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The events leading to the columbine school tragedy

Taking stock of people and ideas in the news.

  1. The article originally identified Dr.
  2. Klebold, they agree, would never have pulled off Columbine without Harris. The partnership did enable Harris to stray from typical psychopathic behavior in one way.
  3. The article originally identified Dr.
  4. He was hotheaded, but depressive and suicidal.

April 20 2004 11: Most Americans have reached one of two wrong conclusions about why they did it. The first conclusion is that the pair of supposed "Trench Coat Mafia outcasts" were taking revenge against the bullies who had made school miserable for them. The second conclusion is that the massacre was inexplicable: We can never understand what drove them to such horrific violence. But the FBI and its team of psychiatrists and psychologists have reached an entirely different conclusion.

They believe they know why Harris and Klebold killed, and their explanation is both more reassuring and more troubling than our misguided conclusions.

Fuselier and Ochberg share their conclusions publicly here for the the events leading to the columbine school tragedy time. Advertisement The first steps to understanding Columbine, they say, are to forget the popular narrative about the jocks, Goths, and Trenchcoat Mafia—click here to read more about Columbine's myths—and to abandon the core idea that Columbine was simply a school shooting.

We can't understand why they did it until we understand what they were doing. School shooters tend to act impulsively and attack the targets of their rage: But Harris and Klebold planned for a year and dreamed much bigger. The school served as means to a grander end, to terrorize the entire nation by attacking a symbol of American life. Their slaughter was aimed at students and teachers, but it was not motivated by resentment of them in particular.

Students and teachers were just convenient quarry, what Timothy McVeigh described as "collateral damage. They bragged about dwarfing the carnage of the Oklahoma City bombing and originally scheduled their bloody performance for its anniversary. Klebold boasted on video about inflicting "the most deaths in U. If they hadn't been so bad at wiring the timers, the propane bombs they set in the cafeteria would have wiped out 600 people.

After those bombs went off, they planned to gun down fleeing survivors. An explosive third act would follow, when their cars, packed with still more bombs, would rip through still more crowds, presumably of survivors, rescue workers, and reporters. The climax would be captured on live television. It wasn't just "fame" they were after—Agent Fuselier bristles at that trivializing term—they were gunning for devastating infamy on the historical scale of an Attila the Hun.

Their vision was to create a nightmare so devastating and apocalyptic that the entire world would shudder at their power.

Harris and Klebold would have been dismayed that Columbine was dubbed the "worst school shooting in American history. The school setting drove analysis in precisely the wrong direction. Advertisement Fuselier and Ochberg say that if you want to understand "the killers," quit asking what drove them. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were radically different individuals, with vastly different motives and opposite mental conditions. Klebold is easier to comprehend, a more familiar type.

He was hotheaded, but depressive and suicidal. He blamed himself for his problems. Harris is the challenge. He was sweet-faced and well-spoken.

Adults, and even some other kids, described him as "nice. Harris was not merely a troubled kid, the psychiatrists say, he was a psychopath. In popular usage, almost any crazy killer is a "psychopath. Robert Hare, in Without Conscience, the seminal book on the condition.

Their behavior is the result of choice, freely exercised. But it illuminates a great deal about the thought process that drove him to mass murder. Diagnosing him as a psychopath was not a simple matter. Harris opened his private journal with the sentence, "I hate the f---ing world.

It's easy to get lost in the hate, which screamed out relentlessly from Harris' Web site: People who say that wrestling is real!!

People who use the same word over and over again! Why must so many people be so stupid!!?

When people mispronounce words! Advertisement It rages on for page after page and is repeated in his journal and in the videos he and Klebold made.

But Fuselier recognized a far more revealing emotion bursting through, both fueling and overshadowing the hate. What the boy was really expressing was contempt. He is disgusted with the morons around him. These are not the rantings of an angry young man, picked on by jocks until he's not going to take it anymore.

At last we know why the Columbine killers did it.

These are the rantings of someone with a messianic-grade superiority complex, out to punish the entire human race for its appalling inferiority. It may look like hate, but "It's more about demeaning other people," says Hare. A second confirmation of the diagnosis was Harris' perpetual deceitfulness. Let's see, what are some of the big lies I told?

  1. It may look like hate, but "It's more about demeaning other people," says Hare.
  2. Ochberg theorizes that the two killers complemented each other.
  3. Most Americans have reached one of two wrong conclusions about why they did it.
  4. These are not the rantings of an angry young man, picked on by jocks until he's not going to take it anymore.

Yeah I stopped smoking. For doing it, not for getting caught. No I haven't been making more bombs. No I wouldn't do that. And countless other ones. He lied for pleasure, Fuselier says. Advertisement Harris married his deceitfulness with a total lack of remorse or empathy—another distinctive quality of the psychopath. Fuselier was finally convinced of his diagnosis when he read Harris' response to being punished after being caught breaking into a van.

Klebold and Harris had avoided prosecution for the robbery by participating in a "diversion program" that involved counseling and community service. Both killers feigned regret to obtain an early release, but Harris had relished the opportunity to perform. He wrote an ingratiating letter to his victim offering empathy, rather than just apologies. Fuselier remembers that it was packed with statements like Jeez, I understand now how you feel and I understand what this did to you.

At almost the exact same time, he wrote down his real feelings in his journal: How come, if I'm free, I can't deprive a stupid f---ing dumbshit from his possessions if he leaves them sitting in the front seat of his f---ing van out in plain sight and in the middle of f---ing nowhere on a Frif---ingday night.

F---er should be shot. It begins to explain Harris' unbelievably callous behavior: Because psychopaths are guided by such a different thought process than non-psychopathic humans, we tend to find their behavior inexplicable. But they're actually much easier to predict than the rest of us once you understand them.

At last we know why the Columbine killers did it.

Psychopaths follow much stricter behavior patterns than the rest of us because they are unfettered by conscience, living solely for their own aggrandizement. The difference is so striking that Fuselier trains hostage negotiators to identify psychopaths during a standoff, and immediately reverse tactics if they think they're facing one. It's like flipping a switch between two alternate brain-mechanisms.

  • But the FBI and its team of psychiatrists and psychologists have reached an entirely different conclusion;
  • Ochberg theorizes that the two killers complemented each other;
  • He wrote an ingratiating letter to his victim offering empathy, rather than just apologies.

Advertisement None of his victims means anything to the psychopath. He recognizes other people only as means to obtain what he desires. Not only does he feel no guilt for destroying their lives, he doesn't grasp what they feel. The truly hard-core psychopath doesn't quite comprehend emotions like love or hate or fear, because he has never experienced them directly.

Despite earlier reports about Harris and Klebold being equal partners, the psychiatrists now believe firmly that Harris was the mastermind and driving force. The partnership did enable Harris to stray from typical psychopathic behavior in one way. Usually psychopathic killers crave the stimulation of violence. That is why they are often serial killers—murdering regularly to feed their addiction.

But Harris managed to stay mostly out of trouble for the year that he and Klebold planned the attack.

Ochberg theorizes that the two killers complemented each other. Cool, calculating Harris calmed down Klebold when he got hot-tempered. At the same time, Klebold's fits of rage served as the stimulation Harris needed. The psychiatrists can't help speculating what might have happened if Columbine had never happened. Klebold, they agree, would never have pulled off Columbine without Harris. He might have gotten caught for some petty crime, gotten help in the process, and conceivably could have gone on to live a normal life.

Their view of Harris is more reassuring, in a certain way. Harris was not a wayward boy who could have been rescued. Harris, they believe, was irretrievable. He was a brilliant killer without a conscience, searching for the most diabolical scheme imaginable. If he had lived to adulthood and developed his murderous skills for many more years, there is no telling what he could have done.

His death at Columbine may have stopped him from doing something even worse. CorrectionApril 20, 2004: The article originally identified Dr.