Goodbye, cruel world

Video footage made by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold leaves unanswered questions about whether their parents could have stopped the massacre at Columbine.


Dave Cullen
December 14, 1999 10:00PM (UTC)

Five videos Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot shortly before massacring their peers at Columbine High School confirm and graphically illustrate the picture investigators have painted of two angry teens seeking fame and indiscriminate revenge. They also add a few fresh twists.

It turns out the killers actually revealed some remorse in anticipation of the killings -- but only toward select loved ones. And the lasting fallout from the tapes is likely to be the mixed messages they send concerning the culpability of the killers' parents, particularly the Harrises.

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Passages from the three-plus hours of videotapes were first made public last month, when lead investigator Kate Battan read excerpts at the hearing where Mark Manes was sentenced for selling Klebold a TEC-9 handgun used in the massacre. Later, Timothy Roche of Time magazine was allowed to watch the videos, and he revealed their contents in the magazine's current cover story, made public Sunday.

Officials then decided to go public with the videos and conducted media showings Sunday and Monday.
While the videos generally just confirm what investigators have been saying for months, they offer dramatic testimony to drive home certain points that had been hard to believe. Battan, for instance, revealed months ago that the killers were primarily motivated by fame, and that she did not believe their parents were to blame.

The tapes bear out both points. "Directors will be fighting over this story," Klebold says, and the pair imagined Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino immortalizing them on film. Klebold brags about being responsible for "the most deaths in U.S. history."

The videos also corroborate the second major motivation investigators have repeatedly cited: indiscriminate retribution for years of perceived abuse from their peers. "If you could see all the anger I've stored over the past four fucking years," Klebold says. He cites abuse from "stuck-up" kids all the way back to day care.

"I'm going to kill you all," he says. "You've been giving us shit for years ... You're fucking going to pay for all the shit ... We don't give a shit because we're going to die doing it." Harris complains of constant petty abuse -- "my face, my hair, my shirts."

And once again, the killers made clear that their hate is not directed at any one group, such as the jocks, Christians and African-Americans cited in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. As with the Harris writings leaked to Salon News last September, the videos present a smorgasbord of hate: "niggers, spics, Jews, gays, fucking whites."

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"I hope we kill 250 of you," Klebold says.

The one area on which the videos shed significant new light is the killers' relationships with their parents. Investigators have closely guarded the scattered but frequent moments of affection and remorse they display toward their families on the videos.

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"My parents are the best fucking parents I have ever known," Harris says. "My dad is great. I wish I was a fucking sociopath so I didn't have any remorse, but I do ... This is going to tear them apart ... I really am sorry about all this." He recalls thoughtful moments of tenderness from his mother, bringing him candy and slim jims. "It fucking sucks to do this to them," he says.

"I just wanted to apologize to you guys for any crap," Harris says. "To everyone I love, I'm really sorry about all this."

Klebold calls his mother and father "great parents," adding "They gave me my fucking life." He excuses them for possible mistakes they weren't aware of, and thanks them for teaching him self-awareness and self-reliance. "I appreciate that."

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The videos are likely to reignite the long-standing debate over the parents' responsibility in the massacre. Battan shocked and outraged much of the public last September when she announced that the available evidence ruled out the parents -- particularly the Klebolds -- as major contributors to the attack.

"It really does begin with the family," Battan told Salon News last September. "But I'm here to tell you, I sat down and I've spent a lot of time with the Klebolds, and they're nice people. It's not like they're these monsters that raised a monster. I mean, they truly are clueless about any warning signs that this was going to happen."

The videos clearly bear out that the killers kept their parents in the dark, but raise unsettling questions about whether the Harrises, at least, should have seen clues.

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Harris acknowledges that his parents had probably noticed he'd become distant, but throughout, he maintains that they couldn't know why. At one point he addresses them directly: "There's nothing you guys could've done to prevent this." He also brags about fooling school administrators.

"I could convince them that I'm going to climb Mount Everest, or that I have a twin brother growing out of my back," he says. "I can make you believe anything."

But he and Klebold also film a tour through a poorly-hidden arsenal right inside his bedroom. Pipe bombs and ammunition sit in a white plastic box on the floor under some magazines. Another box holds homemade grenades. A 50-foot coil of green fuse hangs on the wall.

Perhaps most damning are two incidents Harris and Klebold describe on the videos. They show off a tackle box with equipment for making the bombs, and explain that Harris' parents once found it, but only removed the pipe bombs, not the equipment.

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They also describe a chilling moment when a clerk from Green Mountain Guns called and reached Harris' father, Wayne. "Your clips are in," the clerk said. Wayne Harris told the clerk he hadn't ordered gun clips but never asked who the clerk was trying to reach. Harris says that if his father or the clerk had just asked one question, "We would've been fucked."

Harris also describes his mother spotting the butt of a gun sticking out of his gym bag, but says she assumed it was just his BB gun.

While the final report on the Columbine investigation is not expected until next month, the surprise release of the videotapes has sparked more anger among many of the victims' families. Officials have briefed them periodically and repeatedly assured them they would receive any new information before it was released to the media.

But investigators have sat on a mountain of intriguing information for eight months. They have allowed the information to trickle out endlessly, taking the families repeatedly by surprise. Some of the families expressed particular frustration at the timing of this week's release, just as they were entering the most difficult time of the year, the first Christmas season without their children.

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"I think [the sheriff's decision] was very insensitive to the families," said Sue Petrone, mother of Daniel Rohrbough, who was killed in the massacre. "We've been asking to see these videotapes for a long time, and they said we couldn't see them, and now we found out that the media has access to them."

Authorities apologized to the families Monday and began scheduling times for them to watch the videos. Some began viewing this afternoon, shortly after the latest media viewing.

"We actually met with the sheriff [John Stone] this afternoon," Petrone said, "and he authorized the release of these videotapes to Time magazine without ever seeing them himself to know what was on them." She said she didn't think the tapes should have ever been released to the general public.

Brian Rohrbough, Daniel's father, was even more outraged. "We were absolutely promised by the Jefferson County district attorney's office these would not be released," he told the Rocky Mountain News. "This is just one more lie in a long string of lies."

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Officials say the 200- to 300-page final report on the Columbine investigation will be published sometime in January, and will be posted on the Internet.


Dave Cullen

Dave Cullen is a Denver writer working on a memoir, "In a Boy's Dream."

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