Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


Heil Hitler

Dylan Klebold & Eric Harris, yearbook photos
Dylan Klebold & Eric Harris,
yearbook photos

Dylan Klebold, 17, and Eric Harris, 18, had a plan. What would have been Adolph Hitler's 110th birthday was coming up and, according to journalist Joe Conason, it appeared that the friends wanted to commemorate it. Obsessed with violent video games, a fascistic youth subculture, and paramilitary techniques, they spent a year collecting an arsenal of semiautomatic guns and homemade bombs with which to perpetrate a crime that the nation would never forget. They were alienated and they wanted society to pay.

Members of "the Trenchcoat Mafia," dubbed for their habit of wearing black trench coats, the boys had long been bullied by classmates. They didn't much care for that, although they adopted an indifferent attitude. Little did anyone know what was in store. Having no particular reason to live, they decided to kill themselves, take out as many of their hated classmates as they could, and blow up the school.

The day before their rampage, they sent an email to the local police department declaring their plan of revenge. They blamed parents and teachers for turning their children into intolerant sheep and announced their own suicide.

Securtiy video of Harris & Klebold (CORBIS)
Securtiy video of Harris &
Klebold (CORBIS)

At 11:30 a.m. on April 20, 1999, they hid weapons and bombs beneath their long coats and then ran through the school, yelling and shooting. When they reached the library, they cornered and killed their largest number of victims before turning their guns on themselves. Some survivors said the shooters specifically targeted a black football player and some outspoken Christians. It all happened quickly, but with devastating impact that gripped the nation as the drama unfolded on television. After police got into the building, they counted 34 casualties. Fifteen people died in the melee, including the shooters.

Portrait of Adolf Hitler (CORBIS)
Portrait of Adolf Hitler

Then Harris's diary turned up, which confirmed the elaborate plan. For over a year they had worked at it, drawing maps, collecting weapons, and devising a system of silent hand signals for coordinating their moves. Behind closed doors in their parents' homes, they had spoken of death and of their lone-wolf brand of heroism. The simple fact that emerged is that they were angry, bitter kids who had access to guns, who identified with a twisted dictator, and who were inspired by images of grandiose violence. For them, what the culture viewed as evil was a means of disturbing the social order and thrusting a thorn into the nation's side that wasn't going to go away.

Yet it's not just a human role model that influences evil. Some people look to the larger-than-life images of mythology to fuel their aggression.

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