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columbine - tragedy and recovery

Teen describes school life filled with taunts, abuse

By Susan Greene
Denver Post Staff Writer

April 24 - Hell.

The word has been used so often this week to describe the bloody rampage at Columbine High School.

But one member of Columbine's now-notorious Trench Coat Mafia invokes the same image of hell when describing life at the school before the carnage.

The 18-year-old, who demanded anonymity, said he was taunted and terrorized by his schoolmates - so-called jocks who called him "faggot,'' bashed him into lockers and threw rocks at him from their cars while he rode his bike home from school.

"I can't describe how hard it was to get up in the morning and face that,'' he said.

"Hell,'' he continued. "Pure hell.''

Police repeatedly have questioned the teen about his knowledge of the shootings.

He is one of several mafia members who at once are shying away from reporters, but also desperate to have their stories heard.

He and his parents know people will perceive their anonymity as a sign that he has something to hide or in some way is responsible for Tuesday's massacre.

He's visibly grieving about the tragedy and about what he knows are the ties students are suggesting between him and killers Eric Har ris and Dylan Klebold.

He said the two seniors weren't even part of the mafia, but merely friends of one especially charismatic - and, he notes, the only violent - member.

They were on the fringe of the group, the school's most outcast, most fringe clique.

And so, the teen said, his reluctance to speak out stems not from an association with the shooters, but from the very reason his group of loners banded together in the first place - out of fear of more ridicule and torment, more shoves, more thrown rocks. Or worse.

"I want to stand up and say this is what I went through,'' he said. "But I'm scared, not just for me, but my family.''

By now, most of America and much of the world have heard about Columbine's jocks.

The student-athletes commonly wear clothes bearing the logos of sports teams. Another indication is baseball caps with visors worn facing forward and carefully rounded.

Not all jocks tormented him, the teen noted. But he said a handful of bullies held so much power that most of the school emulated them, or at least were too afraid to voice dissent.

"If you didn't dress like them, if you walked to school or rode your bike, if you didn't get into sports and weren't athletic, then you were an outcast. It's that simple,'' he said.

Taunting started with the teen's appearance which, without compromising his anonymity, is gawky - the painfully uneasy look of so many male teens teetering between boyhood and manhood. He said jocks ridiculed his clothes and his black trench coat, which his parents bought for him to wear with suits on special occasions.

The torment often became vicious.

While the teen biked home from school, he said, jocks would "speed past at 40, 50 mph'' and toss pop cans or cups full of sticky soda at him. Sometimes they threw rocks or even sideswiped his bike with their cars.

He described waking on school days with a knot in his stomach and the dread of having to face the humiliation.

He would avoid certain hallways and even make his way to classes outside the school building to escape being ridiculed or being bashed against lockers, he said.

In the cafeteria, he continued, jocks threw mashed potatoes at him. He would wear the stains for the rest of the school day.

But he wasn't the only kid messed with at Columbine. Other mafia members faced similar troubles. And, he said, he knew Klebold and Harris were tormented as well.

The teen speaks about his high school years quietly, but angrily. He's visibly withdrawn and says he's depressed. But he has enough perspective to understand why he joined the mafia. It was the only place he could find friends.

He said the core group of about seven boys - mostly socially awkward kids, loners - started hanging out in 1996. They gradually grew to include more students, boys and girls who called themselves "The Anachronists'' because of their interest in the game Dungeons and Dragons and their penchant for Goth, short for Gothic, fashions.

In early 1998, he said, a jock branded them with the name Trench Coat Mafia. The group accepted the moniker, hoping the symbolism would scare their tormenters and that the nefarious aura of a darkly dressed mob would finally give them some peace.

"And it worked,'' the teen said. "They did start leaving us alone.'' Members apparently found security in numbers. They hung out together listening to music, watching movies and commiserating about their difficulties at school. Many, he said, were just grateful for the companionship.

Despite widespread news reports about their obsession with the sadist music of Marilyn Manson, he said, only one member really was a fan of the shock-rocker.

The teen also makes a point of noting the group wasn't racist or interested in Nazi history or culture.

"That's so inaccurate, the image that we were like that,'' he said. "People just want to put labels on us that aren't true.''

The teen said Harris and Klebold were less socially active even than other mafia members.

From the outside, he said, they must have seemed part of the group because of their black trench coats and their similar Goth style of dress. But, speaking from the inside, he said they weren't really members. Although they sometimes hung with the mafia in Columbine's commons and shared sneers at the jocks, he recalled, they ate at a separate lunch table and led very separate lives.

Harris and Klebold didn't usually don trench coats, he added, surmising they wore them on Tuesday because they helped hide their guns. Further, he noted, theirs weren't really trench coats, but actually Australian dusters - not authentically Goth at all.

The teen is clearly rocked by Tuesday's massacre. He swallows hard when talking about it, when seeing the yearbook photos of his dead schoolmates and teacher beamed over national TV.

"I'm not saying what they did was OK,'' he said of Harris and Klebold. "But I know what it's like to be cornered, pushed day after day.''

"Tell people that we were harassed and that sometimes it was impossible to take,'' he told a reporter. "Tell people that ... eventually, someone was going to snap.''

Copyright 1999 The Denver Post. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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