Around midday on the 20th of April 1999, two twelfth grade students arrived at Columbine High School. Their names were Eric David Harris and Dylan Bennet Klebold and the actions they took that afternoon would change the world forever. And no one will ever be able to tell us why they did what they did that terrible afternoon.
Eric and Dylan, armed with bombs, firearms, and knives entered their school and went on a 50-minute rampage which left 13 people dead and another 24 wounded. The attack came to be known as the Columbine Massacre and remains the deadliest shooting attack to ever have occurred at an American High School.
Before police could get to them, the boys committed suicide in the library where they had killed most their victims. Survivors say they heard Eric and Dylan shout out “One! Two! Three!” followed by the gunfire. Eric shot himself in the mouth with his shotgun and Dylan shot himself in the temple with his TEC-9 handgun. From their diaries, which were later recovered it seems that they had planned to commit suicide or be killed in a shootout with police.
Here are a few things you probably didn’t know about the Columbine Massacre…
15. The Student Resource Officer Who Forgot His Glasses
Neil Gardner was the assigned Student Resource Officer for Columbine High School at the time of the massacre. During his lunchtime, he usually ate with the students in the cafeteria, but on April 20th he switched up his routine and ate his lunch in his car at the northwest corner of the campus, which meant he failed to see Eric and Dylan place the duffel bags in the cafeteria and start shooting students. He was alerted to the situation when a call came through on the school radio and he rushed back to the west entrance.
When he got there, he encountered Eric Harris, who immediately opened fire on him from about sixty feet away. Gardner drew his service weapon and shot back at Harris from behind his squad car, but he had forgotten his prescription glasses at home that day and wasn’t able to hit Harris.
14. What Would Have Happened If The Bombs Had Detonated As Planned
Columbine is remembered as a school shooting incident because all the deaths that day were caused by firearms. But what a lot of people don’t know is that the boys planned things quite differently to how they played out. When they arrived at school that fateful afternoon they armed two 20-pound propane bombs and put them in duffel bags which they placed in the cafeteria. Their plan was to wait outside for the bombs to go off and shoot the survivors running from the building. When these bombs failed to go off the boys armed themselves and re-entered the building.
If those bombs had denoted at full power all 488 students in the cafeteria would have been killed or severely wounded and the explosion would have probably collapsed the ceiling, which would have dropped part of the library into the cafeteria.
13. Was It Right For Dylan And Eric To Be Mourned?
Shortly after the shootings took place a row of crosses was erected on top of a hillside that overlooks the school. This was a place where the families of the victims could gather to mourn and it quickly became full of photographs, candles, and flowers. But there was anger in the air and having crosses dedicated to Dylan and Eric in the same place as their victims didn’t help matters. There were some people who felt that the boys had been victims themselves but others violently disagreed. With the world watching them, Columbine was not only a shattered community but a divided one too.
The crosses for Dylan and Eric were a step too far for some and were torn down by the father of one of the victims.
12. Dylan And Eric’s Macabre Following
It’s been 18 years since the shooting and during that time Dylan and Eric have become cult figures for a subculture of confused and angry teenagers. Many idolize them; believing that the boys stood up for themselves and took revenge on those who had taunted them. Some people may find this hard to believe, but it shouldn’t surprise us because teens often seek out inappropriate role models. In this case, they romanticize what the boys did without being able to fully comprehend their actions and effects. This makes it easier for teens to see the boys as heroes.
11. Why They Chose The 20th Of April
Dylan and Eric were interested in the Nazis, Hitler, and all things German. They often wore swastikas and gave each other the “Heil, Hitler” salute while playing card games or bowling. They also enjoyed listening to German heavy metal bands such as KMFDM and Rammstein. Some of their friends denied that the boys idolized the Nazis but in retrospect, it seems there was a lot about Dylan and Eric that they didn’t know.
Eric often wrote about the Nazis in his journal. He even recorded that people were getting irritated with his frequent Hitler quotes and that he needed to stop before he accidentally revealed his plan.
10. It Took Law Enforcement 5 Hours To Get Control
SWAT teams arrived at Columbine High School roughly forty minutes after the shootings began and shortly before the boys committed suicide in the library. The problem was that no one knew they had killed themselves. Survivors inside were too afraid to move from their hiding spots so even though the shooting had ceased police still had to systematically clear the building room by room. At the same time, there were a number of small bombs which needed to be removed. SWAT entered the school at 13:09 and began removing survivors. Sadly some, like teacher Dave Sanders, had already died from his injuries by the time they got to him.
9. The Chilling Video Project That Showed The Boys “Killing” Students
Because Eric and Dylan committed suicide before they were apprehended they were not able to tell anyone exactly why they did what they did. It was up to the police and FBI to try and piece it together using the information they found in the boy’s homes. Most of their videos were destroyed for fear of inciting more violence, but there is still one chilling video available to view online. This video was made as a school project and should have been a sign of what was about to happen at Columbine High.
In the video the boys pretend to be hitmen for hire, offering protection from bullies to the kids at school. It shows them shooting fake guns and “killing” students in the school hallway. The video is dated just 4 months before the attack.
8. The Police Knew About Their Threatening Behavior
The parents of Brooks Brown, a student at Columbine, filed a report with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office in March 1998 saying that Eric Harris had threatened to kill their son. An investigator looked into the case and found that Harris had made the threats on his website and that he had also written about how he would like to kill people. The investigator wrote a draft affidavit for a search warrant but it was never filed. This information was not released to the public until September 2001.
But whatever grudge the boys had with Brown was forgotten on the day of the shootings. When Harris met Brown outside the school just prior to the massacre he told him to leave the school grounds immediately. A few minutes later Brown heard the first gunshots and phoned the police.
7. Eric And Dylan Had Been Arrested Before
In January 1998, one year before the massacre, Eric and Dylan were charged with criminal mischief, trespassing, and theft for breaking into a locked van and stealing computers. Surprising they both made a good impression on the juvenile officers who oversaw their assigned classes and treatment. They were so well behaved that they were discharged from a program a few months early.
Harris wrote an apology letter to the owner of the van expressing regret but recorded his true feelings in his journal. On the 12th of April 1998 he wrote “Isn’t America supposed to be the land of the free? how come, If im free, I cant deprive some **** from his possessions If he leaves them sitting in the front seat of his **** van in plain sight in the middle of fucking nowhere on a friday night? Natural selection. **** should be shot.”
6. How Much Firepower Did Eric And Dylan Really Have?
When Eric and Dylan entered Columbine that afternoon they carried a heavy arsenal with them. Eric carried a pump-action shotgun and a 9mm carbine and during the massacre, he fired 121 rounds. Dylan was armed with a semi-automatic handgun, with over 100 rounds of ammunition, and a double-barrel shotgun. He fired a total of 67 times, bringing the total amount of ammunition fired by the boys to 188 rounds. They had sawn off the barrels and butts of the shotguns to conceal them under their clothes. They also carried knives and a number of homemade bombs.
During the investigation, police discovered that the boys had purchased the guns from two different men in the months prior to the attack. These men were charged, but shockingly only received four and six-year sentences for their role in the massacre.
5. How Columbine Changed School Safety
The massacre at Columbine left people with a lot of questions. At the top of the list for most people was “How do we stop this happening again?” and this started a nationwide debate about school safety.
In the intervening years, schools in America have changed drastically to try and prevent bullying and violence. There is now heightened security with metal detectors which students must pass through and strict dress codes to prevent them from concealing weapons on their bodies. Almost all schools now have a strict zero tolerance rule when it comes to infractions of the rules especially when weapons, drugs, or bullying is involved.
4. Could There Have Been A Different Outcome?
The answer to this question is yes. If someone had intervened and taken these boys seriously, then maybe, just maybe, many lives could have been saved. But the reality is that didn’t happen.
The boys were angry, they felt frustrated and ostracized and they chose to act on those feelings in a senseless violent way. But was that really the answer?
We all know Matt Stone and Trey Parker, as the creators of Southpark but did you know that they were also from Colorado? In fact, Matt Stone also lived in Littleton and attended a high school about five minutes away from Columbine. When he was interviewed for the documentary Bowling For Columbine he spoke about his difficult high school experience, but the difference is that he chose to channel his feelings into art, not mass murder. And look where that took him.
3. The Shooters Were Just Two Weeks Away From Graduation
One of the most unbelievable facts about the Columbine Massacre is this – Dylan and Eric were just two weeks away from graduation.
Two weeks. If they had been able to just go to school for those last fourteen days they would have been finished with high school forever. They were both intelligent young men who could have gone on to study and they could have left their small Colorado town if they had wanted to. But they didn’t – instead, they chose to end it all and selfishly take 13 other people with them.
2. The Truth About The Alleged Bullying
The boys’ journals and videos revealed their plans for the attack on the 20th of April but very little about their motivations. The boys were full of rage which people tried to blame on their music choices and shooter games, but it would seem that feelings of alienation were their main issue. One of Eric’s last journal entries reads: “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.”
Parents and teachers claim that the school had a rampant bullying problem and friends of the boys confirmed that they were constantly picked on and humiliated. Just think how things could have turned out if this was properly addressed…
1. They Planned Their Attack For Over A Year
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold didn’t plan their attack weeks in advance, they planned it for months – over a year in fact. Their diaries and videos document their hatred for humanity, especially their fellow students who snubbed and picked on them. In their minds, there was only one suitable response – kill them and destroy the school. So they began planning the attack, feeding off their mutual rage and desire for vengeance.
Together they schemed on how to acquire firearms and practiced shooting them. Using plans from the internet they constructed a total of 99 homemade bombs of various sizes. The two meticulously planned their attack and their own suicides. Both boys knew that when they walked into the school that day they would never leave again.