From One Mom to Another
The attack on Columbine High School by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold claimed countless victims. 13 people were murdered, 23 injured, and hundreds traumatized by what they witnessed that day. When we speak of those that were most severely affected, our thoughts naturally drift towards the young lives that were lost and the families forced to go on without their loved ones. Each and every one of those individuals deserves every bit of empathy and support they have received to be able to move forward from this unthinkable tragedy. But there is one person who isn’t spoken of much, one person from whom we’ve never heard. One person who, despite the circumstances, is also deserving of compassion and solicitude- Kathy Harris.
I think often of Eric’s mother and what it must be like to have lived through the hell she has experienced since the morning of April 20, 1999. Only she and Sue Klebold know this particular kind of despair. Sue continues to work through her grief and confusion by acknowledging what has happened, trying to figure out the causes, and sharing her journey with others. For almost 20 years, Kathy Harris has been silent. Some may interpret her silence as guilt or shame or even as a means of trying to avoid litigation. I once read an opinion piece which surmised that the Harris’ refusal to speak about Eric or the attack meant they were cold or indifferent and that if it was a reflection of their parenting style it was no surprise that Eric ended up as he did.
The only glimpse we have into the manner in which the Harris’ have dealt with this ordeal is through a meeting they held with the parents of one of Eric’s victims. Daniel Mauser, a bright Columbine sophomore, was callously murdered by Eric Harris as he hid beneath a table in the school’s library. Roughly 10 years after Daniel’s death, his parents arranged a sit-down with the Harris’ to try to make some sense of what had happened. According to Daniel’s mother, Wayne Harris reported that they accepted the portrayal of Eric as psychopath and revealed that they’d had no inkling of his disorder. During the meeting, Kathy Harris relayed stories of Eric’s childhood, described the ways in which she had been involved in his life; she wept, and she repeatedly apologized for her son’s actions.
Through extensive research into the murders at Columbine I do not subscribe to the now tacitly accepted designation of Eric Harris as a psychopath. The term itself is controversial and classification of an individual as a psychopath is determined in large part by use of a checklist system revised by criminal psychologist, Robert Hare. To be considered a psychopath a person must score a minimum of 25 (30 or higher is standard) on this personality assessment which includes 20 criteria such as emotional shallowness, callous lack of empathy, impulsivity, irresponsibility, glibness/ superficial charm, and pathological lying. There is ample evidence from Eric Harris’ life to show that he while he may have possessed some psychopathic or similarly veined Antisocial Personality Disorder tendencies, he does not come close to meeting the requirements of such a diagnosis.
For this reason, I, as a mother, have to wonder what Kathy Harris truly believes about her son. As mothers we are deeply connected to the hearts of our children and all but the most naïve of us know, and can admit at least to ourselves, their strengths and weaknesses. Does Kathy Harris truly embrace the current dogma of Eric as a ruthless, emotionless monster or does she hold within herself a faith that while his actions were monstrous, as a whole person Eric was not? Does she see herself as having been manipulated and uncared for by her own son, or does she accept that the experiences and love she shared with him were genuine, even while struggling to reconcile his final actions with the boy she knew? While I know that Kathy Harris will never truly find peace in her lifetime, it is my fervent hope that her heart holds tender memories of her child and a knowledge that she meant as much to Eric as he did to her.