason for doing what they do. As my brother once said, “some kids are just born rotten.”