On this day in 1999, two teenage gunmen kill 13 people in a shooting spree at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, south of Denver. At approximately 11:19 a.m., Dylan Klebold, 18, and Eric Harris, 17, dressed in trench coats, began shooting students outside the school before moving inside to continue their rampage. By 11:35 a.m., Klebold and Harris had killed 12 fellow students and a teacher and wounded another 23 people. Shortly after noon, the two teens turned their guns on themselves and committed suicide.

The crime prompted a national debate on gun control and school safety, as well as a major investigation to determine what motivated the teen gunmen. In the days immediately following the shootings, it was speculated that Klebold and Harris purposely chose jocks, minorities and Christians as their victims. 

It was initially reported that one student, Cassie Bernall, was allegedly asked by one of the gunmen if she believed in God. When Bernall said, “Yes,” she was shot to death. Her parents later wrote a book titled She Said Yes, honoring their martyred daughter. Apparently, however, the question was not actually posed to Bernall but to another student who had already been wounded by a gunshot. When that victim replied, “Yes,” the shooter walked away. 

Subsequent investigations also determined that Harris and Klebold chose their victims randomly. Their original plan was for two propane bombs to explode in the school’s cafeteria, potentially killing hundreds of people and forcing the survivors outside and into the gunmen’s line of fire. When the bombs didn’t work, Harris and Klebold went into the school to carry out their murderous rampage.

There was speculation that Harris and Klebold committed the killings because they were members of a group of social outcasts called the “Trenchcoat Mafia” that was fascinated by Goth culture. Violent video games and music were also blamed for influencing the killers. However, none of these theories was ever proven. 

Columbine High School reopened in the fall of 1999, but the massacre left a scar on the Littleton community. Mark Manes, the young man who sold a gun to Harris and bought him 100 rounds of ammunition the day before the murders, was sentenced to six years in prison. Carla Hochhalter, the mother of a student who was paralyzed in the attack, killed herself at a gun shop. Several other parents filed suit against the school and the police. Even Dylan Klebold’s parents filed notice of their intent to sue, claiming that police should have stopped Harris earlier. And when a carpenter from Chicago erected 15 crosses in a local park on behalf of everyone who died on April 20, parents of the victims tore down the two in memory of Klebold and Harris.

The shootings at Columbine were among the worst school shootings in U.S. history until April 16, 2007, when 32 people were shot and many others wounded by a student gunman on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia. Subsequent school shootings, including in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012 and in Parkland, Florida in February 2018, continued to pain the nation. A March 2018 analysis by the Washington Post found that since the Columbine shootings in 1999, there have been 10 school shootings each year on average in the United States.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Massive oil spill begins in Gulf of Mexico

On this day in 2010, an explosion and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, kills 11 people and triggers the largest offshore oil spill in American history. The rig had been in the final phases of ...read more

Siege of Londonderry begins

James II, the former British king, begins a siege of Londonderry, a Protestant stronghold in Northern Ireland. In 1688, James II, a Catholic, was deposed by his Protestant daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange, in a bloodless coup known as the Glorious Revolution. ...read more

Ku Klux Act passed by Congress

With passage of the Third Force Act, popularly known as the Ku Klux Act, Congress authorizes President Ulysses S. Grant to declare martial law, impose heavy penalties against terrorist organizations, and use military force to suppress the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Founded in 1865 by a ...read more

Marie and Pierre Curie isolate radium

On April 20, 1902, Marie and Pierre Curie successfully isolate radioactive radium salts from the mineral pitchblende in their laboratory in Paris. In 1898, the Curies discovered the existence of the elements radium and polonium in their research of pitchblende. One year after ...read more

Castro announces Mariel Boatlift

On April 20, 1980, the Castro regime announces that all Cubans wishing to emigrate to the U.S. are free to board boats at the port of Mariel west of Havana, launching the Mariel Boatlift. The first of 125,000 Cuban refugees from Mariel reached Florida the next day. The boatlift ...read more

Allied Nivelle Offensive ends in failure

On this day in 1917, an ambitious Allied offensive against German troops near the Aisne River in central France, spearheaded by the French commander in chief, Robert Nivelle, ends in dismal failure. Nivelle, who had replaced Joseph Joffre in December 1915 as head of all French ...read more

Michael Jordan scores 63 points in playoff game

On April 20, 1986, the Chicago Bulls’ Michael Jordan scores 63 points in an NBA playoff game against the Boston Celtics, setting a post-season scoring record. Despite Jordan’s achievement, the Bulls lost to the Celtics in double overtime, 135-131. Boston swept the three-game ...read more

A massacre at Columbine High School

Two teenage gunmen kill 13 people in a shooting spree at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. At about11:20 a.m., Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, dressed in long trench coats, began shooting students outside the school before moving inside to continue their rampage. By ...read more