The Basement Tapes (partially found Columbine killers video diary; 1999)

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Eric Harris (left) and Dylan Klebold (right).

Status: Partially Found


On April 20th, 1999, two students attending Columbine High School, Eric Harris, and Dylan Klebold, went to their school and killed fourteen students (including themselves) and one teacher, and injured many others. The shooting was dubbed "the Columbine High School massacre" and the implications and impact of the event continue to be discussed after almost two decades.

In December 1999, Time Magazine reporter Tim Roche was given access to five videotapes recorded by the murderers that investigators had discovered, outlining their motives and reciting a "kill list" of sorts, amongst other things. Roche published an article for Times on the tapes on December 20 soon after viewing them, dubbing them the "Basement Tapes". Not long after the article's publication, furious family members of the deceased threatened to sue Jefferson County, considering the fact that not even they had been given access to the recordings. They came to an agreement, with Jefferson County quickly screening the tapes for them, and then putting them in a vault "indefinitely."

In 2003, a fifteen minute recording of the killers shooting at the Rampart Range was released, and in 2004, a short film the two had created for school five months prior to the massacre titled Hitmen for Hire, both of which many people suspected to have been two of the five "Basement Tapes". In 2006, Jefferson Country Sherriff Ted Mink was told by the courts that he was now allowed to release the remaining footage should he want to, but he ultimately declined to do so, fearing that some troubled youths may be inspired by the recordings. Instead, he released 949 pages of previously unreleased documents on the case, including in-depth transcripts for all of the "Basement Tapes," confirming rumors about the previously released footage. Several sources who have seen the tapes, including various family members of the deceased, claim the total run-time to have been roughly three to four hours. Since said 1999 screening with family members, the unreleased tapes have presumably never been seen by any members of the general public.[1]

However, in February 2015, word surfaced that the unreleased tapes had been approved for destruction by Sheriff Ted Mink of Jefferson County, Colorado in 2011. When an unknown party filed an open records request to view the unreleased tapes, they received a notice that the sheriff's office "no longer [had] any documents in its possession responsive to [their] request." Afterward, a spokesperson for the sheriff's office confirmed that the tapes had been destroyed and that no copies are known to exist at all, meaning that the tapes would be lost forever if true. The shooters' parents, as well as many families of the shooters' victims, all supported the suppression and destruction of all the tapes.[2]

Brief Overviews of the Unreleased Tapes

Evidence item #265 (One 8mm tape, recorded mid-March 1999)

This tape begins with footage of Harris and Klebold in Harris' house on March 15, drinking Jack Daniels, and talking about how they hope that the videos that they're making will soon be shown all over the world, once their so-called "masterpiece" had been completed, and when everyone would be looking for answers as to why they committed the massacre. They talk about how they used various people to acquire their weapons, before referring to a classmate of theirs, Brandon Larson and how "you will find his body." They then move onto discussing the weapons, before getting into their personal philosophical views, and talking about various people who they believed had done them wrong. They continue showing off their arsenal of weapons, whilst making subtle references to their planned massacre.

The camera then cuts to a shot later in the day, where the two are talking about their plan in greater detail, bragging about how many people they are going to kill. They suggest that their story should be made into a film, speculating on whether Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino would direct it.

The tape then cuts in and out once again, to the two boys on March 18 "in the middle of the night." Again, they talk about their plans to murder people, before discussing various things such as credit card fraud and tests, and inventing excuses on why they would need certain parts that they were still to purchase for their upcoming attack, in case anyone was to ask them. They ponder if the police will watch the entire footage of the tapes, then suggest that the authorities would probably slice the footage up, omitting certain parts to convey a specific image of the killers, twisting their words so to speak. Finally, they talk about how they wanted copies of their videos to be sent to four news networks before Harris briefly references his journal. The tape then ends.[3]

Evidence item #298 (Two 8mm tapes, one recorded April 11 1999, one date unknown)

The first of these two tapes is labelled "Reb's Tape" (Reb being Harris' nickname), and shows footage of the two in the front of a car, stating that "We are on our way to get the rest of our gear", before revealing the date, April 11, and claiming that "We've been planning this for over eight months". The camera then cuts out and back into the two once again driving, revealing that they had just purchased two large fuel containers, as well as three propane bottles.

The tape then stops once more, before cutting back to a closeup of Harris' face; he is now alone and begins to talk about his family, apologizing for the agony that he knew the coming events would put them through and telling them that it was not their fault. He states that there are seven and one-third days left, before listing off five names. Finally, Harris turns the camera to his previously seen journal which he now dubs the "Writings of God," flicking through the book while talking about his beliefs, before showing various "Doom drawings" that he had done near the back of the book. The tape then finishes.

The second tape simply contained small amounts of footage of Klebold, Harris and two other boys, presumably in footage recorded for a school project. As such, this tape is not considered a part of the "Basement Tapes" by many people (it has been included here for reference reasons, and due to the fact that it is counted by authorities as part of evidence item #298).[4]

Evidence item #333 (One 8mm tape, recorded late-March to April 20 1999)

This tape was found by authorities in a Sony 8mm video camera with "Columbine High School" engraved on the side (evidence item #200). The tape was labeled "Top Secret Rampart." It begins with footage of Harris and Klebold in Harris' home, with Harris filming. Weapons can be seen on the floor, such as pipe bombs (which Harris begins to describe in detail), as well as two guns (a sawn-off shotgun and a carbine) and two boxes of bullets. Shortly afterward, Klebold takes the camera and aims it at Harris, who is now holding the guns.

The camera then cuts out and back in, still showing Harris holding the guns, but in different clothing. The two converse for a while, then the tape cuts out again. When the footage cuts back in, it is of Harris alone in a moving car, with the camera mounted on the dashboard. He then begins to apologise to various friends for what he had planned to do, talks about how "It's a weird feeling knowing you're going to be dead in two and a half weeks", about whether he "should do it before or after prom", and that he would have liked to have re-visited Michigan and some "old friends." He then falls silent and begins to cry, wiping a tear from his face, before shutting the camera off.

The next cut-in shows the two men in Klebold's bedroom, fiddling around with their weapons and securing guns to their clothing (the same clothing that they would die in). Harris once again mentions Brandon Larson and talks about his head being on his knife (despite the two threats made towards Larson in the videos, he did not end up being one of their victims). They talk some more about various things before the camera once again cuts out.

The next footage seen is that of Klebold and Harris once again in Harris' home, with Harris filming Klebold. Harris tells Klebold to "say it now," prompting Klebold to begin giving a goodbye message to his friends and family. Klebold then takes the camera and films Harris, who also records a goodbye message. The final words spoken on the recording are of Harris saying "That's it. Sorry. Goodbye," before Klebold sticks his face in the camera and also says "Goodbye." The final image is a few seconds of the static camera facing a sign on the wall of Harris' bedroom (partially blocked by someone's arm in the camera's line of sight), with a haunting image of the letters "CHS", along with a bomb with a lit fuse, and the word "clue", written in bold black lettering. Authorities have determined that this last piece of footage was taken roughly 30 minutes before the attack.[5]

Gallery

The released Rampart Range video
The released student film Hitmen for Hire
A recreation of what the missing "Basement Tapes" would look like

References