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The bullet in the backpack and other Columbine mysteries.

Hiding in Plain Sight

Sometimes they wore masks. But they were also advertising their intentions by every means possible: Internet, school assignments and videos, yearbook inscriptions, good old word of mouth.

Lots of people knew, for example, that Harris and Klebold had a passion for explosives. They blew up fireworks behind the pizza parlor where they worked, and Harris once brought one of his pipe bombs to show other employees. To his closest friends, such as Nate Dykeman, he confided that his parents had found one of his bombs and taken it away from him.

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"

Several students had also heard of the enemy lists Harris and Klebold were compiling. In the fall of 1998, Harris wrote notes to a girl in his German class, informing her that her boyfriend was near the top of his "hit list": "I just don't want the little fuck going to [administrators] or the cops and start whining that we are threatening him or intimidating him, because if I get in ANY more trouble with the cops I will fucking lose it."

At the end of his junior year, Harris wrote a long, Nietzschean epistle in the same girl's yearbook: "Anyone who shows more thoughts or emotion than the norm is said to be so weird or crazy, wrong! They are just more in touch with their humanity...People are funny, they want to be accepted. Don't be afraid to judge people."

At the bottom, next to a drawing of a machine-gun-toting commando, he added a portentous postscript: "If anything ever happens to me, publish this page!!"

Klebold wrote an admiring essay about Charles Manson for one class, comparing him to the Woody Harrelson character in Natural Born Killers. ("The question of whether or not he is insane is a question of opinion, which cannot have a 'true' right answer.") A few weeks before the attack, he wrote another school paper about a trenchcoated avenger who guns, knifes and blows up a group of mocking "preps": "The man smiled, and in that instant...I understood his actions."

His teacher was so appalled at the cruelty of the story that she spoke to his parents about it. "They did not seem worried, and made a comment about trying to understand kids today," she reported to the police after the shootings.

For the same creative-writing class, Harris wrote an essay from the point of view of a bullet fired from a gun. In psychology class, invited to submit dreams for analysis, he told classmates that he dreamed about shooting people.

School officials have maintained that all of these "warning signs" seem sinister only with the advantage of hindsight, that there was no way to put together the random clues Klebold and Harris were doling out to various teachers and friends. After all, plenty of adolescents write gory stories. Some think it's hilarious to pose as if aiming a gun at the camera, as Klebold and Harris encouraged several of their pals to do for a yearbook class photo. But the record they left behind -- filled with "a lot of foreshadowing and dramatic irony," Harris noted in one videotape -- was more extensive and less ambiguous than authorities have acknowledged.

The videos they edited in the school lab, in full view of other students and possibly the instructor, included not only the "Hitmen for Hire" commercial, but several others involving simulated explosions and weapons. One was a home movie of the two teens in the mountains, blasting away with their sawed-off shotguns. According to a police report, computers seized from the school after the shootings contained "several graphics files that appear to be bomb-making plans," as well as "several dozen student video projects, many of which appeared to depict violence or guns."

Friends bought their guns for them. Mark Manes, who sold Klebold a TEC-9 semiautomatic pistol and went with the pair to the mountains for target practice, couldn't help but notice that their shotguns were "way, way too short." Honor student Robyn Anderson fronted for them on the shotgun purchases and later boasted to a male friend of landing Klebold as a prom date: "I convinced my friend Dylan, who hates dances, jocks and has never had a date let alone a girlfriend to go with me! I am either really cute or just really persuasive!"

Posters around the school announcing the prom consisted of a cryptic message, designed to intrigue: "It's coming! 4/17/99." On several posters someone crossed out the number 17 and replaced it with a 20.

In videos Harris and Klebold made and intended to be discovered after their deaths, the so-called basement tapes, they show off their arsenal and discuss their plans. They make farewell speeches and thank their friends, as if they're attending an awards ceremony. They lash out at their parents, the cop who arrested them in the van break-in and various "bitches" who didn't return their phone calls, as if Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are the real victims of the atrocity they are about to commit. Harris manages to squeeze out a few tears. (The role of self-pity in acts of mass murder has, perhaps, been grossly overlooked.)

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