Analysis: Eric Harris In The Commons
Today’s topic comes with three tedious disclaimers. First of all, most of what I’m going to say is speculation. Secondly, I am in no way suggesting that you adopt or subscribe to any of my theories or points of view, I’m just sharing them. And lastly, it’s not possible to know with certainty the answers to every single question left unanswered by the Columbine tragedy. Anyone who tells you that all of the major questions can be answered, or that their ideas have originated in the mind of greatness, they deserve your wary incredulity. Okay with all of this having been said, let’s see if I can clarify some of my thoughts and feelings about the footage of Eric Harris in the commons.
The footage of Eric with his friends was shot relatively late in the game. As you watch this, I feel it’s important to remember how far along Eric and Dylan’s plans and preparations for the attack already were. Eric was balancing all of that against keeping his grades up and working part time at Blackjack pizza, he needed the money. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were ferocious super predators, deceptive, meticulous and drunk on anger and alienation. It is not bestowing any kind of praise whatsoever to refer to them as such, it is the simple, stark truth of the matter. And Eric was not in a good mood that morning. Yes, he could be groggy and cranky just like the rest of us, but I suspect that the people he was with that morning may not have realized the precariousness of their situation.
The above image features eight numbered screenshots from the video clip which illustrate what I consider to be key observations that can be made about Eric’s state of mind that morning. So, by the numbers;
1. “Whee!” “Lemme see that little munchkin of a phone there.”
Technology, computers and the rapidly advancing cellular phone, all of these were of interest to Eric. Doubtless, he simply wanted to have a look at the phone. Notice though that he starts twirling it around, using it as a fidget. When I think of Eric Harris, generally speaking ADD / ADHD are not two acronyms which come to mind. But this morning, Eric seems somewhat distracted and more than a little bit bored.
2. “I hate most people. Ah yes, I want to rip his head off and eat it.”
This ranks as one of the more bone chilling Eric Harris moments which have been preserved on film. If this statement doesn’t freak you out, there’s something wrong with you. Eric wasn’t joking. He did not entirely lack in a sense of humor, but he seldom employed it and this was not one such instance. Eric was quickly realizing that all the effort he had put into learning how to tell people exactly what they wanted to hear had also yielded him an additional perk. It seemed that he could come right out and say almost exactly what he intended to do. And no matter how many times he made it obvious for us, nobody was putting two and two together.
3. “Thank you, I do too.”
Eric’s friend perhaps partially shared the sentiment, but that was kinda awkward, so let’s move on now. Look at the expression on Eric’s face, it hadn’t been a joke and I don’t think Eric was happy about it being dismissed as such. Oh you think I’m joking huh? By this point everyone would probably have reassured us, that’s just Eric. History has proven that they could neither see who the person right in front of them really was, nor did they have any idea what he was actually talking about.
4. Eric tries to seem interested in the conversation.
I see this as a somewhat sluggish attempt on Eric’s part to seem like he’s even half way interested in the present topic. He can barely muster the energy. He looks tired. He’d probably much prefer to crash out, or to be working on something else.
5. Eric picking at his fingers.
I’ve read a fair bit about the picking. The experts like to talk about this. They make reference to anxiety, to boredom, as well as mild frustration and annoyance. Eric didn’t want to be there that morning. He didn’t want to be exposed, on display. Eric didn’t like people, he didn’t like our company anymore. This is palpably on display in his senior year photos. By that point, he wasn’t even willing to pretend anymore. Eric was not smiling in those photos, that was a disdainful scowl. That same lack of ease is also made manifest in this picking behavior.
6. “I don’t know about that, dude.”
I wonder if, looking back, this exchange has ever given Eric’s buddy any pause. It should serve as a sobering moment to remember. This is not a the kind of reaction you want to be getting from Eric. Why? See below.
7. Eric REALLY didn’t like that comment.
The comment had been “Eric just got jacked, up the ass!” and his friend had said it in jest. Here we see Eric wrestling with himself, trying to decide whether or not he’s going to further humiliate himself by allowing that humiliating comment go unpunished, at least for now. Had Eric been armed at that moment, I don’t know if their having been buddies would have been enough to save the other kid’s life. Perhaps Eric would still have held off, for the sake of seeing his plans through to fruition. I personally see this as a very close call, as one of those what-if moments. Eric did not like that comment.
8. Begrudgingly, Eric decides to eat it, for now.
But he’s not happy about it. Soon. Just a little bit longer and all these accounts will be settled, with interest.
What is the takeaway from all of this? We live in a culture which has taught us to bait and provoke subtle cues like these until we get some kind of a reaction, which is really stupid, there’s no other word for it. Or if not that, then we are advised to ignore cues like these completely, which is even more stupid. Yes, this video footage can yield some insights into Eric Harris’ state of mind during the lead up to Columbine. But it can also tell us equally as much about ourselves. About how we often ignore signs of trouble rather than pro-actively engage with them, even if the well being of someone we care about may be under threat.
We cannot say that there were no warning signs that trouble was brewing at Columbine high school. If we missed those warning signs, we have to forgive ourselves, but we must also try to learn from past mistakes and be more effectively vigilant next time. Studying footage, like the kind we have from Columbine,is one part of that learning process.
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