IMPORTANT AND DISGUSTING, EVERYONE SHOULD READ THIS:
Columbine High School is a culture where initiation rituals meant upperclass wrestlers twisted the nipples of freshman wrestlers until they turned purple and tennis players sent hard volleys to younger teammates’ backsides. Sports pages in the yearbook were in color, a national debating team and other clubs in black and white. The homecoming king was a football player on probation for burglary.
All of it angered and oppressed Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, leading to the April day when they staged their murderous rampage here, killing 13 and wounding 21.
Their perspective is adolescent and simplistic, but dozens of interviews and a review of court records suggest that Harris’s and Klebold’s rage began with the injustices of jocks. The pair knew of instances where athletes convicted of crimes went without suspension from games or expulsion from school. They witnessed instances of athletes tormenting others while school authorities looked the other way. They believed that high-profile athletes could finagle their way out of jail.
In one episode, they saw state wrestling champion Rocky Wayne Hoffschneider shoving his girlfriend into a locker, in front of a teacher, who did nothing, according to a close friend. “We used to talk about Rocky a lot,” said the friend, who asked not to be identified. “We’d say things like ‘He should be in jail for the stuff he does.’ ” Another friend of Klebold’s, Andrew Beard, remembers distinctly Klebold’s rage at four football players’ “getting off” after destroying a man’s apartment last year.
Hoffschneider, who graduated last year and works in the Denver area at a construction company, declined to answer detailed questions. But he said in a brief interview that he never knew the killers and that any suggestion he escaped punishment for his misdeeds was erroneous.
Harris and Klebold were preoccupied with Hoffschneider, who became for many at Columbine a symbol of athletes’ runaway sovereignty. On his Web site, Harris singled out Hoffschneider in the following passage: “LIARS!!!OH GAWWWWWWD I HATE LIARS… . Why must people lie so much! Especially about stupid things! Like … . my brand new hummer just broke down on the highway when I was going 250mph.’”
Athletes’ torment of Harris and Klebold personally also was a factor. This past year, they and friend Brooks Brown were outside school when a carload of athletes, wearing their trademark white caps, threw a bottle at them, which shattered at their feet. Brown recalled Klebold saying, “Don’t worry, man, it happens all the time.”
Recalling many conversations with Harris and Klebold over the three years he knew them, Brown now feels the shooting “had to do with the injustice in our society and in the school.”
“We all hated it — hated the fact we were outcasts just simply because we weren’t in sports,” Brown said. “It’s insane when you think about it, but it’s real.”
With the first media bulletins of the shootings, Stephen Greene was on his car phone, calling a school hotline about his son’s safety. He got voice mail and screamed out a message: “I knew something like this in this school could happen.”
Greene’s sense of foreboding dates to 1996, the year Hoffschneider transferred to Columbine after being expelled from a private school for fighting. He had other blemishes on his record — a 1992 arrest for criminal mischief and a 1995 arrest relating to a “missing person.” As juvenile cases, their outcomes were sealed.
The summer before Hoffschneider entered Columbine, his girlfriend’s parents alleged in court papers that Hoffschneider’s mother and sister kicked in their door one morning. Edmund Lemieux, the girl’s father, said the Hoffschneider family “was abusive and physical towards us.”
“It was a serious situation at the school,” he said. Lemieux said he and his wife kept three of their children from attending Columbine when they learned that Hoffschneider — a 215-pound football player who would go on to become a two-time state champion in wrestling — had transferred to their children’s school. Calls to the Hoffschneider family were not returned.
Within a month of school opening in the fall of 1996, Hoffschneider and another football player were teasing Stephen Greene’s son Jonathan, who is Jewish. Their favorite gambit was singing about Hitler when he made a basket in gym class, Greene recalls. The gym teacher, Craig Place, who was also Hoffschneider’s wrestling coach, did nothing, Greene said.
“They pinned him on the ground and did ‘body twisters,’ ” Greene said. “He got bruises all over his body. Then the threats began — about setting him on fire and burning him.”
Greene went to Place, DeAngelis and his son’s guidance counselor. “They said, ‘This stuff can happen.’ They looked at me like I was a problem,” he said. Greene called the school board, which notified the police. Hoffschneider and the other athlete were charged with harassment, kicking and striking, court records show, and sentenced to probation. But Hoffschneider was allowed to continue his football and wrestling.
He also attracted a following. “He created a tough little group of guys — probably seven or eight boys that were involved in sports, mostly football, wrestling, who began to take control of the school,” said parent Cecelia Buckner. “They all wore white hats.”
One of the group was Anthony A. Pyne, a 230-pound football player with a tribal band tattoo on his left arm. (Pyne’s mother said her son would not comment, on the advice of his attorney.) After Christmas, Pyne began to tease Aundrea Harwick in English class about her breasts. Harwick went to the teacher, Tom Tonelli, who was also a Columbine football and wrestling coach. He suggested she move to a different seat.
A similar event happened at a Columbine wrestling match at Arvada High School. Pyne, “in front of everyone,” said Harwick, broadcast to all within earshot: ” ‘Her breasts are getting bigger.’ They’re laughing — the jocks were.” She told Coach Place; he told her to sit on the other side of the gym.
She then went to a woman at a concession stand, who called the Arvada police. The officer issued Pyne a ticket. Because he was a juvenile, court records are not available, but Harwick said he pleaded guilty and paid a $50 fine.
The next day at school, administrator Rich Long, trying to persuade the girl to drop the charges, told Harwick and her mother that “by her going and getting the police, she’s ruining his possibilities of playing on the football team,” Elissa Harwick recalled. Pyne played football anyway.****