Trench Coat Mafia
April 20, 1999, eyewitnesses to the shooting at Columbine High School
tentatively identified Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold as two of the gunmen. There
were also unconfirmed reports of a third, and possibly more, shooters involved.
The identities of Harris and Klebold were later confirmed after their
bodies were found in the Columbine High School library.
Both died of apparent self-inflicted gunshot wounds.
Early intelligence information gathered at the crime scene from witnesses referred to Harris and Klebold’s involvement, or membership, in a group at Columbine High School commonly known as the Trench Coat Mafia (TCM). A number of Columbine students and faculty were interviewed as the events at the school unfolded on April 20 and many claimed to be familiar with the TCM and its members.
The Associates Team, led by Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Don Estep and FBI Special Agent Mark Holstlaw, had the responsibility of identifying all associates of Harris and Klebold. Included in the identification were any members, past or present, of the TCM.
Once identified, all members and associates were to
be interviewed and investigated by the associates team.
The goal was to determine if any other person may have participated or
conspired with Harris and Klebold in the preparation or carrying out of the
events of April 20 or any related crime. The team was also assigned to identify
anyone who had any prior knowledge that Harris and Klebold were planning the
Twenty-one individuals were initially identified as
TCM members. These initial 21 provided pertinent information regarding the
origin and membership of the Trench Coat Mafia and their associates. Some of
these individuals also provided specific information about Harris and Klebold
and how they related to the other members in their social circle.
From these interviews, 20 additional individuals were
identified as associates of Harris and Klebold, and several others were
identified as acquaintances. In addition, the associates team identified any
friends or co-workers of Harris and Klebold in order to obtain background
information on the activities of the two.
After conducting numerous interviews, the associates team determined each identified person’s relationship to Harris and/or Klebold.
Some appeared to have had only a peripheral or minimal relationship with
the shooters. Close associates of
Harris and Klebold and the Trench Coat Mafia primarily consisted of friends
within Columbine High School. Others
were initially associated with the group only because they were friends of an
alleged TCM member. Several
individuals were identified as associates because they worked at Blackjack Pizza
with Harris and Klebold or socialized with them outside of Columbine High
Although the investigation identified Harris and Klebold as being “members” of the TCM, it appears that the Trench Coat Mafia was a loose, social affiliation of former and current Columbine High School students with no formal organizational structure, leadership or purpose such as that typically found in traditional juvenile street gangs. Contrary to reports following the Columbine shootings, there is no evidence of affiliated Trench Coat Mafia groups nationwide.
The origination of the title “Trench Coat Mafia”
is not clear. It appears that some
of the early group members had begun wearing black trench coats or dusters to
school. A common characteristic used by Columbine students to initially identify
TCM members was the black trench coats. That type of dress, combined with
members being viewed within the school population as “outcasts,” led to the
creation of the name, either by the members themselves or by someone outside the
Many of the TCM members also participated in playing
video games, such as Doom, and producing videos together for school projects.
A number of those interviewed related that members of
the TCM (individually and as a group) were often harassed by student athletes
The TCM appears to have had cliques or small
subgroups, not much different than most other social groups in a high school
setting. Harris and Klebold had a
few close associates in the TCM, but overall were not described as having any
particular influence or leadership roles within the Trench Coat Mafia. Their
friends and associates described them as often wearing the same black dusters
which they wore during the shootings on April 20.
Photographs appearing in the high school’s 1998 yearbook were obtained, identifying those in a group photo as TCM members. Additionally, the 1999 senior class photo (taken in March 1999) reflected several of the same members posing as if they were pointing weapons at the camera. Neither Klebold or Harris appear in the ’98 TCM photograph, but they are a part of the senior class photo in which they are pretending to be firing weapons.
of Klebold and Harris
Close to 100 individuals had some connection to
Harris or Klebold and were included in the investigation. A few had only a
passing acquaintance with Harris or Klebold or simply had a mutual friend but
did not associate with Harris or Klebold personally.
The associate team ultimately identified 22 of these
individuals as those most familiar with Harris and Klebold, their background and
Those determined to be close associates of Klebold or
Harris were asked to give background information on the TCM and the two gunmen.
Where appropriate, the individual may have had property searched, either because
of a court-ordered search warrant or a consensual search.
Thirteen computers belonging to these associates were
searched and evaluated for evidence of prior knowledge; however, no such
evidence was found. Only two of the
13 searches required warrants; the remaining searches were done by the consent
and cooperation of the individual.
Of the associates requested to submit to polygraph
examinations regarding prior knowledge or assistance in the actual crime, only
three refused. Two of those refused
on the advice of their attorneys. Although three of the main associates retained
attorneys, all three continued to cooperate with investigators.
In fact, most of the 22 individuals identified by the associate team were
cooperative and agreed to additional interviews to clarify inconsistencies in
their previous statements. These 22
were interviewed a total of 71 times.
Some individuals knew of Klebolds' and Harris’
interest in building pipe bombs and had actually seen a few pipe bombs or CO2
cartridge devices they made. However,
all denied recognizing any indications from either Klebold or Harris that they
were planning the Columbine murders. Nor
were comments indicative of Klebold’s and Harris’ intentions reported.
The investigation revealed that a friend, Robyn
Anderson, accompanied Harris and Klebold to a gun show in late 1998 since she
was of legal age to buy a firearm. At
the gun show, 18-year-old Anderson purchased two shotguns and one rifle for the
two killers. Those same guns were
later used in the Columbine killings.
Anderson denies any prior knowledge of their plans.
No law, state or federal, prohibits the purchase of a long gun (rifle)
from a private individual (non-licensed dealer). Because of this, Anderson could
not be charged with any crime. If
Anderson had purchased the guns from a federally licensed dealer, it would have
been considered a “straw purchase” and considered illegal under federal law
to make the purchase for Harris and Klebold.
The State of Colorado has a specific statute
prohibiting anyone from providing or permitting a juvenile (under 18) to possess
a handgun. Mark Manes sold his Intratec, model TEC-9, 9mm pistol to Klebold for
$500. He also purchased two boxes
(100 rounds) of 9mm ammunition for Eric Harris the night of April 19.
Manes was charged with one count of unlawfully providing or permitting a
juvenile to possess a handgun. Manes was also charged with one count of
possession of a dangerous or illegal weapon because he had gone shooting with
Klebold and Harris in March 1999 and had shot one of their sawed off shotguns.
Manes entered a plea of guilty to the charges and, on
Nov. 12, 1999, was sent to the Colorado Department of Corrections for six years
on the first charge and three years on the second charge, to be served
Phillip Duran, who worked with Harris and Klebold at a local Pizza
establishment, allegedly introduced them to Manes and allegedly was involved
in the brokering of the TEC-9 for Harris and Klebold. He was charged with unlawfully providing or permitting a
juvenile to possess a handgun as well as a charge of possession of a dangerous
or illegal weapon. He was also
charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Duran’s trial is scheduled for June of 2000.
If Duran is convicted of all three counts, he could be sentenced up to 12
years to the Colorado Department of Corrections.
Both Manes and Duran deny any knowledge of Harris and
On the afternoon of April 20, three male subjects were contacted by Jefferson County Sheriff's deputies near the school in Clement Park and detained for questioning. The three were dressed in black clothing, which matched the known description of the shooters, and were spotted in an unsecured area close to the crime scene. These individuals, who were not Columbine students, identified themselves as the “Splatter Punks,” and said that they had shown up at Columbine High School mainly out of curiosity.
The images of the three being contacted and detained by law enforcement authorities were aired live on local television stations and raised numerous questions from the community about their involvement in the crime. After initial questioning, the three young men were released the same afternoon and re-interviewed at length on April 24. It was determined that they had no known affiliation with the TCM and, shortly thereafter, were cleared of any involvement.
A third shooter?
Despite the supporting evidence, both from ballistics
and eyewitness accounts, that only two people, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold,
were the gunmen on April 20, 1999, seven eyewitnesses remain firm in their
account of another person with a gun that day.
Numerous witnesses reported the gunmen were wearing
black trench coats when they were seen outside the school.
Some described them as having huge belts on their waists.
One witness said both coats were somewhat closed and it looked like they
were hiding something underneath because they looked very bulky.
The taller one, many claimed, was wearing a black baseball cap backwards
with a “B” emblem on it.
After the initial shots were fired, Harris took off
his trench coat, revealing a white T-shirt underneath.
This act of discarding his coat caused some confusion and speculation
about the number of gunmen involved. Many
witnesses initially believed that a third gunmen existed because they saw a
person in a white T-shirt either holding or shooting a gun.
One student witness described seeing two males, wearing trench coats, shooting guns. The witness ran away from the gunmen across the parking lot. When he turned around to look back, he saw a gunman with a white T-shirt throwing a bomb and assumed a third person was involved in the activity. During the initial investigation, Harris’ discarded trench coat was found lying in the dirt at the top of the hill.
The cafeteria videotape, that first recorded Harris
in the cafeteria at 11:44 a.m., showed him in a white T-shirt and black cargo pants.
Klebold took his trench coat off in the school library.
He wore a black T-shirt underneath.
Both gunmen also wore utility belts and harnesses
with straps that went over the shoulders like suspenders.
The harnesses were equipped with ammunition pouches that allowed each
gunman to carry extra shotgun shells, C02 cartridge devices, matches,
and other supplies. Some witnesses
described their attire as bulletproof vests or suspenders.
Initially, many witnesses identified a previous student of Columbine High School as being the taller of the two shooters. This individual is similar in appearance and dresses in the same style clothing as Klebold. He was an acquaintance of Harris and Klebold and had been a member of the Trench Coat Mafia during the 1998 school year. He dropped out of school in January 1999 and was working full time in April 1999.
This individual was interviewed extensively as was his family and neighbor who provided an alibi for him. He gave consent to search his home and his computers. A timeline was compiled showing this individual’s whereabouts between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. on April 20, 1999.
The actions described by these witnesses and attributed to this individual have been shown, through other witnesses as well as ballistic evidence, to be the actions of Dylan Klebold. Those witnesses who identified this individual as a shooter have been re-interviewed and, when appropriate, shown the timeline as well as still photographs from the cafeteria videotape showing the shooters. In most cases, the witnesses recognized Klebold as the person they saw on April 20. However, three witnesses continue to believe that the former student was the shooter they saw.
to the events of April 20 identified another past student of Columbine High
School as being seen at the school that day and assumed that he was involved.
This individual was also a previous member of the TCM and was acquainted
with Harris and Klebold.
Investigators learned that this individual was at home with his family when the media announced the initial reports of the shootings. He then went to the Columbine Public Library with his mother to pick up his sister who had been inside the school library when the shootings began.
This individual consented to a search of his home and allowed investigators to take his computer for analysis. He also successfully passed a polygraph. After re-interviewing those who had identified this individual, all determined that they had mistakenly identified him as being at the school.
witnesses identified one of the shooters as a student who was a TCM member and
close friend of Harris and Klebold. He
had attended morning classes at Columbine High School on April 20 but left the
school after his third class at 10:20 a.m.
He went to a grocery store and then to a friend’s house to play video
When the student learned from newscasts that Harris and Klebold were being named as the gunmen at Columbine High School, he contacted the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office to provide background information on them.
Because this individual was quickly identified as a close associate of the shooters, patrol deputies immediately picked him up and took him to the incident command post at Columbine High School. Arrangements were made to have the student transported to the Sheriff’s Office so an in-depth interview could be conducted.
The image of this student being led to a patrol car in handcuffs caused many to assume his involvement and guilt. The student was interviewed several times to clear up inconsistencies and answer additional questions. A detailed timeline was compiled providing his whereabouts on April 20 and he successfully passed a polygraph. His computer was also searched and no evidence implicating him of having knowledge or participation in the shootings was found. One witness continues to assert that this student was involved.
witnesses identified one other Columbine High School student and TCM member as a
shooter. Although this student was
at the school earlier in the day, he left prior to the shootings to have lunch
with several friends who provided an alibi for him. One witness continues to believe this student was involved.
associate of Klebold and Harris had personal contact with Harris moments before
the gunmen killed 12 of their classmates and one teacher.
This person was the only student the killers allowed to leave the school
prior to the murders.
The Columbine Task Force investigation concluded that evidence indicates that no one, other than Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, participated in the shootings at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. Additionally, there is no known evidence that anyone, other than Harris and Klebold, assisted in the planning or had any prior knowledge of that plan.