8 August 2018
Harris and Klebold’s Disciples
What do Alvaro Castillo, Seung-Hui Cho, have in common? Other than committing or attempting to commit horrible atrocities not much connect the three. They did not know each other. Their motives for committing their crimes vary as do their mental states. But what they do have in common is that all three to some degree have been inspired by the Columbine High School massacre from 1999 and its two perpetrators Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. In fact, many other mass murderers and attempting mass murderers have looked to past tragedies including the shooting at Columbine for inspiration and ideas to create their own crimes. Out of everything that has transpired by Columbine’s legacy the creation of copycat mass murderers has become one of the most serious outcomes.
What made people obsessive over two monsters and what makes them monsters? This can be answered with Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s Monster Culture (Seven Theses). According to Cohen there are seven theses that are traits that are associated with a monster but in the case of Harris and Klebold two of the theses connect to the creation of copycat shooters. The most influential is thesis six: “Fear of the monster is really a kind of desire” and is strengthen by thesis two: “the monster always escapes”. According to Cohen, “The same creatures who terrify and interdict can evoke potent escapist fantasies; the linking of the monstrosity with the forbidden makes the monster all the more appealing as a temporary egress from constraint.” (Cohen 16). Which means that a monster is desirable because it is allowed to commit acts that are considered taboo by society, when all of society is refrained from crossing that line into the taboo. The taboo that the Columbine shooters acted on was murder and that was accomplished with a school shooting that killed twelve students, a teacher, and wounding twenty-one others. The attack at the school was intended to be even worse than what transpired. According to an article by Slate Magazine, writer Dave Cullen stated, “Harris and Klebold planned for a year…The school served as means to a grander end, to terrorize the entire nation by attacking a symbol of American life… They bragged about dwarfing the carnage of the Oklahoma City bombing and originally scheduled their bloody performance for its anniversary. Klebold boasted on video about inflicting ‘the most deaths in U.S. history.’ Columbine was intended not primarily as a shooting at all, but as a bombing on a massive scale.” (Cullen, Slate) Society has taught us, “thou shall not kill” and even for those that are not religious, laws prevent people from crossing a line that should not be crossed. Harris and Klebold crossed that line and became monsters themselves. Despite the warnings there exist people that that have a desire the harm people, and they come to admire people like Harris and Klebold, they are viewed as symbols of freedom and power which encourages them to do the same. This also lead to thesis two. As Cohen explains, “We see the damage the monster wreaks, the material remains…but the monster itself turns immaterial and vanishes, to reappear someplace else.” (Cohen 4). In this case the Columbine shooters left a path of destruction, but rather than turn themselves in to the authorities, they “escaped” justice by committing suicide, and they “reemerged” as copycat shooters. The following are just some the examples Harris and Klebold influence reached, these are their disciples.
On August 30, 2006 Alvaro Castillo of Hillsborough, North Carolina killed his father, and ensued to Orange High School where he attempted a murder spree of the students but was stopped before he could do any more damage and only injured two students. Upon further investigation it was discovered that the man had a bizarre obsession with the Columbine shooting and its two perpetrators Harris and Klebold. The day of the Alvaro’s shooting attempt he was, “dressed in a Colorado T-shirt, a black trench coat… cargo pants, military-style boots and ammunition belts…He armed himself with a sawed-off shotgun he named Arlene, the same name Columbine shooter Eric Harris gave his gun” (Karas). This demonstrates to what extent this individual went in order to emulate the Columbine shooters to the point he dressed and acquired the same weaponry as his idols. But it does not stop there, There was also a narrated video, “that Castillo shot in Littleton after convincing his mother to take him there to see Columbine High School and the homes of shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold” (Karas). It is also important to point out that Castillo suffered from mental and suicidal issues an well as family problems. There were eight hours of video recordings of Castillo, “ranting, yelling, whispering, singing and beating himself; journal entries detailing an obsession with a classmate he compared to the obsession would-be presidential assassin John Hinckley had with Jodie Foster; and a notebook he called ‘Mass Murders and School Shootings of the 20th and 21st Centuries.’ In the notebook, he listed himself at the end of a gallery of school shooters” (Karas). On April 20, 2006 prior to the shootings, Castillo attempted to commit suicide, “dressed in his military uniform and was close to shooting himself with a shotgun, according to…Rafael Castillo [the father] wrestled the gun away and called the police on his son, who was committed to a psychiatric facility.” (Karas) There are also claims that, “Rafael Castillo tormented the family. He was described as a controlling husband and father with unconventional beliefs” (Karas). All these problems culminated into creating an unstable person in Castillo, and probably related and found solace in the Harris and Klebold enough to grow an obsession and his mental stability amplified this.
Castillo is not the only one that seem to have been influenced by Columbine. Seung-Hui Cho, the perpetrator behind the Virginia Tech shooting where he, “slaughtered 32 students…claiming to have been inspired by the two teenagers who carried out the Columbine shootings, calling them “martyrs” in delusional diatribe he videotaped for the world” (James). Cho was also reported to have mental problems as mentioned in an article by writer Dave Cullen for Newsweek stating, “Cho was widely diagnosed as psychotic-the clinical term for a broad spectrum of deep mental illnesses including schizophrenia and paranoia. Psychotic killers are, most commonly, suffering from schizophrenia, a disease marked by delusions, hallucinations, and loss of emotion, speech, or motivation” (Cullen Newsweek). The article further explained Cho’s thought process and motives, ”
“‘Do you know what it feels to be spit on your face and to have trash shoved down your throat?” Cho railed in his manifesto before killing at Virginia Tech. “You have vandalized my heart, raped my soul, and torched my conscience. You thought it was one pathetic boy’s life you were extinguishing. Thanks to you, I die like Jesus Christ, to inspire generations of the weak and defenseless people.’ Cho found a way to help everyone. He would be the hero of this tragedy. “There was pleasure in planning such a grand demonstration of ‘justice,'” wrote Roger Depue, former chief of the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit, in the official report of the Virginia Tech Review Panel. ‘His thought processes were so distorted that he began arguing to himself that his evil plan was actually doing good.'” (Cullen Newsweek)
These are just two examples of people that influenced by Columbine and the list continues including people like Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza who possessed “hundreds of documents, images, videos pertaining to the Columbine H.S. massacre including what appears to be a complete copy of the investigation” (Pearce). The amount of copycat shooters attempting to emulate what Harris and Klebold accomplished seem to increase as time progresses, some have been able to successfully surpass the body count of Columbine. If the the monsters’ goal was to to create a legacy of infamy and notoriety they certainly accomplished it.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. Monster Culture (Seven Theses).
Text distributed by Professor Ramos outlining what defines a monster. This text will be incorporated into the essay by tying the theses to the monster and the causes or effects created the actions of the monster.
“Columbine’s Chilling Legacy.” ABC News. 5 October 2014. https://youtu.be/C0ybj7TAxhc.
A video by ABC News regarding Columbine copycats or people influenced by the events and perpetrators of the Columbine shooting enough to replicate the events. These are young men that demonstrate deep devotion and idolization to the events and is probably the most significant outcome from the incident. People having a desire for the monster. There are a good number of people featured in this video that I want to research.
Karas, Beth. “Man obsessed with Columbine convicted of murder.” CNN. 21 August 2009. http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/08/21/north.carolina.castillo.trial/index.html
2009 trial conviction of Alvaro Castillo. Includes information of what he did, life background, and his obsession with Columbine shooters. Article is from CNN.
Cullen, Dave. “The Depressive and the Psychopath” Slate Magazine. 20 April 2004. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/assessment/2004/04/the_depressive_and_the_psychopath.html
James, Susan Donaldson. “Psychology of Virginia Tech, Columbine Killers Still Baffles Experts.” ABC News. 16 April 2009. https://abcnews.go.com/Health/MindMoodNews/story?id=7345607&page=1
Cullen, Dave. “What a Killer Thinks.” Newsweek, vol. 160, no. 6, 06 Aug. 2012, pp. 30-34. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspxdirect=true&db=a9h&AN=78216273&site=ehost-live.
An article by Newsweek publication that explores the mentality of shooters and what causes them to commit violent crimes. The article explores the psychology of mass murderers in America following the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado. Topics include the difference between psychopathic, delusional, and suicidally depressed individuals, questions regarding the mental health of alleged movie theater shooter James Holmes, and profiles of other famous serial killers, including Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho and most importantly Columbine shooters Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. Article can be used to make ties with why copycats identify and sympathize with the Columbine shooters.
Pearce, Matt. “Adam Lanza’s files show him as another shooter caught up in Columbine.” The Los Angeles Times. 27 November 2013. http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-lanza-columbine-20131127-story.html
Image is of Alvaro Castillo admiring his gun he named “Arelene”.