THE BASEMENT TAPES
The tapes were meant to be their final word, to all those who had picked on them over the years, and to everyone who would come up with a theory about their inner demons. It is clear listening to them that Harris and Klebold were not just having trouble with what their counselors called “anger management.” They fed the anger, fueled it, so the fury could take hold, because they knew they would need it to do what they had set out to do. “More rage. More rage,” Harris says. “Keep building it on,” he says, motioning with his hands for emphasis.
Harris recalls how he moved around so much with his military family and always had to start over, “at the bottom of the ladder.” People continually made fun of him—“my face, my hair, my shirts.” As for Klebold, “If you could see all the anger I’ve stored over the past four fucking years…” he says. His brother Byron was popular and athletic and constantly “ripped” on him, as did the brother’s friends. Except for his parents, Klebold says, his extended family treated him like the runt of the litter. “You made me what I am,” he said. “You added to the rage.” As far back as the Foothills Day Care center, he hated the “stuck-up” kids he felt hated him. “Being shy didn’t help,” he admits. “I’m going to kill you all. You’ve been giving us shit for years.”
Klebold and Harris were completely soaked in violence: in movies like Reservoir Dogs; in gory video games that they tailored to their imaginations. Harris liked to call himself “Reb,” short for rebel. Klebold’s nickname was VoDKa (his favorite liquor, with the capital DK for his initials). On pipe bombs used in the massacre he wrote “VoDKa Vengeance.”
That they were aiming for 250 dead shows that their motives went far beyond targeting the people who teased them. They planned it very carefully: when they would strike, where they would put the bombs, whether the fire sprinklers would snuff out their fuses. They could hardly wait. Harris picks up the shotgun and makes shooting noises. “Isn’t it fun to get the respect that we’re going to deserve?” he asks.
The tapes are a cloudy window on their moral order. They defend the friends who bought the guns for them, who Harris and Klebold say knew nothing of their intentions—as though they are concerned that innocent people not be blamed for their massacre of innocent people. If they hadn’t got the guns where they did, Harris says, “we would have found something else.”
They had many chances to turn back—and many chances to get caught. They “came close” one day, when an employee of Green Mountain Guns called Harris’ house and his father answered the phone. “Hey, your clips are in,” the clerk said. His father replied that he hadn’t ordered any clips and, as Harris retells it, didn’t ask whether the clerk had dialed the right number. If either one had asked just one question, says Harris, “we would’ve been fucked.”
- TIME Magazine Exclusive: The Columbine Tapes.