Doom Rules

Much of what we think we know about Columbine is wrong.

Eric Harris, in particular, remains an enigma to LaPlante. He was so...involved in class, always had his hand up. Wouldn't put in his two cents unless nobody else spoke up, but he knew every single answer. Grammar, Shakespeare, class discussion on whatever--he always had an opinion, always was polite about it.

LaPlante asked him why he was putting himself through the grief of college-prep classes when he was planning to enlist in the Marines, and he told her, "I probably won't go." But if he was planning to blow up the school for a year, like people say, why was he working so hard in school? Why was he struggling over a research paper that wasn't due until after April 20? Why was he talking about what he was going to write in his college application essay?

"The only way I can explain it is that he was just two perfectly different people," she says. "What he showed to the rest of the world and what he kept to his garage or his computer were so different."

A few months before his death, Harris had changed his AOL screen name to Reb Domine--no longer just a Rebel Doommaker, but the Lord of the Rebels. Hobbies: "making fun of you people." Occupation: "senior at CHS and the rest is still unpublished." Personal quote: "its fun being schizophrenic."

That Harris and Klebold were leading a double life is a familiar theme among those who thought they knew them well. "The most horrifying thing is that these kids didn't have the signs they want to point to," says Victor Good, who frequently saw the pair when they visited his stepson. "Eric was always the perfect little gentleman. He seemed more mature than other kids."

Yet there were signs, from the essays they wrote in class to the T-shirts they wore, the random comments about bombs and killing, the pictures with their hands cocked as if cradling a weapon and preparing to shoot the photographer. That these expressions of malevolence seem sinister only in hindsight says a great deal about what passed for normal--or even "out of the ordinary" but readily accepted--at Columbine.

They were hiding in plain sight, perfectly camouflaged in the undercurrent of trash and violence swimming in your average 2,000-student suburban high school. Resentment of jocks? Nobody had a corner on that concession. Videos featuring car crashes and explosions? Finding ways to emulate the special effects of big-budget action thrillers was part of the challenge of video production classes. (In one video for a marketing class, the pair offered to provide a protection service and simulated shooting someone.) Klebold's interest in Charles Manson? Wild-eyed Charlie has become a popular research topic in high schools nationwide; the shock value alone is worth at least a grade point or two.

Weird T-shirts and an affection for gloom-and-doom rock lyrics? Nothing new here, even though the duo's embrace of one German band's ludicrous paeans to mass murder ("You in the schoolyard/I'm ready to kill and nobody here knows of my loneliness...We announce Doomsday/There will be no mercy/Run, run for your lives...You believe killing might be hard/But where are all the dead coming from") was so intense that other kids referred to them as the Rammstein Boyz.

Bragging about coming across bomb instructions on the Internet and coming up with new ways to kill people? Lots of kids talk about stuff like that.

Reportedly, at least one English teacher did find a Klebold short story about a killing so disturbing that she contacted his parents. Harris's parents were notified about a similar story. But these were only stories, the boys insisted. Fantasies. As long as the violence exists only in the mind, who cares? Why not stories about multiple homicides? Stretch for excellence.

In a school full of kids desperate to stand out, two killers in training did not seem remarkable at all.

Sarah Bay: "From the start, I saw Dylan as a follower. If he got an idea from someone that he thought was cool, he'd go along with it, as long as that other person was doing it, too."

Jeni LaPlante: "He did have a lot of anger, but he hid it most of the time. One time in bowling class, he got so pissed he slammed his fist down on the ball return. It freaked me out."

Sarah Bay: "In a way, Dylan's mind was still back in junior high, where girls were yucky and video games were cool and you sort of had this fantasy land you could go to."

Everyone sees you as a follower. True, when it comes to the usual adolescent rites of passage--smoking, drinking, seeking out music obnoxious enough to annoy your parents--you aren't exactly a trendsetter. But when you find something that really fires your brain, you embrace it with enthusiasm. Hence your nickname, borrowed from the magic elixir that produces so many weepy late-night phone conversations with friends: VoDkA.

People remember that shy, vulnerable, teen-angst side of you, so they make excuses for you. You must have been drawn into Eric's orbit, brainwashed somehow, they say. You did not have that kind of hate in you. Hell, you were still making trades in the fantasy baseball league with Tim Kastle the night before the massacre; hours later, you were waving a TEC-9 at him in a ceiling crawlspace, trying to make up your mind whether to shoot. You must have had some kind of psychotic break to switch from good old Dylan to a head case like that in a matter of hours.

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