Sketch of 2 Killers: Contradictions and Confusion

New York Times, April 23, 1999
By Jodi Wilgoren and Dirk Johnson

LITTLETON, Colo. -- It was just 11 weeks ago that a court officer released Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold early from a juvenile diversion program, saying they had learned the intended lessons in the months since their arrest and had promising futures.

"Eric is a very bright young man who is likely to succeed in life," the officer wrote in a report released here today. "He is intelligent enough to achieve lofty goals as long as he stays on task and remains motivated." Of Klebold, the officer said: "He is intelligent enough to make any dream a reality but he needs to understand hard work is part of it."

Who could predict that the two high school seniors would move from minor charges of criminal mischief, theft and trespass to masterminding one of the worst school massacres in the nation's history, killing a dozen schoolmates and a teacher before turning the guns on themselves?

As more bombs were discovered at Columbine High School and names of the dead were officially released today, the families and closest friends of the two responsible for the carnage remained in seclusion. But a fuller portrait of the perpetrators and their families is beginning to emerge, and it is filled with contradictions and confusion.

The killers, who targeted athletes, both had done well in Little League, teammates said; Harris was fond of wearing a Colorado Rockies cap before he moved to this Denver suburb from Plattsburgh, N.Y. They were said to hate minorities, but in Plattsburgh, Harris's best friends were black and Asian.

In Littleton, their only scrape with the law was the March 1998 arrest that resulted in the juvenile diversion program. They held jobs at a local pizza place and a Saturday night out was likely to be at the Rock 'N' Bowl at Belleview Lanes.

Many students recalled nasty interactions in which the young men insulted and threatened classmates or even flashed weapons; many others, though, recalled quiet, shy teen-agers who played cards in the lunchroom and offered to help others make videos or use computers.

Any warning signs seemed hidden under the black trench coats they wore regardless of the weather.

"Yeah, they dressed a little differently, maybe they dressed in black, but so, what do priests dress in?" asked John Adams, whose daughter was a friend of Klebold and often invited him over to watch movies or play computer games. "Are priests anarchists? Do they blow up things? It's just people trying to set other people apart because they're different. That's why we have so many of the problems in this world, because we try to set ourselves apart or set ourselves above."

The court officer, whose name was blacked out in the released documents, said that Harris "excelled in school" and enjoyed an anger management program that seemed to dovetail with his individual counseling. For Klebold, he said, the 45 hours of community service were the most effective, as "he learned a lot from having to give up free time to work for no money."

The boys tested negative for drugs, and paid their fees on time. They wrote letters of apology and took an ethics class. Harris was described as "very articulate and intelligent," and Klebold as someone "with a great deal of potential."

Jenny La Plante, a senior who took an early morning bowling class with both young men, recalled Klebold's tossing the ball shotput-style from his chest down the lanes, which annoyed both the teacher and the alley management. Harris, she said, was a star last semester in Composition for the College Bound.

"He was one of the smartest kids in our class," she said. "He always knew the answers, whether it was a passage from Shakespeare or a prepositional phrase."

But there may be evidence of something scarier. The Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a subpoena today to America Online pertaining "to a Web site associated with the individuals involved in the shooting at Columbine High School," said Special Agent Gary Gomez. Gomez declined to offer details of the Web site, but material circulating on the Internet attributed to Harris shows eerie drawings of shotgun-toting monsters and skulls and instructions for making pipe bombs like those that blew up at Columbine.

The Denver Post reported today that the two young men had made a video in a production class that showed people in trenchcoats gunning down athletes in the school hallways and were upset when they were not allowed to screen it for classmates. School officials declined to discuss the video.

Andrew Breed and Peter Maher, 17-year-old juniors at Columbine, said they, too, had glimpsed the darker side.

Last July 4, Breed and Maher said they ran into the two young men as well as others in the group known as the Trenchcoat Mafia at a 7-Eleven. Someone from the Breed-Maher group tossed a doughnut and some biting insults at those in the Harris-Klebold cadre. As they drove away, Maher said he saw someone in a trench coat waving a pistol-grip shotgun in the air.

A few hours later, the two groups met again at a nearby fireworks stand, Breed and Maher said, and the trenchcoaters were yelling at them in German. Maher said that Harris held a foot-long lead pipe by his side and that another student, who was questioned after Tuesday's massacre but released, pulled out a knife.

"When people at the school get into fights, they throw a few punches and it's broken up, but no, they wanted to put us in the hospital," Breed recalled. "I was going to beat the crap out of him, but then I'm glad I didn't because I would have probably been the target, they would probably have been looking for me on this day, so I'm glad I didn't do anything."

Breed said he has known Klebold since they were on the same baseball team in first grade. But this year, Breed said, if someone bumped into him in the hallway, Klebold would say, "I'll kill you."

"He was a normal kid," Breed said. "I don't know what happened, he turned into a nut case."

Both Harris and Klebold come from middle-class, two-parent families. Klebold's father, Thomas, is a retired geologist who runs Fountain Real Estate Management from his home. His mother, Susan, has worked for years in the local community college system, counseling disabled students, among other things.

Colorado vehicle registration records show that the Klebold family owns at least seven cars, including four BMW's that date from the 1980's.

"As far as I can tell, this family was utterly, utterly normal," Michael Briand, a colleague of Mrs. Klebold, told The Associated Press. "They did everything right. But somehow the pain and anger was too deep, and they didn't see it or couldn't reach it."

Eric's father, Wayne, is a decorated Air Force pilot who retired as a major in 1993 after 20 years of service and works in the administration at Flight Safety Services, a pilot training school in Englewood, near this town of 35,000 southwest of Denver.

His mother, Katherine, works at a catering service in town, and his older brother, Kevin, is a student at the University of Colorado in Boulder. Scott Berg, a sophomore at the university and a former Columbine student, said Kevin Harris was "just the sort of guy his brother was gunning for."

Kevin Harris was an honor student and played tight end for the Columbine Rebels, Berg said, and And Mrs. Harris went to all the games, even when their son was only on junior varsity. Berg's younger brother, Steve, an athlete at Columbine, said he recently confronted Harris during bowling class.

"My brother's Jewish, and this whole Nazism thing really bothered him," Scott Berg said. "So he went up to these guys and said, 'What's with all this German stuff?' "

It is the allegations of racism that are most baffling to friends and neighbors Eric Harris left behind in Plattsburgh, a small town about an hour south of Montreal, in 1993, when the Air Force base where his father was stationed closed down.

Contrary to the portrait of an awkward outsider that has been drawn since the shooting, his friends in Plattsburgh say Harris was more reserved than many of his group but was well-liked.

"We had all these little cliques and he was right along with all of us," said Nora Bordeau, 17, a former classmate.

Among his closest friends, they said, were two boys from the base who also moved away, one of whom was black and the other Asian.

"One of his good friends was this Asian kid who was also a very good athlete, so I don't think anyone would say he had a problem with either athletes or minority members when he was here," said Mike Condo, 18.

Eric Harris became a Rockies fan even before his family moved west, and often wore a baseball cap in Plattsburgh. His father urged him to join Little League to meet other boys, and his parents came to every game of the Sun Food team -- as well as some practices. Whenever a boy went up to bat, Major Harris offered "a pat on the back and a little confidence," recalled Brendan LaPier, 17, a former teammate.

Eric Harris was an average player who did not mind being alone and spent a lot of time in the dugout. When the shy right-fielder came up to bat, he would stare at the pitcher and ready his stance, then let the balls zoom past.

"We had to kind of egg him on to swing, to hit the pitch sometimes," said Terry Condo, his former coach. "It wasn't that he was afraid of the ball, just that he didn't want to miss. He didn't want to fail."

During a sixth-grade field trip to Boston, Harris and his classmates visited a pizza restaurant, where he ate scrambled egg pizza and then played video games. One game, called Lethal Enforcer, in which a plastic gun is fired at the screen, seemed to fascinate him, friends recalled.

Adam Pasti, 17, said Harris left an inscrutable message on his middle-school yearbook: "You've been a good friend. Have a great summer. I'll send you a shirt from Denver. I'm going to miss all of you. Mochenderrystinckypoo, Eric Harris."

Though Plattsburgh schools have been closed this week for spring break, many former classmates have been gathering in each other's homes to watch the news. At first, some were concerned about Harris's safety and tried to contact him, they said. Like their counterparts in Colorado, most of Harris's Plattsburgh friends remember him as a student who got A's and B's and loved computer games.

"They were the one thing I can remember him talking about, the games he played and the levels he would get," said Brenden LaPier, 17, a former Little League teammate. "He would just come up and tell you about it, while, otherwise, he was the kind of person you would have to approach if you wanted to talk."

The love of computers may be connected to the killing spree, as investigators searching for clues about the gunmen turn to the recesses of cyberspace, where documents attributed to Harris talk of dark interests and inspirations.

Brooks Brown, a classmate, said Harris had sent him threatening messages over the Internet after a disagreement last year. His father, Randy Brown, said he had found some of the Internet writings by Harris so frightening that he turned over 15 pages to a deputy. Harris wrote that he couldn't wait to start killing people and that he would feel no remorse, Randy Brown said. "I live in Denver, and I would love to kill almost all of its residents," he was quoted as writing. "You all better hide in your houses because I'm coming for everyone and I will shoot to kill and I will kill everything." America Online said it had removed postings apparently pertaining to the case, but material posted on the Internet today appeared to replicate Harris's previous Web sites and postings, said several people who say they viewed and copied the pages before they were removed on Tuesday. Web material attributed to Harris included instructions on how to build pipe bombs like those used in the Columbine attack and an illustration of a creature toting a shotgun and a knife, standing on a pile of skulls. Also on the site were the song lyrics: "What I don't say I don't do. What I don't do I don't like. What I don't like I Waste."

"Rebdomine" was one of several America Online user names attributed to Harris; others were "rebldomakr" and "RebDoomer," apparently a reference to his interest in the computer video game called Doom, in which the object is to roam a maze toting various high-powered weapons and blowing away everything in sight.

Perhaps the piece of Internet evidence most clearly tied to Harris is a document discussing weapons of destruction. "Shrapnel is very important if you want to kill and injure a lot of people," it reads. "Almost anything small and metal will work. From paper clips cut into pieces to two-inch nails."

Two young men said they made an electronic copy of the document before it was removed by AOL on Tuesday. Embedded in it was a reference to Wayne N. Harris, Eric's father, implying that it was written on a computer in the Harris home, using software registered by the father, thus validating its origin, computer programming experts said.

Also on the Web site was an illustration of a man shooting automatic pistols, a large monster with horns, and a boy, eyes wide, pointing two pistols. In big red letters, it says: "I hate you. Eric Harris owns every single one of you: The fireworks will be set in the four twenty one!! Doom will become reality!"

Also circulating widely in Internet discussion groups is a profile of Harris said to have been used for his America Online account. The profile lists the author as Eric Harris, and states his hobbies as: "Professional doom and doom2, creator. Meeting beautiful females, being cool."

For a personal quotation, the profile states, "Quit whining, it's just a flesh wound -- Kill Em AALLL!!!"

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