Looking into the minds of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold

Unlike Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, or James Holmes at a movie theater in Colorado, or Jared Loughner outside an Arizona shopping center, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold did not have discernable psychiatric diagnoses

As the 15-year anniversary of the Columbine High School tragedy approaches — along with the passing of the one-year anniversary of Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy several months ago — many people are left pondering, “How could something like that happen?”

Unlike Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, or James Holmes at a movie theater in Colorado, or Jared Loughner outside an Arizona shopping center, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold did not have discernable psychiatric diagnoses. 

They weren’t suffering from Bipolar Disorder or Schizophrenia, which are often accompanied by both delusions and hallucinations of unthinkable violence. Harris and Klebold were never subjected to hearing voices, nor did they demonstrate behaviors leading people to believe they would be capable of such horrific carnage. 

In the vernacular of clinicians — such as psychologists, psychiatrists, and others — Harris and Klebold weren’t hearing “nommand hallucinations” telling them to go out and murder based on something (God, Satan, or Martians) telling them to do. 

All the hate, loathing, and cruelty were internally generated from them both to settle some kind of “horrific score” with those that chided, laughed at, and rejected them, both real and imagined. 

Most clinicians now agree that Eric Harris was a ruthless, cold blooded, psychopath (considered to be a personality disorder according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, DSM-V). Like so many others afflicted with psychopathy, he felt a complete air of superiority and entitlement over everyone. 

On the outside, people would agree he was witty, charming, and extremely intelligent. Internally, he was compelled to devise a plan that was originally intended to kill several hundred people at the high school were it not for his lack of funds and inability to successfully develop the kind of explosives that could carry out such devastation.

His accomplice — Dylan Klebold — was what you might consider the antithesis of Harris. He was prone to depressive moods, and paranoid to the point that in one of his writings he wrote: “I have always been hated, by everyone and everything…” 

To summarize it is readily apparent that both Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold felt a tremendous amount of rejection for real or imagined reasons. Their shared hatred of teachers, students, and administrators enabled them to develop one of the most sinister plans to destroy lives this country has ever known.

Unlike those people afflicted with severe mental illness — such as Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder — where families, friends, and classmates look for help upon observing behaviors considered “not normal” — both Harris and Klebold led lives of quiet desperation (fueled by one another’s hatred).

Personality disorders can — and do — affect many people. It would appear that Harris and Klebold came from “good homes” with “loving families” but ultimately, the rejection they believed they suffered led them to want to “get even” and destroy as many lives as possible. Tragically, their legacies will be that of complete and utter devastation for those people who were directly affected.

About the author

Dr. Sancier began his law enforcement career at the Atherton (Calif.) Police Department as a Reserve in 1978 and then became a regular in 1980.  While working at APD Greg worked patrol and also worked in a collateral assignment as a Hostage Negotiator. While working full time as a police officer Greg applied and was accepted into the Master’s Degree program in Clinical Psychology at SJSU.  He worked at APD until 1985 when he went to the San Jose Police Department. While at SJPD Greg became a Hostage Negotiator as a collateral assignment as he worked in patrol, the training unit, and then in the Crisis Management Unit (CMU) where he worked the last 7 years of his career.  Upon joining the SJPD Greg earned his Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology in 1989. During his tenure of nearly five years in the  training unit at SJPD Greg taught in service police officer’s classes such as Psychology of Survival, Officer Safety / Survival, High Risk Car stops, Defensive driving tactics, Fitness and Nutrition, Defensive Tactics, to name a few.  Greg applied and was accepted to the Ph.D. program at the Western Graduate School of Psychology in Palo Alto in 1992 while he worked full-time in the training unit at the police department.

Contact Greg Sancier


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