Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold: Portrait Of A Deadly Bond

One was a leader, the other a follower. One prone to fits of venomous temper, the other shy and awkward. TIME investigates what led Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to turn Columbine High School into a killing spree

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"If Dylan can do this, who isn't capable of it?" asks Brooks Brown's father Randy, a longtime friend of Tom and Sue Klebold. "At some point Dylan cracked, and no one knew. His mom is rippin' herself up, trying to find out why. But Dylan's gone and there is no why." Klebold can't explain what came over him, but Brooks and some others can try. "Dylan was a follower, but he wouldn't follow just anyone," says Brooks. "He was as much of an individual as a follower can be."

It's almost two o'clock in the morning, and Brown, who shaved off all his hair and his beard last week because he needed a "fresh start," is stretched out on the carpet in his family's living room, trying to explain the inexplicable: What made Klebold latch on to Harris? "Eric was an incredible individualist," he begins slowly. "Charismatic, an eloquent speaker, well read, the kind of guy who could bulls___ for hours about anything and be witty and brilliant." There was no sign of this erudition on Harris' website, but maybe he was role playing in those days. It's clear that Brown still feels Eric's pull as well. He knows he'll miss sitting around in the afternoon with him, eating and talking about ideas like Ayn Rand's objectivism, which sees man as a "heroic being" whose happiness is the purpose of his life. He'll miss their disturbed fiction (in one creative-writing class, Brown read aloud Harris' violent memoir about leaping over logs and battling aliens in his backyard at age five; Dylan wrote something about Satan opening a day-care center in hell). And he'll miss the reverse-snob solidarity that develops among people who feel both shunned by and more intelligent than the majority.

What Harris and Klebold shared, says Terra Oglesbee, who was in their creative-writing class too, was a poetic sensibility, "dark and sad. Their poems were always about plants dying and the sun burning out. Whenever I heard them, I would just plug my ears because I can't stand stuff like that." Dylan rarely read his work aloud, she says, but Eric "was very talkative. He was a really good writer. He would help me cheat sometimes, pass me answers in tests and stuff." Though she is African American, she never sensed the racism that spilled out against Isaiah Shoels during the massacre. Maybe that day they were role playing again.

Though Columbine students tagged Harris' group the Trench Coat Mafia, a name that suggests some level of organization when there was none, every high school has its intellectual outsiders. There are those who stand proudly (if at times longingly) apart from the pep rallies and the dating rituals of the cool kids, and those who are just hanging on until college delivers them from the tyranny of the good-looking and athletically gifted.

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