Frequently Asked Questions
This page is broken into two parts:
- Central questions about the killers, the attack and why
- Detailed questions, includings ticklers & puzzlers that I get asked a lot.
1. Is there anything new to discover after all these years?
Actually, most of what you "know" about Columbine is wrong. It wasn't about jocks, Goths, bullying or the Trench Coat Mafia. (See myths: #3, below.)
Early portraits of the killers were simplistic. "Angry boys" explains little and "outcasts" is preposterously wrong. It took seven years for authorities to release Eric and Dylan's journals.
2. What was the biggest surprise?
Eric Harris didn't see Columbine as a school shooting. He had contempt for the earlier shooters. He envisioned a bombing, and his goal was to top Oklahoma City as the worst U.S. terror attack in his life. If he had wired the big bombs correctly, he would have dwarfed that tragedy.
(FYI: Chapter 8, "Maximum Human Density," lays out Eric's plan. What actually unfolded begins in Chapter 11, "Female Down.")
3. What are the biggest myths?
Jocks, minorities or Christians were targeted. False.
The killing went on for hours. False. It lasted 16 minutes.
Eric Harris killed Dylan Klebold. False. Chapter 52, "Quiet," depicts the actual suicide, and presents the forensic evidence to back it up.
Christian martyr Cassie Bernall's last act was a gunpoint profession of faith. False. Chapter 38, "Martyr" describes the truth of what happened in the library, and how the confusion with another victim developed. (Other aspects of the storyline unfold in additional chapters.)
The Trench Coat Mafia. Nearly everything about this barely-existent band is false. Chapter 28, "Media Crime," explains how this one emerged.
Hitler's birthday, Marilyn Manson, Goths, flying planes into New York city skyscrapers . . . All wrong. Eric did mention the planes in his journal, which lies at the heart of understanding this case: the chasms between three things: Eric's apocalyptic vision for April 20, what he set out to accomplish that morning, and what he and Dylan actually did.
4. Where did the myths come from?
The media got most of the facts right, but began jumping to conclusions about how and why while the Columbine attack was underway. There was a kernel of truth to everything, but little more.
The "Media Crime" chapter traces how quickly the Columbine myths sprouted, and explains how they gained such currency.
5. Why did the killers do it? Did we ever learn?
Yes. But the question led most of us astray. They did not have a motive—Eric Harris had motives and Dylan Klebold had a vastly different agenda. They had polar opposite personalities, and completely different paths to murder.
The question is far too broad to answer fully here, but you'll find the core of it on this site, in the intro video (top left), and the intro webpage to my book.
6. Did Eric & Dylan participate equally during the attack?
Eric fired near twice as many times as Dylan: 121 vs. 67. The real discrepancy was outside, where Eric fired nine times as many as Dylan, 47 vs. 5. Eried firedng relentlessy, getting off 47 shots in 7 minutes, or approximately one every nine seconds. (Note: Kate Battan has told me that because they were firing into open fields, it's probable that a few rounds may have gone undiscovered. But it's reasonable to assume the ratio of shots would remain constant.)
This suggests Dylan was slow to get fully involved. But once they were inside, it got much closer to even, with Eric firing just 20% more: 74 rounds vs 62. Here is a chart from the final report (I shifted the header around to make it fit.)
7. Who shot whom? (Full details.)
The table of contents of diagrams in the Jeffco final report lists each shot where someone was killed or injured. In nearly all cases, it identifies Eric or Dylan as the shooter. There is one serious error. Danny Rohrbough's killer is misidentified there. After much controversy, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office thoroughly re-investigated that part of the attack. Its report published April 10, 2002 drew the firm conclusion that Eric killed Danny. You can download the PDF here.
8. Who were the Trench Coat Mafia? What was their role?
They had nothing to do with it. The Jeffco report provides a good, brief official summary of who/what they were.
9. Who was in the library? How many survived?
The final report offered this summary: "a total of 56 people present in the library at the time the suspects entered. Of the 56 people present, four were faculty/staff (all female), while the remaining 52 individuals were students. In terms of the 52 students, 24 were male, 28 were female." Twelve of the 58 were physically injured and 10 killed. That leaves 36 who escaped physically unharmed. Of course they all suffered terrible psychological trauma. A full list of those injured and killed in the library is included at that link.
10. Where can I find basic/bio info on Eric & Dylan
This site provides several good links, under the Killers section. The Jeffco final report also provides short profiles of each.
11. Why was Robyn Anderson never prosecuted for acquiring 3 of the 4 guns?
Mark Manes and Phillip Duran both plead guilty for their role in acquiring the TEC-9, and both served prison time. Yet Robyn Anderson acquired the other three guns and was never charged. The final report includes this passage concisely explaining why:
The investigation revealed that a friend, Robyn Anderson, accompanied Harris and Klebold to a gun show in late 1998 since she was of legal age to buy a firearm. At the gun show, 18-year-old Anderson purchased two shotguns and one rifle for the two killers. Those same guns were later used in the Columbine killings.
Anderson denies any prior knowledge of their plans. No law, state or federal, prohibits the purchase of a long gun (rifle) from a private individual (non-licensed dealer). Because of this, Anderson could not be charged with any crime. If Anderson had purchased the guns from a federally licensed dealer, it would have been considered a "straw purchase" and considered illegal under federal law to make the purchase for Harris and Klebold.
The State of Colorado has a specific statute prohibiting anyone from providing or permitting a juvenile (under 18) to possess a handgun. Mark Manes sold his Intratec, model TEC-9, 9mm pistol to Klebold for $500. He also purchased two boxes (100 rounds) of 9mm ammunition for Eric Harris the night of April 19. Manes was charged with one count of unlawfully providing or permitting a juvenile to possess a handgun. Manes was also charged with one count of possession of a dangerous or illegal weapon because he had gone shooting with Klebold and Harris in March 1999 and had shot one of their sawed off shotguns.
Manes entered a plea of guilty to the charges and, on Nov. 12, 1999, was sent to the Colorado Department of Corrections for six years on the first charge and three years on the second charge, to be served concurrently.
12. How unusual was the killers' early release from Diversion?
Very unusual. The final report states that 5% of perps are let out early. (It's at the very bottom of the section at this link).
13. Why are there so many false witness reports? What are common misconceptions?
The library team's summary in the Jeffco final report included this really insightful section on common perceptions and misperceptions of witnesses. Notice that it's nearly all misperceptions. The human brain's capacity to record history accurately with its memory capacity is greatly over-estimated by our same brains. In cases of severe trauma, its performance drops remarkably further. Here is the opening statement and bullet points copied directly from the report:
Initially heard popping sounds which did not create any concern (some students thought they were hearing construction noises).
During the initial phase of this incident, witnesses believed the suspects were engaging in a senior prank.
The belief they were hidden from view as the suspects entered the library.
The inability to estimate the number of gunshots during the course of the incident.
Inability to distinguish between the gunshots and explosions.
Distortion of time.
The belief the suspects were enjoying themselves during the incident.
Impaired observations or recall at the point the suspects came within close proximity of their location.
For those who were injured (even slightly), the belief they were the last one shot (impaired recall after being injured).
The belief they were one of the last people to leave the library.
Many of victims/witnesses were able to recall various details of the incident but had difficulty recalling the events in chronological order.
It was evident the media had an impact on witness' statements. Students would watch or read coverage of the Columbine shootings and make conclusions based on some of the impressions presented by the media rather than from their own perceptions. Those problems usually were rectified during the interviews.
Throughout the investigation there were many witnesses who had common perceptions and misperceptions of the events during the shooting: