Adolf Hitler was born on April 20, 1889, and, although he has been classified as a monster by mainstream U.S. society, many socially dysfunctional people have found in him someone with whom they can identify. His birthday and the days close to it have become rallying points for many dissidents, who have marked the day in a variety of violent and destructive ways. April 19 has also become an important date for many dissenters opposed to what they perceive to be governmental authority and oppression. It was on this day in 1993 that agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) stormed the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texasan event that resulted in eighty deaths, including those of twenty children. Two years later, on April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh, seeking vengeance for the Branch Davidian attack, parked a truck loaded with explosives outside the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and detonated its lethal load. The explosion killed 168 people.
According to Dave Cullen’s Columbine, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold spent over eighteen months planning their own massacre, which was to take place at Columbine High School on “Judgment Day,” their designation for April 19. They had to move the date of their attack to April 20 when the person from whom they were buying ammunition was late in delivering it. The two boys determined that the optimal time for their strike was during the school’s most popular lunch period, which began at 11:10 a.m.
Eric, after closely observing Columbine’s traffic patterns, found that the lunchroom had its largest concentration of students at 11:17 a.m. He and Dylan planted pipe bombs there and in various other places, including one diversionary bomb three miles from the school to distract the police. According to their plan, the bombs would have their greatest explosive impact in the school’s cafeteria, where they were set to explode between 11:16 and 11:18 a.m. Had their timing mechanisms worked, the Columbine massacre, which killed twelve students and one faculty member, would have exceeded by far the 168 fatalities caused by McVeigh’s attack on the Murrah Federal Building. Eric had discussed exceeding the toll of the Oklahoma City disaster.
When much-publicized mass murders, such as the Murrah Federal Building bombing or school shootings, focus attention on those who participate in them, often other people who view themselves as social rejects are tempted to gain the sort of notoriety that such violent acts generate. When teenagers are involved, they often feel that they have been bullied in school or have been rejected in one way or another by their classmates or their families. Eric and Dylan both reacted very negatively to rejection. People with such a mind-set may retreat into a protective carapace and appear to be withdrawn or sullen. On the exterior, they may be polite and acquiescent, even though they may seethe below the surface. Many might be termed “injustice collectors.”
Cullen conducted extensive research to uncover the psychology and motives of Eric and Dylan. On the surface, these two teens seemed quite atypical of what most people would perceive to be severely disturbed youths. Although they dressed idiosyncratically in black trench coats, they came from stable, relatively affluent families. They were bright, and both maintained high grade point averages through high school. Although they were not as socially active as many adolescents are, they had friends and, only three days before their assault on Columbine High School, both had attended the senior prom. The night before the massacre, the two ate dinner with classmates at the Outback Steakhouse, Eric’s favorite restaurant.
Nevertheless, as early as July, 1997, Dylan wrote in his journal about killing. Eric’s Web site also contained suggestions of what was to come and had caused him to be reported to the police. Later in the same year, Eric, Dylan, and another classmate were suspended from Columbine High School for breaking into school lockers. A month afterward, Dylan wrote in his journal about a killing spree. In January, 1998, Eric and Dylan were arrested for breaking into a van. In March, they were sentenced for this crime to enter a juvenile diversion program. Eric had begun seeing a...
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