New York, NY (WPIX) — It was on April 20, 1999, when 18-year-old Eric Harris and 17-year-old Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. and opened fire on fellow students and teachers.
A total of 13 were killed and more than 20 were injured before the teens turned the guns on themselves.
Fifteen years after the shocking tragedy, a play written from the perspective of the two teen killers is set to make its Off-Broadway debut.
The Erlkings – written by playwright Nathaniel Sam Shapiro – uses Harris and Klebold’s own words from personal journals and homework assignments to tell a story about the troubled pair leading up to the shooting.
“I was struck by how the mass concept of them is largely inaccurate,” Shapiro told PIX11 News, explaining what he learned studying the teens’ writings. “When you read their own writings, you realize they were more than the people that they were that day. They were human beings who were complex and had certain desires and motives.”
According to Shapiro, the story he tells on the stage is less about what Harris and Klebold did and more about why they did it. The production zeroes in on mental health, a topic that rarely gets the spotlight.
“This play does not make them into heroes in any sense of the word,” Shapiro said. “It does not glorify them or reenact anything that they did but this is something too important to ignore and we need to discuss it.”
Since the Columbine shooting, there have been more than 30 school shootings involving gunmen with the intent of committing mass murder.
A recent report links 17 attacks directly linked to Columbine where copycat shooters credited Harris and Klebold for inspiring them.
While they say they’re fully aware that the topic is controversial, Shaprio and the play’s producer Rashad Chambers, say the goal of their production is to start a much-needed conversation.
“I hope people [are] to see this piece and look at our sons, our brothers, our sisters, our cousins and really be able to look at people who are being forgotten about and neglected.”
“[We hope it] starts a conversation about depression, about people who are suffering in silence, and being able to explore and see these signs and prevent something like this from happening ever again.”
PIX11 reached out to the family of Rachel Scott – the first Columbine High School student shot and killed in the massacre to get their thoughts on the controversial play.
The victim’s father Darrel Scott told PIX11 News in a statement, that while he agrees with the playwright that the teen killers were misunderstood and should not be viewed as monsters. he maintains, that “there is no rational ‘reason’ for taking the lives of those 13 innocent people.”
“I have not seen the play, nor the script that Nathaniel is producing, so I cannot endorse nor condemn it. I will, however, express my hope that Eric and Dylan are not set up as characters to be admired or emulated.
Audiences can judge for themselves when “The Erlkings” hits the stage Nov. 9 at Theater Row’s Beckett Theater.