Exorcising the Pain
Littleton buries its dead and tries to understand
In the case of his own son, maybe nothing. In the case of his son's best friend--a lot. It is unsettling that Harris and Klebold were known as good kids in their younger years, kids who turned vicious only more recently. But psychologists say this is often the case with adolescent violence caused by some form of antisocial personality disorder. Such disorders are believed to affect some 7 million Americans. On one end of the spectrum, they are barely noticeable. A child may shoplift or an adult may be verbally abusive. At the other end, there's violence of the kind that convulsed Littleton. In Harris's Internet writings, University of Iowa psychiatrist Donald Black finds signs typical of the dark end of the spectrum. Among them: a sense of superiority, a lack of remorse, no conscience, disregard for others, and the need for revenge. "It's a myth that behind any horrific act like this there must be some kind of longtime trauma or abuse," says Black, the author of Bad Boys, Bad Men. "Most antisocial children I treat have pretty normal parents and pretty ordinary home lives."
"Wonderful family." Indeed, the lives of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold did seem pretty ordinary. Harris was an Air Force brat, whose father, Wayne, was a decorated major and pilot who moved the family to Kansas, Ohio, Michigan, and upstate New York. "They were a wonderful family, very friendly, outgoing, and caring," says the Rev. Bill Stone, a neighbor from Oscoda, Mich. Back then, Kathy was a stay-at-home mom, and Wayne was a director of the neighborhood association, a scout leader, and a youth coach. He shot hoops with his sons in the driveway. In Plattsburgh, N.Y., Chris Otten and Harris were best friends who often played basketball or goofed around by the marina. As a youngster, Harris didn't get into big trouble. There was the time he and Otten stole lighters to set off firecrackers. The store called their parents, and both boys were grounded. "Eric did have pressure from his dad, nothing he would express verbally, but it was something I could tell," Otten said. "His dad was fairly strict and wanted him to do good and not mess up." Terry Condo, Harris's Little League coach, remembered the quiet boy as someone "new and trying to fit in, a little unsure of himself, but nice." Harris's parents seemed supportive. "They were ideal Little League parents," Condo said. "They didn't yell or carry on. They were dignified and friendly and involved." Chris Otten stayed in touch with Harris after the family moved to Littleton in 1996. He sensed an unhappiness: "I think what happened is a lot of people didn't accept him, and he found his one friend who did."
"I will kill." That one friend was Dylan Klebold, a bright kid who grew up in Colorado and whose parents--like the Harrises--were said to be quiet, nice, involved. What's clear is that Dylan Klebold was the follower, Eric Harris, the leader. And that whatever went sour had been building for more than a year. The biggest alarm bell was Harris's chilling Internet Web site. Among the many things he claimed to hate: liars, R-rated cable movies, country music, weather forecasters, commercials, racism. His postings were full of rantings about killing people: "You all better . . . hide in your houses because I'm coming for EVERYONE soon, and I WILL be armed to the . . . teeth, and I WILL shoot to kill and I WILL . . . KILL EVERYTHING!" Said psychiatrist Black, who daily works with people diagnosed with antisocial disorders: "I haven't seen anything this extreme, this filled with senseless hate, in 15 years."