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Probable Causes for the Violent Massacre We Know As Columbine
Imagine you are sitting in a high school cafeteria, eating your lunch. You are talking with your friends and relaxing before your next class, like every other day. You hear a strange sound in the hallway- like a popping noise-but do not think much of it. This is a high school after all. Suddenly you hear several more popping noises and they sound much closer. As you begin to register what those noises really are, two boys, a grade ahead of you, walk into the cafeteria, wielding guns and begin firing at random. Sound scary? That’s almost exactly what happened on April 20, 1999, in Littleton, Colorado, at Columbine High School. Two boys, in their senior year at Columbine, planned and launched a violent massacre on their fellow students. There are many possible reasons for why the boys did what they did, but the most suspected reason
is and the ways the two were treated by their peers.
On April 20, 1999, Littleton, Colorado experienced the worst school rampage in seventy years (“The Columbine Tragedy, April 20, 1999”). Just seventeen days before they were to graduate, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold launched a violent attack on their high school. By looking through their journals, we can see that Harris and Klebold had been planning this for roughly a year in advance. They had every detail of, as they dubbed it, “Judgment Day” planned, to the minute.
“5:00- Get up
6:00- meet at KS
7:00- Go to Reb’s house
7:15- He goes to fill propane, I go to fill gas
8:30- meet at his house
9:00-make duffel bags, set up car
9:30- practice gear ups, chill
10:30- set up things
11:00-go to school
11:10- set up duffel bags
11:16- HAHAHA” – taken from Harris’s planner (Hasaday 18-19).
The duffel bags, referred to above, were stuffed full of pipe bombs set to blow at 11:15am. Harris and Klebold planted the bags in the cafeteria, among the other student’s bags, then walked out and positioned themselves outside the cafeteria doors. They planned to kill all those who were trying to escape the blast. Luckily (or maybe not), the bombs failed. At 11:17am, Harris and Klebold opened fire on unsuspecting, and completely shocked classmates.
Harris and Klebold entered the cafeteria and began firing randomly. They proceeded to the outdoors from there, shooting eight people and killing two- Rachel Scott and Daniel Rohrbough (“The Columbine Tragedy, April 20, 1999”). Inside, teacher Dave Sanders was trying to help students escape. In the process, he was shot by Harris and later died from his injuries (Hasaday 18). Harris and Klebold then proceeded to the library, where the brunt of the killing occurred. Upon entering the library, they told all the jocks to stand up, that they were going to kill them all. According to the article, “The Columbine Tragedy, April 20, 1999”, Aaron Cohn’s life was saved by a girl clinging to his back, covering the logo on his baseball jersey. By the time they had finished in the library, Harris and Klebold had killed eight people-Cassie Bernall, Corey DePooter, Matthew Kechter, Daniel Mauser, John Tomlin, Lauren Townsend, Isiahah Shoels, and Kyle Velasquez (“The Columbine Tragedy, April 20, 1999”). For the next half an hour, the boys shot at police, fleeing students, and faculty. Finally, somewhere between 12:30 and 12:35pm, Harris and Klebold took their own lives.
Dylan Bennet Klebold was born September 9, 1981, in Denver, Colorado. He had one brother, Byron, who was three years older than him. His father was a geophysicist and his mother was a guidance counselor who worked with handicapped people. As a youngster, Klebold played Little League Baseball and joined Boy Scouts (Hasaday 14). In second grade, he transferred to Governor’s Ranch Elementary School, where he was placed in a program for gifted and talented children (Hasaday 14). Klebold spent his middle school years at Ken Caryl Middle School, where he met Eric Harris.
Eric David Harris was born April 9, 1981, in Wichita, Kansas. He had one older brother, Kevin, who was three years older than him- the same age as Klebold’s brother, Byron. Harris’s father was an officer in the United States Air Force, so, for the first twelve years of his life, he moved from air base to air base, all over the states. He often expressed that moving that moving all the time was difficult. He had a hard time fitting in and making new friends in each new place (Hasaday 12). Finally, in 1993, when Harris was in sixth grade, the family settled in Littleton, Colorado. Harris attended Ken Caryl Middle School as well, where he met Dylan Klebold (Hasaday 13). The two had common friends in middle school (Brooks Brown and Nate Dykeman), but in high school, the two became best friends.
Harris and Klebold had many common interests, such as video production and computers. They helped to maintain their schools online news network and Klebold had even built his own home computer (Hasaday 15). According to Judy Hasaday, they also shared a common interest in something rather unusual- Nazi culture. They were known to shout the Nazi salute to each other and fellow students say the boys found it, “intriguing” (15). When the two got jobs, they worked together at Blackjacks, tossing pizzas. Often times, when business was slow, the boys would buy dry ice from the nearby party store and make bombs behind the store. Harris was even fired once, because he and Klebold created a fire in one of the dumpsters, so big the fire department had to be called. He was rehired later on though, when the store needed employees (Hasaday 16). At Blackjacks, the boys were also connected with fellow employee, Chris Morris. Morris was rumored to be a member of the trench coat mafia- the name given to a group of misfits at Columbine, who regularly donned long black trench-coats. Soon enough, Harris and Klebold did as well (Hasaday 15). Most people feel that these things alone should have warned the parents of Harris and Klebold, that they were very troubled teens. But their parents thought their children were acting out in a stage of teen rebellion and didn’t think much of it. Even as Harris and Klebold spent hours in Harris’s garage, making pipe bombs and Molotov Cocktails, their parents did nothing (Hasaday 17). In December of their senior year, they attended a gun show with older friend, Robyn Anderson, who bought them three guns. One month later, they illegally bought a TEC-DC9 semi- automatic pistol from Mark Manes (Hasaday 16-17) Harris and Klebold now had everything they needed to launch their violent attack. The only question left is, why?
There are many possible causes for Harris and Klebold did what they did. It could have been anything, from violent music lyrics to gun control; from immaturity in the brain to just the way they were raised. It could even be something as simple as a person’s gender. All of the school shootings in the past fifteen years have involved a male gunman (Hunnicutt 56). Experts say that this is probably because most boys are raised to believe, that if they show emotion, they aren’t tough, and therefore, not real men. They are taught to solve their problems with others by fighting back and using violence, not words. They are not taught that there are better solutions. In some cases, when the boys are abused and decide to fight back, they blow things way out of proportion, because the prefrontal cortex of the brain is not fully developed. As the prefrontal cortex of the brain is the part of the brain that helps to determine right from wrong, children who have been abused by peers may not realize that violence is not the answer (Egendorf 47). Their way of fighting back could be very wrong, and they don’t even realize it. A way of bolstering the violent ideas abused children have is violent music lyrics. Harris and Klebold were fans of many violent songs, such as Marilyn Manson’s “Irresponsible Hate Anthem.”
“Hey victim, should I black your eyes again?
Hey victim, you were the one who put the stick in my hand
I am the ism, my hate's a prism
let's jut kill everyone and let your god sort them out”
–taken from Manson’s “Irresponsible Hate Anthem” (Orr 45).
This song just helps to allow children who have been abused and want revenge, like Harris and Klebold, to think it is okay to hurt people.
A third possible reason that Harris and Klebold went on their rampage was the video games they played and the violent movies they watched, though on this point, many people disagree. There is one point that almost all who have weighed in on the topic agree on, though. Violence is a common theme in many television shows, computer games, video games, movies, and other forms of entertainment. Some say that viewing these repeated acts of violence makes children hardened against it-“desensitized to what they are viewing” (Orr 42). While many adults believe this to be true, many teenagers say that the video games are “stress relievers” or “therapy” (Orr 48-49). According to a fellow student of Harris and Klebold’s, this is correct.
“I have played the game Doom that they’re saying Eric and Dylan constantly played.
And I don’t think it was that game. I’d go to school and there would be people that would so royally piss me off and I’d just go home and I’d sit on that game for hours, just taking out my stress on it. And the next day I’d be perfectly fine. That’s the way I’d get rid of my stress instead of going out and killing real people…I know this sounds weird, but some violent video games are therapy for kids.”
–Meg Hains, seventeen year old student at Columbine (Orr 49).
Another possible cause for the horrible attack on Columbine is drug problems. If these boys were really as depressed as their journals tell us, they were most likely on anti-depressants. We know for a fact that Harris, at least, was on Luvox, an anti-depressant related to Prozac (Orr 51). Some people believe that Harris, at least would not have ever gone on the rampage without this anti-depressant. Mark Taylor, one of Harris and Klebold’s surviving victims, actually filed a lawsuit against Luvox, because he thought that Luvox was the reason Harris, at least, went on the rampage (Hunnicutt 46). One may assume that just the fact that Harris was on an anti-depressant should have given his parents an extra reason to watch what he did more carefully and protect him a little more. As far as anyone knows, though, they didn’t. They just assumed he was being a teenager and hoped he would grow out of it. Maybe they just didn’t want to look too closely because they were afraid of what they would find. Who knows?
Would more family involvement in Harris and Klebold’s lives have stopped them? Thirty one percent of people agree, that yes, it would. More parental involvement and responsibility could have prevented many of the school shootings in the past decade (Orr 50). In the case of Harris and Klebold, though, people are left to wonder. The boys were both members of the middle or even wealthy class. Klebold even drove a BMW (“The Columbine Tragedy, April 20, 1999”). The two came from good, stable families as well. Klebold’s mother says, “Dylan didn’t do this because of the way he was raised, he did this in spite of the way he was raised” (Orr 53).
A sixth possible way that Harris and Klebold may have been able to commit the massacre on their high school was easy access to weapons. If children are abused by peers for years, and have an easy way to get weapons, the temptation may be too great to resist (Egendorf 33). Harris and Klebold would have easily fit into this category. In their senior year at Columbine, they attended a gun show with their friend, Robyn Anderson. Anderson acted as a middle man at the gun show, buying guns for Harris and Klebold, because they were not yet eighteen, the legal age in Colorado to buy firearms (Hasaday 16). Easy access to weapons and avoidable laws were a major reason why Harris and Klebold went on their rampage.
The most used and most probable cause for any act of school violence is revenge. According to Tamara Orr, revenge has been the motive behind almost every school shooting in the past decade (53). The kids who commit these horrible acts, are trying, for once, to feel control over those who they feel have controlled them for so long (Orr 53). By reading the journals many kept, you can see a glimpse of just how bad it hurt them to be bullied.
“I am not insane. I am angry. I am not spoiled nor lazy for murder is not weak and slow-
witted. Murder is gutsy and daring…I killed people because people like me are mistreated everyday…I am malicious because I am miserable.”
-Luke Woodham (October 1, 1997- he killed his mother and two other students, wounded seven at his high school in Pearl, Mississippi) (Orr 53).
Although experts disagree, some say it is, although strange, completely logical to feel empathy towards children like Luke Woodham because many, though few will admit it, wish they had the guts to do something like he did (Egendorf 10). One in every five high school boys has admitted to bringing a weapon of some sort to school for protection (Orr 25). According to Tamara Orr, one third of students have admitted to experiencing bullying as either the victim or the attacker. Eight percent say, at least once a week (23). Statistics state that every seven minutes a child is bullied. Only four percent of the time does an adult intervene and eleven percent of the time, another student does (Orr 25). If bullying is getting this bad at schools, why do they do nothing, or next to nothing about it? Many high schools hold their athletes up on a pedestal. Even when the athletes do something wrong they are not punished, or if they are it’s not very severe at all. At Columbine, this was definitely true. If the athletes did something bad enough to get them suspended or expelled, they weren’t. The homecoming king was on probation for shoplifting at a local grocery store, but he was still allowed to play football (Hunnicutt 41-42). Students see these things happening view it as protecting the wrong people and they eventually feel like they must take matters into their own hands.
Although there are many theories as to why Harris and Klebold went on their rampage, no one really knows for sure the true reason, and probably never will. All anyone will know is that this came as a shock for everyone. Many students didn’t believe what had just happened as they ran out of the building that day, much less who had done it. As reporters questioned students as to whom they believed the shooters were, someone mentioned Klebold’s name. Another student told the reporter to, “Cross out his name. He’s not that kind of person. He would never do something like this.” As another said, “He’s a nice guy, if you just get to know him” (Hasaday 37). Apparently, the only person who got to know Klebold well enough was Eric Harris and now they’re both gone. As the surviving victims struggle to re-build their lives, they also learn to let go of the anger they feel towards Harris and Klebold. Sean Graves was a freshman when the massacre occurred. His spinal cord was grazed by a bullet and he spent the next four years in physical therapy, re-learning how to walk. The first time he was able to walk in public again was at his graduation ceremony (Hunnicutt 82-83). Patrick Ireland was the boy you saw on all the television sets, climbing out the window to safety. He was shot twice in the head and once in the foot. He has lived for the past ten years with a bullet lodged in his brain, but he hasn’t let that slow him down. He is now married and works as a financial advisor in Denver, Colorado (Hunnicutt 88).
Maybe the one good thing that has come of Columbine was, that there are measures in place in many high schools, to prevent this from ever happening again. Many high schools now have police officers stationed in and around the property to quickly assist in an emergency (Egendorf 31). Another good idea was to put much less media attention on these violent acts. This helps to stop students who are considering this alternative form thinking they would be instant celebrities (“The Columbine Tragedy, April 20, 1999”). Teachers, principals, and guidance counselors are also becoming much more involved, so that they know when a child is taking a turn down the wrong path, or at least have an idea of when.
As people around the country look back on this day, they begin to realize that although Harris and Klebold were very much so sick, there must have been some driving force as to why they did what they did. What that was, the world may never know. From the way they were raised to the music they listened to the video games the played, to their easy access to weapons, to the family involvement in their lives, to the way they were treated in school, anything could have driven them over the edge. The only problem is there’s no one left to ask. Harris and Klebold lived in so much pain that they went on this rampage and then they took their own lives. And although the above listed causes are the most likely…no one will ever know for certain if they are the right reasons or if they are only the ones we tell ourselves so we can sleep at night.