Teenage terrorists:

The Columbine High School Massacre

Shortly after midday on Tuesday April 20 1999 the American teenager Eric Harris was standing in his school library. It was quiet now, too quiet perhaps. The police were everywhere, although they were nowhere to be seen. Eric raised his gun and shot his best friend Dylan Klebold. Then he put the warm barrel into his mouth, momentarily tasted the smoke, pulled the trigger, and literally blew his brains out. Harris’ suicide brought an end to the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado that had caused the deaths of 12 other students and a teacher and left another 22 people wounded.

Harris and his friend (nicknamed ‘Vodka’ or ‘V’) had been planning the event for the previous year. It was going to be big. The world was going to hear about it. In his journal in April 1998 Harris had written,

"Sometime in April [1999] me and V will get revenge and will kick natural selection up a few notches. If we have figured out the art of time bombs beforehand, we will set hundreds of them around houses, roads, bridges, buildings and gas stations, anything that will cause damage and chaos...It'll be like the LA riots, the Oklahoma bombing, WWII, Vietnam, Duke [Nukem] and Doom all mixed together...I want to leave a lasting impression on the world."

They started to teach themselves how to make bombs using information they found on the internet, and later they persuaded friends who were over the age of 18 to buy guns and ammunition for them. Preparations were meticulous, and although the two were careful to keep details of the plot for the school a secret, their general intentions were clear. Harris had his own personal website to keep the world informed about how the NBK (Natural Born Killers) were doing, what they were learning (bombmaking, for instance), how they felt about the world (in a word: contempt), and who they had in their sights.

On the morning of the massacre the two boys drove separately into the two school carparks, each with a view of the school canteen. Both had decided to wear black, Klebold with a T-shirt bearing the word “Wrath” and Harris with a T-shirt saying “Natural Selection”. They calmly walked into the school canteen, left two strategically positioned bags and then walked back to their cars. The bags contained propane gas canisters wired to a timing device. If the bombs had gone off they would have completely destroyed the canteen and brought down the library on the first floor just above it, killing over 600 people.

The plan had been to watch the carnage from their cars and then begin gunning down fleeing survivors. An explosive third act would follow, when their cars, packed with bombs, would rip through the crowds around the school, by which time the TV crews would have arrived to capture the climax on film as the two boys added as many as possible to the death toll before blowing themselves up. Their vision was to create a spectacle so devastating and apocalyptic that people across the world would shudder.

the two boys in the school cafe

In the school cafeteria

When the bombs failed to detonate the two decided to walk back into the school and start shooting, which they did, picking people out mostly at random. As they walked towards the canteen they shot a total of 12 people. They then made their way up to the library where they shot a further 22. One girl, crouching beneath a desk in the library, is reported to have been asked by Harris if she believed in God. She answered “Yes” and was then shot in the head.

After the 34th victim fell, survivors report hearing Harris and Klebold comment on how they no longer found a thrill in shooting their victims. Harris was quoted to have said "Maybe we should start knifing people, that might be more fun." Instead, though they walked back down toward the now empty canteen, throwing pipe bombs, a molotov cocktail, smashing a chair over a computer and taunting pupils and teachers hiding in classrooms. Back in the canteen they tried to detonate the propane bombs but without success. Harris then took a sip from one of the drinks left behind by fleeing students before the two of them went back up into the library again where, some 45 minutes after the shooting had started, they commited suicide.

In the aftermath of the shooting people were quick to put the blame on a variety of factors: bullying at school, movies, music and violent video games such as “Doom”, which Harris had particularly enjoyed playing. Those commenting in the press tended to come to one of two conclusions: either that the pair were taking revenge against the bullies who had made school miserable for them, or, that the massacre was simply inexplicable. But the truth lay elsewhere. It came to light with the publication of a report by two psychologists who were employed by the FBI and who were given privileged access to the boys’ private journals – journals which had been seized by the police and which were never fully released to the public.

The psychologists conclude that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were radically different individuals, with vastly different motives and opposite mental conditions. Klebold was easier to comprehend, a more familiar type. He was hotheaded, but depressive and suicidal. He blamed himself for his problems. Harris was different. He was sweet-faced and well-spoken. Adults, and even some other kids, described him as "nice." But Harris was cold, calculating, and homicidal. "Klebold was hurting inside while Harris wanted to hurt people." Harris was not merely a troubled kid, the psychologists say, he was a psychopath.

"Psychopaths are not disoriented or out of touch with reality, nor do they experience the delusions, hallucinations, or intense subjective distress that characterize most other mental disorders," writes Dr. Robert Hare. They are motivated by contempt – an emotion clear in Harris’ journal entries. For instance:

People who use the same word over and over again! . . . Read a f*ckin book or two, increase your vo-cab-u-lary you f*cking idiots."
STUPID PEOPLE!!! Why must so many people be so stupid!!? . . .
When people mispronounce words! and they dont even know it, like eXspreso, or pacific (specific). Learn to speak correctly you morons.

These are not the rantings of an angry young man who simply wants to get back at people who had bullied him. They exhibit a much more general disgust - a disgust which is the flipside of a huge superiority complex. In his journal, Harris wrote about all the morons he saw around him. "I am higher than you people," he wrote. "If you disagreed, I would shoot you... Some people go through life begging to be shot."

Harris had felt estranged from the social life of his peers. He hadn’t made it onto any of the popular sports teams. (When they first entered the library during the massacre they shouted for all those wearing white caps to stand up – white caps being worn only by the school athletes. When noone stood up, victims were chosen at random.) Although the two boys did have a circle of friends, neither of them had “made it” in the mainstream social life of the school and the neighbourhood. Harris transformed this sense of his estrangement from his classmates into a smug sense of superiority, which he regarded as both a blessing and a curse:

"I hate this fucking world...You may be saying, 'Well, what makes you so different?' Because I have something only me and V have, SELF AWARENESS...We know what we are to this world and what everyone else is...We know what you think and how you act...This isn't a world any more, it's H.O.E." (Hell on Earth)

Another feature of the psychopath displayed by Harris is the pleasure taken in lying and deceiving others. "I lie a lot," Eric wrote in his journal. "Almost constantly, and to everybody, just to keep my own ass out of the water.” Prior to the massacre he had been put on a special juvenile programme after stealing some computer equipment from a van. He delighted in being able to easily deceive people that he felt remorse for what he had done - remorse that enabled him to be released from the programme early. As part of the rehabilitation programme he wrote a letter to his victim offering empathy, rather than just apologies. It was packed with statements like, “Jeez, I understand now how you feel and I understand what this did to you."

"But he wrote that strictly for effect," the psychologist obseved. "That was complete manipulation.” At almost the exact same time, he wrote down his real feelings in his journal: “Isn't America supposed to be the land of the free? How come, if I'm free, I can't deprive a stupid f---ing dumbshit of his possessions if he leaves them on the front seat of his f---ing van out in plain sight and in the middle of f---ing nowhere on a f---ing friday night. NATURAL SELECTION. The f---er should be shot. "

Like other psychopaths, Harris was unable to feel any genuine empathy for others. In his journal he described in graphic detail how he would stab certain victims and rip their insides out. He imagined that he and Klebold would "take our sweet time just torturing the hell out of them," he wrote. On the day of the massacre he taunted some of the pupils before shooting them at point blank range. When one of the boys whom he had shot in the chest tried to crawl to safety, he went over and shot him in the face to finish him off. No one with any empathy could come to the conclusion that Harris had come to in his journal: When you came right down to it, everybody deserved to die, except maybe ten people: "If I could nuke the world, I would."

Harris had been particularly unsuccessful with girls. In the months leading up to the shooting he had desperately been trying to “get laid”, with no success whatsoever. He had managed to deceive the police about his true intentions, but he never managed to do the same with girls. Right from the start, Harris’ dreams of sexual conquest had been unbelievably violent. He never dreamed of romance. He dreamed of tricking a girl into thinking he loved her, getting her back to his room, closing the door, locking it and raping her.

Although sexual frustration and disappointments with girls comes way down on the list of factors explaining Harris’ behaviour, it is curious that this is the subject of the last entry in his journal two weeks before the attack:

"Right now I'm trying to get laid and to finish off these time bombs... Why the fuck can't I get any? I mean, I'm nice and considerate and all that shit, but nooooo.... Everything I see and hear feels like a goddamn movie sometimes...
"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 number, and I asked and all, but no no no no no don't let the weird looking Eric kid come along, oooh fucking nooo."

That is how the journal ends -- not with the proud howl of Judge Dread, but the whine of the pathetic geek who can't get a girl, and who decides everybody deserves to die.