Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Columbine High School massacre
The Columbine High School massacre occurred on Tuesday, April 20, 1999 at Columbine High School in Jefferson County near Littleton, Colorado, United States. Two teenage students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, carried out a shooting rampage they had planned for at least a year, killing 12 other students and a teacher before committing suicide. It is considered to be the worst school shooting, and is the second most deadly attack on a school in U.S. history.
Chronology of events
April 20, 1999: Shooting at Columbine High
18 minutes of terror
At 11:10 a.m. on Tuesday, April 20th, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold arrived at Columbine High School in separate cars, almost simultaneously. Harris parked in the Junior Parking lot and Klebold in the Senior Parking lot at spaces not assigned to them. From these spots, both of them had perfect views of the first floor cafeteria, and each one was covering a main exit of the school. The two entered the cafeteria a few minutes before "A" lunch began and placed two duffel bags, each one with a 20-lb. (9 kg) propane bomb inside rigged to explode at 11:17 a.m. At the moment they entered the cafeteria, a custodian removed the security camera video tape and rewound it, so the act of placing the bombs was not recorded, although once restarted, one could clearly see the bags.
Their initial plan of attack was not a shooting, but to wait outside the cafeteria for the bombs to explode and then shoot anyone who attempted to escape. The bombs had enough explosive power to take out the entire cafeteria and bring the library above crashing down. Each shooter returned to his car to wait until the bombs exploded so they could proceed with their plan, which was to kill at least 500 students.
When the cafeteria bombs failed to explode, Harris and Klebold met up near Harris' car, armed themselves with a duffel bag and backpack containing two sawed-off shotguns, a 9mm semi-automatic carbine rifle, and a 9mm Tec-9 semi-automatic pistol, and then proceeded toward the cafeteria. They went to the top of the west entrance steps, the highest point on campus. From this vantage point, the cafeteria side entrance was at the bottom of the staircase, the school's main West Entrance was to their left, and the athletic fields to their right (for better reference, this is the same outdoor staircase seen in many pictures of the attack).
At 11:19 a.m., a witness saw Eric Harris yell "GO! GO!" At that moment they pulled out their shotguns, aiming them at Rachel Scott and Richard Castaldo, who were sitting on a grassy knoll to their left (next to the West Entrance of the school) eating lunch. Both were hit and critically injured. After the initial shots, one of the shooters shot Scott again, killing her. It is unclear which one shot first and which one killed Scott.
Next, Harris took off his trenchcoat and took out his 9mm Tec-9 semi automatic weapon, aiming it down the West Staircase. Daniel Rohrbough and his two friends, Sean Graves and Lance Kirklin, were walking up the staircase directly below the shooters. Lance reported seeing them standing at the top, when suddenly they began shooting towards him. Rohrbough fell back onto Graves, a bullet piercing through Graves' foot. They then turned their guns on Kirklin, standing across from them; all three fell wounded. The two then turned and began shooting south (away from the school) at five students sitting on the grassy knoll adjacent to the steps, opposite the West Entrance of the school. Michael Johnson was hit but kept running and escaped. Mark Taylor fell to the ground crippled; he played dead, and the other three escaped uninjured. As they shot, Sean Graves stood up and limped down the staircase into the cafeteria's side entrance where he fell injured in front of the door. Klebold walked down the steps heading toward the cafeteria; as he descended, he shot Lance Kirklin again. Daniel Rohrbough began to struggle down the steps towards the bottom of the staircase. Klebold walked up to him and shot him in the head at close range, killing him. He continued down the steps and stepped inside the cafeteria, walking over the injured Sean Graves, who lay at the Cafeteria Entrance. It is speculated that Klebold was checking to see why the propane bombs had failed to explode. As Klebold stepped into the cafeteria, Harris began to shoot down the steps at several students sitting near the cafeteria's entrance, hitting Anne-Marie Hochhalter as she attempted to get up and run. After a few seconds, Klebold walked back up the stairs to meet up with Eric at the top.
Once at the top, Eric and Dylan attempted to shoot at students standing near the soccer field a few yards away but did not succeed at hitting anyone. They then threw pipe bombs at the parking lot, roof, and hillside to the East, none of which detonated. Inside the school, teacher Patti Nielson walked towards the West Entrance with student Brian Anderson. She was about to walk outside and ask the two students to "knock it off" because she thought they were shooting a video or pulling a prank. Anderson had just opened the first set of double doors and Nielson came up behind him when Klebold and Harris shot out the windows. Brian Anderson was injured by flying glass and Nielson was hit in the shoulder by shrapnel. She stood up and ran down the hall and into the library where she hid under the administrator desk. Anderson was caught between the exterior and interior doors.
Meanwhile, a police deputy arrived at the scene and began shooting at Harris and Klebold, distracting them from the injured Brian Anderson. Anderson staggered out of the area and made it into the library where he ran into a utilty closet remaining there until the ordeal ended. Harris attempted to shoot at the officer, who then radioed in a Code 33 (officer in need of emergency assistance). Harris' gun jammed, so he ran inside the school with Klebold. The pair proceeded down the main North Hallway shooting at anyone they saw and throwing pipe bombs. While doing so, they hit student Stephanie Munson in the ankle. She was able to walk out of the school and make it to a house across the street. They then shot out the windows to the East Entrance of the School. After going up and down the hall several more times, shooting at any students they saw (but not injuring any), they headed back towards the West Entrance and turned the corner to the Library Hallway.
Moments earlier Coach Dave Sanders had evacuated the cafeteria through the staircase leading up to the second floor. The staircase was around the corner from the Library Hallway in the main South Hallway. He and another student turned the corner and were walking down the Library Hallway when they saw the shooters coming around the corner (from the North Hallway). They quickly turned around and ran the other way (it is believed, but not confirmed, that Sanders was heading for the library to help evacuate the students there). The shooters came around the corner and shot at both of them, hitting Dave Sanders as he reached the South Hallway but missing the student. The student ran into a science classroom (SCI-1) while Sanders struggled on the floor. The shooters went back up the North Hallway and Sanders struggled over to the Science area where a teacher took him into room SCI-3. Two students administered first aid, but help came too late. He died at approximately 3:00 p.m.
In the library, the shooters would begin their deadliest massacre. Inside, Patti Nielson was on the phone with 9-1-1 explaining the situation. According to the 9-1-1 transcript, the call was received by the 9-1-1 operator at 11:27:13. The time period between when the call was answered and the shooters entered the library was approximately five minutes. Before entering, the shooters threw two pipe bombs into the cafeteria from the staircase in the South Hallway, both which exploded (one of which can be seen on the security tapes). They then threw another in the Library Hallway which exploded, damaging some lockers. The two then walked through the heavy doors of the library where 52 students, 3 library staff, and Ms. Nielson were hiding under desks and inside exterior break rooms.
As he entered, Harris shot out a display case at the opposite end of the administrator desk, injuring student Evan Todd (who was hiding under a copier adjacent to the display case). Harris and Klebold then yelled for everyone to "Get up!" so loud that they could be heard on the 9-1-1 recording. Staff and students hiding in the library exterior rooms said they heard the gunmen say things such as "Everyone with a white cap or baseball cap, stand up!" and "All jocks stand up! We'll get the guys in white hats!" (wearing a white hat at Columbine was a sign of being a jock). When no one stood up, one was heard to say: "Fine, I'll start shooting!" The two made their way down to the opposite side of the library, down two rows of computers. Evan Todd used the time to move behind the administrator's desk. Kyle Velasquez was sitting at the north (or upper) row of computers; he had not ducked down below the desk. Klebold shot him first, killing him. The shooters then set down their duffel bags filled with ammunition at the south (or lower) row of computers and began reloading their weapons. The two proceeded over to the windows, facing the outside staircase they were just at. They noticed police evacuating students and began to shoot at them; police returned fire.
Klebold turned away from the windows and fired his shotgun at a nearby table, injuring Patrick Ireland, Daniel Steepleton and Makai Hall. Then he took off his trenchcoat. Harris grabbed his shotgun and walked over to the south (or lower) computer desk, putting his gun underneath the desk without looking to see who was under it. He shot and killed Steven Curnow, who was underneath the furthest desk in the row. He then shot under the next computer desk, injuring Kasey Ruegsegger.
Next, he walked over to the table across from the lower computer row, tapped the top twice with his gun, knelt down and said, "peek-a-boo," shooting Cassie Bernall in the head. The recoil from the weapon hit his face, making his nose bleed. (Popular belief has it that Cassie was the individual who was asked "Do you believe in God?" but it has since come out that the shooters asked this same question of several students; Cassie was not one of them.) Harris then turned to the next table where student Bree Pasquale sat next to the table, rather than beneath it (there wasn't enough room for her to be beneath the table). Harris asked her if she wanted to die, to which she replied with a plea for her life. Witnesses report him as being disoriented as this occurred. As Harris taunted Pasquale, Patrick Ireland moved out of hiding to try and administer first aid to one of the two injured near him; seeing this, Klebold shot at him, hitting him twice in the head, and once in the foot as he tried to get back under cover. The shot to his foot blew his shoe clear off. He was knocked unconscious, but remarkably survived.
Next, Klebold walked East towards another set of tables and discovered Isaiah Shoels, Matthew Ketchner, and Craig Scott (Rachel Scott's brother, and popular athletes at the school) hiding under one. He attempted to pull Isaiah out from underneath the table but was unable to. He called to Harris, who became reoriented and joined him, drawing his attention away from Bree Pasquale. Klebold and Harris taunted Shoels for a few seconds, and Klebold made a racial comment towards him. Harris then knelt down and shot him, killing him. Klebold also knelt down and opened fire, hitting and killing Matthew Ketcher. Craig Scott remained remarkably uninjured in his friend's blood, pretending to be dead. Eric then turned and threw a CO2 bomb at the table where Hall, Steepleton, and Ireland were. Makai threw the bomb back out where it exploded further south (away from the shooters).
Harris then went over to the book cases between the west and center section of tables in the library. He jumped on the book cases and shook them, then shot at something in that general area (it is not known what he shot at, since no one could see him at this point). Klebold walked through the main area past the first set of bookcases, the central desk area, and a second set of bookcases into the east area. Harris walked past the central area and met up with him there. Klebold shot out a display case next to the door, then turned and shot at the closest table to him, injuring Mark Kintgen. He turned to the table to his left (east) and shot at it, injuring Lisa Kreutz and Val Schnurr with the same bullet. Klebold then closed his distance at the table and shot as quickly as he could, killing Lauren Townsend.
Harris, in the meantime, went over to another table where two girls were hiding, bent down and looked at them, then dismissed them as "Pathetic." Schnurr, who had been hurt badly, began to cry out at that point "Oh, God help me!" Klebold went back to her and asked her if she believed in God. She floundered in her answer, saying no at first and then yes, trying to get the answer 'right'. He asked her why and she said it was because it was what her family believed. He taunted her and walked away (this story was later wrongly attributed to Cassie Bernall).
From there, Harris moved to another table, shooting and injuring Nicole Nowlen and John Tomlin. When Tomlin tried to crawl out, Klebold shot and killed him. Harris then walked around the table and back towards the table where Lauren Townsend lay. Behind it, Kelly Fleming, like Bree Pasquale, sat next to the table rather than beneath it. Harris shot her in the back, killing her instantly. He then continued to shoot at the table behind her, hitting Townsend and Kreutz again, and wounding Jeanna Park. Despite hitting Townsend again, autopsies determined she had already been killed by the first shot.
At 11:34 a.m., the shooters moved to the center of the library, where they reloaded their weapons at a table midway across the room. Harris noticed a nearby student whom he recognized and told him to identify himself. The student was an acquaintance of Klebold's and he asked him what he was doing, to which Klebold replied: "Oh, just killing people." The student asked if they were going to kill him and Klebold told him to get out of the library. He fled immediately, making a safe escape through the library's main entrance.
After the student was gone, Eric turned and fired on the table directly north of where they'd been, shooting and killing Daniel Mauser in the face at close range. Then both shooters moved south and fired under a table there, injuring Jennifer Doyle and Stephen Eubanks, and killing Corey DePooter. These would be their last deadly shots, excepting their suicides.
Harris and Klebold moved away from the table and began heading toward the administrator counter. Harris threw a Molotov cocktail toward the southwestern end of the library as he went, but it failed to explode. He then came around the east side of the counter and Klebold joined him from the west, both converging near where Evan Todd had moved to after the copier incident. The shooters made fun of him and debated killing him but eventually walked away. Klebold fired a shot into the library staff break room, hitting a television. He then slammed a chair down on top of the computer terminal that was on the library counter, underneath the table which Patti Nielson was hiding. The two walked out of the library at 11:37 a.m., ending their brutal massacre.
Almost immediately after the shooters left the library at 11:37 a.m., the 34 uninjured and 10 of the injured evacuated the room through the north door, leading out onto the sidewalk adjacent the west entrance where the rampage had begun. Patrick Ireland, who had been knocked unconscious, and Lisa Kreutz, who was nearly paralyzed, remained behind. Patti Nielson dropped the phone and ran into the exterior break room Klebold had shot into earlier, joining the three library staff already inside; they locked themselves in and remained there until they were freed at approximately 3:30 p.m.
After leaving the library, the pair went into the science area and threw a small fire bomb into an empty storage closet. When the bomb exploded, they ran off. A teacher in the adjacent room put out the fire. They proceeded up towards the South Hallway, stopped, and began shooting into an empty science room (SCI-8) at the end of the hall. Next, they went down the staircase into the cafeteria where they were first caught by the security cameras. As recorded, Harris attempted to detonate one of the failed propane bombs without success; he then took a sip from one of the drinks left behind by fleeing students. Another Molotov cocktail was thrown but it too, failed. The two then left the cafeteria and back up the stairs, as they did so, the molotov cocktail exploded (this can been seen in the security tapes) causing a fire that was extinguished by the sprinklers; they left the cafeteria at around 11:45 a.m. Once back on the upper level, they walked around the main North and South Hallways of the school without any direction shooting aimlessly at anything. They walked through the South Hallway, past the Social Studies section and into the main office before proceeding back onto the North Hallway. Several times they looked through the small windows on the classroom doors and even made eye contact with students, but never attempted to enter the room. After leaving the main office, the pair went up to a bathroom entrance and began taunting students inside, saying such things as "we know you're in there" and "let's kill anyone we find in here" but never actually entering the bathroom. At 11:55 a.m., the two returned to the Cafeteria and entered the kitchen briefly, only to return back up the staircase, and into the South Hallway, at 11:58 a.m.
Sometime between 12:02 p.m. and 12:05 p.m. the shooters entered the library again, but it was empty except for the unconscious Patrick Ireland and Lisa Kreutz (who played dead). It is not known what they did between the time they left the cafeteria and the time they re-entered the library. Once inside, they attempted to shoot out the windows at policemen, without success. They then moved over to the table next to where Matthew Ketchner and Isaiah Shoels lay; there, they shot themselves, committing suicide. At 2:38 p.m., Patrick Ireland regained consciousness and ran over to the windows, where he attempted to exit. He was then taken out of the school through the library windows by SWAT team members; this was famously televised. Lisa Kreutz remained injured in the library until police discovered the scene at 3:25 p.m., she was removed from the scene then along with Ms. Nielson and the three library staff.
A few other students and one teacher were injured in the school after taking a 15ft (4,57m) fall through the ceiling above the staff lounge in an attempt to escape from the school. These injuries were not attributed to the shooters. Those injured in this incident were:
- Nicholas Foss, 18
- Joyce Jankowski, 45
- Adam Kyler, 16
The shooting stops
By noon, SWAT teams were stationed outside the school and ambulances started taking the wounded to local hospitals. Parents gathered at nearby Leawood Elementary School. The call for additional ammunition to police officers in case of a shootout came at 12:20. However, the killers had stopped shooting just minutes after they began.
The SWAT teams started checking every room in the high school in great detail. Even desks and backpacks were examined. Authorities reported pipe bombs being found by 1:00 p.m.
SWAT teams started to free hidden students by 2:30 p.m. The students and teachers were taken away, questioned, and were offered medical care in small holding areas. Officers found bodies in the library by 3:30.
By 4:00 the sheriff made an initial estimate of 25 dead students and teachers; his estimate was 10 over the true count but closer to the total count of dead and wounded. He also stated that police officers were searching the bodies of Harris and Klebold in the library. At 4:30 the school was declared safe, yet at 5:30 additional officers were called in as more explosives were found in the parking lot. At 6:15 p.m., officials found a bomb in a car in the parking lot, so the sheriff marked the entire school as a crime scene with yards of yellow tape. All of the dead were still inside the school at the time. At 10:45 p.m., one of the homemade bombs detonated while police tried to defuse it.
April 21: bomb squad combs the school, press conferences continue
The next day, on April 21, bomb squads combed the high school looking for bombs. At 08:30 a.m., the official death toll of fifteen was released. The bomb squad declared the building safe for officials to enter. By 11:30, a spokesman of the sheriff said, "The investigation is under way." Thirteen of the bodies were still inside the high school as investigators photographed the building.
By 2:30 p.m., a press conference was held by Jefferson County District Attorney David Thomas and Sheriff John Stone, saying that they suspected that other children helped plan the shooting. Formal identifications of the dead had not taken place yet, but families of the children thought to have been killed were notified that this probably happened. Throughout the late afternoon and early evening, the rest of the bodies were gradually removed out of the school and taken to the Jefferson County Coroner's Office to be identified and autopsied. By 5:00 p.m., the identities of those dead started to be known.
April 30: Second press conference, officials don't mention Guerra affidavit
A few days after the shooting, high-ranking members of Jefferson County and the Jefferson County Sheriff Office met together to decide if they should reveal that investigator Guerra knew of the Harris website two years prior to the massacre. They decide to not disclose this information at a press conference held April 30th, nor did they mention it in any other way. Over the next two years the original Guerra documents were lost.
September 2001: Guerra affidavit becomes publicly known
The existence of the Guerra affidavit becomes known to the general public and a series of grand jury investigations are launched into the coverup activities of the Jefferson County officials. The final grand jury investigation is released in September 2004.
Aftershock and the search for reasons
Analysis of journals and videos left behind by Harris and Klebold revealed that the pair had developed an elaborate, sometimes fantastic plan centered more on a major bombing than a shooting.
In the aftermath of the shootings, there was a great deal of debate about what "provoked" the killers and whether anything could have been done to prevent the crime. The reality of social cliques in high schools was a frequent topic of discussion. Many argued that the pair's isolation from the rest of their classmates prompted feelings of helplessness, insecurity and depression, as well as a strong desire for attention. Some schools also began programs to expose and stop school bullying, which many charged had fueled anger and resentment within Harris and Klebold.
Pundits on the left used Colmbine to advocate gun control. Pundits on the right used it to advocate Religion.
In reality they were outcast "nerds" who were unpopular and ostracized by much of the school's population; later such characterizations were revised as both Harris and Klebold were documented to have both a close circle of friends and a wider informal social group. (However, neither were they "popular" kids and could best be described as being members of the school's "rejects", although by no means were they isolated.) It was also reported that anti-gay epithets were frequently directed at them though both were known to have had girlfriends. This did not stop people like Rush Limbagh and Michael Savage from claiming they were lovers and a coverup had taken place. As for the "goth cult" Harris and Klebold were peripheral members of a club called the "Trenchcoat Mafia" in which they wore heavy black trench coats. A backlash against the "Goth" subculture resulted from both students and administrators across the country. By the time of the shootings, most of the major members of the group had already either graduated or dropped out of Columbine. Also, contrary to popular myth, and the film "Bowling For Columbine," Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold skipped bowling class that morning.
Confusion remains about the choice of date. One theory says that the original date was chosen as April 19 because it was a date which Robyn Anderson, one of the people who purchased the guns and close friends with Klebold, would not be present. Due to delays in acquiring ammo, the date was moved to April 20. Some analysts noted that the date of the shooting coincided with Adolf Hitler's 110th birth anniversary, and was one day after the anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing, though it was not known whether knowledge of either of these dates influenced Harris and Klebold. However, Harris mentions topping Oklahoma City explicitly in his journal. The shootings were perhaps plotted for these days because of their proximity to end of the year activities, such as prom (which had been held the previous Saturday), end of the year examinations, and graduation, ensuring high attendance rates.
Harris and Klebold were fans of violent video games such as "Doom" (in fact, Harris often created levels for the game; these were widely distributed, and can still occasionally be found on the Internet as the Harris levels. Rumors that the layout of these levels resembled that of Columbine High School circulated but have been debunked as documented on the Snopes urban legends website ). Some analysts argued that part of the killers' problem may have been a result of their constant exposure to violent imagery in such video games, as well as music, and movies, theorizing that their obsession with these forms of media may have led them to have trouble telling the difference between reality and fantasy. A lawsuit against several video game manufacturers was filed as a result by parents of some of the victims.
It has been publicly revealed that Harris had been prescribed and was taking Luvox (Fluvoxamine maleate), an SSRI antidepressant, at the time of the shooting spree. Some analysts have argued that this medication may have contributed to Harris' actions, and claimed that a side-effect of these drugs is a loss of empathy for other human beings, though no evidence was provided to support these claims. A correlation is claimed between "school shooters" whose medical history has been made public and use of or recent discontinuation of such medications. Other researchers have pointed out that such claims are not based upon rigorous scientific testing.
In response to concerns over the causes of Columbine and other school massacres, many schools later instituted new anti-bully policies as well as so-called "zero tolerance" approaches to weapons and threatening behavior. Despite the horrific nature of the Columbine incident, some experts in social science feel the zero-tolerance in schools has gone overboard. In the months following the shooting, some Christians were captivated by reports of Cassie Bernall, who was originally believed to have been asked "Do you believe in God?" by one of the shooters, and to have responded "Yes" before being shot and killed. Alternate accounts surfaced soon thereafter, attributing the remark to victim Rachel Scott. Both Bernall and Scott were regarded as Christian "martyrs" by many. The official investigation attributed the statement to survivor Valeen Schnurr.
Columbine has also become a household name and is associated with anybody who wants to do a school shooting. Charles Andrew Williams, the Santee shooter, reportedly told his friends that he was going to "do Columbine" (none of them took him seriously). Columbine has also become the model for all other future school shootings, with some kids aspiring and saying they want to "outdo Columbine."
Some people believe that the school massacres could have been prevented if schools had adopted stringent security measures after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, as it has been considered an attack on children.
As well as the two deceased shooters, there were 13 murdered and 24 injured.
Photographic coverage of the aftermath of the shooting, particularly the reactions of students, won the Denver Rocky Mountain News a Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography for the year 2000.
The Columbine shooting spree also served as the inspiration for the fictional 2003 Gus Van Sant film, Elephant, and and the film "Zero Day," which examined the motives of two similar fictional killers.
In addition, aspects of the Columbine disaster were the basis of Douglas Coupland's 2003 book Hey Nostradamus! The Columbine High Massacre inspired Joseph Suglia's 2005 novel, Years of Rage. The British novel Vernon God Little also deals with similar, though fictional, events.
In 2004, shots of surveillance footage of the Columbine shooting spree was seen in the music video for "Alert Status Red" by Matthew Good. Many viewers found it insensitive that it included actual footage of the massacre. Good originally pulled it off of his website, but had second thoughts and put it back on.
Before the shootings, Harris and Klebold illegally acquired and drastically modified a TEC-DC9 semi-automatic handgun, a rifle, two sawed-off shotguns, and built 99 improvised explosive devices of various designs and sizes. Even before the massacre began, the two perpetrators committed numerous felony violations of state and federal law, including the National Firearms Act and the Gun Control Act of 1968.
All four guns were illegally obtained by straw purchases. Robyn Anderson bought the rifle and two shotguns for Harris and Klebold, but was never charged for her violations of federal gun laws. Mark Manes and Philip Duran were found guilty of supplying the handgun to the two youths and received prison terms.
- Website about Rachel Scott - vicitim
- All about the Columbine High School shootings, past to present
- Map showing the school as it was attacked, and the timeline
- A psychological analysis of the killers, with the FBI's lead agent
- Another timeline of the tragedy
- Another chronology of the attack
- Category at ODP
- Issues about police at Columbine
- A Fishbowl remebrance of the Columbine Tragedy
- The Columbine Almanac - Links and analysis of most major media coverage
- Luvox and the Littleton Columbine High School Shootings
- Information about the investigators' detailed timeline
- 2005 Columbia Journalism Review column comparing Columbine coverage to Red Lake
- Website about Daniel Mauser
- 11,000 pages of police files relating to the shooting, released by Jefferson County, Colorado.
- Index to the above police reports.
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