Eric Harris, a senior boy, is desperate for a date to prom. Though dates are not usually difficult for him to secure, he has come up empty this weekend. He is “a brain,” but a “cool” brain. He attends parties, “gets chicks,” smokes, drinks, listens to hard-core German rock music, and refers to himself—a seasoned rule-breaker—as “Reb,” short for Rebel. Cullen says that “Eric outscored much of the football team” when it comes to charm and coolness. He works at a local pizza chain, Blackjack, with his friend Dylan. He is “striking,” with an “all-American” look and a “flirtatious” smile.
Eric Harris was not the outcast that the media later came to depict him as. He had a thriving social life and a charming exterior, and was successful in school to boot. He did “measure up” against the jocks he would later be accused of hating and fearing.
Eric is, at the moment, jealous of his close friend, Dylan Klebold, who has a date for prom despite being “meek, self-conscious, and shy.” Cullen notes that Dylan “emulate[s]” Eric—Dylan is deeply insecure and is only able to ever see “the worst version of himself.” Dylan, unlike the clean-cut Eric, has the appearance of a rebel—he is tall, with long curly hair.
Dylan stands in stark contrast to Eric’s “all-American” looks and sunny disposition. Note that even just days before the attack, there was suspicion and resentment between the two killers, despite the ways in which they were bound to one another.
Dylan’s prom date is “a sweet, brainy Christian girl” who has “helped to acquire three of the four guns” the boys have between the two of them. Her name is Robyn Anderson, and she “adore[s]” Dylan.
The love-struck Robyn is a cog in the boys’ machine, and cannot see yet the role she will play in what is about to happen.
Eric and Dylan are active members of their school community. They attend spirit events, school plays, and football games. Both are into sports, and Dylan is especially obsessed with baseball.
Once again, Cullen illustrates how Dylan and Eric were, contrary to popular opinion, committed and welcome members of the Columbine community.
Eric “fancie[s] himself a nonconformist,” but “crave[s]” approval and fume[s] over the slightest disrespect.” Dylan’s nickname is VoDKa—he is a heavy drinker. “To adult eyes,” Cullen says, Eric is the more responsible and obedient boy—however, the reality is that Eric carefully manipulates others to see how much he can get away with, and “suck[s] up like crazy” to get out of trouble anytime he’s caught.
Though the boys are not quite what the media will say they are, neither are they quite what they appear to their friends and families. Both boys are putting up facades in order to placate the adults in their lives, and have a totally separate existence when it comes to their friendship.
One adult who is “acquainted with Eric’s wild side” is Robert Kirgis, the owner of the Blackjack Pizza franchise where Eric and Dylan work. The three of them sometimes used to go up to the roof after closing time to drink and fire off bottle rockets. Kirgis thinks that both boys are “bright young kids,” and observes that Eric is “like a robot under pressure” while Dylan is “unreliable.”
Eric’s personality tilts toward the “robotic” while Dylan’s is more scattered and unpredictable. Robert Kirgis was an adult who was aware of the boys’ fascination with fireworks and explosives.
Cullen writes that “nothing separated the boys’ personalities like a run-in with authority,” noting that Eric was “unflappable” and “calmly calculating,” and often kept both himself and Dylan from getting in too much trouble—on the occasions that they were caught, Dylan, caught up in “pure emotions,” often “erupted.”
The differences between the boys hold even under extreme pressure—Eric keeps up his calm front, but Dylan is unable to disguise his pain and anger when it comes to failure, exposure, or humiliation.
Eric and Dylan are “technology hounds,” and have an active life on the internet—they create websites, direct short videos of themselves, and play online games. They look, from the outside, like “normal young boys, a little full of themselves” but not “unusual for high school” kids.
The boys’ fascination with catching themselves on camera will later become a crucial aspect of the attack. The boys were skilled in espousing normalcy when they needed to in order to deceive those around them.
Cullen describes the geography around Columbine, which sits at the base of a mesa called Rebel Hill. The Rockies dominate the landscape, and the range just over Columbine “is taller than the highest peaks in all of Appalachia.” Columbine itself is a massive, 250,000 square-foot building—practical and spare, “like the people of Jefferson County,” which is known locally as Jeffco. Denver is just ten miles to the northeast, but the rural sits in close proximity to the urban.
Columbine looms over Jeffco, a large, stark, and imposing structure rising out of the similarly stark landscape of the Rocky Mountain foothills.
Dylan and Eric’s friends have noticed that the two of them are cutting class and falling down on their schoolwork—Dylan keeps falling asleep in class, too. At lunch one day, one of Eric’s friends takes a video of their group. In the video, someone the boys don’t like walks into the cafeteria, and one of Eric’s “buddies” remarks that he “hates” the random guy. Eric replies that he “hate[s] almost everyone,” but especially wants to “rip [that guy’s] head off and eat it.” None of his friends find his violent language, or flat affect while delivering it, unusual. When a “busty” girl walks by, Eric waves her over to their table, and the boys flirt with her.
The boys’ lives as the date of the attack approaches are both different and similar to what they have been—the boys are failing to participate in school, but continue to put up a playful front for their friends. Even violent language and the expression of murderous desire doesn’t rattle the boys’ school friends, illustrating that this kind of language is “normal” for Eric despite his “all-American” vibe. Life before the attacks is banal, but tinged with a fiery hatred just under the surface.