At Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, two teens went
on a shooting spree on April 20, 1999, killing 13 people and
wounding more than 20 others before turning their guns on
themselves and committing suicide. The Columbine shooting was,
at the time, the worst high school shooting in U.S. history and
prompted a national debate on gun control and school safety, as
well as a major investigation to determine what motivated the
gunmen, Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17.
DYLAN KLEBOLD AND ERIC HARRIS
At approximately 11:19 a.m., Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris,
dressed in trench coats, began shooting fellow students outside
Columbine High School, located in a suburb south of Denver. The
pair then moved inside the school, where they gunned down many
of their victims in the library.
By approximately 11:35 a.m., Klebold and Harris had killed 12
students and a teacher and wounded more than 20 other people.
Shortly after 12 p.m., the two teens turned their guns on
Investigators later learned Harris and Klebold had arrived in
separate cars at Columbine around 11:10 on the morning of the
massacre. The two then walked into the school cafeteria, where
they placed two duffel bags each containing a 20-pound propane
bomb set to explode at 11:17 a.m.
The teens then went back outside to their cars to wait for the
bombs to go off. When the bombs failed to detonate, Harris and
Klebold began their shooting spree.
SHE SAID YES
In the days immediately following the shootings, it was
speculated that Harris and Klebold purposely chose athletes,
minorities and Christians as their victims.
It initially was reported that one student, Cassie Bernall, was
asked by one of the gunmen if she believed in God. When Bernall
allegedly said, “Yes,” she was shot to death. Her parents later
wrote a book titled She Said Yes, honoring their daughter.
However, it later was determined the question was not posed to
Bernall but to another student who already had been wounded by a
gunshot. When that victim replied, “Yes,” the shooter walked
COLUMBINE SHOOTING INVESTIGATION
Subsequent investigations determined Harris and Klebold chose
their victims randomly, and the two teens originally had
intended to bomb their school, potentially killing hundreds of
There was speculation that Harris and Klebold committed the
killings because they were members of a group of social outcasts
called the Trenchcoat Mafia that was fascinated by Goth culture.
It also was speculated that Harris and Klebold had carried out
the shootings as retaliation for being bullied.
Additionally, violent video games and music were blamed for
influencing the killers. However, none of these theories was
Through journals left behind by Harris and Klebold,
investigators eventually discovered the teens had been planning
for a year to bomb the school in an attack similar to the 1995
Oklahoma City bombing.
Investigative journalist Dave Cullen, author of the 2009 book
Columbine, described Harris as “the callously brutal
mastermind,” while Klebold was a “quivering depressive who
journaled obsessively about love and attended the Columbine prom
three days before opening fire.”
COLUMBINE MASSACRE AFTERMATH
In the aftermath of the shootings, many schools across America
enacted “zero-tolerance” rules regarding disruptive behavior and
threats of violence from students. Columbine High School
reopened in the fall of 1999, but the massacre left a scar on
the Littleton community.
Mark Manes, the man who sold a gun to Harris and bought him 100
rounds of ammunition the day before the murders, was sentenced
to six years in prison. Another man, Philip Duran, who
introduced Harris and Klebold to Manes, also was sentenced to
Some victims and families of people killed or injured filed suit
against the school and the police; most of these suits were
later dismissed in court.