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The Columbine Massacre

Crime Files
The Columbine Massacre

On 20 April 1999, in the small, suburban town of Littleton, Colorado, two high-school pupils, Dylan Klebold, 17, and Eric Harris, 18, embarked on a shooting rampage at Columbine High School during the middle of the school day. Using all manner of weapons, such as guns, knives, and a multitude of bombs, the two boys walked the hallways and killed. When the assault was over, twelve students, one teacher and the two killers were dead.



Harris and Klebold arrived at the school in separate cars. Klebold was armed with a 9-mm semi-automatic handgun and a sawn-off shotgun. Harris was armed with a 9-mm carbine rifle and a sawn-off shotgun. Both wore black trench coats to hide the weapons and utility belts filled with ammunition.They also carried knives and had a backpack and a duffel bag full of bombs.The pair parked separately in the junior and senior student parking spaces, with a clear view of the cafeteria. Some minutes later, they carried two 20-pound propane bombs, with timers set for 11:17am, in duffel bags and placed them near tables in the canteen. The boys then went back to their cars to wait for the explosion.

Nothing happened.

It is believed that if the bombs had exploded all 488 students in the cafeteria would have likely been killed.


The two pipe bombs that Klebold and Harris had set up in an open field, several blocks away, exploded. The boys had timed the explosion so that it would be a distraction for police officers and at the same time they started firing their first shots at students sitting outside the cafeteria. Their first victim was 17-year-old Rachel Scott.

Being only a few weeks before the seniors graduated, many of the other students did not realise what was truly happening and did not immediately flee, thinking it was merely a boisterous but harmless ‘senior prank’.

Klebold and Harris walked through the halls, randomly taking aim at students and throwing their hand-made bombs. The boys entered the library and shouted for all the pupils to get up. When no-one did, they both started firing. Many of the pupils had hidden under the tables but the pair carried on shooting from table to table. In total, they killed 10 students and injured 12 others.

Klebold and Harris headed back downstairs and entered the cafeteria. Harris shot at one of the duffel bags they had placed there earlier, trying to get the 20-pound propane bomb to explode but it did not. Klebold then threw another bomb at the duffel bag, which exploded and started a fire and triggered the sprinkler system.

The boys continued to wander around the school, throwing bombs. They headed back to the library, which now housed nearly all of the uninjured students, and shot out of the windows toward the policemen and paramedics.


Klebold and Harris went to the south side of the library and shot themselves in the head, ending the massacre that had lasted under an hour. In the end, one teacher and 12 students were killed. 24 other students were injured.

The Investigation

After the massacre there was a flurry of debate about what had motivated the killers and whether anything could have prevented the crime. The obvious problems lay with the fact that both boys had committed suicide and could not be questioned. No arrests could be made and there was no way for the victims to find any kind of justice through a trial. Some high schools began special programmes to expose and put a stop to school bullying, which was suggested as a prime motivating factor for Harris and Klebold’s actions.

Both Harris and Klebold were fans of video games such as Doom and they supported ‘dark’ music groups such as Marilyn Manson and KMFDM. Documentary-maker Michael Moore made a film entitled 'Bowling for Columbine' (2003) after the massacre, which focused on America’s obsession with gun culture. The film won a Best Documentary Academy Award.

In a VH1 interview Marilyn Manson explained that he had cancelled three concerts in memory of the Columbine tragedy and when asked what he would have said to the killers, replied: “I wouldn't say a thing. I would just listen to them... and that's what nobody did."

In July 1999, the FBI organised a major summit on school shooters in Virginia. It was attended by psychologists, psychiatrists and representatives from each of the recent school shootings, including a large Columbine contingent. The FBI subsequently published a major report, although it steered clear of suggesting motives in any individual case.

On the fifth anniversary of the massacre, the FBI's lead Columbine investigator, along with several psychiatrists, went public in a news feature on their conclusions for the shootings. They stated that Harris was a clinical psychopath and Klebold was depressive. They believed the plan was masterminded by Harris, who they thought had a superiority complex and wanted to highlight his authority to the world.

In response to the devastation of the Columbine and other school massacres, many schools instituted new anti-bullying policies as well as ‘zero tolerance’ approaches to weapons and threatening behaviour. In 2000 more gun control measures were called for and federal and state legislations were introduced that would require safety locks on firearms. A ban was placed on the importation of high-capacity ammunition magazines.

On 21st September 2007 a memorial was dedicated in Clement Park, where immediate memorials were held after the shooting.

The Key Figures

Dyland Klebold and Eric Harris - The killers

Dave Saunders - A teacher who helped many students escape before being shot dead

Jefferson County District Attorney David Thomas and Sheriff John Stone - Held a press conference after the massacre to say they believed other people had helped to plan the attack