Columbine High School student Caleb Newberry knew Eric Harris hated athletes. He just didn't know how much. Caleb, a 16-year-old sophomore who survived last week's massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., had a gym class with Harris last semester. During a brief confrontation between the boys, Eric told Caleb: "Someday, all you jocks are gonna die."
On Tuesday, April 20, Eric Harris evidently tried to make good on his word. Armed with shotguns and at least one pistol, he and fellow Columbine junior Dylan Klebold entered the school parking lot about 11:30 a.m. and opened fire. The boys, members of a dark clique called the Trenchcoat Mafia, were acknowledged social outcasts. Witnesses say the boys in their black trenchcoats moved methodically through the cafeteria and up to the library, laughing as they randomly murdered terrified students and teachers along the way.
The massacre at Columbine was the eighth school shooting in the United States in a horrific chain that began in 1997. It was by far the deadliest. Before they were finished, the boys had killed 13 people and wounded 16 others. Then they shot themselves. One girl was treated for nine shrapnel wounds, apparently from one of two grenade-like devices detonated during the rampage. In all, police found more than 30 explosive devices on the school grounds, in cars parked outside, at the homes of the killers, and on the killers' dead bodies.
Caleb Newberry was sitting in math class when the killing began, his mother Paulette told WORLD. Since last week was Senior Prank Week, "when someone came to the classroom door and told the teacher to get everyone out, they first thought it was a joke," she said. But a clanging fire alarm convinced Caleb's teacher that something was seriously wrong. Then, as Caleb's entire math class fled down a hallway, their bid for escape turned desperate. Explosions rang out and a girl running next to Caleb crumpled to the floor, wounded in the leg by shrapnel. Caleb stopped to help her, but his teacher urged Caleb to keep running, then dragged the girl to safety himself. Everyone in Caleb's math class reached safety outside the school.
But his friend Isaiah Shoels did not make it. When Caleb arrived home, he learned from TV news coverage that Isaiah had been among the first slain. "He broke down right there," said Mrs. Newberry. "He said he felt like he should have gone back in and tried to save his friends. I told him there was nothing he could have done to fight against guns and bombs."
Indeed, for kids in the path of such firepower, fighting wasn't an option. Instead, they hid-and prayed. In ones, twos, and larger groups, terrified students barricaded themselves in offices, huddled under desks, even curled up inside overhead air ducts.
"I saw them shoot a girl because she was praying to God," 15-year-old Evan Todd told the Denver Post.
Byron Kirkland, a 15-year-old sophomore, described another scene to the Denver Post: "There was a girl crouched beneath a desk in the library, and the guy came up and said, 'peekaboo,' and shot her in the neck. They were hooting and hollering and getting a big joy out of this."
Beth Lagerborg's 17-year-old son Andrew was among those who hid in fear from Eric and Dylan. "Andrew was in a chemistry classroom," said Mrs. Lagerborg. "The kids heard an explosion and ran to the door, but the kids at the front said, 'Oh, no, no, it's a gunman!' So they ran through an adjoining classroom and barricaded themselves in an office. They laid there on the floor for three hours, afraid even to talk."
At about 2:30 p.m., a SWAT team conducting room-to-room clearing operations found the group and led them out of the school via a route that circumvented much of the carnage. "I feel blessed that my son was spared so much," said Mrs. Lagerborg, who attends Cherry Hills Community Church.
"A lot of the other kids saw some grisly, awful things."
Like the 16-year-old son of a family that attends Bruce Porter's Littleton church. Mr. Porter, pastor of Celebration Christian Fellowship, reported comforting the boy as he sobbed out his survival story: Feigning death, he lay still on the floor in the blood of his dying friends, while the killers moved on in search of other victims. The boy, whose name was not released, eventually made it out of Columbine. His 17-year-old sister didn't.
"My heart is breaking for the mom and dad and her brother and her family," said Mr. Porter. "We sat in a staging area at Leawood Elementary School for hours awaiting word of her. None came."
Hundreds of parents waited for word of their children at Leawood; others paced the floors at a nearby public library, hoping that their kids were safe. "You're praying," said Paulette Newberry, who waited at the school with her husband for two hours before learning that Caleb was OK. "Praying with a little bit of pride and guilt-pride because you're praying that your child is safe, and guilt because you know somebody else's child isn't."
Mrs. Lagerborg waited three hours for Andrew at Leawood while her husband stood vigil at the public library. She described tearful reunions between teens and parents: One mother, listening to her teen daughter's graphic descriptions of the violence she had witnessed, screamed and held her daughter tightly. "I could just see in the mother's eyes that she knew, even if her daughter didn't, that this would be with her daughter for the rest of her life."
Mrs. Lagerborg also described the grinding tension felt by those still left waiting for news of their kids: "You're waiting and waiting, and you just want to hear: 'It's over.'"
For many students, even when it was over, it wasn't over. Mike Lawrie, youth pastor at Deer Creek Community Church, said scores of kids showed up at his church Tuesday night "just looking for a safe place to be and to pray."
Mr. Lawrie said that while none of the 18 to 20 kids from his youth group who go to school at Columbine was injured, many are emotionally scarred. "They just don't have the life experience to know how to process this at all."
Like other area churches that opened their doors for services and memorials, Deer Park held a meeting Tuesday night. Most of the hundred or so who attended were church members, but Mr. Lawrie said there were a handful of kids he didn't know. Many, he said, were "looking for God in all this. There was a lot of discussion about the uncertainty of life, and some kids came to the realization that they're really not in control."
Which is a frightening feeling for kids growing up in "Anytown, USA," as many residents describe Littleton, a town of 35,000. Mr. Lawrie called the town "a very simple and basic and productive community. I don't think these kids ever would have thought it would happen in this community."
Some residents want to communicate to those outside Littleton that Eric and Dylan do not reflect the spirit of Littleton, or of Columbine High School's 1,800 students. But maybe they reflected a coarsening youth subculture that glorifies violence and hatred (see sidebar).
"They didn't just hate athletes and black people and Hispanics," said Mrs. Newberry: "They just hated."