Yet there were signs, from the essays they wrote in class to the T-shirts they wore, the random comments about bombs and killing, the pictures with their hands cocked as if cradling a weapon and preparing to shoot the photographer. That these expressions of malevolence seem sinister only in hindsight says a great deal about what passed for normal--or even "out of the ordinary" but readily accepted--at Columbine.
They were hiding in plain sight, perfectly camouflaged in the undercurrent of trash and violence swimming in your average 2,000-student suburban high school. Resentment of jocks? Nobody had a corner on that concession. Videos featuring car crashes and explosions? Finding ways to emulate the special effects of big-budget action thrillers was part of the challenge of video production classes. (In one video for a marketing class, the pair offered to provide a protection service and simulated shooting someone.) Klebold's interest in Charles Manson? Wild-eyed Charlie has become a popular research topic in high schools nationwide; the shock value alone is worth at least a grade point or two.
Weird T-shirts and an affection for gloom-and-doom rock lyrics? Nothing new here, even though the duo's embrace of one German band's ludicrous paeans to mass murder ("You in the schoolyard/I'm ready to kill and nobody here knows of my loneliness...We announce Doomsday/There will be no mercy/Run, run for your lives...You believe killing might be hard/But where are all the dead coming from") was so intense that other kids referred to them as the Rammstein Boyz.
Bragging about coming across bomb instructions on the Internet and coming up with new ways to kill people? Lots of kids talk about stuff like that.
Reportedly, at least one English teacher did find a Klebold short story about a killing so disturbing that she contacted his parents. Harris's parents were notified about a similar story. But these were only stories, the boys insisted. Fantasies. As long as the violence exists only in the mind, who cares? Why not stories about multiple homicides? Stretch for excellence.
In a school full of kids desperate to stand out, two killers in training did not seem remarkable at all.
Sarah Bay: "From the start, I saw Dylan as a follower. If he got an idea from someone that he thought was cool, he'd go along with it, as long as that other person was doing it, too."
Jeni LaPlante: "He did have a lot of anger, but he hid it most of the time. One time in bowling class, he got so pissed he slammed his fist down on the ball return. It freaked me out."
Sarah Bay: "In a way, Dylan's mind was still back in junior high, where girls were yucky and video games were cool and you sort of had this fantasy land you could go to."
Everyone sees you as a follower. True, when it comes to the usual adolescent rites of passage--smoking, drinking, seeking out music obnoxious enough to annoy your parents--you aren't exactly a trendsetter. But when you find something that really fires your brain, you embrace it with enthusiasm. Hence your nickname, borrowed from the magic elixir that produces so many weepy late-night phone conversations with friends: VoDkA.
People remember that shy, vulnerable, teen-angst side of you, so they make excuses for you. You must have been drawn into Eric's orbit, brainwashed somehow, they say. You did not have that kind of hate in you. Hell, you were still making trades in the fantasy baseball league with Tim Kastle the night before the massacre; hours later, you were waving a TEC-9 at him in a ceiling crawlspace, trying to make up your mind whether to shoot. You must have had some kind of psychotic break to switch from good old Dylan to a head case like that in a matter of hours.
They want it to be simple--little Eric the evil mastermind, and you trailing after him, towering over him, a six-three zombie in a black coat, shades and a turned-around Boston Red Sox cap--Dr. Rammstein and his monster. They don't understand the bonds between VoDkA and Reb. They don't understand that he needed you as much as you needed him, maybe more so. Like prisoners manacled together, you reinforced each other in your misery. Together you could accomplish things you wouldn't dream of attempting alone.
The relationship begins the way a lot of adolescent friendships do, as a buffer against loneliness and the grim demands of growing up. You play Doom and Quake, cruise the malls, take a lot of the same classes. You cultivate a mutual interest in death-rock and Tarantino movies, ape the casual attitude toward racism and violence that you see on the screen. None of this is terribly unusual, but at some point you recognize something in each other that most of your friends don't share: a boiling rage against your enemies.