The Columbine Tapes

In five secret videos they recorded before the massacre, the killers reveal their hatreds--and their lust for fame

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Dec. 20, 1999 TIME Cover: The Columbine Tapes

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When they knocked on each family's door, it was Mr. Harris and Mr. Klebold who answered. By then, news of the assault at Columbine was playing out live on TV. Mr. Harris' first reflex was to call his wife and tell her to come home. And he called his lawyer.

The Klebolds had not been told that their son was definitely involved. They knew his car had been found in the parking lot. They knew witnesses had identified him as a gunman. They knew he was friends with Harris. And they knew he still had not come home, though it was getting late. Mr. Klebold said they had to face the facts. But neither he nor his wife was ready to accept the ugly truth, and they couldn't believe it was happening. "This is real," Mr. Klebold kept saying, as if he had to convince himself. "He's involved."

Within 10 days, the Klebolds sat down with investigators and began to answer their questions. It would be months before the same interviews would take place with the Harrises, who were seeking immunity from prosecution. District Attorney David Thomas says he has not ruled out charges. But at this point, he lacks sufficient evidence of any wrongdoing. And he is not sure whether charging the parents would do any good. "Could I really do anything to punish them anymore?"

Sheriff Stone questioned the Harrises himself. "You want to go after them. How could they not know?" says Stone. "Then you realize they are no different from the rest of us."

Still, of all the unresolved issues about who knew what, the most serious involves Mr. Harris. Investigators have heard from former Columbine student Nathan Dykeman that Mr. Harris may once have found a pipe bomb. Nathan claims Eric Harris told him that his dad took him out and they detonated it together. Nathan is a problematic witness, partly because he accepted money from tabloids after the massacre. His story also amounts to hearsay because it is based on something Harris supposedly said. Investigators have not been able to ask Mr. Harris about it either; the Harrises' lawyer put that kind of question off limits as a condition for their sitting down with investigators at all.

As for the Klebolds, Kate Battan and her sergeant, Randy West, were convinced after their interviews that the parents were fooled liked everyone else. "They were not absentee parents. They're normal people who seem to care for their children and were involved in their life," says Battan. They too have suffered a terrible loss, both of a child and of their trust in their instincts. On what would have been Klebold's 18th birthday recently, Susan Klebold baked him a cake. "They don't have victims' advocates to help them through this," Battan says. They do, however, have a band of devoted friends, and see one or more of them almost every day. In private, the Klebolds try to recall every interaction they had with the son they now realize they never knew: the talks, the car rides, the times they grounded him for something minor. "She wants to know all of it," a friend says of Mrs. Klebold.

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