Columbine High School massacre

Columbine High School massacre
Columbine High School massacre

Staff and students evacuate Columbine
High School
during the shooting.
Location Columbine, Colorado, U.S.
Date April 20, 1999
11:19 am – 12:08 pm (UTC-6)
Target Students and faculty at Columbine High School.
Attack type School shooting, mass murder, massacre, murder-suicide, suicide attack, shootout, attempted bombing
Weapon(s) Intratec TEC-DC9, Hi-Point 995 Carbine, Savage 67H pump-action shotgun, Stevens 311D double barreled sawed-off shotgun
Death(s) 15 (including the 2 perpetrators)
Injured 24
Perpetrator(s) Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold

The Columbine High School massacre (sometimes simply known as the Columbine Incident) occurred on Tuesday, April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School in Columbine, an unincorporated area of Jefferson County, Colorado, United States, near Denver and Littleton. Two senior students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, embarked on a massacre, killing 12 students and 1 teacher. They also injured 21 other students directly, and three people were injured while attempting to escape. The pair then committed suicide. It is the fourth-deadliest school massacre in United States history, after the 1927 Bath School disaster, 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, and the 1966 University of Texas massacre, and the deadliest for an American high school.

The massacre provoked debate regarding gun control laws, the availability of firearms in the United States, and gun violence involving youths. Much discussion also centered on the nature of high school cliques, subcultures, and bullying, as well as the role of violent movies and video games in American society. The shooting resulted in an increased emphasis on school security, and a moral panic aimed at goth culture, social outcasts, the gun culture, the use of pharmaceutical anti-depressants by teenagers, violent films and music, teenage internet use,[1] and violent video games.[2][3]


Preliminary activities and intent

Early warning signs began to surface in 1996, when Eric Harris first created a private website on America Online. The site was originally set up to host Doom levels that he and Dylan Klebold had created, mainly for friends. Harris began a blog on the site, which included jokes and small journal entries concerning his thoughts on parents, school, and friends. By the end of the year, the site contained instructions on how to cause mischief, as well as instructions on how to make explosives, and logs of the trouble he and Klebold were causing. Beginning in early 1997, the blog postings began to show the first signs of Harris's ever-growing anger against society.[4]

Harris's site had few visitors, and caused no concern until late 1997, when Dylan Klebold gave the address to Brooks Brown, Harris's former friend. Brown's mother had filed numerous complaints with the Jefferson County Sheriff's office about Eric Harris, believing him to be dangerous. The website was filled with death threats towards Brooks, and Dylan knew that if Brooks had the address, it would make its way to his mother and possibly result in problems for Harris. Indeed, Brooks Brown's parents contacted the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, and investigator Michael Guerra was notified of the site.[4] Guerra discovered the website contained violent threats directed at the students and teachers of Columbine High School. Other material included blurbs Harris had written concerning his hatred of society in general, and his desire to kill those who annoyed him. Harris began noting the completion of pipe bombs on his site, as well as a gun count and hit list of individuals he wished to target, although he never detailed his overall plan.[5] As Harris had admitted to having explosives, Guerra decided to write a draft affidavit for a search warrant of the Harris household, but it was never filed.[4][6]

On January 30, 1998, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were caught with tools and equipment that had been stolen moments earlier from a parked van near Littleton, Colorado.[7] Both were arrested and attended a joint court hearing, where they pleaded guilty to the felony theft. The judge sentenced them to juvenile diversion, where they attended various classes together, including a class on anger management. Harris started attending therapy with a psychologist, and continued to do so for about a year.

While in diversion, both boys attended mandated classes and met with diversion officers. They placed out of the substance abuse class, despite Klebold's history of drinking and a dilute urine test.[8] Harris and Klebold were eventually released from diversion several weeks early due to their good behavior,[4] although they remained on probation.[9] Harris wrote an ingratiating letter to the owner of the equipment they stole, offering apologies and empathy.[10] He boasted in his journal entries about faking regret, and applauded himself at his deception.[11] Harris continued under his psychologist's care until a few months before the attack, all while he and Klebold plotted; the pair felt as if they were at war against society and needed to take action toward those they hated.[4]

Shortly after his and Klebold's court hearing, Harris' blog disappeared, and his website was reverted to its original purpose of posting user-created levels for the game Doom. Harris began to write out his thoughts and plans in a paper journal. Harris continued to dedicate a section of his website to posting his progress on the collection of guns and the building of the bombs used in the attack. After its existence was made public, AOL permanently deleted the website from its servers.[12]


After Harris complained of depression, anger, and suicidal thoughts at a meeting with his psychiatrist, he was prescribed the anti-depressant Zoloft. He complained about restlessness and a lack of concentration to his doctor, and in April was switched to a similar drug, Luvox.[13] At the time of his death, Harris had therapeutic Luvox levels in his system. Some analysts, such as psychiatrist Peter Breggin, have argued that one or both of these medications may have contributed to Harris's actions. Breggin claimed that side-effects of these drugs include increased aggression, loss of remorse, depersonalization, and mania.[14]

Journals and videos

Harris and Klebold both began keeping journals of their progress soon after their arrests. The pair documented their arsenal with video tapes that were kept secret.[4][15]

Journal entries reveal that the pair had an elaborate plan for a major bombing rivaling the Oklahoma City bombing. The entries contained blurbs about ways to escape to Mexico, hijacking an aircraft at Denver International Airport and crashing into a building in New York City, as well as details about the attacks. The pair hoped that after setting off bombs in the cafeteria at the busiest time of day, killing many hundreds of students, they would use their guns to shoot survivors as they fled from the school. Then, as police cars, ambulances, fire trucks, and reporters came to the school, bombs set in the boys' cars would go off, killing the emergency personnel, media, and law officers; this original plan failed when their main explosives did not detonate.[4][16] The pair kept videos that documented the explosives, ammunition, and weapons they had acquired illegally. In these videos, the shooters revealed all the elaborate and creative ways the two had thought up to hide their arsenals in their own homes, as well as the ways they would deceive their parents about their activities. Some videos contained footage of the pair doing target practice in nearby foothills, as well as shots of the areas of the high school they planned to attack.[4] On April 20, approximately thirty minutes before the attack,[17] a final video had the pair saying goodbye and apologizing to their friends and families.


In the months prior to the attacks, Harris and Klebold acquired two 9 mm firearms and two 12-gauge shotguns. A rifle and the two shotguns were bought by a friend, Robyn Anderson, at the Tanner Gun Show in December 1998.[18] Harris and Klebold later bought a handgun from another friend, Mark Manes, for $500. Manes was jailed after the massacre for selling a handgun to a minor,[19] as was Philip Duran, who had introduced the duo to Manes.[20]

With instructions from the Internet, they built 99 improvised explosive devices of various designs and sizes. They sawed the barrels and butts off their shotguns to make them easier to conceal.[4] The perpetrators committed numerous felony violations of state and federal law, including the National Firearms Act and the Gun Control Act of 1968, even before the massacre began.

During the shootings, Harris carried a 12 gauge Savage-Springfield 67H pump-action shotgun (serial no. A232432) which he dischared fired 25 times and a Hi-Point 995 Carbine 9 mm semi-automatic rifle with thirteen 10-round magazines, which was fired 96 times. Harris committed suicide by shooting himself in the head with his shotgun.

Klebold carried a 9 mm Intratec TEC-9 semi-automatic handgun manufactured by Navegar, Inc. with one 52-, one 32-, and one 28-round magazine and a 12 gauge Stevens 311D double-barreled sawed-off shotgun (serial no. A077513). Klebold's primary weapon was the TEC-9 handgun, which was fired 55 times. Klebold committed suicide via a shot to the left temple with the TEC-9.

April 20, 1999: The massacre

An aerial shot of Columbine High School on the day of the massacre

Note: All times are in Mountain Daylight Time, UTC-6

At 11:10 a.m. on Tuesday, April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold arrived at Columbine High School in separate cars. Harris parked in the Junior student parking lot and Klebold in the Senior student parking lot at spaces not assigned to them. From these spots, both of them had excellent views of the cafeteria's side entrance, and each shooter was covering a main exit of the school. Shortly before arriving at Columbine, Harris and Klebold had set up a small fire bomb in a field half a mile (800 m) away from the school. The bomb was set to explode at 11:14 a.m., and is thought to have been placed there as a diversion for emergency personnel. The bomb did partially detonate, and caused a small fire that was extinguished by the fire department.

At Columbine, the pair met near Harris's car and armed two 20 pound (9 kg) propane bombs before entering the cafeteria a few minutes before the A lunch shift began, and placed the duffel bags carrying the bombs inside. Each bomb was set to explode at approximately 11:17 a.m.[4] Coincidentally, a custodian removed the security camera video tape, rewound it, and placed a new tape in the slot at the same time they entered the cafeteria. Although the act of placing the bombs was not recorded, once the new tape was started the bags could be clearly seen. Each shooter returned to his car to wait until the bombs exploded. They intended to open fire on students fleeing the school through the main entrances once the cafeteria bombs detonated. As they returned to their cars, Harris encountered Brooks Brown, a classmate with whom he had recently patched up a longstanding series of disagreements. Brown was surprised to see Harris getting out of a car with a gym bag. Harris had been absent from a class test that morning. Brown told him, but Harris seemed unconcerned. Harris then warned him, "Brooks, I like you now. Get out of here. Go home." Brown, feeling uneasy, walked away.[21] Several minutes later, students departing Columbine for lunch noticed Brooks Brown heading down South Pierce Street away from the school. Meanwhile, Harris and Klebold armed themselves by their cars and waited for the bombs to explode.

Shooting begins

When the cafeteria bombs failed, Harris and Klebold armed themselves with their weapons, met, and walked toward the building. They went to the top of the West Entrance steps, which was the highest point on campus. From this vantage point, the cafeteria's side entrance was at the bottom of the staircase, the school's main West Entrance was to their left, and the athletic fields were to their right (see the lead photograph at the top of this page for an image of the staircase).

Injuries and deaths in initial incident
1. Rachel Scott, age 17, killed by shots to the head, torso, and leg on a grassy area next to the West Entrance of the school.
2. Richard Castaldo, age 17, shot in the arm, chest, back and abdomen on the same grassy area.
3. Daniel Rohrbough, age 15, killed by a shot to the chest on the West Staircase.
4. Sean Graves, age 15, shot in the back, foot and abdomen on the West Staircase.
5. Lance Kirklin, age 16, shot with wounds to the leg, neck and jaw on the West Staircase.
6. Michael Johnson, age 15, escaped from the grassy knoll with wounds to his face, arm and leg.
7. Mark Taylor, age 16, shot in the chest, arms and leg on the grassy knoll.
8. Anne-Marie Hochhalter, age 17, shot in the chest, arm, abdomen, back, and left leg near the cafeteria's entrance.
9. Brian Anderson, age 16, injured near the West Entrance by flying glass.
10. Patti Nielson, age 35, hit in the shoulder by shrapnel near the West Entrance.
11. Stephanie Munson, age 16, shot in the ankle inside the North Hallway.
12. Dave Sanders, age 47, died of blood loss after being shot in the neck and back inside the South Hallway.

At 11:19 a.m., a witness heard Eric Harris yell "Go! Go!" At that moment, the gunmen pulled out their guns and Harris began shooting at Rachel Scott and Richard Castaldo with his 9 mm semi-automatic carbine rifle, who were sitting on a grassy knoll to their left (next to the West Entrance of the school), eating lunch. Scott, hit four times, was killed instantly; Castaldo, hit eight times, was critically wounded.[4] It is unclear who shot first and who killed Scott. Many rumors swirled regarding the causes of the rampage, including the possible targeting of Christians. One such rumor was that the shooters first asked Scott if she believed in God, then killed her after she answered affirmatively. The FBI later concluded that this interaction did not take place.[9]

Harris removed his trench coat and took out his 9 mm rifle again, aiming it down the West Staircase. Daniel Rohrbough and two friends, Sean Graves and Lance Kirklin, were walking up the staircase directly below the shooters. Kirklin reported seeing them standing at the top, when suddenly they began shooting at him. All three fell, wounded. Harris and Klebold then turned and began shooting south (away from the school) at students sitting on the grassy knoll adjacent to the steps, opposite the West Entrance of the school. Michael Johnson was hit, but kept running and escaped. Mark Taylor fell to the ground, crippled, and played dead. The other three escaped uninjured. As the shooting continued, Sean Graves stood up and limped down the staircase into the cafeteria's side entrance, where he collapsed in front of the door. Klebold walked down the steps heading toward the cafeteria. As he descended, he shot Lance Kirklin once more in the face, critically wounding him. As Daniel Rohrbough struggled down the steps towards the bottom of the staircase, Klebold walked up to him and shot him in the back at close range, killing him. He then continued down the staircase and entered the cafeteria, walking over the injured Sean Graves, who lay at the cafeteria entrance. It is speculated that Klebold did this because he was checking to see why the propane bombs had failed to explode. As Klebold stepped into the cafeteria, Harris began to shoot down the steps at several students sitting near the cafeteria's entrance, wounding Anne-Marie Hochhalter as she attempted to flee. After a few seconds, Klebold returned up the staircase to meet with Harris at the top.

The west entrance of the school after the shooting

The two then shot toward students standing near the soccer field a few yards away, but did not hit anyone. They threw pipe bombs as they made their way towards the West Entrance, none of which detonated.[4] Inside the campus, teacher Patti Nielson, seeing the commotion, walked towards the West Entrance with student Brian Anderson. She wanted to walk outside and tell the two students to "Knock it off,"[22] as she thought they were shooting a video or pulling a prank. As Anderson opened the first set of double doors, Harris and Klebold shot out the windows. Anderson was injured by flying glass and Nielson was hit in the shoulder by shrapnel. Reacting in fear, she quickly stood up and ran down the hall into the library, where she alerted the students inside, demanding they duck beneath desks and remain silent. She then dialed 9-1-1 and concealed herself beneath the library's administrative counter.[4] Brian Anderson remained behind, caught between the exterior and interior doors.

Soon thereafter, at approximately 11:24 a.m., a Jefferson County deputy sheriff arrived at the scene and began shooting at Harris and Klebold, distracting them from the injured Brian Anderson.[4] Anderson staggered out of the area and made it into the library, where he ran into an open staff break room. He remained there until the ordeal ended. Harris fired ten shots at the officer, who then radioed in a Code 33 (officer in need of emergency assistance). When his gun ran out of ammunition, Harris ran inside the school with Klebold. The pair then proceeded down the main North Hallway, shooting at anyone they saw and throwing pipe bombs. While doing so, they shot student Stephanie Munson in the ankle. She was able to walk out of the school and made it to a house across the street. The pair then shot out the windows to the East Entrance of the school. After going through the hall several more times, shooting at any students they saw (but not injuring any), they headed back towards the West Entrance and turned to the Library Hallway.

Moments earlier, Coach Dave Sanders had evacuated the cafeteria through a staircase leading up to the second floor.[4] The staircase was around the corner from the Library Hallway in the main South Hallway. He and a student turned the corner and were walking down the Library Hallway when they saw the shooters coming around the corner from the North Hallway. The two quickly turned around and ran the other way (it is believed, but not confirmed, that Sanders was heading for the library to help evacuate the students there).[23] The shooters came around the corner and Harris shot at both of them, hitting Dave Sanders in the chest as he reached the South Hallway, but missing the student. The student ran into science classroom SCI-1 and alerted the teacher inside. Meanwhile, the shooters returned back up the North Hallway. Sanders struggled over to the science area, where the teacher took him into his science classroom SCI-3, where around 30 students were taking an exam. A sign was placed in the window that read "1 bleeding to death," in order to alert police of their location. Two students administered first aid, and attempted to control bleeding with shirts from the male students in the room. A teacher and several students remained in contact with police outside of the school using a phone in the classroom. All the students in the room were evacuated safely, but Sanders was not evacuated, and died at approximately 3:00 p.m.[4] He was the only teacher killed in the ordeal.

The library massacre

Library victim Patrick Ireland being pulled from library windows after the massacre

As the shooting unfolded, Patti Nielson was on the phone with emergency services, recounting her experience, and trying to get students to take cover under desks.[4] According to transcripts, her call was received by the 9-1-1 operator at 11:25:05 a.m. The time period between the call being answered and the shooters entering the library was four minutes and ten seconds. Before entering, the shooters threw two bombs into the cafeteria from the staircase in the South Hallway, both of which exploded. One can be seen on the security tapes. They then threw another in the Library Hallway, which also exploded, damaging some lockers. At 11:29 a.m., Harris and Klebold entered the library, where 52 students, two teachers, and two librarians were hiding.[4]

As he entered, Harris shot at a display case at the opposite end of the administrative counter, injuring student Evan Todd, who was hiding under a copier table adjacent to the display case. Harris then yelled for everyone to "Get up!" so loudly that he can be heard on the 9-1-1 recording at 11:29:18.[24] Staff and students hiding in the library exterior rooms said they heard the gunmen utter things such as "Everyone with white hats, stand up! This is for all the shit you've given us for the past four years!" and "All jocks stand up! We'll get the guys in white hats!" Wearing a white baseball cap at Columbine was a tradition amongst sports team members.[4] When no one stood up, Eric was heard to say: "Fine, I'll start shooting anyway!" He fired his shotgun at a desk, not knowing Evan Todd was under it. Todd was hit by wood splinters, but not seriously hurt. The shooters made their way down to the opposite side of the library, to two rows of computers. Evan Todd used the time to conceal himself behind the administrative counter. Kyle Velasquez was sitting at the north—or upper—row of computers; police said that he had not hidden under the desk, but that he was curled up under the computer table. Klebold shot at him first, hitting him in the head and back, killing him. The shooters set down their duffel bags, filled with ammunition, at the south—or lower—row of computers and reloaded their weapons. They walked to the windows facing the outside staircase, where they had just been a moment ago. Noticing police evacuating students, Harris said "Let's go kill some cops," and they began to shoot out the windows; police returned fire.

Injuries and deaths in the library
13. Evan Todd, age 15, sustained minor injuries from the splintering of a desk he was hiding under.
14. Kyle Velasquez, age 16, killed by gunshot wounds to the head and back.
15. Patrick Ireland, age 17, shot in the arm, leg, head, and foot.
16. Daniel Steepleton, age, 17, shot in the thigh.
17. Makai Hall, age 18, shot in the knee.
18. Steven Curnow, age 14, killed by a shot to the neck.
19. Kacey Ruegsegger, age 17, shot in the hand, arm and shoulder.
20. Cassie Bernall, age 17, killed by a shot to the head.
21. Isaiah Shoels, age 18, killed by a shot to the chest.
22. Matthew Kechter, age 16, killed by a shot to the chest.
23. Lisa Kreutz, age 18, shot in the shoulder, hand and arms and thigh.
24. Valeen Schnurr, age 18, injured with wounds to the chest, arms and abdomen.
25. Mark Kintgen, age 17, shot in the head and shoulder.
26. Lauren Townsend, age 18, killed by multiple gunshot wounds to the head, chest and lower body.
27. Nicole Nowlen, age 16, shot in the abdomen.
28. John Tomlin, age 16, killed by multiple shots to the head and neck.
29. Kelly Fleming, age 16, killed by a shot to the back.
30. Jeanna Park, age 18, shot in the knee, shoulder and foot.
31. Daniel Mauser, age 15, killed by a shot to the face.
32. Jennifer Doyle, age 17, shot in the hand, leg and shoulder.
33. Austin Eubanks, age 17, shot in the head and knee.
34. Corey DePooter, age 17, killed by shots to the chest and neck.

After a few seconds, Klebold turned away from the windows and fired his shotgun at a nearby table, injuring Patrick Ireland, Daniel Steepleton, and Makai Hall.[4] He immediately removed his trench coat. Harris grabbed his shotgun and walked over to the lower row of computer desks, firing his gun underneath the first desk in the row without looking to see who was under it. The shot killed Steven Curnow, who was hiding underneath. He then shot under the next computer desk, injuring Kacey Ruegsegger.

Harris walked over to the table across from the lower computer row, slapped the top twice with his hand, knelt down, and said "peek-a-boo" before shooting Cassie Bernall in the head. The recoil from the weapon hit his face, breaking his nose. Although one witness reported that Bernall was the individual who was asked "Do you believe in God?", the exchange actually happened with Klebold and surviving student Valeen Schnurr. Three students who witnessed Bernall's death, including the person who was hiding under the table with her, have testified that Klebold and Bernall did not exchange words.[25] Although some students who were in the library asserted the exchange occurred, none of them physically witnessed it. They may instead have heard the exchange between Klebold and Schnurr, and been misled by news reports attributing the words to Bernall.[26]

Harris turned to the next table; student Bree Pasquale sat next to the table rather than beneath it. She had not hidden underneath, as there was not enough room. Harris asked her if she wanted to die, and Pasquale responded with a plea for her life. Witnesses report that Harris seemed disoriented, possibly from the wound to his face, which was bleeding heavily. As Harris taunted Pasquale, Patrick Ireland tried to aid Makai Hall, who had suffered a wound to his knee. While doing so, his head came above the table. Klebold shot him, hitting him twice in the head and once in the foot.[4] He was knocked unconscious, but survived.

Next, Klebold proceeded toward another set of tables, discovering Isaiah Shoels, Matthew Kechter, and Craig Scott, Rachel Scott's brother, hiding under one. All were popular athletes at the school. He attempted to pull Isaiah out from underneath the table, but was unsuccessful. He then called to Harris, who left Bree Pasquale and joined him. Klebold and Harris taunted Shoels for a few seconds and made derogatory racial comments towards him.[4] Harris knelt down and shot him in the chest at close range, killing him. Klebold also knelt down and opened fire, hitting and killing Matthew Kechter. Craig Scott remained uninjured; he lay in the blood of his friends, pretending to be dead.[4] Harris turned and threw a CO2 bomb at the table where Hall, Steepleton, and Ireland were located. The CO2 bomb landed on Daniel Steepleton's thigh. Makai Hall grabbed the bomb and threw it south (away from the shooters).

Harris walked to the bookcases between the west and center section of tables in the library. He jumped on one of the bookcases and shook it, then shot at something in that general area. It is not known what he shot at, since no one could see him at the time. Klebold walked through the main area, past the first set of bookcases, the central desk area, and a second set of bookcases, into the east area. Harris walked past the central area and met up with him there. Klebold shot out a display case next to the door, turned, and shot at the closest table to him, injuring Mark Kintgen. He turned to the table to his left—east—and shot at it, injuring Lisa Kreutz and Val Schnurr with the same bullet. He approached the table and fired again, killing Lauren Townsend.

Meanwhile, Harris went over to another table where two girls were hiding, bent down to look at them, and dismissed them as pathetic.[27] The shooters went over to an empty table and reloaded their weapons. Schnurr, who had been hurt badly, began to cry out at that point, "Oh, God help me!" Klebold went back to her and asked her if she believed in God. She floundered in her answer, saying no and then yes, trying to get the answer "right." He asked her why; she said it was because it was what her family believed. He taunted her, reloaded his shotgun, then walked away. The slightly injured Evan Todd reported that Klebold said "God is gay." This incident eventually led to the Cassie Bernall controversy; Schnurr's exchange with Klebold was incorrectly attributed to Bernall.

Harris moved to another table and shot twice underneath it, injuring Nicole Nowlen and John Tomlin. When Tomlin tried to crawl out, Klebold came around the corner and kicked him.[citation needed] Harris taunted his attempt at escape, and Klebold shot him repeatedly, killing him. Harris walked back over to the other side of the table where Lauren Townsend lay. Behind it, Kelly Fleming, like Bree Pasquale, sat next to the table rather than beneath it. Harris shot her with his shotgun, hitting her in the back, killing her instantly. He continued to shoot at the table behind her, hitting Townsend and Kreutz again, and wounding Jeanna Park. An autopsy later revealed that Townsend had been killed by the first shot.

At 11:37 a.m., the shooters moved to the center of the library, where they continued to reload their weapons at a table midway across the room. Harris noticed a student nearby, and asked him to identify himself. The student was John Savage, an acquaintance of Klebold's. Savage asked Klebold what they were doing, to which Klebold replied, "Oh, just killing people." Savage asked if they were going to kill him. Klebold said "What?" because the fire alarms were going off. Savage asked again if they were going to kill him. Klebold hesitated, and then told him to leave the library. Savage fled immediately, and escaped via the library's main entrance.

After Savage was gone, Harris turned and fired his carbine at the table directly north of where they'd been, hitting Daniel Mauser in the face at close range, killing him. Both shooters moved south from there and fired randomly under another table, critically injuring Jennifer Doyle and Austin Eubanks, and fatally wounding Corey DePooter. DePooter, the last victim of the massacre, was credited with keeping his friends calm during the ordeal.

At this point, several witnesses heard Harris and Klebold comment on how they no longer found a thrill in shooting their victims. Klebold was quoted as having said, "Maybe we should start knifing people, that might be more fun." They had each brought two knives in case it came down to hand-to-hand combat or to do what Klebold suggested. Both shooters moved away from the table and headed toward the library's main counter. Harris threw a Molotov cocktail toward the southwestern end of the library as he went, but it failed to explode. He came around the east side of the counter and Klebold joined him from the west; they converged near where Evan Todd had moved after the copier incident. The shooters made fun of Todd, who was wearing a hat which meant that he was a jock. When the shooters wanted to see his face, he lifted the hat up partway, so they couldn't see it. Klebold asked Todd to give him one reason why he should not kill him, and Todd replied: "I don't want trouble." The shooters continued taunting him and debated killing him, but they eventually walked away. At this point, Harris's nose was bleeding heavily, which may have caused him to decide to leave the library. Klebold turned and fired a shot into an open library staff break room, hitting a small television. He slammed a chair down on top of the computer terminal that was on the library counter, directly above the bureau where Patti Nielson hid.

The two walked out of the library at 11:42 a.m., ending the massacre.

Almost immediately, 34 uninjured and 10 injured students evacuated the room through the north door, which led out to the sidewalk adjacent to the west entrance, where the rampage had begun. Patrick Ireland, who had been knocked unconscious, and Lisa Kreutz, who was unable to move, remained in the building. Patti Nielson joined Brian Anderson and the three library staff in the exterior break room, into which Klebold had earlier fired shots. They locked themselves in and remained there until they were freed, at approximately 3:30 p.m.

Suicide of the shooters

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold caught on the high school's security cameras in the cafeteria shortly before committing suicide

After leaving the library, the pair went into the science area and threw a small fire bomb into an empty storage closet. When the bomb exploded, they ran off while a teacher in the adjacent room put out the fire. They proceeded toward the south hallway, stopped, and shot into an empty science room (SCI-8) at the end of the hall. At approximately 11:44 a.m. they went down the staircase into the cafeteria, where they were recorded by the security cameras.[4] The recording shows Harris kneeling on the landing and firing a shot toward a propane bomb, unsuccessfully attempting to detonate it. He took a sip from one of the drinks left behind by fleeing students, as Klebold approached the propane bomb and examined it. The recording shows Klebold lighting a Molotov cocktail and throwing it at the propane bomb. As the two left the cafeteria, it exploded, partially detonating one of the propane bombs at 11:46 a.m.[28] A gallon of fuel ignited in the same vicinity at 11:48 a.m., causing a fire that was extinguished by the fire sprinklers.[29] They left the cafeteria and headed back upstairs. Once back on the upper level, they wandered around the main north and south hallways of the school, shooting aimlessly. They walked through the south hallway, past the social studies section, and into the main office before returning to the north hallway. Several times they looked through windows on the classroom doors, and even made eye contact with students, but never attempted to enter the rooms. After leaving the main office, the pair went up to a bathroom entrance and began taunting students inside, saying such things as "we know you're in there" and "let's kill anyone we find in here," but they never actually entered the bathroom. At 11:55 a.m., the two returned to the cafeteria and entered the kitchen briefly, only to return back up the staircase and into the south hallway, at 11:58 a.m.

Deaths of the shooters
35. Eric Harris, age 18, committed suicide by a single shot in the mouth.
36. Dylan Klebold, age 17, committed suicide by a single shot to the head.

At 12:02 p.m., the shooters re-entered the library, which was empty of all living students except for the unconscious Patrick Ireland and Lisa Kreutz. Once inside, they shot at police through the west windows again, to no avail. At approximately 12:08 p.m, they moved over to the bookshelves near the table where Patrick Ireland lay; there, they shot themselves, committing suicide. Patrick Ireland regained and lost consciousness several times and crawled over to the windows. At 2:38 p.m., he attempted to exit. He fell out the library window where two SWAT team members were, a scene rebroadcast on many media outlets. As documented by the video footage, the SWAT team members were later criticized for allowing Ireland's body to drop over seven feet to the ground, while doing nothing to attempt to catch him or break his fall. Lisa Kreutz remained injured in the library. In an interview she recalled hearing something like "You in the library" around the time when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were getting ready to commit suicide. She was lying injured in the library until police arrived. Kreutz said that she kept track of time by the school's bells. She had tried to move from the spot, but became light-headed.[4] She was removed, along with Ms. Nielson, Brian Anderson, and the three staff, at 3:22 p.m. .

Shooting ends

Students gather following the Columbine High School massacre, part of the photography for which the Rocky Mountain News won the 2000 Breaking News Photography Pulitzer

By noon, SWAT teams were stationed outside the school, and ambulances started taking the wounded to local hospitals. Meanwhile, families of students and staff at the school were asked to gather at nearby Leawood Elementary School to await information.

A call for additional ammunition for police officers in case of a shootout came at 12:20 p.m. The killers had ceased shooting just minutes earlier. Authorities reported pipe bombs by 1:00 p.m., and two SWAT teams entered the school at 1:09 p.m., moving from classroom to classroom, discovering hidden students and faculty.[4] All students, teachers, and school employees were taken away, questioned, and then offered medical care in small holding areas before being bussed to meet with their family members at Leawood Elementary. Officials found the bodies in the library by 3:30 p.m.[30]

By 4:00 p.m. the sheriff made an initial estimate of 25 dead students and teachers. The estimate was ten over the true count, but close to the total count of wounded students. He stated that police officers were searching the bodies of Harris and Klebold. At 4:30 p.m. the school was declared safe. At 5:30 p.m. additional officers were called in, as more explosives were found in the parking lot and on the roof. By 6:15 p.m., officials had found a bomb in Klebold's car in the parking lot. The sheriff decided to mark the entire school as a crime scene; thirteen of the dead, including the shooters, were still inside the school at the time. At 10:45 p.m. the bomb in the car detonated when an officer tried to defuse it. The car was damaged, but no one was injured.

In the end, twelve students and one teacher were killed; twenty-four other students were injured as a direct result of the massacre. Three more were injured indirectly as they attempted to escape the school. Harris and Klebold are thought to have committed suicide about forty-five minutes after the massacre began.

Immediate aftermath

On April 21 bomb squads combed the high school. 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 Jefferson County 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 already been notified. Throughout the late afternoon and early evening, the bodies were gradually removed from the school and taken to the Jefferson County 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, stating that there were 15 confirmed deaths and 27 injuries related to the massacre.

On April 30 high-ranking officials of Jefferson County and the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office met to decide if they should reveal that Michael Guerra, a Sheriff's Office detective, had drafted an affidavit for a search warrant of Harris's residence a year before the shootings, based on his previous investigation of Harris's website and activities. 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. Their loss was termed "troubling" by a Grand Jury convened after the file's existence was reported in April 2001.[31]

In the months following the shooting, considerable attention was focused on Cassie Bernall, who was reported to have been asked "Do you believe in God?" by one of the shooters, and to have responded "Yes" before being killed. Valeen Schnurr claims that this exchange was with her, and Emily Wyant, the only living witness to Bernall's death, confirms that Bernall did not have this discussion. Bernall and Rachel Scott were regarded as Christian martyrs by Evangelical Christians.[32] The official investigation attributed the statement to survivor Valeen Schnurr.[33] Despite this conclusion, student witness Joshua Lapp maintains that it was Cassie Bernall who was asked about her beliefs and responded "yes" before being shot. However, Lapp was unable to correctly point out the where Bernall was located, and was himself closer to Schnurr during the shootings. Another witness, Craig Scott, whose sister Rachel Scott was also portrayed as a Christian martyr, claimed that the discussion was with Cassie Bernall. When asked to point to where he heard the conversation coming from, he pointed to where Schnurr was shot.

The search for rationale

In the aftermath, a great deal of debate occurred about the killers' motivation and whether anything could have prevented the crime. Unlike some other school shootings, the fact that both shooters committed suicide made this one particularly difficult to assess. Answers were slow in coming. There were no arrests or trial through which the victims could vent their outrage.

Bullying as a rationale

The link between bullying and school violence has attracted increasing attention since the 1999 rampage at Colorado's Columbine High School. Both of the shooters were classified as gifted children and had been victims of bullying for years. A year later, an analysis by officials at the US 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.[34] A similar theory was expounded by Brooks Brown in his book on the massacre; he noted that teachers commonly looked the other way when confronted with bullying.[21]

Psychopathy and depression

In July 1999 the FBI organized a major summit on school shooters in Leesburg, Virginia. Attending were psychologists, psychiatrists, and representatives from recent school shootings, including a large Columbine contingent. Attorney General Janet Reno was in attendance. The FBI eventually published a major report on school shooters, though it steered clear of pinpointing the causes of any individual case.[35]

On the fifth anniversary of Columbine, the FBI's lead Columbine investigator and several psychiatrists went public with their conclusions in a news article.[36] There they argued Harris was a clinical psychopath and Klebold was depressive. They believed the plan was masterminded by Harris, who they thought had a messianic-level superiority complex and hoped to illustrate his massive superiority to the world.

Video games

Jerald Block, a US psychiatrist, has differed with the FBI opinion of psychopathology and depression, arguing that the killers' actions are not well explained by such diagnoses. Rather, he states that Klebold and Harris were immersed in games like Doom, and that their lives were most gratifying while playing in a virtual world.

Both Harris and Klebold were fans of video games such as Doom and Wolfenstein 3D. Harris often created levels for Doom that were widely distributed; these can still be found on the Internet as the Harris levels. Rumors that the layout of these levels resembled that of Columbine High School circulated, but appear to be untrue.[37] Harris spent a great deal of time creating another large mod, named Tier, calling it his "life's work."[38] The mod was uploaded to the Columbine school computer and to AOL shortly before the attack, but appears to have been lost. One researcher argued that it is nearly certain the Tier mod included a mock-up of Columbine High School.[8]

As they got into trouble, the two teenagers started to get their computer access restricted. Jerald Block believes that anger that was being projected into the games was now unleashed into the real world. In addition, the computer restrictions opened up substantial amounts of idle time that would have otherwise gone towards their online activities. They increasingly used that time to express their anger, and their antisocial tendencies likewise increased. This, in turn, generated more restrictions. Finally, after being arrested and banned from their computers for about a month, the two teens became homicidal and began documenting plans to attack the school. Block writes that the plan to attack the school first appears in Klebold's writings, and that Klebold may have considered using a different partner-in-crime than Harris. That person's name was redacted by the police from Klebold's journal.[8]

Some analysts argued that part of the killers' problem may have been desensitization due to their constant exposure to violent imagery in such video games, as well as music and movies, theorizing that their obsession with these forms of media may have led them to depersonalization.[citation needed] American news media compared the massacre to a fantasy sequence from the 1995 film The Basketball Diaries, in which protagonist Leonardo DiCaprio wears a black trench coat and shoots six classmates in his school's hallways.[citation needed] Several unsuccessful lawsuits against video game manufacturers were filed as a result by parents of some of the victims.[39][40] Harris and Klebold were fans of the movie Natural Born Killers, and used the film's acronym, NBK, as a code in their home videos and journals.[8]

Factors explored

Social climate

Social cliques in high schools was a frequent topic of discussion during and after the initial investigations. The concept was that Klebold and Harris were isolated from the rest of their classmates, which prompted feelings of helplessness, insecurity, and depression, as well as a strong need for attention. This has been questioned, as both Harris and Klebold had a close circle of friends and a wider informal social group.[41]

Bullying as a factor

Early stories following the shootings charged that school administrators and teachers at Columbine had long condoned a climate of bullying by the so-called jocks or athletes, allowing an atmosphere of outright intimidation and resentment to fester which, they claimed, could have helped trigger the perpetrators' extreme violence.[42] Reportedly, homophobic remarks were directed at Klebold and Harris.[43]

Goth subculture

In the weeks following the shootings, media reports about the two students portrayed them as part of a Goth cult; an increase in suspicions of Goth subculture was manifest after the shootings.[44] Harris and Klebold were thought to be part of an informal school club called "The Trenchcoat Mafia." Later, such characterizations were considered incorrect.[45]


Blame for the shootings was directed on a number of metal or 'dark music' bands such as KMFDM and Rammstein.[46] The majority of that blame was directed at Marilyn Manson and his eponymous band.[47][48] After being linked by news outlets and pundits with sensationalist headlines such as "Killers Worshipped Rock Freak Manson" and "Devil-Worshipping Maniac Told Kids To Kill,"[49][50] many came to believe that Manson's music and imagery were, indeed, Harris and Klebold's sole motivation,[51] despite later reports that the two were not fans.[52][53]

In the immediate aftermath, the band canceled the remaining North American dates of their Rock is Dead Tour out of respect for the victims, while steadfastly maintaining that music, movies, books or video games were not to blame. Manson stated:[54][55][56][57]

The [news] media has unfairly scapegoated the music industry and so-called Goth kids and has speculated, with no basis in truth, that artists like myself are in some way to blame. This tragedy was a product of ignorance, hatred and an access to guns. I hope the [news] media's irresponsible finger-pointing doesn't create more discrimination against kids who look different.[54]

On May 1, 1999, the embattled musician expanded his rebuttal to the accusations leveled at him and his band in his Rolling Stone magazine op-ed piece, "Columbine: Whose Fault Is It?" He castigated the ensuing hysteria and moral panic and what he saw as the irresponsibly-handled news media coverage; he chastized America's habit of hanging blame on scapegoats to escape responsibility.[58][59][60] Columbine and America's fixation on a culture of guns, blame, and 'celebrity by death' was further explored in the group's 2000 album Holy Wood.

In 2002 Manson appeared in Michael Moore's documentary, Bowling for Columbine; his appearance was filmed during the band's first show in Denver since the shooting. When Moore asked what he would have said to the students at Columbine, he replied, "I wouldn't say a single word. I would listen to what they have to say, and that's what no one did."[61]

Sascha Konietzko of KMFDM released a statement stating their music denounced "war, oppression, fascism and violence against others."[46]

Choice of date

Due to ambiguities in the written record of their planning, many theories still exist about the choice of date for the shootings. One theory states that the original date chosen was April 19, because it was a date on which Robyn Anderson, one of the people who purchased the guns and a close friend of Klebold, would not be present.[citation needed] Due to delays in manufacturing the propane bombs and in acquiring ammunition, the date was moved to April 20. The date of the shooting coincided with Adolf Hitler's birthday, leading to some speculation that the two were Neo-Nazis.[46] It was also one day after the anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing and the immolation of the Branch Davidians in Waco, further strengthening another theory that the original intended date was set for April 19; both shooters mentioned in videos that they had hoped to outdo these events. It is believed that the shootings were perhaps plotted for these days because of their proximity to the end of the year activities.[citation needed]

Impact on school policies

Secret Service report on school shootings

A US Secret Service study concluded that schools were placing false hope in physical security, when they should be paying more attention to the pre-attack behaviors of students. Zero-tolerance policies and metal detectors "are unlikely to be helpful," the Secret Service researchers found. The researchers focused on questions concerning the reliance on SWAT teams when most attacks are over before police arrive, profiling of students who show warning signs in the absence of a definitive profile, expulsion of students for minor infractions when expulsion is the spark that push some to return to school with a gun, buying software not based on school shooting studies to evaluate threats although killers rarely make direct threats, and reliance on metal detectors and police officers in schools when the shooters often make no effort to conceal their weapons.[62]

In May 2002 the Secret Service published a report that examined 37 US school shootings. They had the following findings:

  • Incidents of targeted violence at school were rarely sudden, impulsive acts.
  • Prior to most incidents, other people knew about the attacker’s idea and/or plan to attack.
  • Most attackers did not threaten their targets directly prior to advancing the attack.
  • There is no accurate or useful profile of students who engaged in targeted school violence.
  • Most attackers engaged in some behavior prior to the incident that caused others concern or indicated a need for help.
  • Most attackers had difficulty coping with significant losses or personal failures. Moreover, many had considered or attempted suicide.
  • Many attackers felt bullied, persecuted, or injured by others prior to the attack.
  • Most attackers had access to and had used weapons prior to the attack.
  • In many cases, other students were involved in some capacity.
  • Despite prompt law enforcement responses, most shooting incidents were stopped by means other than law enforcement intervention.[63]

School security

Following the Columbine shooting, schools across the United States instituted new security measures such as see-through backpacks, metal detectors, and security guards. Some schools implemented school door numbering to improve public safety response. Several schools throughout the country resorted to requiring students to wear computer-generated IDs.[64] At the same time, police departments reassessed their tactics and now train for Columbine-like situations after criticism over the slow response and progress of the SWAT teams during the shooting.[65]

Anti-bullying policies

In response to concerns over the causes of Columbine and other school massacres, some schools instituted new anti-bullying policies as well as zero tolerance approaches to weapons and threatening behavior.[66] Despite the nature of the Columbine incident, some social science experts feel the zero tolerance in schools has gone overboard.[67]

Long-term results

Police tactics

One significant change to police tactics following Columbine is the introduction of the Immediate Action Rapid Deployment tactic, used in situations with an active shooter. Police followed the traditional tactic at Columbine: surround the building, set up a perimeter, contain the damage. That approach has been replaced by a tactic which takes into account the presence of an active shooter whose interest is to kill, not to take hostages. 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.[68] 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. David Cullen, author of the 2009 book Columbine, said that, "The active protocol has proved successful at numerous shootings during the past decade. At Virginia Tech alone, it probably saved dozens of lives."[69]

Gun control

The HOPE Columbine Memorial Library that replaced the library where most of the massacre unfolded

The shooting resulted in calls for more gun control measures. In 2000 federal and state legislations were 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 amongst the gun lobby over further restrictions on Second Amendment rights in the US.[70][71] And in 2001, K-Mart, which sold the bullets to the shooters, announced it would no longer sell handgun ammunition—that action was encouraged by and documented in Michael Moore's film "Bowling for Columbine."


In 2000 youth advocate Melissa Helmbrecht organized a remembrance event in Denver featuring two surviving students, called the "Day of Hope."[72][73]

A permanent memorial "to honor and remember the victims of the April 20, 1999 shootings at Columbine High School" was dedicated on September 21, 2007, in Clement Park, a meadow adjacent to the school where impromptu memorials were held in the days following the shooting. The memorial fund raised $1.5 million in donations over eight years of planning.[74]

The Columbine memorial

Becoming part of the vernacular

Since the shooting, "Columbine" or "the Columbine incident" has become a euphemism for a school shooting. 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. Many foiled school shooting plots mentioned Columbine and the desire to "outdo Harris and Klebold."[75] 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.[76]

Seung-Hui Cho, the shooter in the Virginia Tech massacre, mentioned "martyrs like Eric and Dylan," apparently referring to Columbine High School gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.[77]

See also



  1. ^ Janelle Brown (April 23, 1999). "Doom, Quake and mass murder". Retrieved August 24, 2008. 
  2. ^ "Lessons from Littleton (Part I)" (in English). Independent School. National Association of Independent Schools. Retrieved August 24, 2008. 
  3. ^ "JonKatz" (April 26, 1999). "Voices From The Hellmouth". Slashdot. Retrieved August 24, 2008. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z "Columbine". The Final Report. No. 9, season 1.
  5. ^ Harris, Eric. "Columbine shooter Eric Harris's webpages". a Columbine site. Retrieved August 24, 2008. 
  6. ^ The existence of the affidavit was concealed by Jefferson County and not revealed to the public until September 2001, as the direct result of an investigation by the television show 60 Minutes. After the release of the affidavit, a series of grand jury investigations were launched into the cover-up activities of Jefferson County officials. The investigation revealed that high-ranking officials of Jefferson County had come together a few days after the massacre to discuss the release of the affidavit to the public. It was decided that because the affidavit's contents lacked the necessary probable cause to have supported the issuance of a search warrant for the Harris household by a judge, it would be best not to disclose the affidavit's existence at an upcoming press conference, although the actual conversations and points of discussion were never revealed to anyone other than the Grand Jury members. Following the press conference, the original Guerra documents disappeared. In September 1999, a Jefferson County 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 Jefferson County archives. The documents were reconstructed and released to the public in September 2001, but the original documents are still missing. The final grand jury investigation was released in September 2004.
  7. ^ Release of juvenile records The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
  8. ^ a b c d Jerald Block. Lessons From Columbine: Virtual and Real Rage[dead link]PDF American Journal of Forensic Psychiatry. July 2007.
  9. ^ a b Toppo, Greg (April 14, 2009). "10 years later, the real story behind Columbine". USA Today. Retrieved April 14, 2009. 
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  15. ^ Analysis of journals and videos (April 20, 2004) Slate.
  16. ^ Columbine killers planned to kill 500 (April 27, 1999).
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  30. ^ Details of the Shooting – In-depth report[dead link].
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  34. ^ Boodman, Sandra G. (May 16, 2006). "Gifted and Tormented". The Washington Post. 
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  66. ^ Students tell of bullying at Columbine High. (October 3, 2000)
  67. ^ Five years after Columbine – is zero tolerance working?
  68. ^ Garrett, Ronnie. "Marching to the Sound of Gunshots: Virginia Tech Incident Puts Emphasis on Active Shooter Response." Law Enforcement Technology. Vol. 34, No. 6, June 2007, pp. 54–63.
  69. ^ Cullen, David (April 16, 2009). "The Four Most Important Lessons of Columbine". Slate. 
  70. ^ Clinton pushes Congress to pass new gun control legislation (via Internet Archive). (March 7, 2000) Retrieved August 22, 2005.
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Further reading

  • Altheide, David L. "The Columbine Shootings and the Discourse of Fear," American Behavioral Scientist, 52 (June 2009), 1354–70.
  • Elliot Aronson: Nobody Left to Hate. Teaching Compassion After Columbine. First Owl Books 2001. ISBN 978-0-8050-7099-6.
  • Kass, Jeff. Columbine: A True Crime Story. Ghost Road Press 2009. ISBN 978-0-9816525-6-6.

External links

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