Marilyn Manson: I wouldn't say a single word to them. I would listen to what they have to say. And that's what no one did.
On the 20th of April 1999, teenagers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold entered Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado and opened fire on their fellow students. By the end of their violent rampage, fifteen people were dead—twelve students, one teacher, and the killers themselves—and another 24 were injured. After the shooting, everybody in America ran around like a decapitated chicken while they tried to explain it. This page is our attempt.
The two boys were juvenile delinquents who had a history of trouble with the law. The year before the shooting, they had both been arrested for breaking into and stealing tools from a locked van. They made such a good impression on the police that, in exchange for having their criminal records expunged, they would go through a program that included community service, psychiatric treatment, and—for Harris—anger management classes. For showing good behavior and making a good impression on their handlers, they were discharged from the program a few months early. In the memoirs they taped before the shooting, they bragged about how well they had fooled the police into thinking they had reformed. The two later made a video for a school project called Hitmen for Hire, in which they played two Bully Hunters, and Harris wrote a violent Doom Fan Fic for a creative writing project. Harris was also caught the year before making threats on his website to various students and teachers, and Klebold had a long history of cursing at teachers and getting into fights with his boss at the pizza place he worked at.
Harris and Klebold were victims of bullying, including homophobic remarks, but they gave as good as they got: They often wrote in their diaries about how they themselves had bullied underclassmen and "fags". (Ironically, Klebold identified as bisexual online, although he remained closeted in real life until he died.) In early reports, the two were said to be members of the "Trenchcoat Mafia," a clique of gamers and self-styled outcasts who all wore black trenchcoats. In reality, they were only friends with one member of the group, and most of the group's members had graduated before the massacre. The killers were also not quite the loners that early reports described them as—they had a number of friends (friends who were unpopular, but friends nonetheless), and three days before the massacre, Klebold had taken female friend Robyn Anderson to the prom. The duo were avid gamers, particularly of Doom (which Harris had even made mods for), and used the names "Reb" and "VoDKa" (Harris and Klebold, respectively) as both their online handles and their nicknames.
In regards to motive, the general consensus amongst investigators says the pair—particularly Harris—were diehard nihilists who wanted to leave a mark on the world. A personality profile of Harris said he was an anti-social, paranoid, narcissistic sociopath with unrestrained aggression; Harris's journal reveals an Übermensch mindset, with frequent references to "natural selection" (a slogan which adorned the shirt he wore during the massacre). One entry in Harris's journal is a discussion on how he wanted to put everyone into a super-Doom game and see to it that only the strong survive.
Klebold's diaries likewise talk about how he and Harris were more highly evolved than the rest of humanity, though overall his entries reveal that he was self-loathing and suicidal, with a tendency to obsess over female classmates with whom he was barely acquainted. He was gifted intellectually but had a tendency to "snap" when confronted, he desperately sought affirmation from his friend, and he was equally influenced by Harris's sociopathy and personal vengeance against "the world". The planning for the shooting was an act of cold calculation rather than blind rage, and attempting to tie the events to a singular incident oversimplifies the killers' psyches.
Both diaries make frequent reference to the Oklahoma City bombing, the Waco Siege, and other disasters and massacres, noting how they wished to "outdo" these events. Their codename for the massacre was "NBK"—a reference to one of their favorite films, Natural Born Killers, in which the main characters go on a killing spree and become celebrities in the process.
The location and timing of their massacre was no coincidence, and it emphasizes their lack of specific targets. If jocks or the school's social elite were the targets, presumably the killers would have attacked a school sporting event or the prom, the latter of which happened three days earlier. Eric's journal specifically mentions wanting a media-friendly killing that would shock all of America in their everyday routine, not something tied to a specific event. No experience could be more universal than a normal day at school.
The killers arrived at the school at 11:10 AM and went to the cafeteria with the large duffel bags containing their bombs, each wired to detonate at 11:17, shortly after the start of lunch. They headed back to their cars to wait for the bombs to go off. The bombs failed thanks to their lack of finesse in the finer points of bomb-making. The only bomb to detonate was a decoy that they had placed in a nearby field earlier that morning. Set to explode at 11:14, it caused a small fire, but since its detonation occurred so close to the time the shooting began, it did nothing more than vaguely alert the authorities that something was going on.
After realizing that their bombs were duds, the killers broke out their guns (a 9mm carbine and sawed-off pump shotgun for Harris, and a TEC-9 and sawed-off double-barrel shotgun for Klebold) and headed to the school's west entrance. Here, they took off their trenchcoats, killed two students and a teacher, and wounded nine others as they went through the halls. At 11:29, they headed to the library, where the main body of the massacre took place. When they walked in, Harris told everybody wearing a white baseball cap — a tradition amongst school athletes — to stand up. Harris and Klebold then killed ten people and wounded twelve others.
The killers left the library at 11:42, then spent the next twenty minutes wandering the now-empty halls and cafeteria, shooting and throwing pipe bombs seemingly at random. They went back into the now-emptied-out library at 12:02 PM and briefly exchanged fire with the policemen who had surrounded the school, with the killers failing to hit any targets. At approximately 12:08PM, Harris fired his shotgun into his mouth and Klebold shot himself with his handgun in his left temple.
Early speculation said a third man had been involved in the shootings, based on reports that a strange man had been seen on the roof on the school (he was a repairman who had locked himself up on the roof after he heard gunshots). Others claimed that the two killers could not have hauled all of the bombs into the cafeteria by themselves. All known evidence points to Harris and Klebold as the only culprits behind the massacre, but this has not stopped countless conspiracy theorists from speculating otherwise.
The immediate aftermath of the massacre saw an untold number of apocryphal events finding their way into the Popular History version of the shooting. Moral Guardians of all stripes used Columbine as an excuse to rant about whatever they felt was evil (or whatever would get them the best book deals), everybody else was searching for answers, and American high schools came under the thrall of a number of Columbine-related concepts, some of which had never happened. The word "columbine", once the name of the state flower of Colorado, entered the vernacular as a euphemism for a school shooting; many future school shooting plots made reference to "pulling a columbine" and a desire to "top" Harris and Klebold. Police forces, having witnessed firsthand how ineffective their traditional tactics were against spree killers who had no interest in taking hostages, began developing new responses to such threats.
The image of the Badass Longcoat spree killer took off, not helped by the fact that The Matrix had been released just three weeks prior to the shooting. In reality, the killers had taken their trenchcoats off as soon as the shooting began; they wore ball caps, T-shirts, and jeans, leading many to believe that the coats were more about projecting a scary, iconic image to the victims and the media than anything. (It largely worked.) The change of clothes also succeeded in confusing early reports on how many shooters took part in the killing.
Thanks to the media's early rush to judgment, students who were socially isolated or seen as "outcasts" suddenly became viewed as potential mass murderers in waiting, even though Harris and Klebold weren't outcasts or a particular target of bullying. A pair of heavily-publicized school shootings in the two years prior—one in Paducah, Kentucky and one in Springfield, Oregon—had killers who did fit the profile of the "lonely outcast", so the media automatically assumed that the Columbine killers were loners as well. And despite early reports of the spree being a vengeance killing with a particular targeting of jocks, Christians, and minorities, all facts point to a random killing spree with no specific category of victim. (Of the aforementioned shootings, the only one in which the killer targeted a specific category of victim was the Kentucky shooting, in which the killer fired upon a Christian prayer group.)
In particular, the goth subculture suffered a huge backlash because of the shooting; their outcast status and "dark" personas made everyone else suspicious. No evidence suggests either Klebold or Harris embraced the goth subculture, preferring a more militaristic vibe in their personal style. (And goths generally tend to be passive and pacifistic, with the old stereotype being that they are violent towards themselves rather than others.) In any case, numerous schools modified their dress codes to ban trenchcoats and band merchandise as well as restrict the amount of black clothing a student could wear.
One of the worst consequences of the shooting was how many schools began assuming that all school shooters fell under a certain list of stereotypes and could therefore be identified before they killed (similar to a terrorist watchlist). In a Congress-mandated study, the FBI found that this idea was both untrue and a dangerous line of thought: If schools focused on trying to find students who fit a predetermined list of traits, real potential shooters could go unnoticed. Even so, if a school shooter is portrayed in the media, he—and it is usually a "he"—will always be a shy, bullied student who keeps to himself, and this happens almost entirely because of this misconception.
Violent video games became one of the most popular scapegoats for the massacre after the media learned that Harris and Klebold were fans of Doom and Wolfenstein 3D. Armchair psychologists claimed that the killers had become desensitized to, and obsessed with, realistic violence as a result of playing such games. Infamous attorney Jack Thompson entered the public consciousness as an anti-video game activist because of the massacre, which began a career trajectory that would ultimately lead to his disbarrment. Once people learned that Harris had made various levels for the game, the media almost immediately began claiming that those levels had been based on Columbine High School, with the demons replaced with students and teachers. Neither of those claims held true. The most elaborate of the so-called "Harris levels", titled "UAC Labs", can be downloaded at doomworld.com (third down the list) alongside commentary on the massacre and its effect on the gaming community.
Certain popular movies either liked by or seemingly connected to the killers also became targets for the ire of media watchdogs and concerned parents alike. The Matrix topped this list thanks to its heavily-stylized action scenes, a story about our reality being a lie, a proliferation of Badass Longcoat heroes, and the fact that it had been released three weeks prior to the killings (and was still a box office hit). The Basketball Diaries was another major target due to a fantasy sequence in which Leonardo DiCaprio's character shoots up his school while wearing a trenchcoat. Natural Born Killers, which both of the killers were huge fans of, came under fire for a plot that eerily mirrored the aftermath of the shooting. Less associated with the massacre, but a strong influence—particularly for Klebold—was the David Lynch film Lost Highway.
The massacre also re-ignited the debate on gun control, with each side repeating its talking points. Gun control advocates said the tragedy could have been averted had there been more restrictions on the purchase of firearms, noting that Harris and Klebold had acquired their weapons through (mostly) legal means, specifically counting on the lack of background checks at gun shows.note On the other side, gun rights advocates claimed that gun control—particularly the "gun-free" zones around schools—had left the students and teachers defenseless, which made the situation worse than it had to be. While Colorado would soon close the "gun show loophole" in-state, no significant federal gun control legislation was passed as a result of the shooting; five years later, the federal Assault Weapons Ban would expire without being renewed.
As for schools themselves, they began taking security into their own hands. Schools across the nation installed metal detectors at entrances, hired security guards, mandated see-through backpacks, ran "intruder drills" (similar to fire drills) in order to practice what to do in case of a "active shooter event", and crafted "zero tolerance" policies regarding violence, the threat of violence, or even the perception of a threat. Those policies soon became controversial as many people, particularly students and social scientists, felt they had grown out of control and infringed upon the rights of students. A report by the Secret Service said that schools were taking false hope in such security measures—that not only would they do nothing to deter another massacre, but might push an unstable student suspended or expelled for a minor infraction over the edge and cause another massacre. Minority students were almost always disproportionately targeted by "zero tolerance" policies, too. But to this day, many schools still have "zero tolerance" policies in place, since the criticism received for punishing the relatively innocent is far easier to deal with than the perceived culpability for letting a violent situation escalate.
Various conservative Christian groups claimed the massacre was a result of the secularization of society, the teaching of evolution and sex education, and a lack of religion in public schools. People within these groups—not all, but many—were more inclined to accept initial accounts that said two of the victims, Cassie Bernall and Rachel Scott, had been killed because of their Christian faith. The stories go that the victims were asked if they believed in God; when the two girls said "yes", Harris and Klebold killed them. Most authoritative investigations of the massacre concluded that such stories of how Bernall and Scott died were both apocryphal and based on the experience of Valeen Schnurr, a survivor who confirmed that the killers asked her if she believed in God. Despite this debunking, many religious groups still consider Bernall and Scott to be martyrs and symbols of faith in the face of death; a number of Columbine-inspired works created since their deaths have portrayed their killers as specifically targeting Christians. At least two future spree killers, Umpqua Community College shooter Christopher Harper-Mercer and Red Lake High School shooter Jeff Weise, asked at least one of their victims if they believed in God—likely as a sick homage to this urban legend.
One of the most popular targets of social backlash was shock rock, metal, and other "Satanic", "unhealthy", or "violent" music; shock rock musician and provocateur Marilyn Manson became the lightning rod for those genres. In reality, Harris viewed Manson as a sellout and a poser, while Klebold was only a casual fan at best. According to Klebold's mother, he had a Marilyn Manson poster in his room, but when asked about it, he said he paid more attention to the music than the words. The facts did not stop people from claiming that Manson's music had somehow influenced the two to shoot up their school. This ultimately became a case of No Such Thing as Bad Publicity for Manson, as the massacre greatly increased his pop culture profile; his interview with Michael Moore about the shooting—which contains the quote found at the top of this page—may have been his Moment of Awesome.
Thanks to the date of the massacre, rumors emerged that the killers were either neo-Nazis or had a fascination with Adolf Hitler and his regime. Supporters of this theory point to the date of the massacre—April 20, Hitler's birthday—and the fact that the killers were fans of Rammstein and KMFDM, two bands often hit with accusations of being Music to Invade Poland To. Robyn Anderson and Devon Adams, who were close friends with Klebold, denied that either of the boys were neo-Nazis. Additionally, Klebold's mother was Jewish (although his father was Lutheran), and videotapes recorded by both boys before the massacre referred to it being planned for a following Monday, not Tuesday. Klebold's mother later described an incident a few weeks before the shooting where Dylan refused to attend the family's Passover seder, saying that Harris learning of Klebold being Jewish created a temporarily tense moment between them. Most likely, the killers considered the Nazi regime's social Darwinism and policy of genocide and extermination as philosophically appealing, but viewed all of humanity, rather than any specific ethnic group, as "the enemy". Harris in particular had a distinct tendency for Putting on the Reich with Nazi salutes and quotations, if apparently mainly for shock value.
Harris had been taking the anti-depressants Luvox and, before that, Zoloft; this was a point of note for many people critical of the perceived over-prescription of psychiatric medication in today's society, particularly amongst teenagers. Later investigations discovered that Harris had been rejected for military service due to his use of these medications. People then speculated that this rejection either drove him over the edge or led to him going off his medication in an attempt to be accepted. In truth, Harris had not received news of his rejection by the time of the massacre, and both he and Klebold were planning the shooting long before the recruiter had cold-called him.
The media also tossed allegations of neglectful parenting at the killers' parents, as people claimed that, had they been paying any attention to their kids, they could have stepped in and stopped it. In the so-called "Basement Tapes" recorded before the killing, Harris and Klebold absolved their parents of responsibility and joked at how adept they were at fooling them; this is especially true for Klebold, since all the weaponry and tools for the massacre were stored at Harris's house. At the very least, the killers wanted the shooting to be perceived as an act carried out by them and them alone.
Ultimately, one of the most popular culprits for the shootings was society in general. For the first time, there was genuine examination and criticism of the social hierarchy of high school—particularly the high status that athletes enjoy within it. Schools began to crack down on bullying within their halls, and most people who were of school age soon after Columbine will most likely recall all of the assemblies calling for tolerance and respect for fellow classmates. The fact that we still have the Popularity Food Chain shows that such efforts were futile, and 1999 became ancient history for a new generation of high school students who were only in elementary school when the shooting took place. It took another cycle of bullying-related suicides a decade later before people started asking these questions again.
And before anybody asks: yes, there are Conspiracy Theories claiming that Harris and Klebold had been brainwashed by The Illuminati, serving as patsies to advance draconian new gun control laws. Even if this were true—which it is not—the plan was a failure, since (as noted above) no serious gun legislation passed in the wake of the shooting.
In the aftermath of the massacre, an aura developed around Harris and Klebold, with many students on the bottom of the high school food chain calling them heroes and martyrs who stood up to the privileged jocks and bullies that ruled high schools across the nation. Trenchcoats became a popular fashion accessory among such students; schools responded by banning such coats under their dress codes. A series of copycat shootings took place, carried out mostly by people who wanted to get revenge on their classmates and, like Harris and Klebold, leave their mark on the world. Even a decade and a half later, a quick search will find a surprisingly large number of tribute sites and videos for "Reb and VoDKa". The vast majority of these sites condemn the shooting but express the sentiment that Klebold and, to a lesser extent, Harris were kind, intelligent boys before suffering mental illness and (in Klebold's case) falling in with perhaps the worst influence possible, and that people should see this side of them as well. You know, with a healthy bit of Rule 34, too.
But perhaps the most important effect of the massacre was the way that it shaped American popular culture for years to come. The most noticeable and immediate change was a trend of stiffer censorship against violence in movies and TV shows that lasted into the early Turn of the Millennium. The teen horror genre, popularized by the likes of Scream (1996), slowly died out as depictions of young people being brutally murdered suddenly became too unsettling for both the Moral Guardians and the target audiences of such media. After a period of Too Soon, school shootings became popular subject matter for Ripped from the Headlines programs, with the canonical example being the Law & Order episode "School Daze", which was one of the first episodes of television to be advertised with such a slogan. The Columbine massacre, together with Woodstock '99 a few months later, arguably marked the beginning of the end for the viewpoints and culture of The '90s, almost as much as the Altamont disaster and the Manson Family murders are said to have killed The '60s, with the time between April 20, 1999 and September 11, 2001 marking a period of transition between The '90s and the Turn of the Millennium.
Media that is about, references, or was affected by the Columbine shooting by "Funny Aneurysm" Moment, Harsher in Hindsight, and Too Soon:
- The unpublished September 1999 issue of Hellblazer, entitled "Shoot", depicted a study of a series of fictional school shootings. Since it was set to come out just five months after Columbine, one can imagine why DC withheld it from publication.
- The plot was basically the idea that modern life is so banal and empty that many school shooting victims want to die, and the title was one of the victims giving an instruction to the killer, so that might also have had something to do with it.
- The cover of Preacher #52 was originally supposed to depict an eight-year-old Tulip O'Hare receiving a handgun as a Christmas present. After Columbine, the image was changed to a standard facial shot of an adult Tulip.
- Century Part III of Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen features a parody of Harry Potter where The Hero goes crazy and proceeds to massacre his entire supporting cast. The event is presented and compared in-panel to a classic school shooting.
- Michael Moore's documentary Bowling for Columbine examines America's obsession with guns and violence, suggesting that it played a role in the shooting and pointing out that the NRA has done little to restrict the purchase of guns and ammunition for less-than-wholesome purposes. Moore also goes out of his way to state that guns themselves are not the problem, showcasing how Canada has a comparatively low rate of gun violence despite gun ownership rates being almost as high as in the United States. (As the saying goes: guns don't kill people, people kill people.note ) The film's general theme is that no one has easy answers for the massacre. After all, both Harris and Klebold were bowlers—could that have driven them to kill?
- He also sharply criticizes the American media for doing nothing but broadcasting sensationalized stories and ramping up national paranoia and fear to the point where, rather than being a warning sign screaming for societal re-address, the massacre fuelled terror and finger-pointing by Moral Guardians that wouldn't be seen again until 9/11 made terror into a war.
- One of the shooting's most popular scapegoats, Marilyn Manson, gave his insight on the deal. (See also his entry on Music, below.)
- The Basketball Diaries was criticized for a scene where, in an Imagine Spot, the main character (portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio) comes to school dressed in a trench coat and armed with a shotgun, then shoots several classmates that he hates. The rest of the film has nothing to do with school violence, yet the scene is still uncomfortable to watch even today.
- A number of indie films are basically retellings of the Columbine massacre and the events that followed, albeit with the names changed:
- The Gus Van Sant film Elephant is probably the most well-publicized of these films.
- Heart Of America is Uwe Boll's version of the concept.
- Zero Day centres on the killers' preparations and home videos, presenting them in the style of a found footage film.
- Home Room focused more on the aftermath of the shooting.
- American Yearbook.
- April Showers was written and directed by a man who was a senior at Columbine when the massacre took place.
- The Estonian film Klass involves two boys being horrifically bullied until they come to school with guns and kill their tormentors.
- Natural Born Killers, which was already a controversial film due to its violence, received heavier criticism after the massacre. The killers themselves called their rampage "NBK" as a reference to the movie.
- The Black Comedy Exploitation Film Duck! The Carbine High Massacre, released exactly one year after Columbine, was the first film made about the killings. It is also, without any doubt, the most tasteless of such films. The filmmakers were arrested and briefly imprisoned for bringing guns onto school grounds to shoot their movie—something that they proudly boasted about on the film's cover. What else would you expect from a film made by two guys from Jersey calling themselves William Hellfire and Joey Smack?
- The Made-for-TV Movie Atomic Train was not shown in Denver out of apparent sympathy for the Columbine massacre. The movie had absolutely nothing to do with schools, shootings, or anything like it; it was a nuclear train, albeit one wherein the inevitable happens near Denver.
- Officially, Toei Company took so long to give Battle Royale a proper release in the United States because of their demands that it get a national theatrical release and a marketing campaign on par with the average Summer Blockbuster. But many fans of the film feel that lingering squeamishness over the film's subject matter—high school kids being forced to kill each other—also played a role in the 13(!)-year delay.
- This is also one of the two major reasons why the American remake is stuck in Development Hell.note Nobody wants the controversy that would accompany a film like this. In fact, when the remake was announced, one major Battle Royale fansite had the headline "HELL FREEZES OVER".
- Tim Burton's 2005 adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had Mike Teavee—now a video game addict, as opposed to a TV addict in the original—come from suburban Denver, Colorado. This was possibly a subtle reference to the Columbine massacre, particularly the role that violent video games allegedly played in it.
- When introduced to Mike in this film, the first thing viewers see is the exterior of a house accompanied by the sound of bullets echoing through the air and flashes of light through the windows. The caption saying "Denver, Colorado" does not help matters here.
- The Boondock Saints had its American theatrical release limited to just five theaters partly as a result of the Columbine massacre.note the film essentially become a Direct-to-Video affair as a result.
- Being released just ten days after the massacre is often cited as the reason why the horror-comedy film Idle Hands flopped at the box office. The film's plot involves a boy's hand being possessed by a demon, causing him to kill his parents and his best friends; the climax involves the hand going on a bloodthirsty rampage at the High-School Dance.
- The Matrix was released three weeks before the massacre. It was soon accused of inspiring the shooters due to the "action hero in a trench coat" look it popularized.
- The film Dawn Anna, starring Debra Winger in the title role, was about the mother of one of the victims of the shooting; it detailed her struggles with brain cancer not long after meeting her future husband. After being cured of the disease, her daughter, Lauren Townsend (played by a young Tatiana Maslany), is killed in the Columbine massacre. Are you surprised that it is a Lifetime movie?
- The Life Before Her Eyes, starring Uma Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood, is about a woman who survived a Columbine-style massacre fifteen years prior and whose present-day life is falling apart due to her Survivor Guilt.
- The original poster for The Final was clearly designed to invoke the massacre. The DVD release did not use it, and you should not have to guess why.
- Ginger Snaps was hit with Columbine-related controversy north of the border. News that Telefilm Canada was funding a "teen slasher flick"—and one with a goth protagonist, at that—right after both Columbine and a copycat shooting in Alberta caused a media frenzy, which forced Telefilm Canada to publicly defend their decision. In the end, all the clamor may have helped a small, independent horror film gain wider recognition: It wound up becoming the fifth highest-grossing Canadian film that year.
- Scream 3 was heavily rewritten in the wake of Columbine in order to tone down the violence. According to this interview and other sources, the original script revolved around Sidney's return to Woodsboro with Stu from the first film returning as the main killer.
- The effect of the massacre is also discussed within the film itself. One of the producers of the Film Within a Film Stab 3 notes how violence in cinema has become a touchy subject recently, with Columbine being the unstated-yet-obvious reason why.
- The director and writer of The Dirties were largely influenced and haunted by Columbine.
- The 2016 film I'm Not Ashamed is based around Columbine victim Rachel Scott, including the apocryphal story about the killers asking her if she believed in God.
- When Heathers was made, much of the humor came from the absurdity of the idea of white, upper-class high school students killing each other. Then Columbine happened, which ended up sucking all the Black Comedy fun out of the movie. It doesn't help that the Columbine killers resembled J.D. in several ways.
- The protagonist, Celeste, in Vox Lux, narrowly survives a massacre that somewhat resembles Columbine, in both the year (1999), notoriety, a trench coat wearing killer, and a conversation between a shooter and a young teenage girl who talks to the protagonist about God before being shot and surviving.
- Stephen King once referred to Carrie White as a Distaff Counterpart to the Columbine gunmen.
- His first novel, Rage, was about a school shooting. King pulled it from circulation after Columbine and several other subsequent school shootings.
- The Anarchist Cookbook was one of Harris's favorite books. The bombs he and Klebold used (or rather, tried to use) in the massacre were based on several of the book's instructions.
- The book Give a Boy a Gun is about two high school students who plan to shoot up their High-School Dance. The killers idolize Harris and Klebold, hoping to outdo Columbine with their own massacre.
- We Need to Talk About Kevin is written from the perspective of a school shooter's mother as she reviews her relationship with him over the course of his lifetime. Late in the book, he speaks of the Columbine shooters as having stolen his spotlight.
- Parallels are drawn between Columbine and the school massacre that Freddy is responsible for in Dreamspawn. The massacre was blamed on the now-insane protagonist and her dead friends because they were outcasts. This plot point is handled really Anviliciously, though.
- Jodi Picoult's Nineteen Minutes is the story of a boy who shoots up his high school after being bullied and his crush abandons him to join the in-crowd responsible. At his trial, a psychiatrist cites Harris and Klebold as an example of school shooters.
- Wally Lamb's fictional account, The Hour I First Believed, involves a Columbine English teacher who is on a leave of absence when he learns of the shooting; the resulting Survivor's Guilt unravels his whole life.
- Douglas Coupland's 2003 novel Hey Nostradamus!, in which four characters describe the effects that a Columbine-like shooting had on them, was written out of the author's concern that not enough attention had been given to the victims of Columbine. His narrative pointedly avoids exploring the motivations of the two killers who carried out the in-novel shooting.
- Cheryl, who narrates the first vignette during or soon after her death at the hands of the two shooters, debunks an apocryphal explanation that Christians had been specifically targeted. This apparently alludes to similar myths that encircled the Columbine shooting.
- Andrew Solomon's non-fiction book Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity profiles Klebold's parents and how they dealt with the aftermath of Columbine.
- Dylan's mother, Susan Klebold, wrote a moving essay for Oprah Magazine in 2009; she also wrote a book about her experiences that was published in 2016.
- No Easy Answers by survivor Brooks Brown details his lifelong friendship with both Klebold and victim Rachel Scott, as well as the aftermath of the shooting—including attending Rachel's funeral and being treated like a suspect himself for his friendship with the two shooters.
- Another non-fiction account, Dave Cullen's Columbine, details the lives of the two shooters, the massacre itself, and the aftermath.
- Any Teen Drama or Ripped from the Headlines show in the early 2000s probably made reference to the massacre or school violence in general, with many of them doing a Very Special Episode on the subject:
- Law & Order: "School Daze"
- Degrassi: The Next Generation: "Time Stands Still (Part 2)"
- Cold Case: "Rampage" is pretty much Columbine, but with a shopping mall, and the massacre is set before Columbine
- One Tree Hill: "With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept"
- NUMB3RS: "Dark Matter"
- Standoff: "Peer Group"
- Flashpoint: "Perfect Storm"note
- Joan of Arcadia: "The Uncertainty Principle"
- Boston Public: Despite being a series primarily set in a school, this show had only one episode involving a school massacre plot. In that episode, a student's notes describing a plan to bomb the school were found, but nothing comes of the plan, nor is it ever mentioned again.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer had two episodes in Season 3 affected by the shooting:
- "Earshot", which was set to air just four days after the shooting took place, was quickly pulled because the story was an Axes at School plot about Buffy gaining telepathy and overhearing somebody thinking about killing students. It also featured a student climbing up into the school's bell tower with a sniper rifle (he was actually trying to kill himself, not the other students, but Buffy stopped him anyway).
"Earshot" also featured Xander musing "who hasn't idly dreamed of gunning down their fellow students" and Oz remarking how school shootings were "bordering on trendy". Those lines would have almost certainly evoked the wrong reaction had it been shown on the original airdate.
An additional irony: When "Earshot" was pulled from airing, The WB aired a rerun of the episode "Bad Girls" in its place. The fact that said episode featured Faith murdering a man by accident, then nonchalantly telling Buffy that she didn't feel any guilt or remorse, made some people wonder what kind of message The WB wanted to send kids.
- The Season Finale, "Graduation Day (Part 2)", saw Buffy and the entire senior class blow up Sunnydale High to kill The Mayor after he turned into a giant snake monster. Fans had to wait until July and September of 1999 to see both episodes air.
The WB also made Joss Whedon edit that episode to make the school explosion less spectacular and remove dialogue from the last few scenes about how Buffy and the Scoobies thought it was "neat" that they blew up the school. But WB still dithered, right up to nearly the last minute, before deciding not to show the episode until later in the summer. They waited so long that the episode had already been sent to stations in Canada that carried the show and placed into their broadcast schedule--and because it was a holiday weekend in Canada, the people with the authority to take it out of the schedule were "unavailable".
Subsequent interviews have made it clear that just about everyone involved with the show thought that pulling "Earshot" was the right choice, but that banning "Graduation Day 2" was an embarassing over-reaction because of its much weaker connection to the event and much more fantastic plot.
- "Earshot", which was set to air just four days after the shooting took place, was quickly pulled because the story was an Axes at School plot about Buffy gaining telepathy and overhearing somebody thinking about killing students. It also featured a student climbing up into the school's bell tower with a sniper rifle (he was actually trying to kill himself, not the other students, but Buffy stopped him anyway).
- A Season Four episode of The Closer, "Time Bomb", centred on a group of just-out-of-high-school boys who talked about doing what the Columbine killers tried to do. While most people assumed they were planning a school shooting/bombing, Fritz figures out that they were planning to set off bombs in a building and pick off the survivors as they fled. He and Brenda figure out what the target is—a shopping mall—while inside it, when they spot the planted bombs. Notably, the focus is not on high school dynamics, but on mass-murdering terrorists. The high school is only important as that was how the boys knew each other.
- Silent Witness did one of these episodes, but in the university where the pathology lab is situated. The two gunmen are clearly based on the Columbine shooters, but in a twist, the Klebold-expy did not know that the Harris-expy was serious, and ended up shooting him to put a stop to the massacre. A third guy also tried to back out, so the Harris-expy murdered him prior to the massacre. As with Columbine, after a certain point the halls are cleared and everyone is hiding in locked rooms, cutting the massacre short. And while Columbine was supposed to start off with a massive explosion, the university shooting was supposed to climax with a chemical weapons attack, but this time it was caught and stopped.
- American Horror Story: Murder House features a Columbine-esque shooting as Tate's backstory. Driven to kill by the spirits inside the "Murder House", he shot up his school while wearing a trench coat and skull-like face paint, killing fifteen people before he was killed by the police. The episode where this is revealed has Tate's ghost confronted by the spirits of five of the victims, having built up years of rage, grilling him on why he did it. One girl, a former cheerleader, recounts a tale similar to the "do you believe in God?" incident often associated with Cassie Bernall; she answered "yes", only to find out, upon becoming a ghost rather than entering heaven, that she was wrong.
- The Criminal Minds episode "Painless" revolves around the anniversary of a school shooting, with the episode's unsub targeting the survivors. The unsub's motivation: He was a fellow survivor that was ignored by the media in favor of more "photogenic" students, one of which stole his story of standing up to the gunman. The other "top ten" survivors were aware of this in a sense—they could not remember who stood up to the gunman, although they knew the stolen story was fake—but refused to clear up the truth. The original gunman thought he was God and was killing people For the Evulz before blowing himself up; the second killer's other grievance is that the explosion cost him the ability to feel pain—hence the episode title—so he arguably suffered more than the other survivors and was braver than them, but they stole all the credit and attention.
- Third Eye Blind's second album "Blue", released in November 1999, almost always has the vocal track for "Slow Motion" wholly removed—or at least removed save for the chorus—because it clearly discusses various forms of violence as well as drug use. The song's opening line is "Ms. Jones taught me English / But I think I just shot her son". Frontman Stephan Jenkins wrote this song in 1995, however, so it predates both the band's debut album and the shooting.
- KMFDM received a fair share of blame for the massacre, aided by the fact that Harris was a fan of their music and posted the lyrics to some of their songs on his website. Their album Adios was released on the same day as the shooting.
- The My Chemical Romance song "Teenagers" mocks both the tendency to demonize school violence and "outcast" groups in the wake of school shootings, and teenagers themselves who take umbrage at being treated like vicious little monsters when they continue being casually cruel to one another.
- After being Mis-blamed for the massacre, Marilyn Manson wrote the album Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death). Most of the lyrics and subject matter were direct responses to Columbine, with Manson calling it "a declaration of war" on the Moral Guardians who had blamed him for the shooting.
- On The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem defended both Manson and himself from the public backlash that erupted from Columbine with the single "The Way I Am". He claimed that middle-class suburbanites were hypocritical for only caring about violence once it started happening in their schools rather than the "ghetto" schools. Other lyrics that specifically mention the incident were censored in the song "I'm Back", even on the explicit version.
When a dude's getting bullied and shoots up his schoolWhere were the parents at, and look where it's atMiddle America, now it's a tragedy, now it's so sad to seeAn upper-class city having this happening.
- The Nightwish song "The Kinslayer" is about the massacre. The lyrics even quote real dialogue between the killers and their victims. The fifteen candles mentioned near the end refer to those who died on that day—four pink ones for the female victims, nine blue ones for the male victims, and two black ones for the killers themselves.
- Five Iron Frenzy was from Denver; one of the band members lived three blocks from the school, and his sister was a student at Columbine who was there on that day. To say the incident hit home for them is an understatement. They eventually made the song "A New Hope" in response.
- Not directly about the massacre, but "America's Suitehearts", a Fall Out Boy song about people getting famous for unsavory things, was written partially in response to the cult of celebrity around the killers that emerged on MySpace in the early 2000s.
- The song "Youth of the Nation" by P.O.D. was inspired by both Columbine and the Santana High shooting in California.
- Five For Fighting's "Easy Tonight" was a response to the incident.
- Christian Rock band Flyleaf's song "Cassie" is an ode to victims Cassie Bernall and Rachel Scott; it perpetuates the apocryphal stories about their final moments by describing Cassie as being shot for believing in God, even though Valeen Schnurr was the one who had that conversation (and survived).
- Pearl Jam's "Rival" is guitarist Stone Gossard's reflection on Columbine.
- Tangentially related: After Columbine, the music video for the song "Jeremy", both of which were based in part on the 1991 suicide of Jeremy Wade Delle and were published years before the Columbine massacre, was pulled from rotation on music video stations. The video was already controversial well before Columbine, though.
- Christian Rock musician Michael W. Smith wrote the song "This Is Your Time" as a reference to the (apocryphal) story of Cassie Bernall's martyrdom.
- Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks", while not about Columbine specificallynote , was at least partially inspired by the event. The issue was close to the band as a whole; the bassist's first cousin was in the library at the time of the shooting.
- Wheatus's 2000 hit "Teenage Dirtbag," written a year after the tragedy, originally included the lyric "Her boyfriend's a dick / And he brings a gun to school." Most releases of the song bowdlerize the lyric, as the label felt it was still Too Soon. Tellingly, while the song is from the perspective of a teenaged social outcast and largely based on frontman Brandon Brown's own experiences being one, the gun-wielder is described as unambiguously villainous.
- Korn's 2002 song "Thoughtless" describes the Columbine High School shooting through the eyes of Klebold and Harris; Jonathan Davis has said that the song is "about people [like Klebold and Harris] who are constantly ridiculed and the collateral damage it can cause".
- In his "Bigger and Blacker" stand-up show, Chris Rock mocked the gunmen's Informed Loner statusnote , the Moral Guardians trying to make hay from the situationnote , and the people who treat violence in rich suburban (i.e., white) schools as anomalies while ignoring the same violence in inner city schoolsnote .
- The one-act stage play Bang Bang You're Dead, about an imprisoned high school killer who is confronted by the ghosts of his victims, was written before Columbine—though it was based on other, pre-Columbine school shootings—to raise awareness about school violence. The timeliness of its subject matter caused it to become incredibly popular in the wake of the Columbine shooting, with 15,000 performances taking place in the three years directly after the massacre. The play was later adapted into a film by the Showtime network.
- Columbinus, a two-act play, focuses on Harris, Klebold, and other students at the school. The first act has generic names for the characters: Poser, Goth, Loner, Freak, etc. The second act names the characters and follows the actual shooting.
- The 2014 play The Erlkings focused on—and was based on the journals and other information from—the killers.
- The freeware game Super Columbine Massacre RPG!, made using RPG Maker, is based on the events of the shooting. The first half of the game follows Harris and Klebold through the massacre—from their morning preparations to their suicides—with occasional flashbacks to past events. MIDI versions of Marilyn Manson, Rammstein, and Nirvana songs serve as the game's soundtrack. The second half follows the two after they are sent to Hell, which turns out to be remarkably like Doom; it ends with the two killing a Cyberdemon and becoming minions of Satan.
According to interviews with creator Danny Ledonne, the game was made to explore hyperreality and the treatment of death in video games while allowing people to explore the massacre and the mindsets of Harris and Klebold in a way that only a video game can do. The game is set up like an old-school, turn-based JRPG, which denies players the visceral thrill of watching teenagers (who are all represented by crude 16-bit sprites) being brutally gunned down. The consequences of their violence are also shown: The first half ends with photos of their dead bodies, and the entire second half has them, literally, in Hell for their sins (though it's slightly undercut by what they wind up doing in Hell).
- One of the first submissions that put Newgrounds on the map was site creator Tom Fulp's Columbine parody game Pico's School. The setup: A bunch of goth/punk/neo-nazis kids went postal and turned the school into a battlefield. Now Pico must save the day by mowing down anything that moves—including Innocent Bystanders, if you want—and killing the leader of the goths who is an alien in disguise by shooting her groin with an assault rifle. The Stinger reveals that the school opened again with the goths replaced by gangster kids.
- To this day, Pico remains the mascot of Newgrounds. Scroll halfway down on any Flash video on the site and you will see an option to rate the video. There he is! He has a whole holiday on the site devoted to him, "Pico Day", and even a spinoff series with an evil twin known as "Piconjo" (an extremly pale Pico with a BFS and a dong the size of a tree, resulting in 99% of his apparitions culminating in a penis joke or something related), described by Newgrounds itself as the Wario to Pico's Mario. Pico, Piconjo, and Pico's best friends Darnell (a black Pyromaniac and Mad Bomber kid) and Nene (a suicidal Chinese girl with quite an addiction to blades and a comical tendency to catch herpes due to her loose morals, who is often portrayed as Pico's Love Interest) are only the main characters of the whole Picoverse, which includes gems such as the Uberkids (cloned "genetically perfect" kids who duel Pico and friends in a rock-paper-scissors Russian Roulette tournament in their first apparition), the goth kids (which includes a neo-nazi one-eyed punk, a Ninja who loves fighting in the dark and aiming for the crotch, a medium/telekinesist and the alien mentionned before. If Refuge in Audacity could have a mascot, it would likely be Pico.
- In the Crapsack World setting of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, another Columbine massacre apparently happened, as an NPC will mention "the second time".
- Doom was one of the many alleged inspirations for the killers, as they were both avid fans of the game. Harris made several custom maps for the game, which are still available for people to download.
- Columbine is the reason why official Sega lightguns are region-locked out of the American Sega Dreamcast, as the console was released less than five months after the shooting. Fans of games such as The House of the Dead 2 had to use the scant few low-quality third-party guns available just so they could play those games.
- Relatedly, the shootings prompted Capcom to remove GunCon support from the US release of Resident Evil: Survivor. Dino Stalker and Dead Aim were unaffected.
- Persona 2 was released as two games in Japan. The first game involved students armed with semi-automatics and Uzis fighting against a resurrected Adolf Hitler, as well as being given the option to kill their school's principal. The second game was cleared for release in America only because two of the characters got a Plot-Relevant Age-Up and everyone else was ignored.
- The Emogame series makes a number of references to the shooting. In the first game, the Hot Topic store sells Trenchcoat Mafia fashion accessories (including a Columbine High T-shirt), and both Harris and Klebold appear in the second game.
- One of the longest sections in flash game The Game's sequel is an extended parody of the moral outrage following the shootings. It even features Left 4 Dead-based caricatures.
- The flash game The Classroom references Columbine when a student brings a gun on the last day of school and kills a teacher and another student before turning the gun on himself.
- Initial plans for the original Perfect Dark included a function where players could take their picture with a Game Boy Camera, then put them into the game. After Columbine, the idea of people putting their classmates and teachers in the game to shoot them came up. Rare eventually pulled the feature before releasing the game.
- Kingpin: Life of Crime had the unfortunate timing of being released in June 1999, just two months after the massacre. The developers, Xatrix Entertainment, became aware of the massacre and implemented a "safe" versionnote in response to criticism in the National Institute on Media and the Family's 1999 report on violent video games. Drew Markham, the CEO of Xatrix, stated that the game was never meant for children anyway. Moral Guardians and Media Watchdogs still asked various retail stores—except for Electronics Boutique—to stop stocking the game.
- One of the characters in the Vehicular Combat game Vigilante 8 drives a bright yellow school bus that is prominently featured on the game's cover art. After Columbine, the makers of the games did not want to risk being associated with anything that so much as reminded people of violence in a school setting; for both the sequel (Second Offense) and the Xbox Live Arcade remake of the first game, they swapped the school bus for a prison bus. A television advertisement for the original game, which featured a trashed school bus, was pulled for the same reason.
- In the Alternate History story Player Two Start, one of the butterflies is that Polly Klaas is never murdered, and she instead winds up becoming a Forrest Gump-esque figure in the story. Her family moves to Littleton, Colorado in the late 1990s, and she enrolls in Columbine High School and interacts with Harris and Klebold. Her presence in the school has a profound impact on the shooting: Klebold drifts away from Harris and refuses to assist in his plot; Harris ultimately attempts to go it alone, but only manages to kill two people: Polly's best friend, Caitlyn, and himself. Afterwards, a video game called The Darkest Nightnote winds up having a ton of emotional resonance for Polly, given the similarities between its plot twists and her own experience of losing her friend, which leads her to become a researcher of video games at Stanford in adulthood.
An even deadlier shooting two years later has a similar impact in Polly's world as Columbine did in reality. On the 14th of February 2001, Christian Weston Chandler—yes, Chris-chan—shoots up his high school in Midlothian, Virginia, killing eighteen classmates (fourteen of them female) and three faculty members, one of whom was Shonda Rhimes (her Hollywood career fizzled out in Polly's world and she became an English teacher). A similar backlash against video game violence erupts when people learn that Chandler was a huge fan of games like Arbiter of Sin 2, an ultraviolent First-Person Shooter about a soldier turned minion of Satan fighting the forces of Heaven that seemed like it was designed to cause outrage. Infamous Florida attorney Jack Thompson, joined by eight of the victims' families, sue both Nintendo and Sega. On an even more depressing note: Just as our world's Columbine massacre led to the widespread distrust of goths and other teen outcasts, the "Valentine's Day Massacre" of Polly's world leads to the stigmatizing of people on the autism spectrum after early reports—later determined to be untrue—claim that Chandler was autistic. The phrase "sperging out" enters the lexicon to describe going on a mass murder spree, similar to Going Postal, while anti-vaccination activists claim that vaccines are responsible for turning Chandler into a murderous psychopath.
- While not the focus of the timeline, the Columbine massacre is mentioned in the Alternate History A Giant Sucking Sound and is slightly worse than the real life massacre (Harris and Klebold succeed in burning the school down), with more media attention put on the killers' alleged Neo-Nazi ties due to their acts being seen within the context of a series of far-right terrorist attacks. President Ann Richards chooses not to exploit the massacre for political gain and instead meets with victims of the massacre to listen to what they have to say.
- Warner Bros. initially censored parts of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker as a direct response to Columbine. The studio later released the original version of the film as the "uncut" version; the edited version has since become harder to find, legally or otherwise.
- Family Guy:
- "Brian & Stewie" has Stewie asking Brian why he has a gun in his safe deposit box despite his anti-gun beliefs, with Stewie noting that Brian cried after Columbine. When Brian says he cried was because Columbine was a national tragedy, Stewie says he feels it was "more of a regional tragedy".
- On another episode, Lois tells Peter to masquerade as a high schooler, and he appears in the kitchen in a trenchcoat holding a gun and saying he wants to get back at the popular kids who ignored him. Lois tells Peter that he is supposed to be acting like a normal high schooler and he calls someone named "Lance" to tell him the plan is off. The call comes a few moments too late, though.
- "Colorado: More than Kobe and Columbine" is seen on a road sign in one episode.
- Several King of the Hill episodes which dealt with mental illness, suicide, and death were not rerun on Denver-area Fox affiliates or syndicated on other area channels for some time after the massacre. These included the "Propane Boom" two-parter about the Mega-Lo-Mart explosion, Hank's ensuing fear of propane, and Luanne's difficulty grieving for Buckley's death; "Pretty, Pretty Dresses", which was about Bill's suicidal depression; and "Dog Dale Afternoon", which contains a scene where Dale is mistaken for a sniper in a college bell tower and Hank is later shot by police but survives since he is wearing a bulletproof vest.
"Revenge of the Lutefisk," which is about the church accidentally being burned down, was scheduled to air on the day of the massacre but was pre-empted in Denver by continuing news coverage about Columbine. That episode was not shown or rerun for a long time there either.
One episode that Denver-area channels did air during this time was "Wings of the Dope", in which Buckley comes back as an angel. Mike Judge got a letter a month after that episode's premiere from a student at Columbine who was in the school during the shooting and had watched the episode. She said that the episode had helped her cope with the death of her boyfriend...who was one of the killers.
- The Static Shock episode "Jimmy" had a bullied student shooting at a group of football players. It was one of several very special episodes on the show, and ended with a public service announcement about gun safety.
- In one of the South Park DVD commentaries, Trey Parker and Matt Stone say that despite paving the way for many things to be acceptable on television today that were not acceptable in the 1990s (such as certain swear words, jokes about AIDS, and gay characters), due to the Columbine shooting, it was no longer acceptable for them to depict the boys with guns as the subject was no longer considered funny—especially since Matt Stone not only lived in Littleton, but had loosely based the town of South Park off of the area. Years later, they began doing it again.
- The original theatrical poster for Titan A.E. had Cale Tucker running around shooting a laser gun, followed by love interest Akima. This was released during the fallout of the massacre, however, and movie studios were facing heavy criticism for violence in films. For the VHS and DVD box art, Cale makes the same running pose, but this time shows Akima the map with his hand outstretched toward it in place of the gun.
- Fox re-ran the "Viva Ned Flanders" episode of The Simpsons on the same day as the massacre. The episode has Homer telling himself that Barney's birthday is on the same day as Adolf Hitler's—April 20th. All future re-runs of the episode replaced the date with July 15th—the same birthdate as Lassie.
- The Onion's take on the subject: Columbine Jocks Safely Resume Bullying. The article is now deleted.
- In 2013, Columbine was part of a "10 Things That Will Make You SUPER Nostalgic For The '90s" slideshow of real photos, along with the Rwandan genocide, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Waco siege, and Alan Alda, in a brutal mockery of the Nostalgia Filter for the decade in The New '10s.
- The card game Chrononauts has Columbine as one of the events on its timeline. The expansion has an identity where one of the goals is making sure the shooting happens, and the base game have several that require stopping it.