Back to School

The bullet in the backpack and other Columbine mysteries.

Whatever the real reasons, the case was not a priority for Jefferson County. Back in 1998, bounced checks trumped bombs. It isn't clear to what extent the sheriff's office even recognized -- or bothered to share with Deputy Gardner or officials at Columbine High -- the subtler nuances of the Harris writings ("you all better fucking hide in your houses because im comin for EVERYONE soon, and i WILL be armed to the fuckin teeth and i WILL shoot to kill and i WILL fucking KILL EVERYTHING!"). This inability to share basic information about death threats became an intelligence failure of staggering proportions.

The refusal to investigate becomes even more galling when you realize that, besides being on probation, Harris and Klebold also had an extensive disciplinary record at school. The full extent of that record has never been made public, but you catch glimpses of it in the reams of interviews police conducted after the massacre. The two were suspended, along with another student, for hacking into the school's computer system to obtain locker combinations (which were used to place a threatening note in an enemy's locker). According to their pal Nate Dykeman, they'd also been helping themselves to school computer parts from a locked room, and Klebold's father made him return one stolen laptop.

They got into fights with classmates; Klebold was known to swear at teachers, struck a female supervisor at work and may have threatened one developmentally disabled student. A dean of students who'd had them in his office several times told police "that he was not totally shocked that Dylan and Eric did this because in his dealings with them he saw the potential for an 'evil side'...that there was a violent, angry streak in these kids and they tried to make a statement and to bring down [Columbine] because they wanted the rules their way."

Harris and Klebold planted two propane bombs in the cafeteria; had they exploded, the bombs could have killed more people than the explosions in Oklahoma City.
Harris and Klebold planted two propane bombs in the cafeteria; had they exploded, the bombs could have killed more people than the explosions in Oklahoma City.


Read related stories in "The Columbine Reader"

Read a few dozen of these interviews, and you get the impression that everyone was holding their breath, waiting for these potential evils to graduate. But in the larger scheme of things, the pair's transgressions weren't that notable. Columbine was no blackboard jungle, yet it was hardly the peaches-and-cream suburban refuge it's been made out to be in countless articles about the massacre. Like any large high school, it had bigger crime problems than locker-number thieves. During the year leading up to the massacre, the place drew dozens of police calls, for everything from burglary and underage drinking to narcotics and sexual assault. Ninjas on the roof may have seemed like the least of their worries.

Still. If folks in the sheriff's office or the school had bothered to track down the correct Web address for the Harris site, then poked around the site itself, they might have come across a document titled "The Book." First disclosed in Westword two years ago, its authenticity since verified through the release of other documents, the three-page account vividly describes Harris's experiments with different types of bombs, shrapnel and napalm. It also makes references to the "pre-war era" and the impending apocalypse, also known as "NBK" -- short for Natural Born Killers, a movie that Harris and Klebold had practically memorized.

The authorities might have read the treatise and wondered what war the writer was preparing for. They might have taken the masked pranksters on the roof more seriously. But it didn't happen that way, of course.

Klebold and Harris wore masks on many occasions. They revealed themselves only when it no longer mattered.

When the shooting started, many students thought they were witnessing a senior prank. Some even described the gunmen as masked. Those accounts were later discounted because of the many other descriptions of two bare-faced killers.

But those witnesses didn't imagine things. Found outside the school's west entrance, next to Eric Harris's trenchcoat, which he shed as he started shooting students: a green knit ski mask and gloves.

Why So Blunt?

Handwritten statement provided to police by Columbine student Eric Veik, April 22, 1999: "I met Eric & Dillon 1st semester of my junior year (August 98). Eric was a part of my video productions class...

"Dillon & Eric needed a business video for another class. They created this idea and asked me to film it. It was 'Hitmen for Hire.' Dillon & Eric were the hitmen, I was the victim & [another student] was the jock harassing me. They used replicas of guns & spoke of killing in the video. I never heard if this video was successful...

"I was learning about videos fast and was able to help them on one last video...Filming got started, and I noticed they put more on this video than I thought they would. They were swearing, smoking, and more serious about it. I played along. When I asked 'Why so blunt,' they said, 'Who cares, [the video class teacher is] the only person that is going to see it and he won't care...'

"We were a small group of people going from town to town stopping radioactive clothing from taking over the world. They were very serious about this. Eric was using military strategy in parts of this...The movie ends with a very large explosion from a house that was put in using editing technology. No explosives or live ammunition were used."

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