Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Columbine High School Massacre


Police investigations into the worst case of school violence in America's history began on Wednesday,  April 21, 1999. At Columbine High School, the bodies of 12 students were recovered. All had died from gunshot wounds. In the library, the bodies of Harris and Klebold were found with explosive devices attached to them. The four guns they had used in the shooting were lying next to them. They had both died of self-inflicted gun shot wounds. It was reported that, over the next few days, between 30 and 50 bombs and explosive devices were found throughout the school, in cars, the school parking lot and in Eric Harris's home. A search of the homes of the two teenage gunmen uncovered evidence that suggested to police that Harris and Klebold might have had one or more accomplices and had spent over a year planning and preparing for the shooting. A website and journal owned by Harris  confirmed their suspicions.

Robyn Anderson
Robyn Anderson (AP)

The first mystery police had to solve was how Harris and Klebold were able to obtain the four guns used in the shooting. The two shotguns and the rifle could have been purchased legally by Harris, who had turned 18 less than two weeks earlier but the semi-automatic, identified as a TEC-DC9, could not be legally purchased by anyone under the age of 21.

It was soon revealed that a close friend of Dylan Klebold had purchased the guns for him at a gun show in the Denver area in November or December 1998. The young woman was identified as Robyn K. Anderson, an 18-year-old student at Columbine High School. She and Klebold had been close friends for some time and, although not romantically involved, had attended the school prom together three days before the shooting. Police investigations concluded that Anderson, who was in the running to be school valedictorian, had no prior knowledge of Klebold and Harris's plans for the guns and would not be considered as a suspect in the case.

The TEC-DC9 proved to be much more difficult to trace. The manufacturer initially sold it to a Miami-based company, Navegar Inc. In 1994, it was sold to Zander's Sporting Goods in Baldwin, Illinois. Zander's then sold the gun to a dealership near Westminster, which sold it, legally, to someone over the age of 21. At some point the gun was sold to Larry Russell, a Thornton firearms dealer, who sold it at the Tanner Gun Show. Although Russell did not keep records of the purchaser, he is definite that the person was over the age of 21. He was not able to identify Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, or Robyn Anderson as the purchaser from photographs shown to him by police.

Mark Manes and Philip Duran
Mark Manes and Philip Duran (AP)

For some time police suspected that Chris Morris, a member of the "Trench Coat Mafia" and an employee of a pizza restaurant where Harris and Klebold also worked, may have acted as a middle-man in the sale of the gun to the gunmen. Their suspicions were allayed when a person, who has not yet been identified by police, came forward to tell police that he had sold the gun to Harris. Two men have since been charged with supplying the guns to Harris.

Morris was also questioned extensively by police regarding the possibility that Harris and Klebold may have had one or more accomplices prior to the shooting. Early in the investigation there were as many as 10 people who police considered as possible suspects. Three teenagers, wearing black boots and trench coats, were detained during the confusion after the shooting but were later cleared of any involvement. Another teenager, who fled before the shooting began, is suspected of helping Harris and Klebold to carry duffel bags filled with bombs into the school. A teenager, wearing a white tee shirt was also seen with Harris and Klebold in the parking lot just before the gunmen entered the school, and Klebold's black BMW was seen 40 minutes before the shooting began, driving near the school with four teenagers inside. Police believe that, while there may have been others with prior knowledge of the shooting, Harris and Klebold were the only shooters.

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