I was only six years old when my very distraught mother picked me up at school on April 20, 1999. She thanked god for not only me, but especially my brother casually walking out of his very crowded middle school that day. Usually every day I was tired, and we would arrive only to find out John had detention, and by the time we were on our way back home everyone was just cranky. But, today was different. My mom was showing my brother all these horrible things on TV which happened to be two students that took guns to school. That’s all I absorbed. Days later, I remember us all sitting around the TV watching a girls funeral while they played a song my six year old self recognized from “Titanic” (which turned out to be Rachel Scott’s funeral), and my parents telling us to leave the school if anything happens, and to plan an escape if we ever saw a gun. I was in the first grade. These were my first memories of the Columbine massacre, and my first experiences of “being in school”. Columbine became a household name for tragedy, fear, and loss…and it would become something I never really understood, and wanted to avoid until my senior year in high school. The news happened to broadcast an “anniversary” Columbine edition, and while watching I had faint flashbacks to that day. I didn’t know anything about the victims, all fifteen, and like most of America, I wanted to know who the guys were holding the guns.
I remember my first days of “research” and reading on Columbine while sitting in my own school library where ten of the thirteen murders happened. I remember looking around that room thinking how they hell I would escape in such an instance; and for the rest of that year I avoided the library. However, despite my fear I was still curious of these kids, Eric and Dylan, and like most people I wanted to know what their home life consisted of. Since my senior year, I have researched, had my dad drive me to Littleton to see the school, pried into pretty much anything accessible to attempt to understand the Columbine massacre. Most people are too caught up in the theatrics of Columbine to actually dig into what happened. I thought I had all the facts, but when Sue Klebold broke her silence and released her new book A Mother’s Reckoning, a new wave of emotion, and information knocked me to my knee’s.
THE EARLY DAYS
When the Columbine tragedy first erupted it was the first of its kind; a powerful, planned, and almost theatrically executed attack from two senior’s. On top of that Eric and Dylan had killed more in a school shooting at that time than any other attack. The media swarmed trying to give America the updates it wanted, and within the firestorm was making rapid mistakes. Within days, Katie Couric even showed and Colorado was plastered across America. There were prank calls, false information, over dramatization, and the showing of dead bodies before parents had even been notified. Yes, one set of parent’s found out their son was dead because his body was in the paper. Originally there were reported twenty-five dead, that the killers were part of the Trench Coat Mafia, they loved violent video games, did violent things, and that they were bullied. When a tragedy happens that we can’t yet comprehend we love to place blame. Our mind almost needs it so that we may rid it from our own lives. America was spoonfed so many outlets of blame, including Eric and Dylan’s parents that we practically had a list to choose from.
Like most, I figured something went south at home and a “mental illness” was to blame. However, Dylan and Eric have always been my focus of my Columbine studies. When you tell people what you have been studying, two of the most horrific killers in history, you are not exactly looked upon fondly. A lot of people have claimed that they don’t want to understand what happened at Columbine, but turning away this so-called understanding is the very action that will not prevent things like Columbine from happening again. While it is physically, and mentally painful to pick through the main focus needs to be this, and this only; “But we cannot dedicate ourselves to preventing violence if we do not take into account the role depression and brain dysfunction can play in the decision to commit it. We must arrive at a way to discuss the intersection between brain health and violence in an open and nonjudgmental manner, and we cannot do that without first talking about the stigma.” -Susan Klebold A Mother’s Reckoning
When this historical school shooting first happened, it appears as though the country banded together to mourn, almost like when 9/11 occurred. Together we saw the faces of who all had been taken from us, twelve students, one teacher, then two more, the killers. A carpenter flew out from Chicago to assemble not thirteen, but fifteen crosses for all victims including Dylan and Eric. “My husband did it out of love. They still have parents,” said Susan Zanis. “If you’re a parent, you know you don’t want your child to go astray. They may be suffering more because their children did this horrible thing. Within a couple of days, Brian Rohrbough, father to one of the victims had taken Dylan and Eric’s crosses away saying that we did not need to forgive them. To this day he is convinced his child died because there is not enough God in public schools. I love this quote in response to his theory. While I cannot imagine what this father is feeling, or has grieved in his lifetime his “theory” is I guess the only way his mind can somewhat deal with the loss of his son, and unfortunately it continuously does not help the general public and turns them away from Christ himself. “Using the death of his child to score some dubious and inconsistent political points on behalf of his employer says more about Mr. Rohrbough than it does about the society he critiques,” one anonymous reader commented on a forum at the Rocky Mountain News paper. Decades later, there is still a huge divide on whether to acknowledge thirteen, or fifteen victims within this tragedy. “Although I understood the response in my own community, it was still hard for me to accept that Dylan’s entire life had no value at all because of what he had done before he died.” -Sue Klebold
HALEY GROWS UP
A lot of my close friends know that I was not the most pleasant person in high school. I was stuck in a place where sports were admired, and anything but that you were labeled. My dad was raising me, I didn’t know how to style my very long naturally straight hair, make up was confusing, and overall I was just lost. My family home had been divided, I was more interested in listening to the Beatles, and physically I just could not keep up. The kind of bullying I experienced all through high school wasn’t your traditional bullying like one of my best friends was dealing with there; it was more like tell you exactly to your face or create this environment around you to show you how unacceptable you are. Little things like moving desks, and very passive aggressive behavior is what this entire school got by on. However I had close friends who were called “suicide bombers” and “terrorists” because they were a different nationality. Anyone other than white, and athletic was looked down upon. I never felt like I fit in, even with educators themselves. I was suffering from extreme anxiety, and depression, and awkwardly did not know how to deal with myself. I reacted with anger, and by withdrawing myself. Educators exacerbated those feelings beyond comparison. I remember when a friend killed himself, and I lost it several times just that first day in class. A teacher spoke to me in the hallway attempting to alleviate some stress, and only later did I hear her mocking me in the exact hallway with a fellow educator. My friend had put a gun to his temple less than twenty-four hours earlier, and my extreme shock was being mocked. I would go home and stew over that building, and how it made me feel. I couldn’t understand why loving music, and art was such a bad thing. The original high school had burned down in the early seventies, and often I would find myself wishing this current one would as well, and they would just cancel school. I had also not been diagnosed with a very severe, incurable, and terminal disease that was in the process of killing me every time I had to climb double flights of stairs to get to classes. In my years there, I had three teachers in which two kept an eye on me, communicated with me, and one math teacher that asked if I was depressed noticing my disinterest in class. To put the cherry on top my high school “counselor” told me that my current grades did not reflect of someone who will go to college reminding me of continuous failure. I wasn’t a particularly difficult kid to deal with. Looking back I just appeared angry, and withdrawn while attempting to gain approval. Daily, I was crushed by not only those around me, but adults.
Anger has never stopped me from dealing with the worst of kids. I have dealt with many truly angry kids; children that have threatened teachers lives, and children that push every nerve in your body just to get a reaction. Children that by me sitting down with have come down from their own very angry mountain to openly cry all over me. About seventy percent of the time, it wasn’t always a good feeling. While working at this elementary, I would collapse in our counselors office almost needing counseling of my own. It was the first time to deal with a very difficult generation of kids, and kids who I felt their pain and wanted to save them all. If only dealing with challenging kids was ideal. As Susan Klebold writes in her book: “This is one of the paradoxes we must confront. Of course it would be easier to help depressed teens if they were nicer to be around, or more communicative about their thoughts. If only they looked like the kids in the pamphlets do: clean-cut and attractive, staring out a rainy window with a wistful expression, chin propped on a fist! More commonly, though, a disturbed teenager will be unpleasant: aggressive, belligerent, obnoxious, irritable, hostile, lazy, whiny, untrustworthy, sometimes with poor personal hygiene.”
“Sometimes a kid messing up at school or coming at you with a bad attitude about helping at home isn’t a sign they need to be criticized or corrected, but a signal that they need help.”
I choose to deal with those kids because I understand what it is to be truly angry. To be so angry that you lose base and you wish to hurt yourself, or others. You want to “opt out” and not participate in life in general. I understand the lingering depressive anger. Luckily, I was a post Columbine era kid in which this had somewhat been talked about. My father was aware of my school situation and monitored me closely by leaving me letters, and seeking out professional help. Fresh out of high school, and throughout my early adulthood I have found myself back in my same high school footsteps thinking, “what the hell am I doing back here?” Being diagnosed with anxiety, and depression gave an identity to the constant fog in my brain. Luckily I had positive influences around me who knew about my brain health issues, and kept pushing me towards success. This is one of the very few differences between Dylan Klebold and I. He was angry, non communicative, silent, and had a friend, Eric Harris who was just as angry and extremely homicidal.
DYLAN BENNET KLEBOLD
His parents named him after a poet, but he was called their “sunshine boy.” He was the ideal child; sensitive, caring, and a very smart. Dylan didn’t necessarily fit perfectly with the crowd feeling awkward, and annoyed. He was six-foot four, had blonde-red hair, and was growing up in a time where computers and internet were all a new thing. He loved baseball, but with a left elbow injury on his pitching arm, he had not made the Columbine baseball team. Instead, he focused on computers, and the occasional sound for theater. Very rarely did Dylan ever “react” to things in front of his family, and his friends recall a different side, but one not much different from his parents. Dylan made time for his family, extended himself for his friends, and was a hard worker. Susan says that Dylan would have to come sit with her at work after his school hours. She worked at a University, and Dylan decided to volunteer at the daycare. “True to form, Dylan would be out there on the playground, making sure the little kids were lining up neatly to get a turn on the swing.” -Susan Klebold A Mothers Reckoning
Dylan was that friend; the one we all had to somewhat push to get talking and then he took off all on his own. He was creative, funny, into things that weren’t popular, and he truly truly cared. However, Dylan was emotional. He could not deal with mistakes, and he was of the up most critical of himself. He internalized everything, and so easily he would make others feel loved and appreciated by smoothly removing himself from a conversation letting all the discussion be about them. I think in a lot of ways Dylan was afraid to be known. When Columbine happened, Dylan had been writing for two years about how he wanted to die. Most likely, Dylan was suffering from extreme depression; pages he wrote dripped with love, wanting to find love, and how much he hated himself. He wrote, “Thinking of suicide gives me hope that I’ll be in my place wherever I go after this life – that I’ll finally not be a war with myself, the world, the universe – my mind, body, everywhere, everything is at PEACE – me – my soul (existence).” Unfortunately, Dylan was living in an era when child brain health, or brain health in general was not looked after or acknowledged. In this day and age (the 90’s) teenagers were just teenagers. Very rarely did we look up from our morning coffee and think something could be seriously wrong, I mean, a moody teenager? What’s new? I say brain health because it makes perfect sense; when we say “mental illness” there is such a stigma attached. “Oh, she’s mental, he’s mental, they’re crazy.” Years we have grown up making fun of mental illnesses and so afraid of them that when it’s a suggestion for us, we can’t grasp it. Also, “mental” refers to an invisible illness. Our brain is an organ, a very important one at that. It has its own health, and needs its own checkups just as the heart would. When our brain malfunctions in even the smallest of ways like anxiety, it can completely distract us from life because we are not hearing, and perceiving things as we would if our brain was okay. A “brain health checkup” as Dr. Richman put it, “is tangible”; it makes people a little more okay dealing with these health issues. Dylan’s grades were slipping, he was getting into trouble, and he was lashing out at home. His parents lectured him, versus talking, and attributed his loss of steam to “senioritis”. Just before the Columbine massacre, Dylan appeared to finally be getting back on track once again, leading his parents astray.
“Left untreated, even the mildest brain health impairment can derail a young person’s life, and stop a child from reaching his or her full potential, a tragedy in itself. A disease like depression can also have much more serious consequences, as it sets many of the traps that snag children in adolescence: drug and alcohol abuse, drunk driving, petty crime, eating disorders, cutting, abusive relationships, and high-risk sexual behaviors among them.” -Sue Klebold A Mothers Reckoning
In a pre-Columbine society, no one was paying attention to this. After thirteen lay dead inside of a school, we all screamed, “WHY?!” and instead we should have been saying, “HOW?!” Only then did we start looking into bullying, and very mildly mental health. In schools, and homes today we still are not taking brain health seriously. We mock, push away, and downplay what another individual is dealing with. In a society where your children have the entire world available to them through a cell-phone, where they can hear and see things out of your control, where they can experience things, where they are exposed to things…you have actually no idea what your children are up to. You can think you do, but these star students were hiding shotguns and acting as if everything was fine. Your love for your child is not enough to keep them alive. “I taught Dylan, as I had taught his brother before him, to protect himself from lightning strikes, snakebites, and hypothermia. I taught him to floss, to wear sunscreen, and the importance of checking his blind spot twice. As he became a teenager, I talked as openly as I could about the dangers of drinking and drug use, and I educated him about safe and ethical sexual behavior. It never crossed my mind that the gravest danger Dylan faced would not come from an external source at all, but from within himself.”
What if I had a friend in my time that was angry, or homicidal? What if I didn’t have positive influences? What if my father had not found professional help? What would I have been capable of? Instead of being fearful of those questions, I ask them daily. I grieve heavily for Dylan Klebold because I truly truly understand his suffering, and what might have been in a world were he could have flourished. The loss of Dylan so heavily affects me (even though I never had known him and I was six years old when he ended his life) but because I somehow made it out alive, and people who dealt with the exact issues did not.
ERIC DAVID HARRISLike most people, while I will always mourn for Dylan because I understand Dylan, I will never understand Eric. Eric Harris was a military child, always moving from place to place. In his writings he describes he was happiest living in Oscada, and leaving it was the hardest thing he had ever done. Eric’s family home seemed very clinical; his mother was concerned, supportive, and left Eric to his own devices. His father was military, and towards the end of Eric’s life was taking one worded notes on Eric’s troublesome behavior. Eric will always be the tougher one to comprehend because Eric’s mental state was probably beyond help. Eric’s parents have also shut everything out that has to do with Columbine, and were not so cooperative with investigators. I truly believe they might have known Eric’s uncontrollable, and sadistic side. While Dylan wrote page after page seeking love, Eric wrote pages and pages of death, rape, gore, and everything that follows. Eric was an extremely homicidal person; he literally hated the human race and often fantasized about exterminating it.
While Eric could come home and write such crude things, in person Eric was perfection. He was an extremely smart student, and could talk his way out of anything. While Dylan was easy-going to be around, friends often remark that Eric was “intense.” Fourteen months before their lives ended, Dylan and Eric were caught breaking into a van. They immediately admitted to the crime, and since they were first time offenders they were put into a program called “diversion” for youth offenders. They were subjected to “counseling”, drug testing, community service, and court appearances. These sessions were more like “good ‘ol boy talks” and “keep up the good work” versus actual counseling sessions. Diversion did nothing except keep the boys busy, and annoy them enough to know their offense. Eric can be heard on recording in court talking to the judge; he is polite, respectful, and was enough to win the whole program over. The boys were dismissed out of diversion early with officers stating that they were good kids, extremely smart, and impressed. While Dylan wasn’t as much favored as Eric (they thought he was questionable and needed drug testing versus Eric who didn’t “need” the testing), Eric was the absolute star with Jefferson County stating that he was no one to worry about. However, many reports on Eric had been made against a website he had created where he would talk about building bombs and making threats, and Jefferson County just before Columbine was getting ready to search the Harris home. What would’ve been if they had? Almost every bomb used at Columbine was made in the Harris’s home…and there is evidence that the parents knew about this. Eric’s dad punished Eric by making him “dispose” of the bombs in a nearby field. Miraculously, shortly after the Columbine Massacre, and the names released, the paperwork to search Eric’s home disappeared, along with a lot of other evidence from Jefferson County.
Eric was the true definition of a sociopath, or psychopath. His brain health, however it got there, was beyond “normal” thinking. Eric could hold a job as well as an outstanding reputation. But the hatred he harvested on the inside was lethal as well as the manipulation tactics he excelled in. While Dylan appeared to “run out of steam” due to actual depression, Eric appeared motivated and normal erasing any doubt that Eric was depressed in the traditional sense. The differences between Eric and Dylan are simple; Eric hated everyone, and Dylan hated himself. When speaking with someone who identifies himself as a sociopath or psychopath he explained that it is like having a cut wire; there is no connection and there is no fixing it. Emotion is fuzzy, and every action is an objective to complete. I believe that there are many different shades of psychopaths in this world, but two mainly standout. There are functioning psychopaths who can contribute to society, and respect those close to them. Then there are extremely homicidal psychopaths who cannot function within society. Eric was beyond homicidal. I believe, as well as most people, that the boys participated in Columbine for two very different reasons. For Eric this was strictly a homicide, almost a military mission that he was preparing for. For Dylan, he really just wanted to kill himself as we know that Dylan let certain people “free” during the Columbine massacre, and fired significantly less rounds. The two had a magnetic attraction that completed the others wishes. “Eric Harris appears to have been a homicidal psychopath, and Dylan Klebold, a suicidal depressive, and their disparate madnesses were each other’s necessary condition. Dylan’s depressiveness would not have turned into murderousness without Harris’s leadership, but something in Eric might have lost motivation without the thrill of dragging Dylan down with him.” -Andrew Solomon. By no means is Dylan “less guilty”. But without Eric, where would Columbine as well as it’s victims be today?
THE ACTUAL BULLYING
There are so many people who have studied Columbine, published things, and one of the most disturbing lectures I’ve ever heard was by Dave Cullen who has profited heavily from his “Columbine research.” He made the claim that Eric, and Dylan were never bullied. “They had so many friends!” He exclaims. While Dylan and Eric had their own little clan of friends, that doesn’t stop other clicks from bullying you. If you would have asked any administrator at my high school, or my family they would have said, “Haley was great! She had friends! She wasn’t bullied, she never really discussed it, it was fine.” Most people who are bullied will not say much especially a male teenager who feels as though he has something to prove. One thing that is so fascinating about Dylan and Eric is that they left so many video tapes, and writings behind almost allowing us to study them with ease. They didn’t leave us stranded, but left SO much to look at so we could experience their goofy moments, school moments, and last moments. In one of their many “home videos” Eric is being followed by the camera at school. Hauntingly, we get a pretty good look inside Columbine, and almost the exact steps that the boys took that day, and what the school looked like. We also got to see Eric and Dylan casually walking down a Hallway, and in front of them come a line of guys. They walk right through the boys, elbowing and nearly knocking the camera out of their hands. This passive aggressive behavior is not your so-called typical bullying, but another way to knock on students. This was captured on video, is available on YouTube, and there is no debate about it; if your student was elbowed in the hallway to get out-of-the-way, how would you feel? “Apparently such behavior was common enough to be accepted as normative.” -Ralph Larkin
In Sue Klebold’s book she also talks of a parent’s conversation with Dylan and his father. “A county employee offered his condolences and told him how his son’s hair had been set on fire by some other students while he was attending Columbine High School. The boy, who sustained fairly serious burns to his scalp, refused to allow his father to go the administration because he was afraid it would make the situation worse. Shaking with anger as he spoke, though the incident was no longer recent, the outraged dad told Tom he had wanted to take the school apart ‘brick by brick.'”
More research by Ralph W. Larkin in his book Comprehending Columbine, found that while “the school was academically excellent and deeply conservative there was a pervasive culture of bullying – in particular, a group of athletes who harassed, humiliated, and physically assaulted kids at the bottom of the social ladder. Larkin also points to proselytizing and intimidation by evangelical Christian students, a self-appointed moral elite who perceived the kids who dressed differently as evil and targeted them.”
As we know, Dylan and Eric loved to dress differently, and were interested in things different than most…I can relate. With how some people have reacted to Columbine (creating Christian challenges, and removing crosses and memorials of Eric and Dylan) it is one hundred percent believable that the “Christian bullying” was definitely happening at Columbine. So many have gone so far even to create a new Columbine movie that is entirely centered on being a Christian. LET’S CLEAR ONE THING UP RIGHT NOW ABOUT COLUMBINE: This was not an attack on Christians, blacks, women, men, or any person in particular. This was an attack on absolutely everyone in that school. The original plan included two huge propane bombs that if had gone off, would have killed almost everyone there. Yes, they taunted people before they died mocking their skin color, social status, and religion. Hardly anyone was excluded. Stop using Christianity as an excuse.
For Dave Cullen to say that bullying was not a factor in Columbine is to practically contribute to a growing problem in schools. While bullying was not the main focus of the problem, it sure did put a lovely cherry on top that aggravated an already lethal situation.
“Dad, did you know that there are loopholes in the Brady Bill?” Two weeks before the Columbine massacre this is the question that Daniel Mauser (above) asked his father. Several weeks later his dad would be waiting for him at a local elementary school that had turned into a collection building for Columbine students. He patiently waited after most students had been picked up safely that awful day only to realize that Daniel was not on his way home for a reason. Daniel had been fatally shot in the face in the library by Eric Harris…with a gun that was bought because of a loophole in the Brady Bill.
Dylan was raised in a very anti-gun family, and Eric of course had a fascination with his military upbringing. One of the most shocking things Dylan’s mom speaks of is the fact that Dylan owned a gun. She never thought how she raised him, and how their household felt that a seventeen year old boy could buy a gun without her knowing. One of the boys closest friends (and Dylan’s prom date just three days before the massacre) Robyn Anderson purchased their firearms for them at a gun show in Colorado. She had recently turned eighteen, and repeated the statement that as long as she didn’t have to fill out any paperwork that she would buy the guns for the boys. She thought because they were boys that they would be collecting the guns. This sparked the “Robyn Anderson Bill” that when buying a gun for a minor you must have parental permission.
This is my one and only argument on guns; Dylan and Eric were going to do what they were going to do. However, if every dealer that day at that gun show would have required paperwork then it would have been one more delay for them. It would have put things off with one more step, and they would have had less access to the powerful firearms that they did end up purchasing. Putting steps in place will make it difficult for everyone for these reasons exactly. If you have no reason to fear those steps (if your background check is clean, etc…) then you should not be protesting them because fifteen more people might be alive because of the hassle of paperwork, and legality that they were able to avoid. It makes me furious to look at Daniel’s photos (or any of the victims) but in particular, Daniel. His home resembled mine, and he favored my brother with those glasses on. The life taken is beyond infuriating, and I cannot imagine the grief.I feel as though my spirit was not drawn, but pushed towards this tragedy for a very obvious reason; I feel almost as if it is a duty to educate people on what brain health can do not only for adults, but “moody” teenagers as well. “So besides accidents and homicide, nothing kills more young people in this country than suicide – not cancer, not sexually transmitted disease. A 2013 study looked at almost 6,500 teens. One in eight had contemplated suicide, and one in twenty-five had attempted it, yet only half of them were in treatment.” -Sue Klebold
When we don’t understand something, or simply don’t want to it’s because in a way we fear it. For years with Columbine we have played the blame game and gone right back to our easy way of life. It could never happen in our home, I love my children too much, I know my children, those kids were twisted, crazy, the parents were horrible…blah blah blah. When really these were very normal families, who loved their son’s very much, and even law enforcement had commented on how great they were. Why would they be concerned? We continue to turn on our T.V.’s and see schools and churches splattered with bullets and await to hear how many are dead this time. Our society continues to ignore brain health so ignored in fact that it’s almost an elective or privileged type thing to see a counselor? How? Why? Why isn’t one of the most crucial, and important parts of our body being checked on by a professional? Would you hand your best friend a stethoscope and ask to check you for heart disease?
“But what I have learned implies the need for a broader call to action, a comprehensive overview of what should be in place to stop not only tragedies like the one committed by my son but the hidden suffering of any child.” -Sue Klebold
I refuse to be a Dylan and Eric sympathizer. They are guilty, they are murderers, they took away precious lives and ripped apart relationships. Despite their issues they still actively made the decision to be there. Instead, I want to educate about Columbine for brain health reasons; the problem with current shootings in America is not mainly guns (that is a fraction of the problem.) The problem is our brain health. What are we doing to upkeep one of the most important organs in our body? For some people this tragedy gives them goosebumps, as for me just an immense amount of grief for teens that suffered so secretively, and caused suffering upon others. Instead of turning our eyes away from this carnage, we need to start applying it to our life. Where is your child right now? Who are they with? Who is their friend, but really, WHO are they? Most importantly, how is your child feeling? What if they were to take someone else’s life someday then their own? Where would you start?