Keeping Kids Safe

Inside the minds of school shooters, with general insight into adolescent mental health.

Sex, Love, and School Shooters: Eric Harris

Was Eric Harris a virgin? Does it matter?

School shooters typically experience extreme frustration and/or anguish in their pursuit of intimacy, whether their primary focus is on finding love or simply having sex. Sometimes this appears to be a significant factor in their attacks, as in the case of Luke Woodham. Luke's first victim in his attack was his former girlfriend, and the attack occurred on the one-year anniversary of their break-up. This is not to suggest that the break-up caused the attack--the situation was more complex than that--but the break-up loomed large in Luke's mind. In other cases, disappointment with girls is part of the picture, but is not as prominent.

What about Columbine? Though Eric Harris's attack was influenced by multiple factors, did the issues of love or sex play a role in the dynamics that culminated in murder?

Eric pursued girls throughout high school. He experienced some success, going on dates with a number of girls. He experienced a great deal of disappointment, however. He doesn't seem to have ever had a steady girlfriend, and girls typically didn't date him for long. Eric did not handle rejection well, and sometimes became threatening in response to refusals to go out with him. He once made a list of students from the class of 1998 who "should have died," and this list included girls who had refused to go out with him. Here he connected rejection with homicidal thoughts.

Interestingly, despite his pursuit of girls, his journal says nothing about ever being in love or wanting to find love. In contrast, Dylan Klebold's journal is full of passages about his pursuit of love and his love for certain girls. Eric's journal suggests he was interested in sex, not love. Eric wrote about his fantasies of tricking girls he knew into his room and raping them.

Did Eric ever experience a sexual relationship? Though others have said "yes," I am not convinced. The only person I am aware of who claimed to have been intimate with Eric was a 23-year-old woman named Brenda. Her reporting, however, is highly problematic. She first came forward with her claim nearly three months after the attack at Columbine. She was interviewed by reporters and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI). There are several discrepancies between these interviews. In addition, she gave the CBI a photograph she claimed was of Eric, but which the CBI concluded was not Eric. She also gave them a voicemail recording she said was from Eric. The CBI stated that this did not sound like any other recording of Eric. Later, Brenda told someone online that she knew about the Columbine attack and was supposed to have been part of it. When the CBI heard about this they again interviewed her. After hemming and hawing Brenda eventually admitted that she had made the story up. Also, Brenda claimed that she was introduced to Eric by a mutual friend; this person, however, has told me that this is not true--that he never knew Brenda. I have not been able to find any reference to Brenda by Eric or any of his friends. Thus, there is apparently no confirmation that she ever knew Eric. Given all these facts, her claim to have had a sexual relationship with Eric is highly dubious.

Eric's documents also seem to suggest that he had never had sex. The attack occurred on April 20, 1999. A month before this, on March 22, Eric made a list of things to do before the attack. Along with specific preparations for the rampage, he included the item: "get laid." On April 3, in his last journal entry, he lamented his inability to have sex, noting that maybe he was trying too hard, but that with the date of the attack closing in, he had to try hard. Though not conclusive proof, these documents suggest that Eric had not succeeded in his quest for sexual experience.

If this is true, does it have any connection to the attack? Besides Eric's list of girls who deserved to die because they rejected him, his journal suggests that his sexual frustration did play a part in his motivation. Eric wrote about his self-hatred and lack of confidence with girls and wrote, "If people would give me more compliments all of this [the attack] might still be avoidable.... You know what, maybe I just need to get laid. Maybe that'll just change some s--- around." As I noted in my book (Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters), Eric was desperate for status, desperate to feel like a man. He was so desperate that he thought the attack might be avoidable if he could just "get laid." This would have changed his sense of himself, allowing him to feel more like a man.

Eric Harris had a complex personality with narcissistic features combined with self-denigration, an antisocial rejection of morality and values, and a powerful streak of sadism. There were multiple factors in his desire to kill people on a massive scale. One of these factors, however, seems to have been his sense of failure in the realm of manliness and sex.

(For a comprehensive collection of documents relating to Harris, Klebold, and the attack at Columbine, plesae visit this page of my website.)

Dr. Peter Langman is the author of Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters and trains professionals in law enforcement, education, and mental health on preventing school shootings. more...

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