In memory of Columbine’s eighteenth anniversary shooting, I believed it would be helpful to examine what may have gone on with Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. The popular reasons, which I would like to call “a blame game,” range from teaching evolution versus creation in public schools, influence of the video game Mortal Kombat and music KMFDM/Rammstein/Insane Clown Imposse, the drugs both shooters took for their mental health, and the lack of involvement of parents in their lives.
I will return to address especially the latter reason, having begun to read the book A Mother’s Reckoning, in which Sue Klebold wrote about her son Dylan. There is no one who could be harder on herself than a parent who did her best to raise her children with values and instill morals in them. She blamed herself for years after the tragedy, which is exactly why she had maintained a private life until her book’s publication last year.
Harris grew up in a military family, which moved around several times. From a young age, it was challenging for Klebold to make friends because he didn’t know how to approach them.
Brooks Brown, who recalls his friendships with both young men, started his own book with his last interaction with Harris in his own book No Easy Answers: The Truth Behind Death at Columbine. Harris, who had skipped his finals and his classes all morning, told Brown: “Brooks, I like you now. Get out of here. Go home.”
Brooks had been on Harris’ list to kill only a few months before on an online page Harris had created.
In his whole book, Brooks is brutally honest about what life was like in Littleton, Colorado at the high school. In contrast to Klebold, most of those kids did not grow up with the same values to respect others like he did, and so he was an easy target. He internalized his growing rage because of what was going on around him and searched for another meaning he could believe in.
“Dylan was a smart kid who could see the injustices of the world as clearly as I could,” Brooks observed in his book. “He was frustrated by them, and, like many kids, he saw a bleak future for our generation.”
Brown added that Harris had felt the same way because of how he was treated, too.
“And like Dylan, Eric saw the injustices of the world quite clearly, even as he was getting beat up at the high school locker room or jumping to avoid the glass bottles thrown at him out of the passing cars of Columbine football players,” Brooks also wrote, but added just a few sentences later that the difference between them is that he had a “dark side” and “mean streak” which these injustices only fueled.
Despite that Brown had alerted the police about the content of Harris’ webpages, the police would haunt Brown for months after the shooting based on a strong suspicion that he had some participation with what happened.
Brown wanted to make a difference in these two boys’ lives to the point that he gave Harris another chance after months of silence and even though they were still on shaky terms at that time. Brown had reported a three-page document that detailed the pipe bombs he and Klebold had made along with the “Rebel Missions” they went on.
Harris’ threat to Brown’s life and the fact that Harris had made a vicious record on the people he hated is enough to make everyone cringe. However, no one tries to understand why. All three of those boys—Brown, Harris, and Klebold—grew up in a climate that they felt unable to survive in. They wanted to feel they had power in some way, even to the extent that they killed themselves at the end of the shooting rampage in the library.
Both Harris and Klebold knew the power they exercised over the high school would not last. They would have been imprisoned at the least or put in the electric chair. They had lived in prison for long enough at their high school that they would not be willing or have lasted, had prison been an option.
According to the tapes which Brown said in his book that have never been released to the public and just to the media, both Klebold and Harris had given their final comments.
“‘Just know that I’m going to a better place than here,” Klebold had said. “I didn’t like life too much, and I know I’ll be happier wherever the f*** I go. So I’m gone.”
Even Harris may had more of a humane heart than what most thought.
“I just wanted to apologize to you guys for any crap,” Harris said. “To everyone I love, I’m really sorry about all of this. I know my mom and dad will be just f****** shocked beyond belief.”
Not much is known about Harris’ parents, but the Columbine incident sure devastated Klebold’s parents. In her memoir, Sue discusses how her emotions sucked any other energy out of her to accomplish basic tasks like putting on a sock. After she finally was able to do that after several hours, she remembers staring into the darkness.
“I have 17 phone messages and don’t have the energy to listen to them,” Sue records in a journal entry dated May 1999. “Dylan’s room is just as the law enforcement people left it, and I can’t face putting it in order.”
So as to the remark about Sue not being a meticulous parent to notice any changes in Klebold, she loved the vibrancy and the compassion she saw in her son. But she also didn’t blame others for blaming her.
“Obviously, the parents had been oblivious, irresponsible, secretly abusive,” Sue writes in her memoir. “Of course the mother had been a shrew, a smotherer, a doormat.”
Yet to anyone who believes that, Sue never encouraged guns in the Klebold household. She also thanks the people who have reached out to their family through their numerous letters and various considerate acts.
There are many other topics I would love to hit on but would not have room or time for. While Sue advocates for mental illness awareness and while it may be a factor, I also believe it is the effect of the social environment that drove Harris and Klebold to their horrendous deed.
Does it excuse what they did? No. But once someone has fought for long enough and have reached a point where they have had enough, you will never know when they will give up or respond to their circumstances.
Loneliness is a monster that will consume you. I know how it feels, while not in a hostile environment like Columbine, but ostracized because you have never fit into a group even though you have tried and your life has been in a state of flux because you are trying to constantly adapt. Sometimes it is difficult to see what few friends you do have and why they matter to you. Sometimes you do want to give up.
Brown shared his reason for coming out with his book in 2002, just a few years after the Columbine shooting.
“My hope is that the people who read this book will look at the big picture behind Columbine, and see what needs to change,” Brown wrote. “I hope that people will open their eyes.”