The Columbine massacre was one of the deadliest school shootings in US history, its circumstances and aftermath inflicting untold trauma on American culture.
Eric Harris, aged 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, armed themselves with homemade bombs, sawn-off shotguns, semi-automatic rifles, pistols and knives. Their objective was an all-out assault on the Columbine
High School in the suburban town of Littleton, outside Denver. They planned a diversionary explosion to draw off emergency services, then they would explode two more bombs inside the school and pick off survivors as they ran. Their intention was to kill hundreds of people, dwarfing the Oklahoma City carnage with an obscene disaster that would forever besmirch American history.
When the two interior bombs fizzled but failed, they swaggered through the school shooting at anything and anyone. It was fun, especially in the packed cafeteria where their terrified peers shrank under the tables hoping to escape notice and make a break for it.
It’s taken a decade of deconstruction for the police, FBI, survivors, victims’ families, public and Michael Moore (who made the seminal film Bowling for Columbine) to reach any kind of cogent explanation for the murders. Prolonged study of video and notebook diaries show that Harris and Klebold had spent a year planning this major atrocity in detail. Columbine School was merely convenient.
They weren’t even seeking fame, they just wanted to hurt as many people as possible. Harris was a clinical psychopath and Klebold a troubled adolescent with a suicidal tendency.
The true, almost unspeakable, horror of the Columbine massacre is that, had the boys been older with greater technical knowledge, they would have committed a far deadlier crime. On the front page of his journal, Harris had scrawled: I hate the f*****g world’.
When: April 20 1999
Where: Columbine High School, Littleton, Jefferson County, Colorado, USA
Death toll: 13 (12 students and one teacher) dead; 23 injured.
You should know: Repercussions of the massacre continue. America watched the siege unfold on live TV, and the subsequent national debates cover access to guns, school security systems, violence on TV and in video games, and police ‘procedures’ (the sensitive issues of why the police failed to enter the school and shoot the two boys; and why they left a teacher to bleed to death on TV; and whether the job of a policeman includes taking risks). ‘Columbine’ has entered American vocabulary in all u kinds of contexts, and none of them are pleasant.