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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In March, according to Harris' website, he and Klebold were busy making their first pipe bombs. But they gave few clues to the people around them. Appearing before Jefferson County magistrate John DeVita on March 25, after being arrested for breaking into a car and stealing electronics equipment, Harris and Klebold made like latter-day Eddie Haskells: "Yes, Your Honor...No, Your Honor." That persuaded DeVita (who knew nothing of Harris' website) to agree to put them in a juvenile diversion program, and charges were dropped in return for their performing community service and enrolling in "anger management" classes.

A week after Harris yanked his venomous website offline, he had replaced it with an equally venomous secret diary--the one in which, authorities say, he plotted his campaign to take out Columbine High. The diary hasn't been made public. But in the months of late 1998 and early 1999, there were many preparations: guns to acquire, bombs to make, locations to scout, timing to perfect. In the fall of 1998, Klebold and Harris made a video for a class project--a video in which they dress in trench coats, carry guns and blow away jocks, a murderous fantasy stoking a murderous reality. For Klebold, the planning and prep may have taken on an abstract quality: something he and Harris talked about only to each other, something that fueled their relationship, something they would plan forever but that would never actually happen. Until it did happen.

When Harris was turned down by the Marines on April 15, it was because of his antidepressants. A day before, Brandi Tinklenberg had turned down his invitation to the prom. Did these failures set him off? It's impossible to say. But five days later, he and Klebold started shooting. Fittingly, they had already computer-modeled their crime. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, which tracks Internet hate groups, discovered last week in its archives a copy of Harris' website with a version of the bloody shoot-'em-up video game Doom he had customized. In Harris' version there are two shooters, each with extra weapons and unlimited ammunition, and the people they encounter can't fight back. When Harris and Klebold went into Columbine on April 20, says an Internet investigator associated with the Wiesenthal Center, "they were playing out their game in God mode."

Brooks Brown makes much the same point. "What they did wasn't about anger or hate," he says. "It was about them living in the moment, like they were inside a video game." As long as they were rolling with the plan, Brown argues, the slaughter didn't seem real to them. But that explanation absolves the killers too easily: Is it really possible that the flesh and blood of the maimed and dying was no more real to them than pixels on a video monitor? Brown thinks so. "Then they can't get out of the library, and they have a moment of overwhelming remorse," he surmises. "Or maybe one does, while the other is still lost inside the game."

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