Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


Death Squad

Not all team killers do their deeds in a series or a spree. Dylan Klebold, 17, and Eric Harris, 18, had a plan for a rather ambitious mass murder at their school. Adolph Hitler's 110th birthday was coming up and they wanted to commemorate it. Obsessed with violent video games, a fascist youth subculture, and paramilitary techniques, they had collected an arsenal of semiautomatic guns and homemade bombs with which to perpetrate a crime that the nation would never forget.

Eric Harris & Dylan Klebold
Eric Harris & Dylan Klebold

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 like that and had decided it was time for payback. Having no 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 declaring the plan for their revenge. They blamed parents and teachers for turning their children into intolerant sheep and announced their own suicide. It was a disturbing forewarning.

At 11:30 a.m. on April 20, 1999, they hid weapons and bombs beneath their long trench coats and then ran amuck 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 said they specifically targeted a black football player and some outspoken Christians. It all happened quickly, but with devastating impact that reverberated across the nation. After police got into the building, they counted 34 casualties. Fifteen people died in the melee, including the shooters.

Then Harriss 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.

It's apparent that some people can only act out their aggression or sick fantasies as part of a team. Having the other person there as a witness and participant affirms what they're doing and makes them bold. The other, weaker person (or people) may feel that participating is his only way to be accepted or cared about. He's easily manipulated through his vulnerability, low self-esteem, and neediness. Team members feed each other and the whole often becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Human relationships and weaknesses being what they are, there's no doubt that killing teams will continue to be part of the landscape of crime.


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