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Columbine High School Shooting

Columbine High School Shooting

On April 20, 1999, two students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado , shot and killed twelve fellow students and a teacher and wounded twenty others before turning their guns on themselves.

The planned attack

That morning, seniors Eric Harris (1981–1999) and Dylan Klebold (1981–1999) went to school clad in black trench coats. Beneath their coats, they had hidden many weapons, including an assault rifle, sawed-off shotguns, handguns, and homemade grenades. At 11:15 AM, Klebold and Harris opened fire in the parking lot, shooting randomly at fleeing students. Walking slowly, they made their way into the building, leaving behind the bodies of those they had shot. Once inside, they entered the cafeteria, and one of them tossed a pipe bomb into the room. Both attackers began firing on the students, who fled in panic.

Throughout the building, students scrambled for hiding places in closets, bathrooms, and any spots that offered the hope of shelter from the killers. Some called 911 from cell phones. Many managed to escape the building. The sheriff's deputy on duty full-time at the school radioed for backup.

In the next few minutes, the two killers attacked the high school's choir room, auditorium, gymnasium, and library. Students later reported that Harris and Klebold entered the library and demanded that all “jocks” stand up. Then they shot them.

The shooting stops

The police arrived within twenty minutes, and they found several explosive devices around the school building. At noon, forty-five minutes after the shooting began, ambulances began transporting wounded students to hospitals as the parking lot filled with bomb teams, SWAT teams, fire trucks, and paramedic units. At about 12:30 PM, the shooting stopped.

By the time it was over, the gunmen had killed thirteen people, twelve students and a teacher. Then, in the library, Klebold and Harris shot themselves. Their bodies were not located until 4:30 that afternoon.

The killers

Klebold and Harris had come from upper-middle-class families. Classmates remembered them as fairly normal, though aloof. In recent months, the boys had developed a number of disturbing interests, including Nazism (the day of the shooting was the 110th anniversary of the birth of Nazi Germany leader Adolf Hitler), firearms, and an extreme version of alternative heavy-metal music. Klebold and Harris had spent countless hours on the Internet. Their parents apparently did not notice their computer usage or their recent interest in guns and white supremacist ideology (the belief that white people should rule over people of other races). As a result, some people perceived the parents as neglectful and they would later become the focus of lawsuits associated with the shooting.

The Columbine shooting was not the worst in American history. The worst school massacre occurred long before, in Michigan in 1927, when a deranged school board treasurer killed thirty-eight students and six adults with explosives. Nor was Columbine to be the last school shooting in the United States, as witnessed in 2007 at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia (among other similar incidences), when a lone emotionally disturbed gunman killed thirty-two people and wounded many more. Columbine stood out because it took the country by surprise. In the prosperous 1980s and 1990s, most middle-class parents felt safe when their children were at school. After Columbine, parents and school personnel across the country were startled into discussions about how to prevent another such tragedy, and steps were taken to provide better communication and counseling. While the discussions led to improved safety on the one hand, there was bad news as well. Columbine almost immediately provoked copycat killings by students around the nation who had seen all the attention given to the dead killers and wanted their own moment of celebrity.

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