The Columbine Massacre held the attention of the world media for some time, why was it so interesting that it was at the forefront of the world’s minds for so long?
The answer to this is quite simple. It was the worst school shooting in American history in terms of casualties.
The more important question is what drove the boys to slaughter their fellow classmates?
As the pair turned their guns on themselves, this is a question which can only be answered with speculation and conjecture.
Is there a clue in the pairs past and were there indicators which were missed by the authorities?
Let’s dig deep and see what can be found…
A brief History of the killers.
Dylan Klebold was born and raised in the Denver area of Colorado, Eric Harris was the son of a former US Air Force Officer. Eric had been moved around due to his father’s job, the two teens had eventually met at school in 1993 when Eric’s family finally settled in Littleton.
When the boys started at the local High school they had difficulty settling in, they were often picked on by other students. Evidence has been found which suggests that Dylan had suicidal thoughts in 1997 and that both boys were thinking about a large scale massacre in April 1998, a full year before their thoughts became gruesome reality.
In January 1998 the pair were arrested for breaking in to a van and agreed to a ‘Juvenile Diversion Programme’ as a part of their plea bargain. This meant that after 11 months on the programme their records would be wiped clean.
The two teens were clearly very angry at the world and especially those who made their lives unhappy at school. The extent of this was shown in their yearbooks, where they both wrote messages referencing mass killing. One drew a picture of a man holding a gun, surrounded by dead bodies with the words ‘The only reason you are still alive is because someone has decided not to kill you’. It has also been revealed that similar scenarios had been portrayed in fictional writing as a part of their school work.
Planning the Attack.
It could be said that the pair were planning the attack before they were arrested, is this why they agreed to the plea bargain? This would give them a clean record and avoid any suspicion when purchasing guns and weapons.
It is unclear where the boys purchased the guns but it is likely that they were private sales or possibly from gun shows. This would have been the easiest way for the pair to build their arsenal without drawing the attention of the authorities.
Dylan and Eric also turned to the internet for inspiration and instructions on how to make pipe bombs to add to their arsenal of weapons for the fateful day. Their plan was so meticulous that they studied the movements of students within the cafeteria to find the ideal time to strike for maximum casualties.
The original plan was to plant an explosive device in the cafeteria just before the lunchtime rush and trigger it when the room was full of students. They planned to wait outside in the car park, ready to shoot any students who fled the building.
The day itself.
The day of the attack happened to be 20th April, the anniversary of the birthday of Adolf Hitler, there has been some speculation as to whether this was deliberate or not. Personally I think it probably was, is there a better day to carry out plans like these?
The two boys skipped school in the morning, this was unusual behaviour for them and didn’t go unnoticed by staff or fellow students. When they eventually arrived at Columbine High School it was to plant the propane bomb in the cafeteria. The bag containing the bomb blended perfectly with the other bags belonging to students and the boys then returned to their cars to wait.
Fate saw to it that the casualty figures were considerably lower than the boys had planned when the propane bomb failed to detonate. Experts have said that, had the bomb exploded, most if not all of the 488 students in the cafeteria would probably have died.
Dylan and Eric had to go to plan B, they were going in to the school building.
Wearing black trench coats to hide the weapons they made their way towards the cafeteria and fired the first shots at students sitting outside.
Because of the time of year, most of the students who heard the gunfire thought it was a traditional ‘senior prank’ and students in the cafeteria crowded the windows to see what was going on. It was a popular member of staff who first realized that the students were in real danger and gave the order for the cafeteria to be evacuated, those who didn’t make it out were told to get under the tables and hide. This saved many lives as the cafeteria now looked empty from the door. By the time the pair entered the building at 11.25 there was one fatality and several injuries.
The pair made their way to the library, laughing and shooting anyone they came across on the way. A member of staff in the library had heard what was happening and made a harrowing call to the emergency services. The boys returned to the entrance near the cafeteria, was the high volume of students expected to be in the cafeteria the reason for this?
As the two made their way back towards the cafeteria they came across the staff member who had earlier ordered the evacuation, as with everyone else they had seen in the halls he was shot. Dylan and Eric kept walking towards the cafeteria as the teacher was dragged in to a classroom where others were hiding, bleeding heavily from his wounds the heroic member of staff later died.
When the two boys reached the cafeteria they threw pipe bombs inside, there were 52 students and 4 members of staff still in the room.
It was 11.29 that the teens first entered the library and this was where most of the casualties occurred. The students were huddled together under the tables which made for quite easy targets, and the first floor elevation also gave the boys an opportunity to shoot at the police outside the school.
Among the students in the library was someone that the pair knew. Despite their hatred and lust for killing they let this friend leave the school unharmed. The boys were in the library for only seven and a half minutes but left 10 students’ dead and 12 injured.
At 11.44 the pair finally entered the cafeteria, throwing pipe bombs at the main propane bomb, attempting to make it explode. The small fires caused the sprinkler system to engage and the two returned to the halls. They threw pipe bombs as they walked and at 12 noon they went back upstairs.
Returning to the library, the boys continued shooting at the police from the windows until they eventually turned the guns on themselves about 45 minutes after their first shots were fired.
In those 45 minutes Dylan and Eric had shot 36 people resulting in 15 deaths (including themselves) and 21 injuries.
The role of the media.
As you would expect, the media coverage of the Columbine High School massacre was vast.
News crews were quick to get to the scene and capture the final moments of the siege and the immediate aftermath.
Now, I know that the media have a job to do and it is an important one. I believe that people should know what is happening around them. I also believe that the media imposing itself on a situation like Columbine High School is (somewhat) morally wrong.
I don’t understand how the media can expect to get a clear understanding of what has happened when emotions are still running high. The truth is often that this is not their first agenda, their number one priority is to increase their viewers and readers. The sad fact is that sensationalism sells more than cold hard facts.
This sensationalist media coverage leads to misrepresentation and getting facts wrong, although this may be unintentional. An example of this is when it was reported that the boys were a part of the trench coat mafia, a group of kids who known to dress in trench coats and had an air of darkness about them. Every news report that I have seen in relation to Columbine High School made a point of saying that the shooters were wearing long black trench coats. It was later proved that the two were not a part of the trench coat mafia but simply wore the coats to hide the weapons. This had already led to allegations that the pair were influenced by shock rocker Marilyn Manson.
The influence of popular culture.
I am well aware that Marilyn Manson is not generally considered ‘popular culture’ but it is not just about him. The music and film industries often come under fire when these incidents occur.
When the news of the shooting broke, Marilyn Manson was out of the country on tour. There was little or no response from him with regard to the allegations. What he did do was write a song, before I go into the lyrical content of the song there is something you need to know about Marilyn Manson and his music.
Marilyn Manson is an artist, his chosen medium is music. Unlike most other artists in this industry he speaks and sings about the things that matter to his audience. He is the voice of teens all over the world who are going through tough times, are confused about religion, politics and life in general. Marilyn Manson pushes the boundaries of what is considered acceptable and he does it very well with music that encourages people to think for themselves in a world where this is not considered acceptable.
When he wrote The Nobodies it was not intended to be a tribute to the victims, it was more about Dylan and Eric and what may have driven them to do what they did. It also cleverly attacks the media response and their quest for ratings.
The media also inadvertently increased the popularity of Marilyn Manson. With the publicity around the massacre and the link to Manson’s’ music there were a lot of people curiously trying to figure out the connection. Of course there wasn’t one.
During an interview for Michael Moore’s ‘Bowling for Columbine’ Manson spoke about the authorities needing someone to blame and stated that he was then made a scapegoat so that they do not have to look at the Government who allow the guns to be on the streets. When he was asked what he would say to Dylan and Eric if he had the chance, Marilyn Manson’s answer was that he would say nothing but listen to what they have to say as that is what had clearly not happened.
It seems clear now that there were no outside influences when it comes to Dylan and Eric, not even those who had bullied the pair at school and others who had allowed it to happen.In the course of the FBI investigation, psychological profiling has determine that Klebold was depressive while Harris was a psychopath. It has been suggested that, had Columbine not happened, Harris would have caused similar (or worse) carnage in the future.
Having stricter gun control laws would probably not have stopped Harris and Kebold from carrying out their plan, but if they hadn’t had the weapons the death count might have been considerably lower. Is the Columbine High School massacre a case for stricter gun laws? Maybe. There is also the possibility that it would have happened anyway.
There are many conspiracy theories surrounding the Columbine High School shootings but I am not going in to that now. I will be looking at the conspiracy theories connected to all three featured shootings at the end of the series.
Next time I will be digging deep into the Sandy Hook shootings, until then….
By Emma Pollard.