The Big Question: WHY?

On April 20, 1999, Columbine High School Seniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed twelve students and one teacher before ending their own lives shortly after. They were armed, angry, and ruthless that day. They loathed mankind, and on April 20th they channeled that hatred against Columbine High School in the form of chaos, destruction and death.

In this article, we’ll explore their reasons.

Eric and Dylan’s motives have been misunderstood from the start. They weren’t after Christians, although they hated religion. They weren’t after blacks, although they made racist remarks. They weren’t there to pick off individual people (no one on their hitlist was injured). They were there to pick off the human race.

Dylan and Eric had slightly different motives

Dylan has been seen as Eric’s minion/follower for so long, but he was no follower. Dylan hid his rage from some, and not so well from others. The amount of hatred and rage that had built up inside of him simmered for years until it came to a full boil. Eric may have given him the comfort of being able to share those angry feelings, but Eric did not create Dylan’s rage. Both Eric and Dylan felt the same way about people and society.

Where did they differ?

When we look at the t-shirts they wore that day, we see that Eric wore a white t-shirt with the words, “Natural Selection” printed on the front and Dylan wore a black t-shirt with the word, “Wrath” printed on the front in red letters. These shirts tell quite a story about their motivation, especially when you read their journals.

Eric wrote many fantasies about killing people unfit for society and how wonderful natural selection is because only the strong survive. He considered himself to be self-aware and “above human.” Eric’s main motivation was perfectly expressed on his t-shirt bearing the words, “Natural Selection.”

Dylan, on the other hand, wrote in his journals mainly about consciousness, the Universe, science, quantum physics, failed love, unrequited love, sadness, failure and shame. This sadness and shame Dylan carried with him was wrapped tightly into a ball of wrath that he unleashed on April 20, 1999 and the word he chose for his t-shirt – “Wrath” – perfectly describes his main motivation for the shooting.

They knew what they were doing

Many people like to believe that Eric and Dylan just didn’t know what they were doing. This is understandable. It’s hard to believe anyone would actually want to kill other people. But they did want to kill people. They were very aware of what they were doing. They chose a path of destruction that hundreds of thousands of people have come close to walking down. And now we, as a society, want to know why.

This article can help you move closer to an understanding of why Columbine happened, but only if you are willing to learn about a world you may be extremely unfamiliar (and uncomfortable) with.

Why Eric and Dylan shot up Columbine High School

Murder is a touchy subject, especially when children are involved. The subject is even more sensitive when both the killers and those killed are kids. We’ve seen tragedies involving kids killing kids in Jonesboro, AK, Springfield, OR, Santee, CA, and even Erfurt, Germany. People all over the world shed tears while thinking about why these seemingly random acts of violence occur. Each of these lonely tears is a representation of how desperate people in this world are to understand.

Thousands of people understand Eric and Dylan

For some, these incidents hit home a little too hard. Tears of desperation fall from the hearts of those who understand these incidents all too well. These tears of desperation belong to high school students past and present who know what it’s like to be tormented relentlessly for trivial reasons; to be physically attacked and have nothing done about it. These tears of desperation belong to students past and present who once planned a suicide/murder mission of their own. A good portion of those tears are merely footprints stranded in the past, trapped in the memories of a suicide, as most of those students never did find a reason to live.

We have lost too many students to suicide as a result of the hateful atmospheres that they were forced to endure on a daily basis. We lost them due to circumstances they couldn’t free themselves from; circumstances that administrators never seem to think of as harmful. While some students turn their pain inward and choose to end their own lives, some lash out against others–usually those who do them wrong. In Eric and Dylan’s case, their anger festered long enough to develop a step further. They focused their anger on the entire school.

The old saying, “It takes one to know one” rings true when it comes to the subject of school shootings. While it is possible to know about something by reading books and studying second–hand information, it is not the same as knowing. There are so many students who have either planned a shooting, or have fantasized about shooting up their school (both pre–Columbine and post–Columbine) that the public would be seriously alarmed if they knew just how many students this so–called “phenomena” involves.

I’ve personally connected with over 40,000 students who identify with Eric and Dylan in some way. (This number is always rising). These are people who understand them through similar experience. They have experienced being at the bottom of the ladder; always being the new kid in school; having teachers turn a blind eye to in–classroom harassment; dodging glass bottles that are thrown at them from passing cars; being an individual in an environment which constantly demands self–explanation to everyone they pass in the halls; seeing the ignorance and hatred rise in those around them; and for some, it involves the experience of becoming that which they hate: bullies.

Most would like to think that Columbine and even other school shootings were isolated incidents of violence performed by kids who were just “sick” but this is not so. These acts of violence are performed by kids who have no reason to live; kids who spend countless hours crying alone in their rooms where no one can hear them until they make themselves sick; kids who are told to ignore their tormentors’ kicks and shoves; kids who slice their arms and legs on a daily basis in order to have something else to focus on; kids who lock themselves in their rooms with the barrel of a .45 in their mouth, crying, unable to pull the trigger yet wishing they could; kids who cry out for help but are met with medication shoved down their throats and a pat on the back; kids who have never been shown how to emotionally rise above what they cannot escape physically; kids who gave up on life before they were even allowed to live.

While it is true that some kids make it through the toughest of situations that are emotionally demanding and harmful, not all kids do. The kids who don’t make it don’t necessarily make a conscious decision to refuse to rise above; they just have not been shown how. This doesn’t make them weak it just makes them ill–equipped for dealing with the harsh reality we call life.

While some people have this skill instinctively, others do not. Some must learn it through their own discovery and experience, and some must be told that it is possible before they can even attempt to rise above. It is human nature to get discouraged when things are looking grim; however, a select few can and do rise above even the most trying of circumstances. Take, for example, Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl, who was able to emotionally rise above conditions he was physically confined to:

“For Earlier generations, the Holocaust was a defining event…”

“But even this tragedy inspired some victims to try to live better lives. Victor E. Frankl was a psychiatrist in Austria when the Nazis invaded. Rounded up and sent off to Auschwitz concentration camp, Frankl became prisioner number 119,104 and was forced to adjust to a live of grinding hunger, bitter cold, horribly cramped conditions, relentless work, and constant misery as he watched may of his fellow prisioners become ill and die.”

“Such experiences turned some camp survivors into bitter pessimists, but Frankl emerged as an even more committed optimist. As he wrote in his 1945 book Man’s Search for Meaning, “Life holds a potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones” (fourth edition, Beacon Press, 1992, p.12)

“The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability surpressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offered sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. (pp.74-75)”

(Excerpted from Chain Reaction by Darrell Scott pp.7-8)

It is true that everyone has a choice, but time has proven by the countless children we have lost to suicide that it isn’t a choice everyone can easily make. Not everyone can wake up one day and make a conscious decision to rise above the flames engulfing their existence. Sometimes, just sometimes, our children reach a point where they no longer want to rise above. Sometimes it is easier for them to give up than it is to fight an everyday battle that seemingly has no end.

Don’t blame the parents!

Contrary to what you may have been told, Eric and Dylan didn’t have negligent nor abusive parents. They had parents who loved their children to no end, and were overcome with joy the day each of them were born. Eric and Dylan had parents who, like any loving parent, will always cherish the memories of their baby’s first breath, first step, and first kindergarten project involving Popsicle sticks and glue.

A deeper look at their motivation

Eric and Dylan had an intricate structure of motivation for their actions at Columbine High School. It isn’t simple. It isn’t cut and dry. It doesn’t fit the mold of any other school shooting. It isn’t easy to understand, but their motivation is very, very simple.

Motivation, Facilitation and Failed Prevention

First, let’s distinguish the difference between Motivation, Facilitation and Failed prevention – the three components that make up what we call a “REASON.”

MOTIVATION is something that drives a person to do what they do. There is something they either want or want to avoid, and that is their motivation. Motivation is very personal, and when someone tells us what motivated them to commit a crime – it’s not something we can argue with logic. Motivation is not debatable. It doesn’t matter how outrageous their motivation appears to be, or how foreign it sounds to us. People are motivated by things we find illogical. In Eric and Dylan’s case, they said they were motivated by being bullied, excluded, hated, and shamed They wanted revenge for being arrested in January of 1998, and Dylan wrote in his journal that he couldn’t live with the shame of being a convicted criminal and was soon going to die. Their motivation is as simple as that.

FACILITATION is something that furthers the process of achieving a goal of some sort. Robyn Anderson buying guns for Eric and Dylan didn’t cause the massacre – it facilitated it. All the fireworks they were given as payment for working the fireworks stands that they extracted powder from to use in their bombs didn’t cause the massacre – it facilitated it.

FAILED PREVENTION is something that didn’t actually happen, but if it had, it would have prevented something. Eric’s parents not searching his room and his car to find his guns didn’t cause the massacre, it failed to prevent it. The school administration not knowing what they were up to didn’t cause the massacre, it failed to prevent it. Their friends not taking them seriously when they said they wanted to blow up the school didn’t cause the massacre, it failed to prevent it. The convenient misplacement of the draft for a search warrant to search Eric’s home didn’t cause the massacre – it failed to prevent it.

If you’re looking for the reason they did it, just listen to their words and read their journals. They felt justified, righteous and wanted to kill everyone they could because they felt that everyone deserved to die for treating them like shit.

You might be thinking, “but that doesn’t justify murder!” And you are right. It doesn’t justify murder. But that’s why they did it.

Did you know?

When we ask teenagers to tell us why they have chosen to shoot up their school, we’re asking them to answer a question they don’t know how to answer beyond the reasons they tell themselves others deserve to die. Nothing they say will ever be “good enough” for us to understand because we are expecting an answer they’re not capable of giving, and we’re receiving an answer we’re not capable of understanding.