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No One Really Knew Them --Not Even Their Parents

Killers: Pair kept to selves and didn't share inner thoughts. Some were wary, others thought them nice.

April 25, 1999|J.R. MOEHRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LITTLETON, Colo. — Everyone knew of them, but no one really knew them, and that was part of their problem.

Now, it's a problem for families and friends of their victims, and the larger community of grieving Coloradans, who find themselves grappling with the ultimate question: Who were Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and what made them turn from innocuous nerds into heartless killers, able to engineer and execute the destruction of their school and the devastation of their town?

So far, it's a question that even the teens' parents can't, or won't, answer. Since the assault they have remained in seclusion.

Klebold's mother, however, took time out this week to have her hair done at Four Star Images, a salon within sight of Columbine High School, the scene of Tuesday's massacre. Dee Grant, the salon's owner, said Klebold's mother, Susan, spoke at length about the shooting.

"This was just as much a surprise to me as anyone else," Klebold told Grant, describing how sweet Dylan was, how happy, especially after last weekend's prom, which he and a date attended with five other couples. "There's no way I could've known this would happen."

Grant said Klebold's mother seemed stunned, and as hungry for answers as the teachers and students gathering every day to mourn outside the school and the police investigators still searching for clues inside.

"She just didn't seem to know where all this came from," Grant said. "And she was sad, because she said she'll never be able to ask Dylan."

Susan Klebold, 50, works with the handicapped, helping train them for the work force. Her husband, Thomas, is a 52-year-old geophysicist who works in the oil and gas exploration business. Together, the couple also run a real estate firm out of their home, a $500,000 stunner built into the smooth red rocks at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.

The Klebolds seemed to have given their son every material comfort he might have wanted, including a black BMW, which police found wired with bombs in the school parking lot after Tuesday's massacre.

What Klebold saw in Harris, the kid from more modest surroundings, the Air Force brat who'd moved all over the country in his 18 years, isn't clear. And what Harris saw in Klebold, other than perhaps a like-minded outcast with lots of pocket money for acquiring guns, may also be an eternal puzzle.

They kept to themselves, didn't share their inner thoughts with many, and spoke their secrets to each other in German. Most students were aware of them, and wary, because they were so obviously different and sought to accentuate their differences with black trench coats, menacing poses and poems in creative writing class about death and war and blood.

But there were some who thought them nice, friendly, even sweet.

Klebold "seemed like an all right guy to me," said Makai Hall, one of the 23 injured students, who was released from the hospital Friday. "He wasn't what he's been portrayed as."

"I talked to both of them Friday," said 16-year-old Sarah DeBoer. "They both were nice. I've known them since my freshman year. They were probably the nicest people you could ever meet."

Then, Tuesday, she hardly recognized them. "I turned and saw Dylan," she said, still incredulous, "and he shot at me."

Though pleasant and smart, Harris and Klebold weren't part of the "in" crowd, which deeply irked them. Nothing seemed to bring out their deep sense of inadequacy like the strut and swagger of Columbine's many star athletes.

With 1,900 students, Columbine is not only a big school, but a mini-society. Students separate themselves into a rigid pyramid, on top of which are the beautiful people, who are precociously so, and rich to boot. The school parking lot is full of BMWs, Vipers and Humvees, all driven by the campus kings and queens.

In such an environment, competition for dates, attention and accolades is fierce. Athletes usually win. Most students concede that Columbine is a giant "jock-ocracy," the kind of place where two skinny bowling fanatics like Harris and Klebold often came in for more than their fair share of ribbing and bullying.

Feeling feckless and small, they latched onto anything that gave them a sense of power. Violent video games. Swastikas. Movies depicting mayhem, gore and revenge on a grand scale.

They even made one such movie themselves. In their video class, the teens filmed a story in which gunmen don black trench coats and walk down a school's corridors, calmly eviscerating athletes.

Things only got worse for the two when, grasping for some connection, or perhaps protection, they linked themselves with a loose-knit bunch of misfits, dubbed the Trench Coat Mafia by other students. Though not full-fledged members of the group, Harris and Klebold were involved enough that nearly all students lumped them together.

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