Doom Rules

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Several people who knew Klebold and Harris have suggested that something must have happened in the last few weeks of their lives--Harris's rejection by the Marines or being turned down by three girls he asked to the prom, perhaps--that prompted them to carry out their fantasy of doom. Yet the tangible preparations for NBK, including buying guns and training with them, building bombs and figuring out ways to conceal them in their dusters, had been going on for months. And the rumblings Harris was posting on his Web page and scratching in people's yearbooks a year ahead of time can't be dismissed as mere posturing; these are the works of someone already losing his way back to a world where other people might matter.

He may not have been the only member of the Harris household fighting a losing battle with reality. According to Nathan Dykeman, who sold his story to the National Enquirer and then claimed that the tabloid distorted many details, Wayne Harris found a pipe bomb in Eric's room last year, possibly as a result of his conversation with Brooks Brown. Whatever punishment Harris may have meted out to his son--who was already on probation, taking anti-depressants and seeing a psychiatrist--it didn't include calling the police.

April 20, 1999
They shot one young man in the back as he tried to run away, shot another in the face as he lay writhing on the ground, crying for help. They shot young women in the head as they crouched meekly under library tables. They giggled like little boys setting off firecrackers and snarled like hit men. And when it came to deciding who to kill and who to spare, they were as capricious as gods.

Despite the endless blow-by-blow accounts of the massacre, heartbreaking questions remain about what actually happened on April 20. Until the authorities see fit to release the autopsy reports, for example, it's impossible to know if teacher Dave Sanders and several critically wounded students might have been saved by more aggressive action by the SWAT teams or if the painfully cautious response was justified, as officials have maintained.

This much is clear: Whatever plans Klebold and Harris might have had to settle a score with jocks, whatever they might have said in the library ("All jocks stand up!"), the attack itself was vicious, cowardly and utterly random. Several of the injured and dead had scarcely been at Columbine long enough to make friends, let alone enemies, and had never even met the killers.

Whoever came into their line of fire was fair game. They killed Isaiah Shoels because he was black. They reportedly said something to Kyle Velasquez about being "pathetic" and killed him, too. They had become executioners on behalf of the caste system they despised. Anyone they didn't like, anyone who looked different...to them, these weren't people, but targets in the ultimate death match.

If they'd succeeded in setting off the propane bomb they planted in the school kitchen, they would have killed many more, including dozens of classmates who'd thought of them as their friends. Instead, they retreated to the library and took their own lives before the reality of what they'd done could sink in. They would leave that for the injured and their families and the families of the dead.

It was an obscene day in Colorado. For many survivors, the terrible violence they endured was followed by one more shock--the shock of recognition. Nobody had dreamed that such a thing could happen here. But when students were given the descriptions of the shooters, dozens of them nodded their heads in understanding.

Oh yeah, they said. Those guys.

A dozen members of the Columbine community gather in Steve Schweitzberger's kitchen on the Fourth of July. Some are wearing "Flush Howard Stern" T-shirts. An elderly woman passes around an antique print bearing the Ten Commandments, which she would like to see prominently displayed in schools. A man in a baseball cap sings along to a tape of "Columbine, Friend of Mine," the song written by two students in remembrance of the shooting victims, playing on a boombox.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast