Columbine High School Massacre | 20 Years Later | Part One: Tuesday 20th April 1999

It's hard to believe that the 20th of April 2019 marks 20 years since the massacre at Columbine High School (carried out by two senior students, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris) took place in Littleton, Colorado. 

I have done various amounts of research into the case over the years. Like a lot of people, I had read all of the initial reports from 1999 and then later on the evidence files and witness statements. I also read a lot of what the people closest to the shooters had to say. I did read Dave Cullen's book and I'll be talking about that in an upcoming post.

In the next two posts I'll be focusing on what happened on the 20th of April 1999 and following the official timeline as close as I can. Feel free to leave a comment below if you feel there's anything you would like to add or further discuss with me on the subject. Please note that some of the details in the next two posts may be distressing.

That morning of Tuesday the 20th of April 1999, started just like any other school day, some people were still reflecting on the prom that they'd just had at the weekend and some were looking forward to graduating which was just 17 days away, talking about the future and what colleges they were hoping to go to. 

At 11:10am that morning, Eric Harris and his friend Dylan Klebold (who preferred to be called Reb and VoDKa) pulled into the parking lot of Columbine High School. Neither of the boys had parked in their usual spots, with Eric parking at a spot in the junior parking lot to the southeast and Dylan parking in the senior parking lot to the southwest. They chose these spots because they had the full view of the front student entrance as well as the entrance to the cafeteria.

 When Eric first pulled up, Brooks Brown (a former enemy of Eric's who had recently made peace with him) stopped outside for a cigarette after one of his classes which was his usual routine. Brooks found it strange that Eric hadn't been attending his classes that morning and walked over to his car to talk to him.

Brooks told Eric that he had missed an important exam to which he replied ''It doesn't matter anymore''. Brooks said there was some back and forth conversation with Brooks giving Eric a lecture for missing his classes. Eric then said ''Brooks, I like you now, get out of here, go home'. Brooks then said that Eric paid no attention to him after that and proceeded to get two duffel bags out of the boot of his car. Brooks didn't feel comfortable about the conversation but walked away.

According to the official timeline, some time after 11:14am, Eric and Dylan carried the two duffel bags which contained two propane bombs into the cafeteria. The bombs had been set to go off at 11:17am.

After planting the bombs in the cafeteria, they returned to their cars to wait for the bombs to explode. In the planning of the massacre, Eric had previously taken notes of when the cafeteria was at it's busiest and set the bombs to go off at that time. They knew there would be around 488 students in the cafeteria.

The two boys were dressed in black trenchcoats and shades. Eric was wearing a white t-shirt with the words ''Natural Selection'' and Dylan had a black t-shit on with ''Wrath'' written across it. They had been planning their attack on Columbine (which they called NBK - Natural Born Killers, not only a codename for their plan but a tribute to one of their favourite movies) for the past year and now they were carrying it out, but it wasn't going quite how they planned. They expected the bombs in the cafeteria to explode creating chaos, destruction and as many deaths as possible. They also planned on shooting any remaining students who would be fleeing the cafeteria to safety.

The bombs didn't explode and Eric and Dylan decided that they would start shooting instead. There was a lot of confusion amongst the staff and students inside and out of the school at first. A lot of people thought that some of the seniors were just playing a prank. 

Eric and Dylan shot students outside of the school who were having their lunch, some were badly injured and some sadly died. It was at this point Rachel Scott (17)  and Daniel Rohrbough (15) were killed. Rachel's friend Richard (17), who'd she'd been sitting having lunch with was shot and paralysed. Students Sean Graves (15) and Lance Kirklin (16) were also injured.

During this time, Michael Johnson (15) and Mark Taylor (15) were injured and Anne Marie Hochhalter (17) was hit and paralysed when she tried to run to the cafeteria for safety.

Witnesses reported that Eric and Dylan were shooting towards the people who were near the soccer field several yards away but didn't hit anyone. They also threw pipe bombs onto the school roof, down the parking lot and toward the grassy hill to the right.

A teacher reported that she saw Dylan Klebold standing on the hill just shooting. She recognised him as he'd been a student in her class and she'd had some trouble with him before (he'd previously hacked a school computer and she described him as a troublemaker who regularly wore tall Nazi boots and a trenchcoat to school).

Inside the school people were still confused as to what was going on. The cafeteria was now packed with students and people started to become alarmed. Dave Sanders (who was a teacher and coach at Columbine) knew that something wasn't right and along with some other members of staff tried to keep the students calm and figure out a way to escort them to safety. 

Dave Sanders and his colleagues managed to evacuate most of the students out of the cafeteria. Eric and Dylan's bombs have still failed to detonate. Dave tried to secure the school as much as possible, he checked the corridors and ran from classroom to classroom telling everyone to keep quiet and get under the tables. 

Patti Neilson who was a teacher and was on hall duty that day heard all of the commotion and thinking it was a prank, she walked towards the west entrance to find out who the students were that were creating all of the noise to tell them to stop it. Student Brett Anderson was told to get out of the school by another teacher because they could hear what sounded like gunfire. Brett couldn't tell where the noise was coming from so he went through the first exit he came to which was the west entrance. Brett went through the first set of doors and saw Eric Harris outside the second set of double doors. Brett knew that Eric often made movies around the school for film class so assumed that Eric was just making another film and the gun that he was holding was just a prop. Patti Nielson was right behind Brett and Eric spotted the two of them and fired, shattering the glass on the doors and spraying fragments of glass everywhere which injured both Brett and Patti. 

Patti ran to the library and Brett followed her, once in the library he hid in a utility closet. 

Eric and Dylan entered the school at the west entrance. Patti and Brett managed to get away because the shooters were distracted by the arrival of police cars outside. 

Deputy Neil Gardner was the first on the scene and both he and Eric fired at each other back and forth. This exchange only lasted a few minutes. Eric quickly turned and made his way into the school through the west entrance.

In the library, Patti Nielson made a phonecall to 911 (you can hear some of that call here), she told everyone to get under the tables. At first everyone was confused and didn't know what to do, they thought it was a joke but eventually they did as they were told. 

Local people and students were flooding the police department with calls reporting that something was going on at Columbine.

Whilst Patti was on the phone with 911 she told them that the library was beginning to fill with smoke (from the pipe bombs) and the sounds of the gunfire was getting louder and louder. There was some discussion about Patti going to close the library door but she decided not to do that because she was frightened and felt that the shooters were too close to the library.

Two deputies arrived on the west side of the school. They quickly rescued two students who were laying injured on the ground near the baseball field. Deputy Gardner spotted Eric appearing again at the west entrance and they both exchanged gunfire before Eric disappeared back inside the building. The deputies heard more shots being fired from inside the building and saw some more students running out of the building.

Some of the students who were still in some of the classrooms had no idea what was happening, they reported seeing Eric and Dylan walking down the hallway shooting at lockers and at random places, laughing.

Two students were coming out of their tech lab class in time to see a teacher and several other students running towards the school's main entrance to the east. The teacher shouted at them to get out of the building and keep running. Dylan fired at the two students as they ran for the east entrance to follow the other students. When they made it to the exit, one of the students was caught with a bullet in the ankle. They managed to both flee to safety to Leawood Park across the street.

Students reported that they saw Dylan and Eric chasing students and firing the gun at various moments. 

After Dave Sanders had tried to secure as many classrooms as he could and evacuated the cafeteria, he ran up the stairs passed the library, motioning to some students to stay where they were and keep quiet. Dave spotted Eric and Dylan in the hall and ran back the way he came, just as he was about to turn a corner he was shot in the neck by Eric.

One of the students who witnessed Dave being shot from a nearby science room described seeing Dave being shot twice. 

Once the shooters were out of sight, Dave Sanders (who was heavily bleeding) managed to crawl to the corner of the science hallway where a fellow teacher helped him into a classroom. A group of students including Aaron Hancey tried their best to give him first aid whilst others tried to get through to emergency services. When they finally got through, they were told that help was on the way.

More police cars and emergency services were arriving in the parking lot but nobody was allowed to go inside the school. 

Inside the school, Eric and Dylan were walking up and down the hallway outside of the library, shooting at random things and throwing pipe bombs. More smoke was filling the library, the hallway and the cafeteria. 

Patti Nielson was still on the phone to 911 in the library underneath the checkout desk. She described to the 911 operator everything that was going on whilst regularly telling everyone to stay under the tables.

Three staff members and fifty five students were said to be hiding in the library at this point.

Aaron Hancey and the handful of students who were trying to help Dave Sanders realised that the shooters were outside of their classroom door. They were scared because the door had a window and they were worried that they would be seen. They quickly hid elsewhere in the classroom when they heard the shooters walk by. They left Dave for a few minutes in case the shooters did look through the window, they thought that they'd see Dave, think he was dead and continue walking by. As soon as the coast was clear, they got back to Dave and continued trying to help him.

Students who'd been hiding in other parts of the school were still trying to find ways to escape, some managed to make it out to safety and hid behind police cars.

Eric Harris threw a pipe bomb right outside of the library whilst Patti Nielson was still on the phone to 911. Patti thought there was only one shooter at the time and told the operator that he was right outside the door. Patti started to whisper at this point and tried to stay silent but she kept on the line so that the operator could hear everything that was going on. 

Eric and Dylan entered the library, yelling at everyone to ''Get Up''. Patti still had the operator on the phone who was recording everything. In the library tape that was released to the public it is difficult to make out exactly what was said but witnesses in the library claimed to have heard the shooters shouting things such as ''Everyone with a white baseball cap, stand up!'' and ''All Jocks stand up!''. The Jocks at Columbine were known for wearing white baseball caps and there was a few of them in the library at that time. When nobody stood up, either Eric or Dylan was heard saying ''Fine, I'll start shooting!''.

Dylan shot Kyle Velasquez who was just 16 years old, he died immediately. 

Outside of the school, there was chaos with police cars, ambulances, injured students and students trying to take cover behind police cars. The police were also dealing with students who were still fleeing the building. The police department were dealing with numerous calls from panicked parents. Some of the media had arrived and were making it difficult for emergency services to get through.

Back in the library, Eric and Dylan were reloading their weapons, they moved back and forth between tables. At one point. Eric got down on one knee and began shooting the west library windows at the police and emergency services who were tending to fleeing and injured students outside in the parking lot. Dylan knelt down beside Eric and started firing out the broken west window also. 

Dylan took off his trenchcoat and fired his gun at three students (Patrick Ireland, Daniel Steepleton and Makai Hall) and injuring them.

The police tried to return fire toward Eric and Dylan but couldn't get a good shot at them.

Eric gave up firing through the windows and came to the nearest table where he shot 14 year old Steve Curnow (Steve was the youngest victim of the massacre). He fired his gun again and injured Kacey Ruegsegger.

Some of the deputies reported seeing smoke coming from the school and the school alarms going off. The alarms were so loud that people were struggling to be heard by 911 operators. 

By this time, the media was everywhere outside, some witnesses said that up to 400 different media outlets were there that day. Some reporters had been working on the Jonbenet Ramsey case and as soon as they heard about Columbine, they rushed to the scene. Some of the media vehicles were parked on the grass and the curbs, trying to be as close to the scene as possible. There was also helicopters flying overhead.

Inside the library, Eric moved south, he spotted two girls hiding underneath a table, he slapped the table twice, bent down and said ''Peek-a-boo'' before he shot and killed 17 year old Cassie Bernall. The recoil from the shotgun caught Eric in the face and his nose began to bleed. 

In a brave moment, Patrick Ireland moved towards his friend to try and administer first aid. Dylan saw him and shot him twice in the head and once in the foot when Patrick tried to take cover. Patrick would become one of the most inspirational stories to come out of Columbine, he was known as ''The Boy In The Window'' and it was a miracle that he survived and overcame what he did. His friends Makai and Dan Steepleton kept still and played dead in an attempt to avoid being shot again. 

A student named Bree Pasquale was crouched down, out in the open near to where Cassie Bernall had been hiding. She couldn't find anywhere else to hide and Eric soon spotted her and pointed his gun in her direction. He asked her ''Do you want to die?'' and she said ''Please don't shoot me, I have a family and a fiance''. Eric laughed at her response but was quickly distracted by his nose bleeding. Eric said ''Dylan, I hit my nose'' and began laughing again, ''Everyone's gonna die, we're gonna blow up the school anyway''. 

Dylan called Eric over to a table where some boys were hiding and Eric forgot about Bree (she said later that it took her four days before she could sleep again, she was so traumatised by that moment). 

Dylan was at another set of tables, east of where Eric was standing (Dylan made a racial comment about one of the boys, Isaiah and told Eric to come over). Three boys (Mat Ketcher, Isaiah Shoels and Rachel Scott's younger brother Craig Scott) were hiding underneath. Eric and Dylan stood at either side of the tables and trapped the boys in. Isaiah was heard by witnesses trying to plead with Dylan and Eric that he was scared and wanted to go home and see his mom. Dylan tried to pull him out from under the table but failed. Eric then fired from the other side of the table killing Isaiah. (I have read elsewhere online that Isaiah had had a few previous run ins with Eric and Dylan but this has never been confirmed)

Dylan copied Eric and fired his gun under the other side of the table killing Matt Kechter. Craig Scott was unharmed but laid still and pretended to be dead. Craig said later on that he prayed and heard Isaiah taking his last breaths, he was covered in his friends blood and had no idea at the time that his sister (Rachel Scott) had also been killed.

Eric threw one of his ''Crickets'' (CO2 cartridge which was a homemade bomb) underneath the table where Pat, Daniel and Makai were hiding. The bomb landed on Dan's thigh and even though it was lit, he was too scared to move. Makai grabbed it and threw it from the table where it exploded in the air causing no harm to anyone.

Eric jumped on some bookcases and began shouting, swearing and shooting at the books. Dylan shot at the trophy case.

Dylan then pointed his gun underneath the nearest library table to the south and left Mark Kintgen with bullets in his head and shoulder, luckily he survived. he then shot underneath the tables to his left where Lisa Kreutz and Valeen Schnurr were hiding, both were injured with the same bullet. He then fired nine shots, one of which had killed Lauren Townsend.

Dylan joined Eric and went over to the table where Valeen and Lisa were hiding, Eric bent down to look at them and said ''Pathetic''. Valeen was in so much pain, she cried out ''Oh, my God! Help me!''. Either Eric or Dylan (reports vary) was reloading their weapon and asked her if she believed in God (for years after the massacre, stories went around the media that this conversation had taken place with Cassie Bernall who was one of the Columbine victims and known to be a Christian). Valeen was scared to answer, at one point she said no and then she said yes. He asked her why and she said that it was what her family believed. Witnesses then said that she crawled under the table and pretended to have passed out or died. 

Eric went to another table and shot John Tomlin and Nicole Nowlen, both were injured. John tried to get out from under the table but Dylan caught him and killed him. Eric walked back to the table where he shot and killed Lauren Townsend to find 16 year old Kelly Fleming hiding behind it (there wasn't enough room under the table for Kelly so she had to hide behind it). Eric shot Kelly in the back and underneath the table again towards Lauren who was already dead. He shot Lisa again and injured Jeanna Park.

Eric and Dylan then moved to the centre of the room where they stopped at a table to reload their weapons.  Eric spotted a student hiding under one of the nearby tables and asked him to identify himself. Dylan pointed his gun in the same direction and the person identified themselves as John Savage, John had been a friend of Dylan and had always gotten along with him. John was terrified but tried to strike up a friendly conversation asking Dylan what he was doing. Dylan replied ''Oh, just killing people''. John asked him if he was going to kill him too and Dylan told him to get out of the library. John ran as fast as he could out of the library's main entrance thinking that at any second they would change their minds.

Continued in part two.... x

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