Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold: Murder Masterminds of Columbine High School
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold:
Murder Masterminds of Columbine High School
Mass shootings are, unfortunately, not a foreign concept in contemporary America. They are events that go down in history as “massacres.” One of those events occurred on April 20, 1999, when two students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, gunned down their fellow students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. For years leading up to this tragic event, Harris and Klebold kept journals, noting their motives to commit such an act. These motives were mostly related to their peers excluding and ostracizing them. Keeping in mind that Harris and Klebold were two white boys, 18 and 17 years old respectively, it is important to note that members of that demographic are privileged; they are used to getting what they want and having their voices heard. Harris and Klebold felt entitled to attention they were not receiving, but this worldview is not wayward. It is not a new idea off the beaten path. What was wayward about Harris and Klebold were the actions they took in order to achieve their worldview.
In her “White Privilege Checklist,” Peggy McIntosh lists fifty different ways in which Harris and Klebold benefited from society while they were alive and still do to this day. One of which is the fact that their violent actions are not attributed to having bad morals related to their culture, but to their individual will. Statistically, black students are less likely to recognize bullying or a lack of friend as excuses for violence (Kimmel and Mahler). “We know that African American boys face a multitude of challenges in schools—racial stereotypes, formal and informal tracking systems, low expectations, and underachievement. But the one thing they do not do is plan and execute random and arbitrary mass shootings” (Kimmel and Mahler). This isn’t just a matter of race, but of gender as well. “Unlike girls, boys do not lose their voice, they ‘gain’ a voice, but it is an inauthentic voice of constant posturing, of false bravado, of foolish risk-taking and gratuitous violence—what some have called the‘boy code,’ the ‘mask of masculinity.’ The once-warm, empathic, communicative, boy becomes, very early, a stoic, uncommunicative, armor-plated man” (Kimmel and Mahler). The culture of race and gender is complex in a high school setting, but often advantageous in the cases of white boys.Thus they should be held accountable for their actions, which are wayward in that they are not the typical course of action taken by those who want to be heard.
There was much evidence attributed to the two boys feeling entitled to what they weren’t receiving. In 1998, they were both arrested for attempting to break into a van that was filled with electronics. Harris started writing in a journal on April 10 of that same year, when he wrote that he was most definitely not sorry for committing that crime, because he had every right to break in. It appears that this is where his attack plans start, after realizing that he isn’t going to get the respect he deserves without putting up a fight. In Harris’s final journal entry, he questions why he “can’t get any” and that he would have wanted to “get fucked” before their attacks. Harris had previously been rejected from the Marines, so his masculinity had been threatened in more than one respect. Klebold’s journal also mentioned a girl, a specific girl, in fact, who seemed to be the overwhelmingly prevalent topic in his journal entries, as opposed to violence. His entries grow angrier with the realization that she is not reciprocating his feelings.
Harris’s journal describes his strong interest in Charles Darwin’s theory of “natural selection,” a scientific theory that has nonetheless been put to wayward uses as a social worldview. Harris believed that if he carried out his attacks on the school, only the strong would survive, thus proving his superiority among his peers. Though this superiority complex may not have accurately captured Darwin’s original theory, Harris interpreted it that way.
Studies have shown what kind of people commit these mass murders. “Almost all the shooters came from intact and relatively stable families, with no history of child abuse. If they had psychological problems at all, they were relatively minor, and the boys flew under the radar of any school official or family member who might have noticed something seriously wrong. In a term paper, Eric Harris, of Columbine infamy, quoted Shakespeare’s The Tempest, ‘Good wombs hath borne bad sons’” (Kimmel and Mahler). There is a pattern to this behavior, but it hasn’t got quite past levels of research and academia yet.
Harris and Klebold got what they wanted; they went down in history, and we are still talking about them today. They have the privilege of doubt, of having investigators attribute their behavior to mental illness or other factor, and not their gender, race or upbringing. “This search for causal variables is also misguided because it ignores a crucial component of all the shootings. These childhood variables would apply equally to boys and to girls. Thus, they offer little purchase with which to answer the question of why it is that only boys open fire on their classmates…masculinity is the single greatest risk factor in school violence” (Kimmel and Mahler). The heinous actions of white men as a group are not questioned, yet they are statistically a dangerous group. Instead they are researched, investigated, and publicized. They are turned into celebrities who are imitated. If men like them continue to carry out mass shootings in order to achieve their worldview, then pretty soon it’s not going to be considered wayward anymore.
Eric Harris (left) and Dylan Klebold (right) in their senior class yearbook photo, courtesy of A Columbine Site, 1999.
Harris and Klebold participated in school activities like group photos for the yearbook and prom, and they always attended their classes. They may have been cast out by some students, but overall they blended in.
Cafeteria map and notes from Eric Harris’s journal, courtesy of the Columbine Report, 1999
This drawing was one of many that were peppered throughout Harris’s journal, which he kept between April 10, 1998 and April 3, 1999. Next to a drawing of the Columbine High School cafeteria floor plan is an itinerary for the day of the attack, listing time frames corresponding with how many people that could possibly be killed. He planned to kill at least 500 people on April 20, 1999, validating his interpretation of Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection.
Final scenes from “Zero Day” courtesy of YouTube and Avatar Films, 2003.
“Zero Day” is a film based on the Columbine massacre of 1999, and it is filmed in a documentary style, from the perspective of the characters based on Harris and Klebold. These final scenes recount the school shooting itself in gruesome, creative detail; the original footage from Columbine high school was only recorded in the cafeteria, without audio. Writer/director/producer Ben Coccio made assumptions as to what the shooters may have said to their victims and to each other that day, but we can never know for sure.
“4-20: a Columbine site.” < http://acolumbinesite.com/index.html>.
Gibbs, Nancy and Timothy Roche. “The Columbine Tapes.” TIME Magazine. 12 December 1999.
Kimmel, Michael S., and Matthew Mahler. “Adolescent Masculinity, Homophobia, and Violence: Random School Shootings, 1982-2001.” American Behavioral Scientist. Volume 26. 2003.
Langman, Peter. “Columbine Documents.” Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. <www.schoolshooters.info>. 2008.
Leary, Mark R., Robin M. Kowalski, Laura Smith, and Stephen Philips. “Teasing, Rejection, And Violence: Case Studies of the School Shootings.” Aggressive Behavior. Volume 29, pages 202-214. 2003.
McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies” Wellesley College Center for Research on Women. 1998.
Schwyzer, Hugo. “Why Most Mass Murderers Are Privileged White Men.” Role Reboot. <http://www.rolereboot.org/culture-and-politics/details/2012-07-why-most-mass-murderers-are-privileged-white-men>.
Shepard, Alicia C. “The Columbine Shooting: Live Television Coverage.” Columbia University.