Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Columbine High School Massacre

Developments & Discoveries

by Marilyn Bardsley

Students outside Columbine
Students outside Columbine (AP)

On October 12, 2002, Associated Press reported that "four videotapes made by the Columbine High School killers -- showing the teen gunmen brandishing weapons they used in the attack and donning the clothes they wore -- will remain in lawyers' offices.

"The tapes are evidence in a lawsuit brought by a Columbine survivor against the pharmaceutical company that made an anti-depressant taken by gunman Eric Harris. The parents of Harris and Dylan Klebold had sought to keep the videotapes under lock and key during the trial, for fear they would be leaked to the media. But U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer turned the parents down Friday, saying: 'In preparing a case for trial, you need to have the matters you will deal with to work on, and you need it in your office.'"

Other videos in which the killers said how they were going to carry out the attacks will remain locked up, along with writings by the killers.

Mike Montgomery, a lawyer for the Harris family, said, "the parents do not want to run the risk that the videotapes could be broadcast on television, offered in video rental stores or over the Internet, potentially glorifying the attack."

The lawsuit was brought by Columbine survivor Mark Taylor against Solvay Pharmaceuticals, which makes the anti-depressant Luvox. Taylor, who was wounded by Harris, claims Luvox made Harris homicidal.

Also as reported in October 2002 by the Associated Press, CNN and other news sources, based on an article in The Rocky Mountain News, records about Eric Harris that previously had been closed revealed that he had told counselors that he had trouble controlling his violent thoughts.  When he'd get anxious, his anger would build until it felt explosive.  He'd punch walls and think about killing himself.

A year before the massacre, he reportedly made death threats against another boy and that boy's parents had filed a police report stating that he put messages on the Internet about bombs and mass murder.  This incident was investigated, but no action was taken.

Harris apparently told his parole officer around this same time that he thought a lot about violence against others and himself.  The parole officer enrolled him in a course on anger management. 

Harris was already in a juvenile diversion course with Dylan Klebold, his partner in crime, because in January 1998 they were caught breaking into a van and stealing a briefcase, tools, and a flashlight.  They went through the program, but were allowed out early in February 1999, three months before their attack on the high school.

"Eric is a very bright young man who is likely to succeed in life," news reports quoted a diversion officer as writing.  "He is intelligent enough to achieve lofty goals as long as he stays on task and remains motivated."

Of Klebold, the same officer noted: "Dylan has earned the right for an early termination. ... He is intelligent enough to make any dream a reality but he needs to understand hard work is part of it."

Each teen completed 45 hours of community service, paid fines, received counseling and wrote an apology letter to the person whose van they had entered.

Apparently in their case, the program failed to work.  They put on the appearance that everyone wanted to see, but in their private space, they were creating a nightmare.  In fact, after the anger management sessions, Harris wrote, "I learned that the thousands of suggestions are worthless if you still believe in violence."  Klebold had been fantasizing since 1997 about getting a gun and going on a killing spree.  He had written in a journal that he wanted to die.  Together, they appeared to be a self-destructive team.

The disclosure of this sealed report is controversial, but some officials and families are pressing for yet more open files.  Many feel that the red flags were all there well ahead of time and should have been acted on more effectively.  Apparently there are many documents still sealed that potentially could throw light on a case still shrouded in darkness.

It does seem clear that even as these two boys were meeting with counselors in a program meant to help them, they were already planning their assault.  Had they managed to escape, they indicated in journals, they would plant many more bombs to blow things up and then go live on an island.  If they couldn't manage that, they'd hijack a plane and crash it into New York City.

In another development, on Sunday, October 20, 2002, CNN reported that "some parents of children killed in the Columbine massacre praised a new documentary about the killings, saying it contributes to the fight for tighter gun control. Others said the film exploits tragedy.

"Bowling for Columbine, shown Saturday at the Starz Denver International Film Festival, uses the slayings as a launching point to examine violence and gun culture in America. The film is by Michael Moore, the left-wing author and documentary maker known for his film about GM, Roger & Me, and his best-selling book Stupid White Men."

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