Thirteen years ago this week, twelve students and one teacher were murdered at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. The two students who committed the murders, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, also killed themselves in the attack bringing the death toll to 15, the deadliest high school massacre in American history. Most of us remember the horrible scenes from that day and recall the news that emerged from the tragedy. The facts of that day are now a part of American history, including a book titled Columbine by Dave Cullen.
So, here’s a history quiz.
TRUE or FALSE:
1). The shooters – Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold – were part of a group known at Columbine as the “Trench Coat Mafia.”
2). Harris and Klebold were Goths.
3). Harris and Klebold were fans of Marilyn Manson.
4). Harris and Klebold specifically targeted jocks.
5). Harris and Klebold specifically targeted minorities.
6). Most of the kids shot were on a hit list.
7). Harris and Klebold were gay.
8). Harris and Klebold were both psychopaths.
9). Harris and Klebold chose April 20 for the shootings because it was Hitler’s birthday.
10). Cassie Bernal was killed because she said she believed in God.
Many people still believe that some or all of the above statements are true but the correct answer to each is “False.” Harris and Klebold wore large overcoats the day of the shooting for logistical reasons, to carry weapons and ammunition, but they had never associated with the group at Columbine known as the “Trench Coat Mafia,” a group that had largely disappeared by 1999. The Goths and Marilyn Manson rumors arose in conjunction with the trench coat rumors, prompting Manson to cancel his concert. Because Manson cancelled his concert, it added weight to the rumor but there is no evidence that either Harris or Klebold listened to Manson’s music or followed him in any way.
As far as who they targeted, Harris and Klebold had expected their homemade bombs to kill most of the students in the cafeteria indiscriminately. They were targeting all students in general, not anyone in particular. When the bombs proved defective, they went on a shooting rampage. If they had been targeting jocks, why go to the library at lunchtime instead of the gym? As far as rumors of targeting minorities, they may or may not have used the “N” word as they shot an African-American student, but like the others, he just happened to be the next person they encountered in the library. Although Harris had compiled a hit list, no one on the list was hurt that day.
Rumors that the boys were gay began almost immediately and were just as quickly debunked, based on the writings in their journals. But that didn’t prevent the rumors from swirling for a while. As far as their mental states, Eric Harris was indeed a psychopath but not Dylan Klebold. He was a depressive and a hopeless romantic who almost backed out of his role that day. It’s frightening to think of Klebold that way – a down-in-the-dumps kid so easily influenced by a peer.
Harris originally chose April 19 for the attack because that’s the anniversary of the events in Waco (1993) and Oklahoma City (1995). They weren’t able to obtain all the weapons they needed so the date was bumped to the 20th which coincidententally happened to be Hitler’s birthday. Because Harris’s writing contained some pro-Nazi messages, however, people mistakenly assumed that date had been chosen for that reason.
Finally, one of the saddest and most puzzling stories to come out of Columbine involves the death of Cassie Bernal. Please check back tomorrow for that discussion.