Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Cardinal Sins: School shooter shares Plattsburgh origin

By Bryn Fawn

Schools are a place of learning, where children make long-lasting friendships and be molded into the adults they will soon become. As the years come to pass, however, schools have become a warzone, and children learn how to treat bullet wounds rather than mathematics.

The Columbine massacre was 24 years ago, yet the nation still sees mass shootings every day. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 2020 was the year Americans saw the most gun-related injuries to date.

Yet, Columbine has ties to the small upstate city of Plattsburgh. Eric Harris, one of the two infamous shooters, lived in Plattsburgh for some time. His father was an air force pilot, which forced his family to move around the country often. 

Harris lived in Plattsburgh for much of his childhood, having gone to the local elementary school. Harris played little league in Plattsburgh. Harris attended a local middle school, and his former classmates, Abi Tenebaum and Jessica Sapel, have been interviewed by Youth Journalism.

“It was the hardest moving from Plattsburgh. I have the most memories from there,” Harris wrote in an English assignment. “When I left my friends I felt alone, lost and even agitated that I had spent so much time with them and now I have to go because of something I can’t stop.”

Harris began his schooling at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in 1995. He blamed his father for having to move around so much, which was due to his position in the air force, and the instability in his life. He lashed out at others, seeking the attention he craved. 

In a notable incident was he faked his suicide to lash out at his ex-girlfriend for she had broken off their relationship. He had covered himself in blood and she screamed for help, which then prompted him and his friends to point and laugh. 

Dylan Klebold, the other shooter in the massacre, was born and raised in Colorado. Klebold was raised with family traditions to keep his Jewish heritage alive.

The two met in 1998, and that was when they began to plan their attack on their school.

The boys kept journals to express their feelings and thoughts, which soon spiraled into their plot against Columbine High School. Harris even planned to escape to a foreign country after, steal an aircraft and then crash it into New York City. Harris also expressed a desire to  dismember and consume the body of the woman after sleeping with them.  

Klebold had kept a journal since 1997, before meeting Harris, which described several violent fantasies. He delved into his desires of mass killing sprees and taking another person’s life. He even described what clothing he’d wear for his attack. 

The two boys let their violent fantasies leak into their creative writing assignments in school. Harris wrote a poem about a school shooting from the perspective of a bullet and Klebold wrote a story where a man killed several students. Klebold’s story was alarming enough to have his teacher notify his mother. 

“Killing enemies, blowing up stuff, killing cops!! My wrath for January’s incident will be godlike. Not to mention our revenge in the [school cafeteria,]” Klebold wrote in Harris’s yearbook in 1998. 

The boys did not only write in journals, but they recorded video and audio. Using school equipment, five tapes were created, but only two and a part of the third were released for the general public to see. The videos were recorded in Harris’s basement, which gave them the moniker “The Basement Tapes.” These videos divulged their plan and how they had hidden their weapons, and their final video, 30 minutes prior to the shooting, was the two apologizing to their friends and family for what’s to come.

A video was later released in 2003 showing Harris and Klebold at a shooting range, using the firearms they later used in their attack.

Harris left a tape in his home labeled “Nixon.” In it, he explains it is nine hours before the attack.

“People will die because of me,” Harris said on the tape. “It will be a day that will be remembered forever.”

The date selected was April 20, Adolf Hitler’s birthday. The duo were obsessed with Nazis and Hitler, having written several pieces for their English classes on the Nazis in a positive light. Their notes had Nazi dog whistles and the boys had drawn swastikas, “KKK” or other fascist symbols.

Harris and Klebold brought duffle bags filled with propane bombs into the cafeteria, which were planned to go off during lunch to kill hundreds of students. Two backpacks filled with pipe bombs, aerosol canisters and small propane bombs were also placed in a field about 3 miles south of the school in an attempt to diffuse first-responders and spread thin resources. Only one pipe bomb and one aerosol canister went off, causing a small fire. 

The boys then changed clothes and returned to school, parking separately. Harris ran into a classmate, Brooks Brown. Brown recalled smoking a cigarette and being surprised to see Harris, as he had missed a test that day. According to Brown, that was unheard of for Harris.

Harris told him: “It doesn’t matter anymore. Brooks, I like you now. Get out of here. Go home.”

Harris and Klebold then armed themselves, and the bombs failed to detonate. If they had, it’s estimated 488 students could have died.

Gunfire began to ring out at 11:19 a.m. Harris and Klebold entered the school, tossing pipe bombs and opening fire on anyone they came across. Students thought it was a senior prank. 

This was before schools practice lockdowns or felt the threat of shootings. The duo moved from the cafeteria to the library, shooting anyone in their way. 

By 12:08 p.m. the attack ceased as the two boys shot themselves. There are differing accounts as to the why, how and when. 

SWAT arrived at the high school at noon, but the damage had already been done. Harris and Klebold killed 12 victims. 11 of these were students and one was a teacher. 

The motive for this massacre is still unknown, even to this day. There is only speculation and theories as to why these two boys wanted to kill more than 400 of their peers. 

Klebold’s mom, Sue Klebold, has been very vocal and outspoken about her son’s actions. Sue has since published a novel on her son titled “A Mother’s Reckoning.” She claims she thinks about the victims every day of her life and plays out possible ways she could have saved those 15 lives. 

Harris’s family never made a statement nor claimed his body after the shooting. The family has chosen to remain distant from the entire catastrophe. 

Columbine is one of, if not the, most infamous school shootings in the entirety of the U.S. history, and yet it is still relevant today. Mass shootings occur daily, as even in 2015 The New York Times reported mass shootings occur more than one a day, and the rate of these killings have only increased as the years have gone by according to The Pew Research. Children now must go to school in fear of becoming the next name in a news headline. 

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