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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At Columbine, which has won 32 statewide sports championships in this decade, athletes and cheerleaders don't bother hiding that they are the elite. "It's the greatest school with the greatest kids," says golden-boy track and football star Scott Schulte. "We are perfect, and the atmosphere is perfect." Those who are imperfect tend to disagree. Columbine athletes, many of the non-athletes say, receive favorable treatment from school officials and often harass those on whom they look down. A number of Columbine students, who don't want to be named because they fear reprisals, described athletes routinely shoving, cursing and throwing rocks and bottles at Harris, Klebold and others. The school denies playing favorites, and jocks deny harassing anybody. The press, says Schulte, "believe anything these kids say. They tell you that the jocks picked on them, and you print it. It's ridiculous." Seven months ago, the sheriff's department warned the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners about growing violence in the Columbine area, including fighting by ganglike groups of athletes. School officials at the time called the report exaggerated.

Double standards and badgering, a number of Harris and Klebold friends say, helped drive them to bombs and bullets. No one is suggesting that getting picked on is an excuse for committing mass murder, but they call it the context for Harris and Klebold's rage. "Did they snap? I think they snapped a bunch of times," says Brooks Brown. "Every time someone slammed them against a locker and threw a bottle at them, I think they'd go back to Eric or Dylan's house and plot a little more--at first as a goof, but more and more seriously over time. It's a theory, but it makes sense to everyone who knew them."

The plotting seems to have begun in April 1998, but no one has yet been able to pinpoint what set it off. It was a tense time at Columbine, with fights brewing between jocks and skateboarders, jocks and Goths, and nearly everyone picking on the guys in the trench coats. Whatever the catalyst, the spring of that year marked a last turning point for Harris. The rage he had displayed on his website didn't abate, but it did go underground, as he honed his ability to fool authority figures, especially parents. "I'd say his parents were in denial, but the truth is, this kid was good," says Randy Brown. "He had a strong, manipulative personality. He could convince his dad of anything." After Harris cracked Brooks' car windshield with that ice ball last winter, for instance, Harris told his father that he thought he was throwing a harmless snowball. His dad believed him, but Judy Brown didn't. "You can pull the wool over your father's eyes," she told Eric, "but you can't pull it over mine." He pretended to be offended. "You calling me a liar?" he demanded. "Yes, I suppose I am," she said. Harris stomped away.

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