Longform

Doom Rules

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"I can't imagine he wouldn't have noticed eight or nine kids wearing trenchcoats in May," says Strahl.

But the group's seeming invisibility may explain why few people paid any attention to the increasingly bizarre behavior of Klebold and Harris. If school officials weren't particularly interested in the problems of a few purple-haired types--some of whom were chronically ditching school, obsessing on madness and suicide and all but wearing signs around their necks screaming "TROUBLED YOUTH"--then it's unlikely that they would take much notice of other black-coated students.

Klebold and Harris didn't dye their hair or wear makeup; by most accounts, they didn't even adopt the fashion statement of black dusters until last fall, after most of the Trenchcoat crowd had left Columbine. They were not leaders of the group and had only a tenuous relationship to it, through their friendship with one key member. They certainly didn't share the group's desire to revel in their outcast status.

Several students who knew Klebold and Harris as classmates or even as friends have trouble with the notion that they were really outcasts at all. Most of the Columbine population comes from a single middle school, a situation that would seem to encourage long-term friendships and rivalries, yet the school's cliques were actually more fluid than most media reports indicate. Harris kept mostly to himself, but Klebold had a wide range of friends, from skaters and stoners to preps and even jocks.

The two participated in school-spirit skits on the Rebel News Network. Klebold volunteered to do the sound for school plays and one time scrambled to correct a technical problem in order to save a performance by Rachel Scott, who would later become one of the first casualties of April 20. Harris made good grades and got along well with most of his teachers; he presented his composition teacher with a Christmas present last year. Both teenagers may have complained bitterly about the jocks on occasion, but it's possible to conclude that the two actually liked school--or, at least, certain aspects of it. (From Harris's list: "YOU KNOW WHAT I LOVE!!!? SCHOOL! YOU KNOW WHAT I HATE!!!? SCHOOLWORK!")

"I never saw them being hostile or dissing on other people," says Jeni LaPlante, Darry Strahl's youngest daughter.

LaPlante had several classes with Harris her junior and senior years, as well as a bowling class with Harris and Klebold. Her two closest friends worked with them at Blackjack Pizza, and she frequently went with them to Rock 'n Bowl at Belleview Lanes on weekends. She considered the pair to be "out of the ordinary"--but then, there were a lot of people who were a little unusual at Columbine. She didn't see anything terribly disturbing about them. She continued to think that up until the morning of April 20; she was outside the school when terrified students began pouring out and running for cover.

"I never saw this coming," she says. "It hit me hard, because I didn't ever see a problem at Columbine. It was the all-American school. It had different cliques, but that was also diversity."

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."

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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