And some online responses have been misguided -- or ugly

By Jamie Malanowski
April 23, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Like the aftershock that follows the earthquake, the media coverage of the terrible murders in Littleton, Colo., caught up bystanders in the story. Many of them have taken to the Web to look for answers or to speak out about the terrible events.

Numerous news reports distorted Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris’s interest in the music of Marilyn Manson into an interest in all things goth. The proprietors of Goth.Net have devoted part of their website to setting the record straight: ”Since Tuesday morning, countless articles have been pouring out about the ‘Trenchcoat Mafia,’ many of them slandering not only goths, but many other ethnic and spiritual practices and beliefs,” they write, requesting copies of the offending articles. As it turned out, with the easing of deadline pressures, fewer reporters repeated the error, and a number wrote articles that made it clear that the perpetrators’ interests were very different from the goths.

Two unfortunately named websites made it perfectly clear that they were not associated with the killers. Sir Trench, the proprietor of an adult site called The Cybertrenchcoat temporarily closed his website. He posted this notice: ”Let’s get a few things straight: 1) This site has nothing whatsoever to do with the Trenchcoat Mafia. 2) I don’t know where their site is…. I’m just as disturbed and saddened as the rest of you about the events that transpired in Colorado.” Sir Trench reports that his site has been deluged with traffic after news organizations misidentified his as the killers’ site. ”I could be capitalizing on all this traffic I’m getting to make money but from the start felt it was wrong,” the site now reads. ”I’ve had several offers (including a $10,000 offer) to redirect my traffic. I really believe that what you do comes back to haunt you. So I’m following my feelings and doing what I am [closing the site].”

Another group in a similar position, a band called Trenchcoat Club, is facing a like decision. A notice posted on the Trenchcoat Club Clubhouse states ”We are not affiliated with the shooting in Colorado. We are a band from Athens, Georgia, that has been together since the 1980s, and this site has been up since August 1998. It’s not a stunt. Our thoughts are with those directly affected by this tragedy. Yours should be, too.”

Sadly, there is one place where people are trying not to distance, but to identify themselves with the tragedy. In the Adolf Hitler Chat Room, neo-Nazis are lifting their voices in cheer. Among many salutes: ”Let the revolution begin in Colorado! The kids have more courage than my generation did.” ”They made a battle plan and executed it to perfection — a job well done.” Finally, ”This year Adolf Hitler’s birthday was celebrated with a bang. Any more Nazi holidays?”