Exorcising the Pain
Littleton buries its dead and tries to understand
Only a handful of people came to say goodbye to Dylan Klebold. His long, skinny body fit awkwardly into the cardboard casket where it would lie until cremation. His hands were folded on his chest, and stuffed animals surrounded him. His family and few friends shared memories, the happy ones about Dylan the Boy Scout, Dylan the Little Leaguer, Dylan the wrestler. There was his mother Susan's favorite story: One afternoon, Dylan, age 10, came running back from the creek with a pile of leeches. Normally unflappable, Klebold's mother was disgusted by her son's blood-sucking treasures; Dylan loved it, the fun of grossing out Mom. For those who attended the service, it was as if Dylan's life had ended at age 12, not five years later in a murderous rampage that left 12 students, a teacher, and the two killers dead, and a nation grieving and groping for answers. That wasn't the young man Susan Klebold raised. "This monster," she told her hairdresser, Dee Grant, tears coming down her cheeks, "was not the son I knew."
In the perverse pattern that has come to characterize national tragedies like that at Columbine High, Week 2 brought not just funerals but a struggle to comprehend. Colorado buried its dead children and a beloved teacher in a parade of cathartic services that were as much tribute to the slain as an exorcism of inexplicable evil and a collective commitment to carry on. But still, there were questions. Privately, residents wondered why so many warnings had been missed. By the police, by school officials. And, most of all, by parents. Was everyone blind?
Some comprehension came as a more detailed picture of Eric Harris--if not Dylan Klebold--began to emerge. The image of Harris is at once disturbing and disturbingly reassuring. Just 18, Harris was not a racist or a goth or a fascist, although he dabbled in all those obsessions. In fact, it appears, Harris was a psychopath, who advertised his dark side nearly everywhere he went. For all his advertising it, though, Harris somehow attracted little attention until he had transformed himself into a hideous killer. The signs were hard to miss. Harris was taking Luvox, an antidepressant similar to Prozac that's often prescribed for depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Based on what's known about him--in particular the writings on his Internet Web page--some psychologists believe Harris may have suffered from a particular type of antisocial disorder known as "malignant narcissism." The traits are frightening: Self-absorption and an inability to empathize with others' pain. Messianic self-perception. A quest for revenge. A need for enemies as justification for extreme aggression. Aubrey Immelman, a psychology professor at St. John's University in Minnesota, says narcissistic leaders often surround themselves with uncritical admirers "willing to do their bidding at almost any expense." Perhaps that's where Dylan Klebold came in.
Klebold is every parent's worst nightmare, not only for what he did but for how well he hid even the slightest indication that he worshiped death and violence. Klebold's father thought he had a great relationship with his son. "Dylan was his best friend," says Edgar Berg, a former colleague of the father's who spoke to him after the shooting. "Tom says that he just spent endless, sleepless hours thinking, 'What did I miss?'"