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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Judgment Day, as they called it, was to begin at 11:17 a.m. But the bombs didn't go off. After two minutes, they walked toward the school and opened fire, shooting randomly and killing the first two of their 13 victims. And then they headed into the building.

Deputy Gardner was eating his lunch in his patrol car when a janitor called on the radio, saying a girl was down in the parking lot. Gardner drove toward her, heard gunshots and dived behind a Chevy Blazer, trading shots with Harris. "I've got to kill this kid," he kept telling himself. But he was terrified of shooting someone else by accident--and his training instructions directed that he concentrate on guarding the perimeter, so no one could escape.

Patti Nielson, a teacher, had seen Harris and Klebold coming and ran a few steps ahead of them into the library. One kid was doing his math homework on a calculator; another was filling out a college application; another was reading an article in PEOPLE about Brooke Shields' breakup with Andre Agassi. "Get down!" Nielson screamed. She dialed 911 and dropped the phone when the two gunmen came in. And so the police have a tape of everything that happened next.

The 911 dispatcher listening on the open phone line could hear Harris and Klebold laughing as their victims screamed. When Harris found Cassie Bernall, he leaned down. "Peekaboo," he said, and killed her. His shotgun kicked, stunning him and breaking his nose. Blood streamed down his face as he turned to see Brea Pasquale sitting on the floor because she couldn't fit under a table. "Do you want to die today?" he asked her. "No," she quivered. Just then Klebold called to him, which spared her life.

Why hadn't anyone stopped them yet? It was now 11:29; because of the open line, the 911 dispatcher knew for certain--for seven long minutes--that the gunmen were there in the library and were shooting fellow students. At that early stage, though, only about a dozen cops had arrived on the scene, and none of them had protective gear or heavy weapons. They could have charged in with their handguns, but their training, and orders from their commanders, told them to "secure the perimeter" so the shooters couldn't escape and couldn't pursue the students who had fled. And by the time the trained SWAT units were pulling in, the killers were on the move again.

Leaving the library, Harris and Klebold walked down a flight of stairs to the cafeteria. It was empty, except for 450 book bags and the four students who hid beneath tables. All the killing and the yelling upstairs had made the shooters thirsty. Surveillance cameras recorded them as they drank from cups that fleeing kids had left on tables. Then they went back to work. They were frustrated that the bombs they had left, inside and outside, had not exploded, and they watched out the windows as the police and ambulances and SWAT teams descended on the school.

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