Massacre at Columbine High

Today is the 10th anniversary of the Columbine shootings, and USA Today's Greg Toppo wants to clear away some myths:

They weren't goths or loners.

The two teenagers who killed 13 people and themselves at suburban Denver's Columbine High School...weren't in the "Trenchcoat Mafia," disaffected videogamers who wore cowboy dusters. The killings ignited a national debate over bullying, but the record now shows Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold hadn't been bullied -- in fact, they had bragged in diaries about picking on freshmen and "fags."

Their rampage put schools on alert for "enemies lists" made by troubled students, but the enemies on their list had graduated from Columbine a year earlier. Contrary to early reports, Harris and Klebold weren't on antidepressant medication and didn't target jocks, blacks or Christians, police now say, citing the killers' journals and witness accounts. That story about a student being shot in the head after she said she believed in God? Never happened, the FBI says now.

A decade after Harris and Klebold made Columbine a synonym for rage, new information -- including several books that analyze the tragedy through diaries, e-mails, appointment books, videotape, police affidavits and interviews with witnesses, friends and survivors -- indicate that much of what the public has been told about the shootings is wrong.

The persistance of such myths may be as interesting as the myths itself. Many of the tales that Toppo attacks were actually debunked in the immediate aftermath of the killings. In an editorial I filed less than a month after the massacre, I wrote this:

In the weeks since the Littleton slaughter, we've learned that most of what the media initially told us about the Columbine killers wasn't true. They weren't Nazis. They weren't especially racist. They weren't necessarily Goths. They might not even have been members of the clique of outcasts called the Trench Coat Mafia, which, by the way, wasn't originally called the Trench Coat Mafia.

We do know that bullies routinely picked on Harris, Klebold, and others like them. We do know that such behavior goes on in most of the country's schools. But most outcasts do not take weapons to school and kill the people who tormented them. We don't know what it was inside Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold that made them into the exceptions. And we never will.

Read the whole thing here. My language was more conditional than it would be today, and Toppo would take issue with the idea that the boys were bullied. (I'm not convinced he's right, but I do wince when I see my younger self uncritically accepting the idea that bullying was a motive for the murders.) Still, it was possible for someone who hadn't ever been to Littleton to figure out that many of the narratives coming out of the town were false, just by paying attention to follow-up reports and keeping a normal level of skepticism on hand. Not a decade later, but a few weeks later. And not because I was especially perspicacious, but because I didn't have an axe to grind.

"At the time," Toppo writes, "Columbine became a kind of giant national Rorschach test. Observers saw its genesis in just about everything: lax parenting, lax gun laws, progressive schooling, repressive school culture, violent video games, antidepressant drugs and rock 'n' roll, for starters." Ten years later, it's more obvious than ever that those reactions had more to do with the observers' inner fears than with the actual facts on the ground.

Update: I missed a sloppy statement in the USA Today article: "Harris and Klebold weren't on antidepressant medication." Harris was on an antidepressant; the myth that Toppo was presumably referring to is the idea that the killer suddenly went off the drug shortly before his spree, thus somehow triggering the crimes. In fact, an autopsy revealed that Harris had a full dose of Luvox on the day he died.

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  • Mike Laursen||

    I heard about the commemorative rally they're having today(?). I'm sure it will go off safely, but my first thought was it's perfect baiting for some whacko to show up and do something awful.

  • LarryA||

    Still, it was possible for someone who hadn't ever been to Littleton to figure out that many of the narratives coming out of the town were false, just by paying attention to follow-up reports and keeping a normal level of skepticism on hand.

    Except that one of the people with a "normal" level of skepticism didn't speak up, and the other one was on vacation.

    Ten years later, it's more obvious than ever that those reactions had more to do with the observers' inner fears than with the actual facts on the ground.

    Particularly true today, given that the current debate over university campus carry is pretty much fact-free.

  • Xeones||

    Yo, fuck Michael Moore.

  • Xeones||

    It should be said that some people are just broken -- evil.

  • Warty||

    Wrong, Xeones. If we just pass the right laws, we can prevent bad things from ever happening again.

  • Xeones||

    Is... Is this true, Warty? Dare i believe?

  • Terry Bradshaw says eat more P||

    A bit of misinformation above...

    Eric Harris was on the "antidepressant" SSRI pharmaceutical Luvox. This is an acknowledgd fact. Some of the victims' families sued the manufacturer.

    Wikipedia, fyi:

    Harris wanted to join the United States Marine Corps, but his application was rejected shortly before the shootings because he was taking the drug Luvox (fluvoxamine), an SSRI antidepressant, which he was required to take as part of court-ordered anger management therapy. According to the recruiting officer, Harris did not know about this rejection. Though some friends of Harris suggested that he had stopped taking the drug beforehand,[21] the autopsy reports showed that he had Luvox in his system at the time of death.[22] Abrupt cessation of SSRI antidepressants has been found to interfere with normal social functioning in some patients. After the shootings, opponents of contemporary psychiatry like Peter Breggin[23] claimed that the psychiatric medications prescribed to Harris after his conviction (ostensibly for obsessive-compulsive disorder) may have exacerbated his aggressiveness.[24]

  • Zeb||

    I wish people would stop thinking that there is a lesson to be learned from every horrible thing that happens. There is no lesson to be learned other than that some people are just that fucked up. That is all. Shitty things happen from time to time and there will always be psychopaths in the world willing to do things that most people cannot make sense of.

  • Warty||

    Oh, it's true, Xeones. All you have to do is believe! Yes we can!

  • Rosie||

    Eric Harris was taking Luvox, an SSRI antidepressant. In the insert, although it is listed as a rare reaction, it states that Luvox can cause "antisocial behavior".

    The Physicians Desk Reference states that SSRIs and all antidepressants can cause mania, psychosis, abnormal thinking, paranoia, hostility, etc.

    Go to www.SSRIstories.com where there are over 3,000 cases, with the full media article available, involving bizarre murders, suicides, school shootings [48 of these] and murder-suicides - all of which involve SSRI antidepressants like Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, etc, . The media article usually tells which SSRI antidepressant the perpetrator was taking

  • ||

    Wrong, Xeones. If we just pass the right laws, we can prevent bad things from ever happening again.

    Wait...Warty is my mother?

  • Xeones||

    It explains so much, Epi.

  • ||

    So, is the moral of the anti-depressant comments that people shouldn't take them, because if they do they might kill others and if they don't they might only kill themselves?

  • ||

    It really does, doesn't it, Xeones?

  • ||

    Speaking of anti-depressants, has cannabis ever been proven to be one? I'm not aware of anyone ever killing anyone else while high on pot.

  • Marilyn Manson||

    But it was me! Remember me? I made them do it!

  • jtuf||

    "At the time," Toppo writes, "Columbine became a kind of giant national Rorschach test. Observers saw its genesis in just about everything: lax parenting, lax gun laws, progressive schooling, repressive school culture, violent video games, antidepressant drugs and rock 'n' roll, for starters." Ten years later, it's more obvious than ever that those reactions had more to do with the observers' inner fears than with the actual facts on the ground.



    Yup.

  • DADIODADDY||

    OK here it comes...my antidepressants from the cold dead fingers of my victims...had to do it,the voices told me to

  • Warty||

    Epi, don't involve me in your Oedipal fantasies, you foul little man.

  • ||

    The media committed a real slime job on the killer's parents. The media made it look like their parents were clueless rich yuppies who didn't bother to notice there kids were being tortured at school and building bombs in thier rooms.

    The reality was both families knew their kids had problems and were taking reasonable steps to deal with them. Sadly, they didn't fully appreciate that their kids were sociopathic killers and nothing short of locking them up was going to stop them from doing harm. I don't think you can blame the parents for not figuring that out.

    It wasn't guns. It wasn't bullies. It wasn't video games that caused this. It was caused by the fact that two people were irredeemably evil. People understandably don't like to face the fact that some people really are uncontrolably evil. So rather than face facts they don't like, they dream up fantasy excuses about things they have some hope of controling.

  • not the real JB||

    I took a freshman-level history class the fall semester after Columbine. (I was a Junior.) In our TA lab, one freshman girl introduced herself as being from Littleton.

    "Oh, really? Asked the TA. Which high school?"

    The girl hesitated, then said, "Columbine."

    The TA didn't hesitate, "Did you know so-and-so? He would have been a year older than you. He dated my sister..."

    Meanwhile, everyone else in the room looked extremely puzzled.

  • Warty||

    LA LA LA LA LA LA SHUT UP JOHN LA LA LA WE CAN PREVENT THIS LA LA LA

  • ||

    Evil like supernatural devil spawn evil, or just really fucked up in the brain evil? The latter I can agree with, the former, well then, that's a whole 'nother can o' worms and we're more screwed than I thought.

  • ||

    Epi, don't involve me in your Oedipal fantasies, you foul little man.

    Little?!?

    It wasn't video games that caused this.

    Have you ever played GTA? Because it sure made me want to go...steal fake cars and kill fake cops. Now, why I didn't go steal real cars and kill real cops, my guess is that I'm not enough of a sociopath. I'm close, but not quite there.

    Now Warty, he's there. He's basically that kid from It that would trap animals in the abandoned fridge and suffocate them.

  • Warty||

    It's true, video games ruined me. If I could just find any Super Mutants, I'd totally kill the shit out of them without even using V.A.T.S.

    But I only harm the delicious animals, I'll have you know.

  • ||

    It wasn't video games that caused this.

    Whatever. People served up this same line in late-1980 when dozens of Japanese children began running through hedge-mazes following trails of Mentos, eating random fruits, then chasing ghosts who only moments ago were chasing them.

    Those of us who were there know better.

  • ||

    There's a good libertarian point to be made here.

    A lot of schools implemented zero tolerance policies after Columbine. But it's since been figured out that in 80%+ of such shootings the perpetrators told someone about their plans. Therefore the best way to prevent them is to be able to gather intelligence from potential shooters' acquaintances.

    But in zero-tolerance environments, where you can get expelled for having a pocket knife in your locker, students are much less willing to come forward because they don't want to see schoolmates severely punished for minor things. Zero-tolerance is counter-productive.

  • ||

    Evil like supernatural devil spawn evil, or just really fucked up in the brain evil?



    Well, it's not like they were bullet proof or breathing fire or anything.

  • Warty||

    This thread makes me want to go listen to Suicidal Tendencies albums. Trip at the brain! Trip at the brain!

  • Paul||

    We don't know what it was inside Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold that made them into the exceptions. And we never will.



    Yes we do. And it's a word in the language that we've lost. It's an "unword", if you will: Crazy.

  • T||

    Well, it's not like they were bullet proof or breathing fire or anything.

    Lack of effort on their part, I'd say.

  • ||

    They were petty criminals. Both had huge issues with authority. They had issues with authority not in a good way to have issues with authority where you dislike authority because you empathize with other people and the effect authority has one them. They had issues with authority in a bad way where you hate authority because authority won't recognize your greatness and give you everything you want when you want it. They were collecting guns and telling everyone how they wanted to kill people.

    Clearly, the rational way to prevent this from happening again, is call the cops the next time a third grader's mom forgets and leaves a kitchen knife in his lunchbox.

  • Paul||

    Eric Harris was taking Luvox, an SSRI antidepressant. In the insert, although it is listed as a rare reaction, it states that Luvox can cause "antisocial behavior".

    Rosie:

    From CNN:

    It is not known if Harris actually took the medication, and investigators said Wednesday early toxicology tests performed by the medical examiner's office showed no evidence of drugs or alcohol in the body of either gunman, Harris or Dylan Klebold.

  • ||

    "Eric Harris was taking Luvox, an SSRI antidepressant. In the insert, although it is listed as a rare reaction, it states that Luvox can cause "antisocial behavior"."

    Antisocial behavior is getting pissed off over taking out the garbage and killing your mom. It is not trying to blow up your school.

  • ||

    Paul - I think Rosie's claim was that coming off the medication may have caused the behavior. That would render the post-mortem toxicology results irrelevant.

    But I don't want to speak for her.

  • Paul||

    Antisocial behavior is getting pissed off over taking out the garbage and killing your mom. It is not trying to blow up your school.

    Well, I think I see what your point is, but unfortunately, there are serious criminals who display extreme antisocial behavior. So, yes, antisocial behavior is in fact blowing up your neighbors hose, killing his kids and not giving a shit about it afterward.

    And actually, it's kind of the opposite of what you write. It's not antisocial to get pissed off about taking out the recycling when you're a teenager. That's "normal". However, now we're trying to apply early warning recognition signals to everything we see as possible "antisocial" behavior. Next thing you know, Ron Paul supporters are labeled as potential "terrorists".

  • Jazz Hands||

    "Speaking of anti-depressants, has cannabis ever been proven to be one? I'm not aware of anyone ever killing anyone else while high on pot."

    Nick, meet the Gangster Disciples. GD, Nick.

  • ||

    Paul,

    Clearly blowing up a building is pretty anti-social. I was thinking more of anti-social behavior of the type brought on by phsychosis, which is the kind of things those drugs induce. These guys planned this for months. They build bombs. The set their cars to explode when the cops showed up. Had they been better bomb builders they would have killed hundreds. That is not someone who had some issues and just snapped because of the side effects of drugs.

  • Paul||

    7/8 lib:

    I don't see that in Rosies post at all. What you write would be a perfectly reasonable postulation about side effects, but Rosie doesn't suggest that at all.

    Terry Bradshaw's wiki followup indicates that. But then we have some other interesting facts: SSRI antidepressant, which he was required to take as part of court-ordered anger management therapy. According to the recruiting officer, Harris did not know about this rejection. Though some friends of Harris suggested that he had stopped taking the drug beforehand

    So a guy who had serious anger management problems was ordered to take a drug to deal with this anger management problems, but he stopped taking the drug and as a result he caught teh anger management.

    Confrused? I sure am.

    John:

    That is not someone who had some issues and just snapped because of the side effects of drugs.

    Agreed. They was just plain crazy.

  • Kibo||

    "early toxicology tests" != comprehensive autopsy

    Hope this helps.

  • Jazz Hands||

    "People understandably don't like to face the fact that some people really are uncontrolably evil."

    I agree, John. Two years back a guy on a Minneapolis city bus asked two guys who were loudly discussing their latest sexual exploits to talk quietly. One of the loud guys pulled a gun and shot him four times in the chest.

    Yup. Evil.

  • JP||

    Observers saw its genesis in just about everything: lax parenting, lax gun laws, progressive schooling, repressive school culture, violent video games, antidepressant drugs and rock 'n' roll, for starters

    He forgot to mention Satanists and child-molesting daycare workers.

  • Jazz Hands||

    "But in zero-tolerance environments, where you can get expelled for having a pocket knife in your locker, students are much less willing to come forward because they don't want to see schoolmates severely punished for minor things. Zero-tolerance is counter-productive."

    Wow! I agree with Tony. Just, wow!

  • Paul||

    He forgot to mention Satanists and child-molesting daycare workers.

    But that's so 1980's.

  • ||

    Suddenly stopping certain (many) anti-depressants can cause seizures or even death. I'm not sure if coming off suddenly also causes "anti-social behavior".

  • Bill Ayers||

    "Had they been better bomb builders they would have killed hundreds."

    Don't I know it.

  • Biff||

    "Suddenly stopping certain (many) anti-depressants can cause seizures or even death. I'm not sure if coming off suddenly also causes "anti-social behavior"."

    I was dating a girl taking Klonopin (sp?). She stopped taking it and imploded.

  • Paul||

    "early toxicology tests" != comprehensive autopsy

    Hope this helps.


    Agreed. But then that blows the "luvox caused his problems" theory: "Abrupt cessation of SSRI antidepressants has been found to interfere with normal social functioning in some patients."

    According to the actual autopsy report, it appears he did have "therapeutic levels" of Luvox. Therapeutic == effective.

    So now I guess that means that Luvox probably didn't cause his antisocial behavior.

  • ||

    Biff, Klonopin is an anti-anxiety benzodiazepine like Valium or Xanax. It isn't an anti-depressant.

    But I get the joke (unless you're being serious).

  • Paul||

    A site called "funtrivia.com" has a segment called "Fun Facts, Answers..." on the Columbine Massacre. Irony? You decide.

  • ||

    Paul, you're right. I mixed up Rosie and Terry Bradshaw.

    Which actually happens quite often in the real world... Cheers.

  • Brett Stevens||

    Our whole culture is schooled in 1789/1968-style Revolutionary ideals, and so in every aggressor sees a victim underdog.

    "It's not our fault" is now our national motto.

    I always thought Pekka-Eric Auvinen's shooting was more impressive. Not only that, but he's got a cameo on the album coming in at #10 on the Finnish charts.

  • Orange Line Special||

    Someone told me that after it was all over, their Walkmans were still playing Rush and they were still clutching their libertarian manifestos.

  • JB||

    The real lesson that you rarely hear is that the school and community were lucky their bombs didn't go off.

    Has anyone talked about banning propane?

    Nope, because most people and the media are complete idiots...especially anti-gun leftists.

    More background on their bombs:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbine_High_School_massacre

  • Biff||

    "But I get the joke (unless you're being serious)."

    Dead serious. Her entire life (school, work, relationships) tanked in about 2 months.

  • Jazz Hands||

    STFU, Lone Wackoff!

  • ||

    Dead serious. Her entire life (school, work, relationships) tanked in about 2 months.

    Well, that sucks. Why did she stop?

  • Daniel||

    "I wish people would stop thinking that there is a lesson to be learned from every horrible thing that happens. There is no lesson to be learned other than that some people are just that fucked up. That is all. Shitty things happen from time to time and there will always be psychopaths in the world willing to do things that most people cannot make sense of."


    ...This


    Trying to social engineer the world because bad things happen is how we are ending up in a closed Orwellian world...

    You cannot and should not attempt to turn the world into Disneyland because you are afraid for yourself and others and think we will all be happy in the end...

    In trying you will create a nightmare on earth...

  • lrv||

    The real lesson learned (or reinforced, if you were already skeptical): the MSM is not to be trusted.

    But I'm sure it was the evil amateur internet news blogs that caused the quality of reporting to be so poor.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Terry (and others): You're right. I scanned that sentence too quickly before quoting it. I've added an update correcting the record.

  • ed||

    There is no lesson to be learned

    Quiet. People have jobs to justify.

  • B||

    "We do know that bullies routinely picked on Harris, Klebold, and others like them."

    I know that is not what you were doing with this sentence, but it never ceases to amaze me that when discussing school shootings, when the subject of bullying comes up, many people respond as if getting teased or occassionally beat up somehow provides a rationalization or even a justification for slaughtering a dozen or so people. When did "we don't condone it but would understand if you killed a whole bunch of fucking people" replace "ignore them or fight back, because bullies don't like that" in the national conversation about bullying?

    Frankly, bullying shouldn't even be brought up when discussing these shootings because it allows faux-socialogy spouting turds (and defense attorneys) to depict these fucking school-shooting wackos as victims, instead of the murderous pieces of shit they are and it lends a patina of legitimacy to the argument that the real victims somehow got what was coming to them.

    If you are such a pussy that you feel it is allright to massacre a bunch of people you barely know because an unrelated someone takes your lunch money or give you a fucking wedgie, you deserve to have your underwear pulled up to your fucking ears.

  • B||

    "Suddenly stopping certain (many) anti-depressants can cause seizures or even death. I'm not sure if coming off suddenly also causes "anti-social behavior."

    Multiple studies have indicated that anti-social behavior can result from the cessation of anti-depressive drug regimens, particularly when the cessation is very rapid. These behaviors seem to be more pronounced and more prevalent in adolescents, particularly those on drug regimens designed primarily for adults.

  • B||

    In my first post above the word socialogy should instead be spelled sociology.

  • ||

    Guys, I have to tell you...
    And I'm admitting this in shame...
    Lonewacko's 5:43 post made me laugh.

    Now, if only the guy had a sense of humor about himself...

  • ||

    People are still talking about this?
    Columbine?
    Seriously?
    It's over. A long time ago. It sucked, but bad things happen every day all over the place. There is no lesson to be learned. The end.

  • LarryA||

    If you are such a pussy that you feel it is all right to massacre a bunch of people you barely know because an unrelated someone takes your lunch money or give you a fucking wedgie, you deserve to have your underwear pulled up to your fucking ears.

    OTOH if the same person takes your lunch money every school day for a year, the teachers who know what he's doing won't do anything to stop it, the vice-principal threatens to expel you if you take any defensive action whatsoever, and the principal won't let your parents intervene, that shit stacks up.

    Not saying it applies here.

    It's over. A long time ago. It sucked, but bad things happen every day all over the place.

    It's sometimes easier to coolly discuss something ten years old than what happened yesterday.

  • ||

    It's sometimes easier to coolly discuss something ten years old than what happened yesterday.

    +1

  • Abdul||

    Anti-depressants.

    Anger management.

    These two things don't always work as advertised, do they?

  • Fluffy||

    I know that is not what you were doing with this sentence, but it never ceases to amaze me that when discussing school shootings, when the subject of bullying comes up, many people respond as if getting teased or occassionally beat up somehow provides a rationalization or even a justification for slaughtering a dozen or so people. When did "we don't condone it but would understand if you killed a whole bunch of fucking people" replace "ignore them or fight back, because bullies don't like that" in the national conversation about bullying.

    There seems to be some doubt about whether the Columbine guys were actually bullied.

    But I would just want to note that the bullying culture of our schools says, "Violence is OK, as long as it's limited to the level of violence you can do with your fists. Threats are OK, as long as it's limited to threatening the type of violence you can do with just your fists." This probably sounds like a great system, if you're the biggest guy in school, and will always win any fight with just fists. If a kid who is on the bottom rung of such a system decides to escalate to a gun, all he's really doing is trying to move the violence that's already happening to a level where he has a chance to win. It's stupid, because you pretty much end up dead or in jail after a single day of being on the winning side, but I don't consider it extraordinarily evil. After all, we want our little hothouse high school societies to impart life lessons, and the lesson here seems to be "Use violence long enough, and someone will come back at you with a higher level of violence" which is a lesson that the Somali pirates might have wanted to learn, for example.*

    *This paragraph's snark level is about 70%.

  • ||

    "We do know that bullies routinely picked on Harris, Klebold, and others like them."

    That is not true. Harris and Klebold were bullies themselves. They bragged in their diaries about beating up freshman and younger kids. The pictures that emerge from the people who knew them and their diaries is not of two kids who were being tormented by bullies. Instead, they both appear to be psychotic and dangerous kids who were the bullies rather than victims. Klebold and Harris, because they were sociopaths, were both extreme narsacists with major persecution complexes. So people thought they were bully victims when in reality the "persecution" they were so angry about was just kids not including them and bowing to Klebold and Harris's self considered greatness.

  • Anne Keckler | ACSM Certified ||

    I just read "The Case Against Adolescence," and I think it might have some lessons regarding this kind of thing. The first few chapters are available on Google books.

    If anyone else has read it, I'd be interested to know if you think our habit of separating teens and infantilizing them has created more violence among that age group.

  • ||

    Observers saw its genesis in just about everything: lax parenting, lax gun laws, progressive schooling, repressive school culture, violent video games, antidepressant drugs and rock 'n' roll...

    ...and my favorite, the theory of evolution...

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