The Chilling Details Of The Columbine Shooting

On April 20, 1999, 18-year-old Eric Harris and 17-year-old Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School and carried out a ruthless attack (via Britannica). CNN writes that Harris and Klebold were heavily armed with firearms and explosives when they entered the Littleton, Colorado, building. Now considered to be one of the deadliest school shootings in American history, the question remains: Why did they do it? As The Guardian explains, there is no simple answer for Harris' and Klebold's reasoning. And despite it being over two decades since the incident, falsehoods about the massacre continue to be perpetuated.

According to All That's Interesting, both boys had fairly normal lives. Although it's been reported that they were bullied loners, this theory has never been proven (per History). Harris and Klebold met in middle school but became close in high school. As the bond between them grew, a shift in their behavior occurred. This was noticed by friends, especially Brooks Brown, a longtime friend of both Harris and Klebold. While Harris has been described as unstable, Klebold was seen as a depressed introvert, per All That's Interesting. Nonetheless, they bonded with each other over their disillusionment with life and subsequently delved into a world of violence.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

The warning signs before the massacre

According to CBS News, those who knew Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold grew alarmed by their actions. All That's Interesting reports that Klebold wrote school essays that were bloody and disturbing. In 1998, the pair were arrested for stealing from a van but faced little repercussions for their actions. They attended a juvenile diversion program and were given a clean record (per All That's Interesting). A few months later, Harris and Klebold created a website, where they explicitly stated that they wanted to kill specific people, including Brooks Brown (via CNN). Brown and Harris had a falling out, and Klebold gave Brown a link to the site.

As he explained (via All That's Interesting), "He's not saying that he's gonna beat me up, he's saying he wants to blow me up, and he's talking about how he's making the pipe bombs to do it with." Brown's parents went to the police, but they failed to take any formative action. However, they did warn Columbine that they were possibly making pipe bombs.

Per The Guardian, the school did nothing. Meanwhile, the boys were stockpiling weapons and orchestrating their would-be attack. Bowdoin College reports that they created several videotapes displaying their weapons and describing their plan. Both Harris and Klebold also wrote journal entries that became increasingly erratic; Klebold specifically described that he was suicidal.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 13 people

On the day of the shooting, All That's Interesting writes that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold intended to set off several bombs. This was a crude attempt to surpass the carnage that Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, had caused a few years before. However, the bombs failed, and they switched to plan B. Per History, they began shooting outside Columbine at 11:19 a.m. Within minutes, the pair made their way inside and into the school's library. Ultimately, they murdered 12 students and one teacher. They also wounded several others before turning the guns on themselves (via CNN).

Per a different article from All That's Interesting, Brooks Brown encountered Harris minutes before the massacre. Although he had no idea what was about to happen, Harris told him to leave campus, and he did. Moments later, he heard shots being fired. The shooting occurred on April 20, 1999, but was originally planned for April 19, the anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombings. Harris and Klebold wanted to cause mass destruction, but their malfunctioned homemade bombs prevented them from doing more.

Survivors share their stories

In the years since Columbine, police have been called out for mishandling the situation (per All That's Interesting). The response was inadequate, and it is believed to have caused at least one death — that of Dave Sanders, a teacher who bled out. Moreover, some parents were not even notified about their child's death. According to CNN, it took five hours after Harris' and Klebold's suicide for authorities to announce that the situation was under control. Needless to say, the students who did survive were left with both physical and emotional trauma.

Per All That's Interesting, several survivors noted that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were laughing as they shot at people. In 2019, Missy Mendo, a survivor who was a freshman at the time of the shooting, told CBS News that she was still dealing with insomnia as a result of the massacre. Mendo also said that she's heavily triggered anytime another school shooting occurs.

The Denver Post writes that survivor Evan Todd was asked by Harris and Klebold why they shouldn't kill him. He replied with, "Look, I've been good to you and everyone in this school, and you know it." They let him go. Several survivors, including Lauren Cartaya, have described that sending their kids to school sends them into a panic (via NPR). Ultimately, the consensus from all survivors is the same — despite it being over two decades since Columbine, they are still dealing with its aftermath.

Sue Klebold feels remorse for her son's actions

Before Columbine, neither Eric Harris nor Dylan Klebold were diagnosed with any mental illnesses (via Bowdoin College). However, it is now believed that Harris was a psychopath, and Klebold was extremely depressed. Although their reason for the mass shooting was never explicitly stated, All That's Interesting reports that Columbine represented everything they hated about society. As one survivor Craig Scott put it (per The Denver Post), "They saw nothing but negative in this world and in themselves."

In recent years, Sue Klebold has spoken about how she was unaware that her son was silently suffering and planning the massacre (per the BBC). According to PublicSource, she found his suicidal journal entries after his death. Sue also blames herself for not knowing the extent of his depression. She later told The Guardian that she has come to terms with Klebold's involvement in the massacre.

Although she noticed a slight change in his behavior, she attributed it to being a teenager and nothing more. Only days before the shooting, Klebold had attended prom and had been accepted to the University of Arizona. Sue saw nothing amiss and could have never imagined what was going to happen next. As for Harris' parents, The Daily Beast writes that they never have spoken publicly about Columbine or their son.

How Columbine changed school forever

Since Columbine, there have been numerous other school shootings, including Sandy Hook, Parkland, Virginia Tech, and more (via ABC News). In other words, school shootings have not ceased to exist. Insider writes that the only thing that has changed is how schools and authorities react when they do happen. Per All That's Interesting, law enforcement was notoriously slow in handling Columbine — police did not enter the building and waited for the SWAT Team. Now, police are required to go in and stop the active shooter. And to prepare both faculty and students for the possibility of a shooting, drills are now a mainstay in schools.

The Guardian reports that armed security guards are also now common in American schools. But PBS notes that despite these new protocols, there needs to be better tools in identifying depression in teens, as this was ultimately one of the factors that led to Columbine. A 2018 Gallup Poll found that one in five children said that they felt unsafe at school. Gun reform, however, remains a point of contention for the American public. As of January 2022, a total of 292,000 children have experienced school shootings (via The Washington Post).