Lorraine Adams and Dale Russakoff Washington
Post Staff Writers Saturday,
June 12, 1999; Page A1
LITTLETON, Colo. The state wrestling champ
was regularly permitted to park his $100,000
Hummer all day in a 15-minute space. A
football player was allowed to tease a girl
about her breasts in class without fear of
retribution by his teacher, also the boy's
coach. The sports trophies were showcased in
the front hall -- the artwork, down a back
corridor. 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
Columbine may be no different from
thousands of high schools in glorifying
athletes. But in the weeks since one of the
worst school shootings in history, every
aspect of what had seemed "normal"
is now being reexamined. Increasingly, as
parents and students replay images of life at
Columbine, they are freeze-framing on
injustices suffered at the hands of athletes,
wondering aloud why almost no one -- not
teachers, not administrators, not coaches, not
most students, not parents -- took the problem
seriously. No one thinks the high tolerance
for athletic mischief explains away or excuses
the two boys' horrific actions. But some
parents and students believe a schoolwide
indulgence of certain jocks -- their criminal
convictions, physical abuse, sexual and racial
bullying -- intensified the killers' feelings
of powerlessness and galvanized their
fantasies of revenge.
It was clear in the first hours after the
shootings that vengeance against athletes was
a preoccupation of the two killers. Harris and
Klebold began firing with the words "All
the jocks stand up." They barked that
"anybody with a white hat or a shirt with
a sports emblem on it is dead. "But in
the two months since that day, as pundits and
politicians searched for an explanation of
why, the national conversation moved away from
those words, and even outside the walls of the
school completely. It turned to the boys'
families, where no clues have surfaced, to the
mental illness of Harris -- he was on
antidepressants -- to video games, to violent
movies, to guns, which currently preoccupy
While the rest of the country looks
elsewhere for explanations, the community here
has resisted easy answers. Through their
mourning and anguish, many parents and
students have made a more difficult turn
inward, to the culture of Columbine and the
aspects of it that may have provoked two angry
boys to such aggression. In the past two
weeks, a task force has been formed to examine
that atmosphere, and several of its members
say that discipline, harassment and special
treatment for athletes must be dissected
"I don't think any one thing drove
them to this," said member Joyce Hooker,
a parent of two Columbine students. "But
I think we need to say, 'Whoa. Why did they
focus on athletes?' "
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
"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."
To some athletes and parents, this is
guilt-induced revisionism. They point out that
athletes moved in and out of a variety of
cliques. Some were scholars, the majority
well-behaved. These parents and students
experienced a Columbine where camaraderie was
strong, discipline evenhanded and harassment
minimal. To say otherwise, they say, is to
validate the mind-set of murdering madmen.
"They had no school spirit and they
wanted to be different," Randy Thurmon,
parent of a wrestler and football player, said
of the killers. "Anyone who shows any
kind of school spirit, any pride in the
school, they're accepted." The new
introspection also has been resisted by
Columbine school officials, who ignored the
task force's invitation to their first
meeting, members said. Coaches, teachers and
principal Frank DeAngelis denied requests for
interviews, according to Jefferson County
schools spokesman Rick Kaufman.
Kaufman said he would answer written
questions, but then did not. He broke an
appointment for a scheduled interview
Thursday. Messages left for coaches, teachers
and administrators at home went unanswered.
But one school official who serves on the
board overseeing all Jefferson County schools
believes that these issues cannot be dismissed
so quickly. "I do believe that in all of
our schools athletes can appear to have a
different status. I think it's okay if kids
are working hard and they're good role
models," said Jefferson County School
Board member David DiGiacomo. "But to
give them special privileges, I think we have
to be careful."
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
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
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
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
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.
Views of the Greene and Harwick stories
differ. Football player Christopher Meier, who
was a sophomore at the time, said, "I'm
not defending him" but that
administrators treated Hoffschneider fairly.
Friends of Harris and Klebold noticed
something else. "He always got things
that we never could get," said Tad Boles
In Harris and Klebold's junior year, an
unlikely challenge arose to the jocks'
unchecked power -- from Columbine's social
underclass. "All of us outcasts got
jealous," recalled junior Pauline Colby.
Just as jocks wore an unofficial uniform to
school -- white baseball caps -- the outcasts
donned black, most noticeably trench coats.
When jocks branded them "the Trenchcoat
Mafia," they embraced the name.
In line at registration for new classes
that year, football players pushed a 4-foot-9
freshman and called her dirty because she
dressed like a hippie. On another occasion a
boy called "Little Joey Stair," one
of the wraithlike Trenchcoaters who was
friends with Harris and Klebold, looked up in
a hallway to see three football players
shoving him into a locker, saying,
"Fag, what are you looking at?"
remembered classmate Mikala Scrodin.
"Last year there was a group of seniors
who picked on everyone, not just the lowest
people. Pretty much everyone was scared to
take them on; if anyone said anything, they'd
come after you, too. I don't think teachers
realized it was serious, they just saw it as
kids joking around," said Kevin Hofstra,
a Yale-bound soccer team captain.
Hoffschneider's circle -- known as
"the steroid poster boys" -- had
their cafeteria table. On the other side of
the room, shy skinny boys -- among them Harris
and Klebold -- claimed a table, too. The
athletes threw Skittles candy at them, said
senior John Savage. Once, athletes threw a
bagel close to the table, and the cafeteria
emptied for fear of a fight. In the boys'
bathrooms, a graffiti war broke out --
"Jocks rule!" Came the rejoinder:
In the halls, body slams were common.
Trenchcoat students got pushed more than most.
"A football player reached out and
stepped on the cord of one of these girls'
Walkmen and it ripped out and fell and
broke," remembered Melissa Snow, who
graduated in 1998. "She just didn't say
anything. For those kinds of kids it's really
hard to stand up to a bunch of football
players, who are all standing around thinking
it's really funny what this guy did to
Harris and Klebold absorbed it all. As the
year went by, they drifted closer to the
Trenchcoaters, but unlike most students, they
seemed to take the taunting to heart.
"They just let the jocks get to
them," Colby said. "I think they
were taunted to their limits."
That January, during one of their nocturnal
pranks, Harris and Klebold were arrested on
juvenile charges of felony burglary for
stealing from a van. They got the lightest
sentence available: a diversion program, with
the charges expunged after 10 months of
counseling and community service. In fact,
their own light sentence has provoked
questions among some parents that school
officials were lax not only toward athletes,
but toward all sorts of student misbehavior.
Days later, on April 6, Hoffschneider and
four other star athletes were arrested for
ransacking the Denver apartment of a
22-year-old man, according to court records.
The arrests made the papers. Within days, the
athletes were back at school. Nine months
later they pleaded guilty and got probation.
Something had changed by Harris and
Klebold's senior year. What began as rage --
held inside -- turned into a vicious plan of
revenge. But if it started with athletes, as
it evolved, it morphed into a plot to destroy
the entire school.
On April 20, some of the jocks who had
tormented Klebold and Harris had already
graduated. Hoffschneider had, though his
brother was in the cafeteria that day. Among
those who died, six were athletes, but none of
them was considered among Klebold's or
Harris's chief taunters, or among
Hoffschneider's crowd. Whether the killers
even recognized them as athletes is difficult
Researcher Alice Crites contributed to this
to Pandora's Box