April 20, 1999

    On a sunny spring day in April 1999, a suburban high school in Jefferson County, Colorado, found itself under attack by two of its own.  In less than fifteen minutes of the first-lunch period on that Tuesday, two student gunmen killed 13 and wounded 21 before they turned the guns on themselves – the most devastating school shooting in U.S. history.
    Columbine High School is one of three in the unincorporated southeast portion of Jefferson County.  The county itself lies on the west side of the Denver metropolitan area and is the most populated county in the state.  The large unincorporated region along the county’s southern plains and foothills has a population of nearly 100,000 residents - 1,945 of who attended Columbine High School.
    The two student gunmen were Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.  Their plans for attacking the school, recovered by investigators after the tragedy had taken place, evolved over one year’s time.  In those plans, Klebold and Harris outlined a mission to kill as many students and faculty as possible.  They would set off destructive bombs inside the school and then shoot any survivors trying to run out.  Bombs inside their cars would explode later, killing law enforcement, fire or medical personnel responding to the scene. 
    There are indications that their initial plan was for the Columbine High School attack to occur on Monday, April 19.  While there was no specific reference made in their writings to this date being an important anniversary, it must be noted that April 19, 1999 was the fourth anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and the sixth anniversary of the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas. 
    However, the Columbine tragedy occurred on April 20, perhaps due to unfinished preparations on the part of the killers.  Or perhaps there is a connection with the history of this date.  To begin with, 4/20 carries the same numerals as 420, the California criminal code for possession of marijuana.  Due to the significance of these numbers in popular drug culture, some students were absent from school that day in recognition of what they termed “national marijuana day.”  April 20, 1999, also marked the 110th anniversary of Adolph Hitler’s birth.
    It is also critical to note that when many of the Columbine students heard what sounded like pop guns coming from outside the cafeteria during the first lunch period, they thought that senior prank day had come.  School-wide pranks initiated by graduating seniors are a tradition throughout the United States, and up to that point Columbine’s seniors, ready to graduate in just four weeks, had not participated in any such activity.  It seemed right to students who heard the first few shots that, as it was toward the end of the school year, prank day was finally upon them.
    But it wasn’t a prank.  Not when two hate-filled students, heavily armed with firearms and bombs, chose April 20, 1999, as the day to attack and kill students and faculty at their school.