April 20, 1999, Columbine High School, 11:18 AM. Things were not going as planned.
Where was the big boom? There was supposed to be a huge explosion, one that would level the cafeteria and bring the upstairs library down on top of what remained. Outside, all should have been chaos as panicked and injured survivors ran screaming from the flaming wreckage. Two teenage boys dressed in black leather dusters waited to pick them off from where they sat with their vehicles flanking the west entrance. Instead of screams and explosions, however, there were only the late morning sounds of students happily having lunch in the warm spring sunshine.
The bomb in the field over at Wadsworth Boulevard went off right on time; the sirens were already on their way toward the diversion. But the bombs inside Columbine High School, set for 11:17 AM, were mysteriously silent.
At 11:19 the two teens - Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold - got tired of waiting. Armed with four guns, several knives and dozens of home-made explosives, they closed in on the building. They headed up the hill toward the west entrance and from the top of the steps they launched their assault on those below, critically injuring several students and killing two.
They celebrated their attack as they dove into the fray. It was what they had always wanted to do; what they had been planning on paper and video for over a year. Short-range shots finished off the injured as Dylan made his way to the cafeteria to check on the bombs. Meanwhile Eric shot at a teacher and a student, a boy he may have recognized as Eric had asked him for help trying to find sound effects for one of his siege videos just a couple of weeks earlier. The shot he fired shattered the interior west entrance doors. Both of the people within the entrance were hit with broken glass and shrapnel. They both turned and ran for the library.
The school's assigned police officer was on the scene by then and he exchanged fire with Eric, who quickly moved to join Dylan in the cafeteria after his first shots missed the deputy. The room was virtually empty when Dylan and Eric entered it thanks to quick thinking from a handful of faculty.
The shooters moved through the cafeteria to the stairs and up to the second floor where they chased and shot at those trying to escape. They injured more people and fatally wounded Coach "Dave" Sanders, who had helped to clear the cafeteria when the shooting first began. He would die several hours later on the floor of a classroom, waiting for help to arrive that never came.
As the halls cleared, the gunmen wandered almost aimlessly for several minutes, shooting up lockers and firing into empty classrooms, bypassing several populated rooms where students hid. They tried again to blow the school up by turning on all the gas spigots in one of the Science Labs and then threw a pipe bomb in with the hope that it would ignite a bigger explosion but only the pipe bomb went off. Despite their efforts, the school was still largely intact.
The library was their next destination. The teacher Eric had shot at through the west entrance - Patti Nielson - was on the phone with 911, frantically reporting everything that had happened. She had tried to get the students in the library to hide under the tables but hiding places were limited; some students were left out in the open, unable to conceal themselves when the gunmen entered the room.
"All jocks stand up!" the boys in black demanded of those hiding. "Everyone with a white cap or baseball cap, stand up!"
When no one volunteered themselves, the teens vented their mounting frustration by opening fire on the library. The room itself took a lot of abuse before they turned their attention to the people hiding in it. The first victim killed, a mildly retarted boy, was still sitting in his chair when Dylan shot him.
Eric and Dylan continued to destroy the library as they went further into the room, throwing more explosives and shooting the furnishings in it till they reached the windows. They broke and then fired out the windows at the police below, who returned fire till the boys retreated.
They turned their attention back on the students hiding under the tables. Some people they passed by, others they shot. Some victims seemed to get special attention in the form of aimed and multiple shots while some the gunmen didn't even look at before they fired on them. One boy they let leave the library after speaking to him while other victims they spoke to were shot dead on the spot. Arbitrary execution wasn't in the original plan; none of the people in the library should have been alive to begin with. They told their victims as much: That the world was going to end, the school would be blown up. Nothing would matter after that.
The gunmen finally left the room after their thirst for direct murder had waned. The last person they encountered they simply walked away from despite having attempted to shoot him earlier. Most of the survivors who were able to move fled through a side exit when they were sure the shooters were gone. The people left behind were either too injured or too frightened to leave. While laying in pools of their own blood some played dead, fearing they soon would be.
Out in the Science Hall, Dylan and Eric were still trying to find a way to blow up the school. Attempts to set fire to a chemical storage room failed and, frustrated, they decided to return to the propane bombs downstairs.
Defeat visibly weighed them down: On the cafeteria surveillance tape their shoulders sagged as both took turns trying to detonate one of the bombs. Their combined attempts resulted only in partial success. The home-made bomb half-detonated as they went back upstairs, resulting in a blast that was strong enough to shake the upstairs classrooms and blow out the cafeteria windows.
It was glaringly apparent that there was going to be no big boom. Reb and VoDkA's plan for Ultimate Revenge had failed. Columbine High School remained standing.
In the end they took their lives in the library with the same weapons they'd used on their victims, shooting themselves just feet from where a last Molotov cocktail they lit failed to explode. There would be no justice for the families of their victims; only hospital and funeral bills to pay, coupled with hundreds of unanswered questions.
Dylan and Eric wanted badly to be remembered by the world. They wanted to broadcast a message that no one could ignore. More, they wanted to "kickstart a revolution" -- to inspire others who felt just like they did to stage their own revolt against what the gunmen perceived as a terribly unfair status quo.
They didn't blow up their school but they did bring to stark light a problem that's plagued schools across the world for generations: School is often an violently unhappy place for many students, regardless of what sort of background they come from. Social manipulation and peer abuse - violent and non-violent - continues, but after the shootings at Columbine High School things have changed and continue to change. It's just a shame so many bad things had to happen at once in order for the world to recognize the time had come for those changes to be made.