Murder on Their Minds

For months Eric Harris had been writing in his journal about murdering all the people who'd ever snubbed him. "Everyone is always making fun of me because of how I look ... well I will get you all back," he wrote five months before his killing spree through Columbine High School. A week later, he wrote about how hard it was going to be to wait until April to get his revenge. But then, for a brief moment, he considered calling off his plan. "If people would give me more compliments, all of this might still be avoidable," he wrote. But he quickly realized it was useless: "Whatever I do people make fun of me, and sometimes directly to my face."

As Harris and Dylan Klebold hurtled toward that spring morning in 1999 when they would gun down 13 people at their Littleton, Colo., school, the two seemed to want someone to stop them. Documents released last week by the Jefferson County sheriff's office show that the boys repeatedly dropped hints at school about their murderous state of mind. Klebold wrote a graphic story about the slaughter of some "preps" and a paper on Charles Manson, while Harris wrote about Nazis and "Guns at Schools." All over his datebook, amid reminders of when to turn his homework in, Harris scribbled notes about killing and jotted down his massacre to-do list: "get nails, get gas cans, get duffel bags ... "

For some of the families of the victims, the documents are full of unmistakable warning signs. Brian Rohrbough, whose son Dan died that day, blames the authorities, the school and the boys' parents for ignoring what he calls "a mountain of red flags." Rohrbough hopes the boys' writ-ings will teach people what to look for in the future--to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy that still haunts this community. "No one can do anything to help my son. My goal is, let's put the truth on the table and stop other kids from dying," he says.

Harris's and Klebold's journals reveal just how desperately unhappy the boys were, though in different ways. But their distinct forms of suffering would ultimately bring them together to commit the worst school shooting in American history. Like Harris, Klebold wrote in his journal about feeling left out, but he seemed to be less interested in seeking revenge than in ending his own misery. Writing in Harris's yearbook roughly 12 months before the killings, Klebold did talk a big game--"GAWWWD sooo many people need to die"--but privately, in an undated journal entry, he wrote with quiet despair about his options. "I'm stuck in humanity. Maybe going 'NBK' w. eric is the way to break free," he wrote, referring to the scheduled rampage, apparently their code for "Natural Born Killers," the name of a film about a couple's homicidal spree. At one point, though, Klebold tried to tally what he had going for him. "I want to die really bad right now--Let's see what I have that's good: A nice family, a good house, food, a couple good friends, & possessions. What's bad--no girls (friends or girlfriends), no other friends except a few, nobody accepting me ... " He lamented the fact that his best friend--not Harris--was now busy hanging out with a new girlfriend: "If anyone had any idea how sad I am ... I feel so lonely w/o a friend." Harris evidently came along later to fill the gap.

Klebold, who was 17 when he died, seemed especially tortured by his failures with girls. "I don't know what I do wrong with people (mainly women) it's like they set out to hate & ignore me," he scribbled. But in one entry, Klebold showed a flicker of optimism. He thought he might be in love for the first time. "I just hope she likes me as much as I LOVE her," he wrote of his crush, making the V into a heart. "The sound of her laugh, I picture her face, I love her." But when he realized she didn't feel the same way, he came unglued again. "Want TRUE love ... I hate everything, why can't I die ... " Like the compliments Harris hoped for, the girl's affection might have saved Klebold. He wrote a letter to her, declaring his love. "The reason that I'm writing you now is that I ... want to go to a new existence. You know what I mean. (Suicide) ... However, if it was true that you loved me as I do you ... I would find a way to survive." The letter was found among Klebold's belongings after the killings; it's unclear whether he ever gave the girl a copy. Reached for comment, Klebold family attorney Gary Lozow says, "These are the writings of a depressed, suicidal kid who was extremely secretive about these emotional frailties."

While Klebold drew hearts, Harris scrawled ammo and swastikas; the spiral notebook he used as a diary could barely contain his rage. Unleashing on the whole human race, various ethnic groups and certain named classmates, he declared his supremacy over all of them. "Before I leave this worthless place, I will kill whoever I deam [ sic ] unfit for anything at all, especially life." But Harris had enough self-awareness to know what was really bothering him. "That's where a lot of my hate grows from, the fact that I have practically no self esteem, especially concerning girls and looks and such," he wrote. Sometimes his anguish went wild: "Burn, melt, evaporate, decay, just go the f--- away!!!! YAAAAAH!!!" But after buying a bunch of shotguns, Harris, who was about to be 18, recovered his swagger, writing "HA!! HA HA HA!" next to a drawing of a guy sticking his tongue out. When he wrote just weeks before the killings, the hurt was raw again. "I hate you people for leaving me out of so many fun things. You people had my phone#, but no. no no no don't let the weird looking Eric KID come along."

As the boys spiraled out of reach, a notebook found in the Harris home shows a family struggling to cope with a troubled child--but clearly unaware of just how disturbed he was. In it, Wayne Harris lists names of therapists and what they cost. (His son was ordered to take an anger-management course after being arrested for breaking into a van in 1998.) But a note also retrieved from the residence is heartbreaking in its innocence. "You must ... prove to us your desire to succeed by succeeding, showing good judgment, giving extra effort, pursuing interests, seeking help, advice." Of course no one imagined that he was too busy plotting a massacre.