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Title: Classmates Describe Shooters As Obsessed With Goth World
Source: www.sfgate.com, 04/21/99, and printed in the San Francisco Chronicle, same date.
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Classmates Describe Shooters As
Obsessed With Goth World
The schoolyard assassins in Colorado were part of a small clique of outcast youths obsessed with the Gothic world and known as the ``Trench Coat Mafia,'' according to their fellow students.
Students at Columbine High, near Denver, said the group was made up of six to 10 students who were constantly being ribbed by the school's athletes and other, more popular cliques.
``They were kind of the freaks of the school,'' Kendra Curry, a senior, told the Washington Post.
``They're basically outcasts, Gothic people,'' said Peter Maher, a junior who said he had a confrontation last July 4 with the shooting suspects and several other members of the group. ``They're into anarchy. They're white supremacists, and they're into Nostradamus stuff and Doomsday.''
Several students said the shooters were deeply into death -- talking, reading and dreaming about it.
They said the Trench Coat Mafia members wore their trench coats every day, no matter the weather, even in class.
Black trench coats are a consistent theme in the Gothic subculture that has attracted many teenagers to the poetry, music and costumes of a scene that ranges from benign
fantasy to violent reality.
Many American high schoolers have become fascinated by all things Gothic. Some simply dress and paint their fingernails black while others immerse themselves in a pseudo-medieval world of dark images.
On Web sites featuring poetry called ``The Written Work of the Trenchcoat'' and in political tracts and other elements of the conspiratorial imagination, trench coats have served as a symbol for everything from Hitler and the Nazis to mass murder to suicidal fantasies.
Yesterday was Hitler's birthday, an occasion for demonstrations, mock funerals and other macabre commemorations among both neo- Nazis and some subsets of the Gothic scene. Sheriff's spokesman Steve Davis said investigators were intrigued by the possibility that the carnage was timed ``in conjunction with'' Hitler's birthday.
Dave Williams, a police expert who has been studying the Goths for six years, told The Chronicle that by and large, they are nonviolent.
But occasionally some who claim to be Goth have harmed people, such as individual acts of violence in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. Still, until yesterday there had been nothing like mass murder in the Goth experience.
``I was always afraid something like this might happen,'' said Williams, a sergeant in the Dayton, Ohio, Police Department.
There had been signs of tension earlier between the Goth group and fellow students at the Colorado high school.
``The athletes and stuff are really popular,'' one student said. ``They make fun of me all the time because I wear bell-bottoms and I'm a little hippie girl. And they'd make fun of the Trench Coat Mafia. They'd say, `White trash,' and `Why don't you comb your hair?' and `Are you Gothic, man?' and `You need some new clothes.' Just stupid teenage stuff.''
Maher said he and two of his friends were at a fireworks stand in Littleton on July 4 when the Trench Coat Mafia boys approached them and said they had a shotgun.
Maher and his friends saw no gun, but the trench-coated boys did pull knives and tried to fight with the others. Maher said he and his friends had had no previous contact with the boys in black.
``We didn't want to fight,'' Maher said, ``so we talked to them for a while, and then we just got out of there.''
Sergeant Williams says some Goths act out a bizarre and elaborate role-playing game, ``Vampire, the masquerade.'' He said one particularly dark aspect of the Gothic is when role playing is carried to extreme.
`'The game -- Vampire, the masquerade -- I call it Dungeons and Dragons on steroids,'' he said, adding that players assume the persona of vampires and act out attacks.
``There are people who I have seen who lose touch, who think the gaming system and mythos are real. They have gone off and done some very strange things. Basing things on my experience, is there a propensity for this? It's possible.''
Trench coats, like those worn by the Colorado gunmen, are the modern equivalent of vampire capes in the symbology of the game, Williams said.
As part of the game, Williams said, participants join one of seven ``clans'' associated with vampirism.
``The seven clans compete for power in the vampire world -- the idea of the game is to essentially to control the world,'' he said.
One clan, known as the ``Brujah,'' is the most violent among the game's participants. Another group, which is outside the clan system, is known as ``Sabbat'' and makes random simulated violent attacks on opponents in the game.
Typically, the game is played by everyone from kids to business executives, and clashes in the game are resolved with the old-fashioned method of the child's game known as ``scissors, paper, rock,'' he said.
But, Williams said, the game requires players to totally immerse themselves in the study of the occult.
``Any belief system taken to the extreme is dangerous,'' he said. ``In this one, ultimately, the fanaticism causes the problem,'' Williams said. ``You are steeped in the occult, you are reading about the occult. You are sucking so much of this in, it's a huge indoctrination. That has a tendency of messing with the mind.''
Williams said he became interested in the game himself while involved in a homicide investigation. ``I had to walk away from it,'' he said.
Chronicle staff writer Jaxon Vanderbeken reported from San Francisco, and the Washington Post reported from Denver.
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