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Juvenile Violence Report

  Shooters' Parents Mourn Amid Questions

Dylan Klebold, AFP
Dylan Klebold (AFP)
By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 25, 1999; Page A8

LITTLETON, Colo., April 24 The parents of Dylan Klebold, one of the teenage shooters in the Columbine High School massacre, said goodbye to their dead son today at a private memorial service, joined by 11 other mourners and a minister who later described the Klebold family as being "in terrible shape."

"He was their son but they don't know the kid who did this," the Rev. Don Marxhausen said of the parents, Thomas and Susan Klebold. After meeting several times with the couple since Tuesday's shooting-and-bombing rampage at the school, Marxhausen tonight described the Klebolds as being at a loss to explain what drove their son, 17, and his friend Eric Harris, 18, to carry out the attack. The two, both Columbine seniors, killed a dozen students and a teacher before taking their own lives.

"These parents have been tearing their insides out, trying to understand what the heck happened," said Marxhausen, who has been the family's pastor at St. Philip Lutheran Church here since last summer. "They keep asking themselves, 'What happened? What happened? Where did we miss the sign?' . . . It's going to take some very good shrinks to work this out for them."

While hundreds of mourners crowded today's televised funeral for 17-year-old Rachel Scott, a victim of the attack, Klebold's low-key service at a mortuary 20 miles northeast of Littleton was attended by his parents, his older brother and 10 others, Marxhausen said. He said Klebold's remains are to be cremated and that funeral arrangements for Harris are still being worked out.

With the disclosure by police today that one of the teenagers kept a year-long diary containing elaborate plans for the attack, attention focused anew on the parents of Klebold and Harris. "The parents should have been aware of it," Jefferson County Sheriff John P. Stone declared at a news briefing. Police said the parents of both teenagers "are being interviewed" in detail by investigators.

In the days since the attack, police, parents, students and others here and across the country have wondered what motivated the pair, what toxic mix of influences and experiences left them so enraged and hopeless. But the public's only glimpse into their psyches has been through the blurry lens of their schoolmates whose perceptions of the two varied widely.

Klebold and Harris were social outcasts in the halls of Columbine, but so are a lot of students in a lot of schools. They favored dark clothing, as did others in their loose and relatively tiny clique, the so-called Trenchcoat Mafia. They were fascinated by violent computer games, by bombs and guns, death and gore, and by the lurid imagery of Nazi Germany. Yet it is not hard to find students here who thought of them as harmless, or even liked them, who saw their sensitivity and potential.

There were students who feared them, who despised them, who snickered at them, who taunted them. But if there is a student who truly understood them, he or she has yet to emerge.

Which leaves the Klebold and Harris parents: What insights might they have to offer this traumatized community? What did they know about their sons? And why didn't they know more?

Harris's father, Wayne, 50, is a retired Air Force pilot who works in aviation safety as a civilian, and his mother, Kathy, 49, runs a catering business.

Marxhausen said Thomas Klebold, 52, a geophysicist who also runs a small mortgage company, and his wife, Susan, 50, who works with disabled college students, have told him that their dead son's bizarre interests were a secret to them. Marxhausen described them as "very good people, fine people" who have been shocked by the disclosures.

At today's memorial service, he said, "I listened for 45 minutes to people talk about Dylan, and I listened to [the parents'] own self-evaluation of how they thought they were raising him. And darn if I heard anything that made me think, 'Ah! There's where you screwed up!' Nothing about this kid sticks out like the easy cases, where there's abuse or neglect or spoiling."

The two couples, declining to speak publicly, have issued statements expressing sorrow for the school attack and asking to be left alone by reporters. A Klebold attorney issued a statement after today's service for Dylan, "who we loved as much as we knew how to love a child."

"Our sadness and grief over his death and this tragedy are indescribable," the statement said, and the Klebolds again apologized "to all those who have also suffered a loss of their loved one, and we continue to pray for the recovery of those who were injured."

Marxhausen said the Klebolds have remained in seclusion because they fear "all the anger and scapegoating and blame-pointing."

At the memorial service, Marxhausen said, he told the Old Testament story of Absalom, the rebel son of King David, who takes part in a rebellion against his father and is killed. Despite his son's murderous behavior and treachery, David mourns his death. Similarly, Marxhausen said, the Klebolds are right to grieve their son's death, despite the momentous tragedy he helped cause.

"Then the king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept," as the Bible tells it. "And as he wept, he said thus: 'O my son Absalom my son, my son Absalom if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!"

"Instead of 'Absalom,'" Marxhausen said, "I substituted 'Dylan.'"

Staff writer Michael A. Fletcher contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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