The Columbine Tapes


    SWAT TEAM: The marksmen are being criticized for not going after the killers more aggressively

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    FBI AGENT: Rich Price of the domestic terrorism squad works the case

    Klebold and Harris were completely soaked in violence: in movies like Reservoir Dogs; in gory video games that they tailored to their imaginations. Harris liked to call himself "Reb," short for rebel. Klebold's nickname was VoDKa (his favorite liquor, with the capital DK for his initials). On pipe bombs used in the massacre he wrote "VoDKa Vengeance."

    That they were aiming for 250 dead shows that their motives went far beyond targeting the people who teased them. They planned it very carefully: when they would strike, where they would put the bombs, whether the fire sprinklers would snuff out their fuses. They could hardly wait. Harris picks up the shotgun and makes shooting noises. "Isn't it fun to get the respect that we're going to deserve?" he asks.

    The tapes are a cloudy window on their moral order. They defend the friends who bought the guns for them, who Harris and Klebold say knew nothing of their intentions--as though they are concerned that innocent people not be blamed for their massacre of innocent people. If they hadn't got the guns where they did, Harris says, "we would have found something else."

    They had many chances to turn back--and many chances to get caught. They "came close" one day, when an employee of Green Mountain Guns called Harris' house and his father answered the phone. "Hey, your clips are in," the clerk said. His father replied that he hadn't ordered any clips and, as Harris retells it, didn't ask whether the clerk had dialed the right number. If either one had asked just one question, says Harris, "we would've been f___ed."

    "We wouldn't be able to do what we're going to do," Klebold adds.

    The Warning Signs
    You could fill a good-size room with the people whose lives have been twisted into ropes of guilt by the events leading up to that awful day, and by the day itself. The teachers who read the essays but didn't hear the warnings, the cops who were tipped to Harris' poisonous website but didn't act on it, the judge and youth-services counselor who put the boys through a year of community service after they broke into a van and then concluded that they had been rehabilitated. Because so many people are being blamed and threatened with lawsuits, there are all kinds of public explanations designed to diffuse and defend. But there are private conversations going on as well, within the families, among the cops, in the teachers' lounge, where people are asking themselves what they could have done differently. Neil Gardner, the deputy assigned to the school who traded gunfire with Harris, says he wishes he could have done more. But with the criticism, he has learned, "you're not a hero unless you die."

    Nearly everyone who ever knew Harris or Klebold has asked himself the same question: How could we have been duped? Yet the boys were not loners; they had a circle of friends. Harris played soccer (until the fall of 1998), and Klebold was in the drama club. Just the week before the rampage, the boys had to write a poem for an English class. Harris wrote about stopping the hate and loving the world. Klebold went to the prom the weekend before the slaughter; Harris couldn't get a date but joined him at the postprom parties, to celebrate with students they were planning to kill.

    To adults, Klebold had always come across as the bashful, nervous type who could not lie very well. Yet he managed to keep his dark side a secret. "People have no clue," Klebold says on one videotape. But they should have had. And this is one of the most painful parts of the puzzle, to look back and see the flashing red lights--especially regarding Harris--that no one paid attention to. No one except, perhaps, the Brown family.

    Brooks Brown became notorious after the massacre because certain police officers let slip rumors that he might have somehow been involved. And indeed he was--but not in the way the police were suggesting. Brown and Harris had had an argument back in 1998, and Harris had threatened Brown; Klebold also told him that he should read Harris' website on AOL, and he gave Brooks the Web address.

    And there it all was: the dimensions and nicknames of his pipe bombs. The targets of his wrath. The meaning of his life. "I'm coming for EVERYONE soon and I WILL be armed to the f___ing teeth and I WILL shoot to kill." He rails against the people of Denver, "with their rich snobby attitude thinkin they are all high and mighty...God, I can't wait til I can kill you people. Feel no remorse, no sense of shame. I don't care if I live or die in the shoot-out. All I want to do is kill and injure as many of you as I can, especially a few people. Like Brooks Brown."

    The Browns didn't know what to do. "We were talking about our son's life," says Judy Brown. She and her husband argued heatedly. Randy Brown wanted to call Harris' father. But Judy didn't think the father would do anything; he hadn't disciplined his son for throwing an ice ball at the Browns' car. Randy considered anonymously faxing printouts from the website to Harris' father at work, but Judy thought it might only provoke Harris to violence.

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