Back to School

The bullet in the backpack and other Columbine mysteries.

Still, the documents reveal a great deal. We now have glimpses of the extensive planning involved in the attack and of the wide range of people who knew something about the plan -- most of whom, unfortunately, didn't believe it would ever be carried out. We also have a more disturbing picture of the massive five-hour rescue effort that drew hundreds of cops and emergency workers to the high school. Although the law-enforcement agencies involved still aren't talking, the police actions taken that day now appear to have been even more chaotic and ineffective -- and, in some instances, more reckless -- than has previously been reported.

Harris and Klebold attracted little attention as they planned their apocalypse. Family, friends, even enemies chalked up their increasingly odd behavior as so much teenage nonsense -- a phase, a pose. Some students saw them as "living in their own world," one populated by video games and violent fantasies. Blowing up the school, crashing a plane into a building...ridiculous, no?

But it was the people around them who were dreaming. One April morning, the alarms started shrieking, and there was a sad and terrible awakening.

By the time police set up this mobile command post, Harris and Klebold were already dead.
By the time police set up this mobile command post, Harris and Klebold were already dead.
While police were rescuing wounded students outside the west doors, their cover fire sent bullets flying into the library (open door on right).
While police were rescuing wounded students outside the west doors, their cover fire sent bullets flying into the library (open door on right).


Read related stories in "The Columbine Reader"

The No Sports

Excerpt from police interview of Columbine graduate Greg Hydle, May 4, 1999: "Greg stated that he was the student body president so he was around the school a lot...he had been on both the golf and baseball teams, and he knew what went on with other kids in school.

"I asked Greg what that meant, and he stated that all the sports type kids referred to the Trench Coats as the 'no sports.' Greg knew that these kids got picked on all the time, and that most of it was done by the football team. He believed it was just because they were different.

"Greg then stated that he knew about Eric and Dylan talking about blowing up the school, because it was the big rumor for two years. I asked Greg if school officials knew about the threats, and he stated that he had heard that they did, but no one took it seriously."

Twelve days before the attack, custodian Jay Gallentine arrived at Columbine shortly before five in the morning, only to find that the locks of every door leading into the high school had been glued shut. Gallentine heard voices and footsteps on the roof, then silence. He called the police and set about getting the locks replaced.

An inspection of the roof revealed that someone had spelled out the word "seniors" in duct tape across a large glass skylight. Later that same day, Jeffco sheriff's deputy Neil Gardner, the resource officer assigned to Columbine, reviewed video taken that morning by security cameras outside the school. The tape showed two male suspects in dark clothing, including gloves and masks or hoods of some kind.

The case was never solved, but odds are pretty good that the rooftop ninjas were Klebold and Harris. On his Web site, Harris boasted of how the pair executed various nocturnal "missions" around their neighborhood, vandalizing houses and detonating pipe bombs in ditches, even pouring epoxy into locks on occasion: "Anyone pisses us off, we do a little deed to their house. Eggs, teepee, superglue, busyboxes, large amounts of fireworks, you name it and we will probly or already have done it....Its sort of a night time tradition for us."

Was the roof-prowling a senior prank? A way of testing the school's security? A dry run for what was to come? It may have been all three. Klebold and Harris had been stretching their limits and refining their plan -- building bombs, acquiring guns and ammo, studying the school layout, making other preparations that often passed for more innocuous activities -- for months before the attack.

The conventional wisdom about Columbine is that the attack came out of nowhere, and thus there was no way to prevent it, no way to prepare for it. Yet at the time the planning began, nearly a year earlier, Klebold and Harris were already in a juvenile diversion program for burglarizing a van. Randy and Judy Brown had reported Harris to the police for threatening to kill their son Brooks and had provided the cops with pages of Harris's Internet rantings. A Jeff-co sheriff's bomb investigator had linked a pipe bomb found in a field with the kinds of bombs Harris described in his writings and had drafted a request for a search warrant.

The official explanation of why the Brown complaint wasn't pursued keeps changing. The sheriff's office has suggested that the detective assigned to the case was overwhelmed with more pressing matters, including a serial ax murderer, but an official log of his investigations for that time period shows an unremarkable workload, including several fraud-by-check cases. The sheriff's office has told reporters that its computer experts couldn't access Harris's Web site, even though it was still up and running months later. (In the hours after the massacre, it was available to any curious twelve-year-old with a mouse.) The sheriff's office has also said that its investigator never met with the Browns and couldn't link the complaint to any bomb cases in the county. Both assertions are contradicted in the search-warrant affidavit -- which the agency failed to disclose until a judge ordered its release, two years after the attack ("Chronology of a Big Fat Lie," April 19).

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