Tuesday, April 20, 1999 was supposed to be just another day at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Graduation was just 17 days away, and students were excited about the summer holidays. But April 20, 1999 was anything but ordinary for the Columbine students. That day, seniors Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, stormed the school, killing 12 classmates, one teacher, and wounding 23 others before turning the guns on themselves. At the time, it was the most lethal school shooting in U.S. history.
Below are nine facts about that horrendous day; a day that changed America forever, but maybe not enough.
1. Harris and Klebold Planned a Bombing, Not Just a Shooting
On April 19, 1999, there was a failed bombing. Harris and Klebold planned their attack on Columbine High School for an entire year and dreamed of detonating a bomb that would rival the April 16, 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. As Klebold boasted, they wanted to inflict “the most deaths in U.S. history.”
How were they going to do that?
The killers were going to plant two propane bombs in the cafeteria, set to go off at 11:17 a.m. That would be the start of lunch, when the most students would be in the cafeteria. So they were looking for a high body count.
After the anticipated bomb explosion, the two planned to shoot and kill any fleeing survivors.
A third act was to follow. The two packed their cars with even more bombs, which were set to go off at a later time, presumably when survivors, rescue workers, reporters, and crowds were gathered around. It would, they hoped, all be caught live on TV.
Harris and Klebold were not just looking for fame; they were looking to make history.
And even though it didn’t all go as planned, the two teens still made the history books with their horrifying deeds that day.
2. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold Started Shooting at 11:20 a.m.
Harris and Klebold arrived at Columbine in separate cars at around 11:10 a.m. The two then walked into the school cafeteria where they placed down two duffel bags; each one contained a 20-pound propane bomb set to detonate at 11:17 a.m.
The two teens waited outside in their cars for the bombs to go off.
But they actually had no idea how to wire the timers, so the explosives didn’t go off. Had they detonated, it is estimated that as many as 600 people would have been killed.
When the bomb failed to go off, around 11:20 a.m., Klebold and Harris, dressed in trench coats and wrap-around glasses, began shooting fellow classmates outside Columbine High School.
The two made their way to the west entrance of the school, where they killed Rachel Scott and injured Richard Castaldo, who were eating their lunch outside.
From there, they shot Danny Rohrbough just outside the school entrance and headed toward the cafeteria, where they threw pipe bombs and fired at fleeing students.
The duo then turned their attention to the school library.
Police arrived at the school within five minutes of the first shots being fired. But instead of going in and engaging the two shooters, they took positions around the school.
For almost 20 minutes, Harris and Klebold walked the hallways and classrooms firing.
By the time the two committed suicide at 12:08 p.m., 12 classmates and one teacher had been killed. They had also wounded 23 others; six had brain or spinal injuries and several others nearly bled to death.
While Harris and Klebold lay dead in the library, and students were left bleeding, at least 75 police officers surrounded Columbine.
The first SWAT team was only in the school for two minutes. It took nearly three hours before they figured out that Klebold and Harris were dead.
3. Teacher Dave Sanders Bled to Death Waiting for Help
As Harris and Klebold were entering the school, Dave Sanders, a business teacher and coach, rushed through the cafeteria telling students to stay down. He, along with two of the school’s janitors, helped get more than 100 students out of danger.
Sanders then headed upstairs to help others. When he turned a corner at 11:26 a.m., he was shot in the torso, head, and neck. He managed to get himself into a science lab on the second floor.
When student Evan Todd ran out of the school, he saw at least 20 police officers surrounding the building. He told police that Sanders had been shot and there were other wounded students in the school. He even told them how to get in and provide help.
But no police officer went in.
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s command post knew Sanders had been shot and where he was. A teacher, who was with Sanders, had been on the phone with operators at the sheriffs’ headquarters since 11:42 a.m.
Just before noon, Mike Rotole, 16, a sophomore, put a sign in the window: “One bleeding to death.”
At this point, officers started to send in radio calls urging the command post to rescue the victim.
By the time the first SWAT team had arrived and geared up to enter Columbine High School, it was 12:06 p.m. The shooting had begun 47 minutes earlier and Sanders had lain bleeding profusely on the ground for 40 minutes.
The SWAT team entered Columbine on the side of the building farthest away from Sanders and the library, where some survivors were hiding among the dead.
At 1:10 p.m., nearly two hours after Klebold and Harris fired the first rounds, a SWAT team finally entered the west side of the building, where victims were waiting for help.
According to once SWAT team member, their jobs were made more difficult because the command post had never told them there were injured victims in the library or science rooms.
Meanwhile, police dispatch was telling teachers and students who were with Sanders that help would soon be there.
“They’d say, ‘Oh we’ll be here in like 20 minutes,’” said Rotole. “So we’d, you know, get ready and lay there. And then no one would come.”
This went on for three hours. Sanders was conscious for most of that time.
As Sanders lay bleeding to death, SWAT officers were evacuating classrooms on the first floor. SWAT protocol dictated that officers needed to clear each room before moving onto the next.
For the next two-and-a-half hours, the SWAT team cleared classrooms furthest away from where most of the shooting had taken place. When it was finally time to look for Sanders, the command post didn’t know where to go.
SWAT officers finally found their way to Sanders in Science Room 3 at 2:42 p.m.; more than three eye-watering hours after he had been gunned down. Students were evacuated immediately, but Sanders was made to wait for a paramedic.
That paramedic didn’t arrive for another excruciating 42 minutes.
Rotole told SWAT members they could carry Sanders out. “And they said ‘No, we need to get you out