April 20th, 1999 started off as a perfectly regular day in Littleton, Colorado. It was a fresh, spring morning, and the world was already wide awake. The students at Columbine High School were eagerly preparing for the summer vacation that was mere weeks away. The air was thick with apprehension over college applications, and excitement for the summertime events that would soon be taking place.
Within a few hours of that morning commencing, the air would be thick with something else entirely.
Hot smoke, the unmistakeable tang of iron, and a fog of terror.
Between 11:19am and 12:08pm, senior students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold embarked on a siege and spree that, when it was done, left thirteen people laying dead in the corridors of Columbine. It also claimed their own lives, as the final period on their violent statement was a joint suicide pact.
It’s claimed that they ended their lives as they had lived them — bursting with rage and hatred towards the world around them. But why did two teenagers with a wealth of potential and bright futures commit such an atrocious act?
On the morning of April 20th, 1999, Harris and Klebold approached Columbine dripping with ammunition, weaponry, and explosives. They’d spent a year working on their heinous plan, and it was to be a spectacular event. Allegedly, they’d taken inspiration from the Oklahoma City bombing, and they wanted to bring down their school in a similar fashion.
To that end, they’d meticulously built explosive devices, and concocted a plan so dastardly it almost seems unbelievable. These two young men, 17 and 18 years of age, would blow up the school canteen during its busiest period, and pick off the survivors as they fled the school. It would be their peers — those they had studied alongside for years — who would pay the ultimate price.
But why were they paying a price?
There are many possible reasons, but the only people who can confirm the motives for this attack have been dead for more than two decades.
Reportedly, the driving theory behind the attack is that Harris and Klebold were ‘getting revenge’ against the bullies that had held them down for many years. However, that theory falls apart when you consider that they didn’t directly attack said bullies. Instead, they launched a general spree, attacking anybody who crossed their path.
Were they so blinded by their hatred that anyone in front of them became fair game? Most of their victims were almost unknown to them, and they were indiscriminate in who they shot dead. So, do we look further? Do we remove ourselves from the confines of Columbine, and consider the alternative influences that led to this horrific attack?
It’s alleged that both Klebold and Harris were mentally unstable, and were both (at one time or another) taking prescribed medication. It’s assumed that Harris was the driving factor behind the attack, being more or less medically categorised as a psycho- and sociopath. As the story goes, Klebold was extremely impressionable, and suffered horribly with depression and suicidal desires, and Harris pushed those buttons in order to attain a partner in crime.
Of course, there are many who blamed video games for the violence that unravelled on that fateful day. It was no secret that the pair were avid gamers, and the titles they played mostly featured violence, and killing. It doesn’t help that the pair also made references to the Columbine shooting as being something of a game in itself. But, these theories have never been proven, and likely never will.
Was it destiny?
Were these two young men inherently angry, twisted, and ill-fated? Were they born to kill?
After all, Harris and Klebold did codename their plan ‘NBK’, which stood for ‘Natural Born Killers’.
While Columbine’s Massacre wasn’t the first school shooting in United States history, it was the worst at the time, and it made global news. The coverage was overwhelming, and everyone had a theory or a suspicion. It turned the world on its head overnight, and to this day, Columbine is a byword for school shootings; it’s synonymous with teenage violence and murder.
Sadly, the situation didn’t improve — in fact, it got worse. As the years wore on, the school shootings became much more horrific, and tragically, much more common. Within the next two decades, we saw 33 murdered at Virginia Tech, 28 slaughtered at Sandy Hook, and 17 shot down at Stoneman Douglas.
Today, Columbine doesn’t even crack the top ten mass shootings for total victims, and it’s still influencing ‘copycat killers’.
The unfortunate truth is, Columbine didn’t have to happen. There were several occasions in which the event could have been avoided entirely, some of which came many months before the attack took place. For example, Eric Harris was known to the police as a potentially violent offender, but reports against him were lost.
Furthermore, both Harris and Klebold stored weaponry and explosives in their homes, right under the noses of their parents. On one occasion, Harris’ father, a veteran, discovered a pipe bomb in his son’s room. He thought little of it, and allegedly, the two bonded over a session whereupon they took the bomb into the hills around Littleton, and detonated it.
There were so many red flags leading up to the brutal attack, but all of them went ignored. There were friends who recognised suspicious and worrying activity; there were others who supplied them the firearms used in the attack. At school, Harris and Klebold were known for being outcasts — mysterious and dark individuals that would sometimes cause trouble.
Really, the only tangible response to Harris and Klebold’s ever-worsening lifestyles was the prescription of anti-psychotic and anti-depressive medication. Which, as some will tell you, may have gone some way to exacerbating the situation.
We can’t turn back the clock.
There’s nothing we can do now to change the fact that 13 people — including a beloved teacher — were brutally murdered by two enraged teenagers. We’ll never truly know why they did it, or what motivated them to pick up weapons, walk into their school, and open fire against innocent teenagers, some of whom they’d known for years.
Sadly, the only positive change to come out of the shooting came in 2001, when Kmart declared it would stop selling handgun ammunition, such as the 9mm cartridge. It was at a local Kmart store that Harris and Klebold purchased their own 9mm ammunition for use in the shooting.
In 2019, a gunman entered a Walmart in El Paso and shot dead 23 people. In response, Walmart took down any graphics advertising violent video games.
How have we gone backwards in our progress?
How can we prevent these attacks from happening?
Because they still are.
They’re still happening.
Thank you for reading.
About the Author
Grant Taylor-Hill is a freelance writer, podcaster, and motivator, with a background in support and team management. He’s a writer by trade and a gamer by passion, and he absolutely loves inspiring others. In his spare time, he produces three podcasts and is constantly expanding his network. Connect with him on social media; just search Grant Taylor-Hill.