Events of the Shooting


The Columbine High School shooting took place on April 20th, 1999 in Littleton, Colorado a suburb of Denver. The shooting is also commonly referred to as the ‘Columbine High School Massacre’, with a total of fifteen dead. The shooters, seniors Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, murdered 12 students and 1 teacher, and injured over 21 others. The murders came to and end with Klebold and Harris turning the guns on themselves, both committing suicide. The shooting marked the deadliest school shooting in American history at the time. 

The events of the shooting unfolded within the span of under thirty minutes, with Klebold and Harris arriving at the school at around 11:20 am. With duffle bags in hand, they first entered the cafeteria, with no intention of beginning to start shooting yet. Each bag contained a propane bomb, set to detonate during the cafeteria’s busiest lunch period. Prior to their arrival at the school, Klebold and Harris had each placed a backpack containing small propane bombs, a pipe bomb and aerosol canisters at a meadow located three miles away from the school. These bombs partially detonated, alerting the police of Klebold and Harris’ earlier activities. Following placing the bombs in the cafeteria, Harris and Klebold went back out to the parking lot to wait for the bombs to detonate. However, once they realized the bombs failed to detonate, they began to make their way back to entering the school. 

Initial Events

The beginning of the shooting was marked by Klebold tossing a pipe bomb into the parking lot which partially detonated, catching the attention of surrounding students who were on their lunch break. Many students were confused, thinking it was a part of some sort of senior prank, while others took note of their trench coats and concealed weapons, beginning to run from the parking lot. The first victim claimed by the shooting was 17-year-old Rachel Scott, who was shot while eating lunch with a friend in front of the entrance to the school.

Klebold and Harris in the Cafeteria on April 20, 1999. (Wikipedia Commons)

Klebold and Harris proceeded to enter the school, making their way to the cafeteria. Upon entering, they were shooting at students in the hallway who were under the impression that their guns were paintball guns, thus continuing to walk towards them. One of these students was sophomore Lance Kirklin, who was shot four times, lying on the floor, calling out for help, when Klebold stood above him and said “Sure man I’ll help you”, to which he shot him in the face. Kirklin survived, and as Klebold walked away, he apologized, saying “Sorry, man”, according to Kirklin. Klebold and Harris passed through the cafeteria, not shooting at anyone. As they made their way to the staircase leading up to the library, according to ABC News, witnesses say they were laughing and shouting positive things such as “This is what we always wanted to do! This is awesome!” 

Students evacuating the school, April 20, 1999. (AP Photo)

At this point in the shooting, the police were made aware that there were shooters in the school through a custodian staff member calling the head deputy. Two of the deputies who had arrived were in the process of rescuing two injured students on a hilltop adjacent to the school when Harris noticed the police officers and went back over to the entrance and began shooting at the deputies. They began shooting back,  and after one of the deputies had fired three rounds of his ammo, Harris retreated back inside, with no one hit. 

The Library

The next area of the school Klebold and Harris approached was the library, where 52 students, 2 teachers and 2 librarians were hiding. In the library, they had an agenda, in which they were targeting students of color, and anyone who played a sport at the school. According to witnesses, Harris stated that “anybody with a white hat or sports emblem is dead”, as wearing a white hat at Columbine High School was an athlete tradition. Many students attempted to remove and hide their white hats. Klebold approached a table where three students were hiding under, sophomores Craig Scott and Matthew Kechter and senior Isaiah Shoels. Upon discovering them and noticing Isaiah, who was black, Klebold exclaimed “I found a n-word”, according to Scott. Klebold then proceeded to taunt Isaiah with more derogatory slurs and then shot him, killing him. 


In the library, Klebold and Harris killed 12 and injured 10. They left at around 11:36 am, proceeding to toss pipe bombs in the hallway as they were heading back down to the cafeteria. They made rounds around the school, storming down hallways and looking in classrooms before re-entering the library, which was mostly empty of students except for those who could not move due to their injuries. According to police reports, by 12:08 pm Klebold and Harris had committed suicide. 


Following the shooting, fear was instilled in students nationwide. According to a study done by researcher Lynn Addington involving public opinion polls reflected that Columbine “prompted greater fear of victimization at school”(Addington 368). Further, while some schools in the U.S. implemented stricter security measures, such as checking bags and installing metal detectors, there was no action taken at a governmental level in terms of policy or legislation.

At the community-level, there were several accounts of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental health struggles among survivors, along with a survivor committing suicide a year after and a survivor’s mother committing suicide six months after. In terms of immediate responses, the school was shut down for the rest of the year, with only two three weeks remaining. Classes were held for students at a high school nearby. The Columbine shooting raises several important questions relating to gun violence, mental health among teenagers and to also what this suggests about American culture.

Why are such horrible acts of violence still an extremely prevalent issue in America today? How does mental health tie into school shootings? Why is not everything possible being done to prevent future school shootings? Such important questions will be discussed and explored further in the next sections.