Dressed in black, fans of Hitler

Students were aloof, gave Nazi salutes, glorified death

Colorado School Shooting

April 22, 1999|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

LITTLETON, Colo. -- The students blamed for killing more than a dozen people in Tuesday's school shooting in suburban Denver belonged to a group of teen-agers described as aloof with a preference for dressing in black, praising Adolf Hitler and glorifying death.

"I taught a social studies class recently and was talking about World War II. All these kids wanted to talk about was Hitler," said Monty Kozlowitz, a 27-year-old who works as a substitute teacher but does not recall meeting either of the suspects. "You couldn't get them to shut up about Hitler and Germany."

Hitler's birthday was Tuesday.

Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, were members of the clique, known as the "Trenchcoat Mafia."

"They were not really a big gang, but just a group of kids that called themselves a gang," said Josh Casey, 15, a freshman. "There are a lot of cliques in this school."

Jefferson County Sheriff John Stone said he had never heard of the Trenchcoat Mafia, which he assumed was limited to Columbine High -- a school not considered at great risk for gang violence. But, he said, "I have a real concern with people whose heroes in life are people like Adolf Hitler."

Members of the Trenchcoat Mafia, like members of most cliques, ate together and socialized among themselves. Several, though not Harris or Klebold, appeared in last year's Columbine High yearbook, mostly dressed in black and smiling, arm-in-arm.

Students said Klebold, who drove a black BMW, spent a lot of time with Harris. They were in bowling class together, celebrating strikes with a Nazi salute.

Investigators seized computers from the homes of Harris and Klebold. Harris reportedly maintained web pages full of hateful rhetoric, including one that says, "I kill who I don't like, I waste what I don't want, I destroy what I hate."

Jefferson County District Attorney Dave Thomas said, "Both of these individuals were known to the juvenile criminal justice system."

The two were convicted last year for first-degree criminal trespass after they broke into a car. They completed a county program for troublemakers in February.

They came from solid, middle-class backgrounds.

Ray Rauh, the parent of a student who survived the attack, was surprised to see the expensive home one of the boys lived in when it was shown on TV.

"Who would have thought that a kid who lived in a home like that and had that kind of opportunity could do something like this?" Rauh said.

Other Columbine students said that members of the Mafia did not mix with others. "They were basically by themselves. They didn't talk to anybody and nobody talked to them," said Tara Zobjick, 16, a sophomore at Columbine who shared a gym class with Klebold.

Kozlowitz, the substitute teacher, said that for the most part, the kids were bright. He said that during computer exercises in class he would have to occasionally shoo one away from satanic Web pages.

"I've been confronted by a number of them and have had to get them out of my classroom," he said.

Kozlowitz said the "Gothic" fashion has been around for a couple of years but has surged in popularity in the past year. It is followed mainly by white students in suburban school districts, he said.

Some of its adherents merely wear dark clothing; others go farther, wearing swastikas and expressing admiration for Hitler or an interest in the occult.

Some students, whose parents do not approve of the look, arrive at school dressed in mainstream clothes but then change into the darker garb. Boys paint their fingernails black, the girls will wear dark mascara, and all will wear sunglasses, Kozlowitz said. Sometimes they don T-shirts depicting scenes of violence.

Ben Martin, a Littleton resident and youth pastor for the Colorado Community Church in Englewood, said most teen-age fashion is a harmless attempt to create a sense of community.

"Kids run in clusters. They run with kids who have the same tastes or who listen to the same music," he said.

Jefferson County school system spokeswoman Marilyn Saltzman said the system had not viewed the fashion as a threat and was not aware of anyone referring to themselves as the Trenchcoat Mafia.

"As far as we know, this came out of the blue," she said.

Thomas, the district attorney, cautioned against reading too much into the unusual clothing preferred by students and said the real culprit was violence.

"A lot of kids wear dark clothes and Doc Martens [shoes], so I don't want to make too much out of that. We need to learn as much as we can about signs of violence and what are the danger signs," he said.

Wire services contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 4/22/99

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