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From Hijinks to Hitler

After a five-year legal battle, this morning the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office finally released diaries and other documents seized from the homes of Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. The materials-- a melange of the mundane, the thoroughly adolescent, and the sociopathic-- will probably keep school-shooting researchers busy for years. But the most startling revelations may be what the stuff says, not about the gunmen, but about the teachers, parents and other astonishingly clueless adults in their brief lives. The basement tapes, the videos Harris and Klebold made in the last weeks of their lives, remain under seal, deemed too dangerous for public consumption ("Hiding in Plain Sight," April 13) — even though they've been shown to numerous journalists and law enforcement types. Also still in the vaults are farewell audiotapes made by the killers that almost no one has heard. Much of Harris's private writings have leaked out before. In 2001 Westword published a summary of his journal's contents ("I'm Full of Hate and I Love It," December 6, 2001) as well as samples of the handwritten pages here. The few additional passages now released for the first time simply reinforce the overall impression of a bright but deeply disturbed teenager, one whose elaborate fantasies of superiority and revenge were far more vivid to him than the people he planned to kill during the event he called NBK — Natural Born Killers: "When I go NBK, and people say things like, 'Oh, it was so tragic,' or 'Oh, he is crazy!' or 'It was so bloody.'—I think so the fuck what, you think that's a bad thing? Just because your mummy and daddy told you blood and violence is bad, you think it's a fucking law of nature? Wrong, only science and math are true...I bet most of you fuckers can't even think that deep, so that is why you must die. How dare you think that I and you are part of the same species...you aren't human. You are a robot." Rarely conflicted, Harris could acknowledge his own lack of self-esteem yet still see himself as a Nietzschean superman. He could boast of not needing anyone yet still lament all the friends he lost during his life as a military brat ("It doesn't take long to make a best friend, but it only takes two words to lose one: 'We're moving.'") He could write that "lesbians are fun to watch if they are hot," yet go on to insist that all gays should be killed — along with all blacks, Jews, Asians, white trash...everybody, really. In his private writings, which he hoped would become public some day, Harris comes across as all bravado and resentment. Klebold was less subtle—and more obviously, relentlessly, suicidally depressed. His journal, started two years before the attack, is a litany of self-loathing and bitching about all the heartbreak and loneliness of being an outsider who's awkward with girls: "I have no happiness, no ambitions, no friends, & no LOVE!!!"

And so it goes: "Everyone abandoned me...nobody will help me...wanna die & be free w/my love...if she even exists. She probably hates me." Amid the unrequited crushes, the love letters never sent, the efforts to plumb his own suffering with phrases copped from Blade Runner and Lost Highway ("These moments will be lost in the depressions and caverns of the human books forever, like tears in rain"), there is a gradual embrace of Eric's plan to go out in a blaze of pure hate: "I'm stuck in humanity. Maybe going NBK (gawd) w/eric is the way to break free."

But the real shocker in all this plotting of a high school apocalypse is how glimpses of it emerged over and over again to the adults in their lives, only to be greeted as bright-eyed, youthful self-expression. Wayne Harris kept a notebook detailing his son's contacts with police and school officials, but it's mostly a roadmap to the mechanics of counseling and court dates, evincing little concern for what might be behind his son's increasingly antisocial behavior. In the dispute with the Brown family, "we feel victimized, too," he wrote — more than once, as if to remind himself of a good comeback.

There are also a wealth of school assignments prepared by the two teens, some taken off the school servers. Dylan writes admiringly of Charles Manson. Eric writes about how Hitler promoted "strong family values," and while he throws in words like "evil" and "racist," it's not at all clear that he's in any way appalled by what Hitler accomplished; quite the opposite.

"Guns in schools are a growing problem in today's society," Harris begins another school assignment, which advocates more metal detectors and cops to solve the problem. Other papers extol violent fantasies or are brazen statements of the lads' notions of themselves as superior beings. In one riff on a simple quiz, Harris writes, "People who can't answer questions like that should be shot. The schools are so caught up on trying to educate students on worthless subjects that they forget about the basics...It's a pity natural selection doesn't apply to humans, otherwise I strongly believe the race as a whole would be better off. I am ashamed to be part of the same species as some of these people."

Of course, he didn't think he was the same species at all. Yet his teachers never seemed to challenge his ideas or his values; they were more interested in his grammar, his use of simile, his choice of font. A few weeks before the massacre that claimed their lives and thirteen others, a teacher did pause over an essay Dylan wrote about a trenchcoat avenger slaughtering innocent people. She contacted his parents.

Who took the view that it was no big deal. It was just the kind of thing a teenager would write. And who pays attention to what kids write these days? -- Alan Prendergast


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