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Doom Rules 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / AUGUST 5, 1999 / 4:00AM 


There were a lot of things Melissa Sowder didn't like about Columbine High 
School. The bullies, for instance. They were football players, mostly. They shoved 
her friends in the halls and threw snowballs or bottles at them on the way home. 


Sometimes they shoved her, too. Who needed it? 


"Teachers would see them push someone into a locker, and they'd just ignore it," 
she says. "I think they were afraid of the students. They didn't stop half the fights in 
that school." 


But Columbine wasn't all bad, Sowder insists. She liked most of her teachers. And 
there were nice students, too--guys she met in the commons area, drinking coffee 
or hot chocolate and talking about what was wrong with Columbine. Guys like Eric 


Harris. 


"I used to talk to Eric once in a while," Sowder says. "He was like the sweetest guy 
I ever knew. He'd do pretty much anything for people he liked. We'd talk mostly 
about how we got picked on, how the school was not caring what the students did. 


And how some people could get away with anything." 


Sowder was near the bottom of the intricate social hierarchy at Columbine last fall. 
She was a freshman and a special-education student, struggling to get the services 
and classes she needed. She liked to dress in black, and most of her friends were 


kids who thought of themselves as outcasts--punks and goths and skaters. 


Eric Harris was a senior and a very confident student. He, too, dressed in black. He 
had a juvenile conviction for theft and had been reported to the police for making 
death threats against another student on the Internet. His personal Web page 
crackled with fantasies of murder and revenge, and he liked to show off his 


extensive knowledge of guns and explosives. 


Before the world that was Columbine blew up last spring, guess which one of the 


two attracted more scrutiny from school officials? 


Right up until April 20, 1999--the day he and his buddy Dylan Klebold stormed the 
school, tossing pipe bombs and shooting helpless classmates, killing thirteen and 
injuring 23 before taking their own lives--Eric Harris was just another scowling 
face in the crowd. One of the most baffling aspects of the worst school massacre 
the country has ever seen is how Harris and Klebold's deadly plan went undetected 
by friends, teachers, administrators--and, apparently, their own parents--until the 


killings began. 


The question becomes even more troubling when you consider how school 
authorities have dealt with Melissa Sowder, who knew Klebold and Harris only 
slightly. In her first few weeks at Columbine, Sowder ditched class several times, 
resulting in a parent conference and restrictions imposed on her ability to leave 
campus during the day. But when she tried to complain to teachers about 


harassment by jocks, she was told, "Deal with it," she says. 


One day last fall, Sowder was called to the dean's office after she was late to one 
class. "He asked me what I think about all day at school," Sowder says, "so I told 
him I thought about blowing up the school. The school made me that angry. He 


told me I was suspended for a day and called my mom." 


Diana Sowder says she spoke to her daughter about speaking and acting 
responsibly. But she also believes that the school "overreacted" to Melissa's 
remark, which officials described as a threat. Over the next few months, Melissa 
Sowder's movements were closely monitored by school staffers, who followed her 


in the halls and quizzed her if she showed up at school early or stayed late. 


Sowder was in the cafeteria when Klebold and Harris began their rampage last 
April. She escaped unharmed, fleeing with a group of students. When classes for 
Columbine students resumed at Chatfield High two weeks later, she was 
summoned to the principal's office and informed that she might prefer home- 


schooling. 


"I think they had kind of classified me as a troublemaker," she says. "I told them I 
felt okay about going back to school." 


Columbine officials didn't feel okay about it, though. A counselor in a security 
officer's uniform followed Sowder from room to room, actually sitting through 
each class and observing her behavior. On her third day at Chatfield, she made a 
remark about the shootings to another student. According to Sowder, she'd been 
greeted warmly for the first time by athletes who'd formerly harassed her, so she 
said that maybe something positive would come out of the tragedy "because now 


the jocks will treat us better." 


That isn't the way the school's spy system heard it. Relying on a version of the 
remark passed on by two students to a teacher and then administrators, a school 
counselor contacted Diana Sowder that day and informed her that her daughter was 
not to come back to Chatfield. Melissa was being removed from school because she 
allegedly said that "the kids who died at Columbine deserved it." Melissa denies 
she said any such thing, and another student who says she was present during the 
conversation supports her story. Steve and Diana Sowder say that they were given 
no chance to meet with school officials and that their daughter had no hearing--no 
opportunity to respond to the accusation or appeal the decision--before she was 


summarily booted out of school. 


Jefferson County School District spokesman Rick Kaufman says he can't comment, 
for privacy reasons, on disciplinary actions taken against individual students. 
However, he acknowledges that eighteen students identified as "associates" of 
Klebold and Harris were offered other options, such as home-schooling, in lieu of 
completing the semester at Chatfield. Six accepted. After classes resumed, three 
students were removed from school in separate disciplinary incidents involving 


"comments" about the shootings. 


"We take any such comments, whether they were made in jest or not, very 
seriously," Kaufman says, "and will do so again this fall. It's no different than 


someone walking through an airport and saying, 'I'm carrying a bomb."" 


Melissa Sowder says she wants to return to Columbine when classes begin August 
16, but she has no idea if she will be allowed to do so. Frustrated with school 
officials' reluctance to meet with them, Steve and Diana Sowder have hired an 
attorney and are considering a lawsuit against the district over what they regard as 
the trampling of their daughter's rights. (Editor's note: In the interest of full 
disclosure, it should be noted that the Sowders' attorney is related to writer Alan 
Prendergast, who has no personal or financial interest in their case.) Yet their 
situation is hardly unique. Melissa says that several of her friends have been 
encouraged not to return to Columbine this fall, too. "I think it's because they're 


outcasts," she says. 


Kaufman responds that he's unaware of any ongoing disciplinary process against 
any Columbine students. "We can't just tell anyone not to come to school," he says. 


"Not without following district policy." 


Steve Sowder insists that the district isn't following its own rules, much less the 
law. "The school talks about tolerance and sensitivity, but here were these kids 
coming back after the shootings, and they weren't providing services," he says. 
"Instead, they were watching them. What they're saying and what they're doing are 


two different things." 


But mixed signals and contradictory actions may become standard procedure when 
Columbine opens this month, as administrators try to come to terms with the 
bloody legacy of last spring. What makes someone so angry that they want to blow 
up their school? How do you distinguish a real threat from a cry for help? Would 
tough measures designed to monitor kids more closely--everything from dress 
codes and closed campuses to anonymous snitch lines and parental inspection of 
library records--prevent more violence? Or would they simply lead to more 


persecution of those who think and behave differently? 


With Harris and Klebold dead, public outrage over their crimes has been directed at 
a number of convenient scapegoats: the killers’ parents, the gun industry, a pop 


culture that celebrates killing and trivializes life. Increasingly, though, the wrath of 


many parents is turning to the school district itself. They, too, are wondering: What 
would make someone hate their school so much that they'd try to blow it up and 


everyone in it? 


There are people who think that school officials ignored pervasive, intolerable 
harassment of many students by a small group of athletes and that the harassment 
pushed Klebold and Harris to murder. There are also people who think officials 
were entirely too permissive in letting violent, deviant groups like the killers and 
the so-called Trenchcoat Mafia take root in the hallways, spewing hate and threats 


of murder. Either way, they say, the school system should be held accountable. 


"As time goes on, the picture becomes clearer," says Brian Rohrbough, whose 
fifteen-year-old son, Daniel, was among those killed by Harris and Klebold. "The 
kids were running the school. There was nothing short of murder that would be 
challenged. And after watching the school board's response, I'm not sure even that 


is being challenged." 


"I hate the Jeffco schools," says Randy Brown, who went to the police about 
Harris's death threats against his son Brooks more than a year before the shootings. 
"The school board is made up of accountants. They care about money and budgets 
and lawsuits, but they don't care about our kids at all. They want to go on like this 
didn't happen. They're implementing a program to correct it, but they'll never say 


they had a problem." 


Blasted from all sides, the school district is now trying to appease both the no- 
more-intolerance and the too-much-tolerance factions. They're scrambling to 
"pullyproof" the schools and provide what Kaufman calls "diversity-type training" 
for athletes and their coaches and at the same time vowing to purge the schools of 
disruptive elements. To date, their efforts have failed to impress their critics. "This 
isn't a question of love and understanding and everyone will get along," says 
Rohrbough. "This is a question about what are the boundaries and what happens 


when you cross them." 


To find an effective cure, though, one must first have a grasp of the disease. Many 
of the proposals kicked around by the school board and a community task force 
formed in response to the shootings seem to derive from popular impressions of 
"what went wrong" at Columbine, with little effort to separate fact from media 
myth. Yet much of what we think we know about Columbine, much of what was 
reported in the frantic first days of coverage and repeated endlessly since, is wrong. 
It's a product of overreaching and often sloppy reporting, hysterical and sometimes 
unreliable sources, misinformation from official sources, or just plain tabloid 


luridness. Examples: 


* Hours after the onslaught began, an ace investigative reporter at Channel 
9/KUSA announced that the Trenchcoat Mafia was a tight-knit "hate group" with 


national ties. 


* The day after the killings, the Washington Times reported that Klebold and 
Harris "admired the Gothic scene and Satan worship, sometimes donning makeup 
in the style of one of their heroes, shock rock star Marilyn Manson. Sometimes 


they wore swastikas." 


* Two days later, building on a sketchy report in the Denver Post, the New York 
Post announced that the killers "rehearsed their rampage in a morbid video they 
made for school," in which a trenchcoated Harris and Klebold pretended to shoot 


jocks. 


* Just a couple of weeks ago, the Denver Rocky Mountain News reiterated that 
during the massacre, "Klebold and Harris said they were targeting athletes because 


they felt they ruled student life and needed to be brought down." 


Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. And wrong. 

Klebold and Harris were not leaders of a close-knit hate group known as the 
Trenchcoat Mafia. They didn't make videos of themselves roaming the hallways of 
Columbine, shooting jocks. They didn't openly sport swastikas, and such attire 
would hardly have been permitted in their homes--Eric's father, Wayne Harris, is 


an Air Force veteran, and Dylan's mother, Susan, is Jewish. The boys' allegiance 


was to the German techno-rock band Rammstein, not Marilyn Manson or the goth 
scene. And while eyewitness accounts do indicate they made remarks about jocks 
during their killing spree, it's hard to credit the notion that they were targeting 
anyone in particular on their apocalyptic suicide mission, which investigators 


believe was supposed to end with a fireball consuming hundreds of lives. 


The carnage of April 20 is not a simple parable of humiliation and revenge, nor is it 
a cautionary tale of a permissive society gone mad. The mass homicide may have 
more to do with the special culture of Columbine, the world its students inhabited 
on a daily basis, than school officials will ever acknowledge. The high school that 
Klebold and Harris sought to destroy was a place of long-simmering resentments 
and pathology, wrapped in a bright lie of communal achievement and mutual 
respect. It's a place where teachers and parents were nominally involved but 
ultimately irrelevant, since adults were easy to fool or ignore. A place where 
teenagers were encouraged, even badgered, into straitjacketed notions of success, 
while others plunged into a realm of violent fantasy. A place where, as if by magic, 


what was considered cool and daring became unspeakably cruel and grotesque. 


"People want to find the blame," says parent Victor Good, who knew both killers 


and their families. "They're not going to find it in any easy place." 


Eric 
Like a lot of gawky freshmen, you wonder where you fit in at school. You are a 


Columbine Rebel, proud and true, but what does that mean? 


You lack your brother's bulk and stature. Three years your senior, Kevin is a tight 
end on the football team, an A student and a varsity man, popular and easygoing. 
You're nobody. Larger, more confident Rebels shove past you on the way to class, 
strutting in their letter jackets and white caps, high on hormones and victory. You 
used to love baseball, but your interest is waning. This is a problem. At Columbine 


the jocks rule. 


You suspect you are smarter than they are. But so what? Every day you still have to 


wade through that mass of muscle crowding the hallways--plodding, arrogant, 


contemptuous. So you rant about it on your computer. "YOU KNOW WHAT I 
HATE? When there is a group of assholes standing in the middle of a hallway or 
walkway, and they are just STANDING there talking and blocking my fucking 
way!!!! Get the fuck outa the way or ill bring a friggin sawed-off shotgun to your 


house and blow your snotty ass head off!!" 


The computer is a great comfort. It's another world, one in which you can reinvent 
yourself, become even more powerful and intimidating than the bully boys you 
despise. You can hurl your rage into cyberspace, to an audience of faceless 
strangers, and your own parents will never know--because in this world, adults are 


clueless. You can do what you want, be what you want. 


What you want is blood, and you find it in abundance in the wildly popular 
computer game Doom. Lots of boys your age vent their frustrations in waste-'em- 
all games like Doom, but you are more deeply entangled in its mysteries than most. 
Something about it--the vividness of its 3-D graphics and sound effects, the frantic 
pace, the demand for quick wits and savagery, the game's stoic, fatalistic attitude 
and all-encompassing mythology of mayhem--speaks to you. It beckons to you like 


a lover who can show you your true self. 


The game is a gory cartoon version of your own situation. You are a badass space 
Marine dispatched to a distant moon, where invading demons from hell have 
overrun your platoon and turned your buddies into zombies bent on killing you. 
The only leatherneck left to defend mankind against the infernal hordes, you're 
outgunned from the start. But you are resourceful, and you acquire noisier, more 
devastating weapons as the game progresses. You wipe out the zombie soldiers and 
the demons who command them as you move on to higher, more intricate levels of 


carnage. 


You master Doom and its even more violent successor, Doom 2. You engage in 
"deathmatch" versions of the game involving two or more players, vying on a 


single computer or over the Internet. It isn't enough. 


You spend long hours in your room designing new levels to the game, called wads, 
and posting them online for other fanatics to play. You alter the noises that the 
weapons make, the screams of your victims. Eventually you will design fields of 


combat that resemble your neighborhood--and, it's rumored, your school. 


It's still not enough. 

You hunger for recognition. You slap a plea on the side of a building in one of the 
wads, urging players to send comments to your e-mail address. "This one took a 
damn long time to do," you write in the text file attached to another wad, "so send 


me some bloody credit man!" 


By the middle of your sophomore year, you've completed your most sophisticated 
wad yet, a tricky, brutal, two-level shootout that's many times the size of your 
previous efforts. It climaxes in an orgy of killing, the screen flooded with hundreds 
of demons. The player has only two options: engage in a tedious, mechanical ritual 
of slaughter, or end things quickly by using a cheat command to go into "God 
mode," in which the player is invincible. (Later, after you are no longer around to 
bask in the attention, the wad will be reviewed on several Doom Web sites and 
ridiculed for its amateurishness, its "insipid gameplay” and "Thing overload." One 
reviewer will compare the experience to "viewing the clown paintings of serial 
killer John Wayne Gacy.") 


In your America Online profile you call yourself Rebldomakr. You list your 
hobbies as "professional doom and doom? creator, meeting beautiful females, 
being cool." Personal quote: "Shut up and shoot it.--Quit whining, it's just a flesh 
wound--Kill Em AALLLL!!!!" 


There is no question now about who you are. You are no longer Eric Harris, 


pathetic dweeb. You are the Rebel who makes Doom. 


Even before the killings sent reporters careening into hyperbole, Columbine had a 
reputation as the crown jewel of Jefferson County's high schools. Its mean SAT 
scores are among the highest in the state. Its motto isn't "Shut up and shoot it" but 


"Stretch for Excellence." A recent, $13.4 million remodeling job had provided 


gleaming, ultra-modern facilities to go with what the school's fact sheet 


unabashedly describes as "our long history of excellence in all areas." 


Yet in the wake of the massacre, many parents have come to question 
administrators’ pride in the way Columbine operated. The abysmal failure to 
provide a safe environment for their kids, they say, demonstrates that the school's 


priorities were haywire. 


"For some reason, the world talks about Columbine like it was something great," 
says Brian Rohrbough. "We have the evidence to show it's the worst school in the 
United States. I never thought the school was great, but I never thought my son 


would be murdered there." 


At Columbine, stretching for excellence in certain areas--such as football, 
basketball, baseball, soccer and track--definitely yielded greater rewards than other 
endeavors. The school won 32 state sports championships in the 1990s, and the 
trophies and pictures of star athletes were on display in a glass case in the front 
hallway. There's no comparable shrine honoring scholars, artists, debaters, or other 


student achievers. 


The trophy case is only the most obvious sign of the pervasive jock culture at 
Columbine. The school's budget for coaches' salaries alone was more than 
$138,000 last year, the highest in the district--including a whopping $20,000 for 
football. For years, critics say, top athletes enjoyed special parking privileges, 
received special consideration when class schedules or demands conflicted with 
practice routines, and were only sporadically disciplined for harassing other 


students. 


A hefty amount of the ten-minute daily broadcast of the Rebel News Network, 
piped into every classroom during second period, was devoted to the exploits of the 
teams as they marched toward one championship after another. Last spring, one 
much-aired skit featured the soccer team, their hair dyed white in solidarity, 


kicking a ball through the halls and into classrooms. Teachers were expected to 


10 


gamely put up with such disruptions in the name of school spirit and to cut star 


players slack in other ways. 


"When they had assemblies, that was an opportunity to hero-worship the jocks," 
says Victor Good, whose stepson, Nathan Dykeman, was a friend of Klebold and 
Harris. "The kids were not permitted to leave. And the assemblies were always for 
athletes, never for academics. What the hell is school spirit? Worshiping these 
other kids?" 


Good, the chairman of the Colorado Reform Party, would like to see competitive 
athletics removed from the schools. Other parents aren't as quick to condemn the 
entire jock culture, but they do claim that a core group of athletes targeted weaker 


kids for bullying and ridicule. 


"The bullying and harassment went on uncontrolled and throughout the school," 
insists Randy Brown. "This was a group of twenty kids picking on other kids, and 
at the bottom of the pile were Eric and Dylan. They got spit on and called 'faggots' 
and pushed around. Nobody did anything about it. What caused this was the 


school's failure to enforce their zero-tolerance policy toward harassment." 


Stung by media reports about the so-called jock elite, including a scathing article in 
the Washington Post, school officials have denied any favoritism. A few weeks 
ago, Columbine principal Frank DeAngelis, a former baseball coach, even went on 
national television to explain how he once turned in his own son for off-field 
mischief. Many parents and students involved in the athletics programs also dispute 
the stories of marauding gangs of jocks assaulting other students at will. There 
were tensions between jocks and other cliques, they say, as in any school, but the 
situation had improved since the graduation of a few trouble-prone wrestlers and 
football players in 1998. (One of the leaders of the tribe, former state wrestling 
champ Rocky Hoffschneider, had a penchant for expensive cars that would receive 
special mention in Harris's online list of pet peeves: "LIARS!!! OH 
GAWWWWWD I HATE LIARS ...Why the fuck must people lie so damn much! 


11 


Like...My brand new hummer just broke down on the highway when I was going 
250 mph.") 


"I realize there aren't too many high schools in the country where you have a 
student who has a Viper and a Humvee," says Darryl Strahl, who's had two sons 
and two daughters graduate from Columbine over the past nine years. "But that had 
nothing to do with Columbine. I don't agree that that [bullying] attitude sprouted 


from or was nourished by Columbine faculty." 


In her experience, Strahl says, the coaches at Columbine were also excellent 
teachers, including DeAngelis--"He taught my sons so much more than baseball," 
she says. And safety wasn't an issue, not until April 20. "In 1995 there were some 
kids from another school who came into the parking lot," she recalls. "Before they 
ever got out of the car, Jeffco [sheriff's officers] was in the parking lot, too. I 


personally don't have any complaints." 


Yet even if actual assaults on students weren't that common, the primacy of the 
jocks created an atmosphere of intimidation that could be stifling at times. "There 
is a lot of resentment toward the jocks--and the cheerleaders, if you're a girl," says 
Sarah Bay, a Columbine student active in debate and theater. "The jocks get help in 
class, help with their homework. They want that next state championship. I know 


this happens, and it's not just at Columbine." 


Employees of the school district say that the preferential treatment begins at 
administration headquarters, where rules are sometimes bent to accommodate 
principals eager to recruit top coaches and keep them happy. Every employee of the 
district is supposed to undergo fingerprinting and a background check to be hired; 
that requirement was waived, one source says, in the case of a former NFL player 
and talk-radio host who's now coaching high school football in Jefferson County. 
One internal 1997 memo to an employee who questioned the high salary of a 
particular coach instructs her that if she encounters a situation that she believes to 


be "in conflict with state law...or district rules, you should continue to question 


12 


athletic directors about the details. However, when a principal makes a decision on 


any matter, implement his/her directives immediately." 


At Columbine, the message that jocks rule seeped into student life in many ways. 
Randy Brown says that his own son, Brooks, encountered his share of harassment 
and that teachers stood by while a few athletes continually cut in line in the 


cafeteria--a show of superiority that also earned comment on Harris's Web site. 


cant you wait like every other human on earth does. Every fucking line i get into i 
end up having to wait a fucking hour when there WAS only me and 1 other person 
in line! Then the queer sucking asshole lets all his\her so called friends cut in 
behind em! If that happens one more time i will have to start referring to the 


Anarchists cookbook (bomb section)." 


Students who feel bullied are supposed to take their complaints to the staff, 
particularly the school counselors. Columbine had six of them. But many teenagers 
are reluctant to take their complaints to adults out of fear of retaliation or of being 
branded a snitch. In any case, counseling programs throughout the district's high 
schools had shifted direction in recent years, partly as a matter of survival. During 
budget cutbacks in the early 1990s, counselors lost their lone full-time 
representative at administration headquarters, and the position was never restored. 
At the time of the shooting last April, the district was considering further cuts in the 


number of counselors at the middle-school level. 


"Sometimes we get used as clerical workers or administrative assistants rather than 
doing the work we're supposed to do," says Clark Bencomo, a counselor at Green 
Mountain High School and president of the Jefferson County Counselors 
Association. "In this district, the affective needs of these kids aren't given much 


priority at all. That's what the community wanted." 


In recent years, Bencomo says, the district's counselors were spending more time 
trying to provide career counseling to the whole student body rather than working 


with troubled kids. "We focused on getting into the classroom and downplayed 


13 


some of the social-personal issues," he says. "This tragedy is going to make us re- 


examine that." 


The district has pledged to add more counselors now. Bencomo, of course, thinks 
it's a smart move. "I've had kids come in who will complain about the jocks 
mistreating them, particularly the kids with the black fingernail polish, the goth 
people,” he says. 


"They say, 'They call us dirts.' These may not all be horrible things, but they add 


up, and you become disenfranchised." 


In the absence of an appeal to adult authority, students figured out their own way of 
dealing with the oppressive aspects of Columbine. One response was the 
Trenchcoat Mafia, a haphazard group of nonconformists who took to wearing the 
jocks' sneering nickname for them as a badge of honor, along with their black 
dusters. They were geeks and goths, oddballs and losers; only one or two exuded 
even a faint aura of menace. And they were far more likely to be targeted for 


ridicule than most students. 


Principal DeAngelis has said that he never heard of the Trenchcoat Mafia before 
April 20--despite the ad they took out in the 1998 yearbook begging others to 
notice them ("Insanity's healthy!"), despite the fact that several members of the 
group were suspended, expelled or flunked out that same year. The statement has 
prompted much eye-rolling among DeAngelis's critics; to them, it's part of an 
official campaign to deny that anything was less than perfect at Columbine--right 
up there with the principal's boast that, when investigators searched every locker in 
the school following the shooting, they failed to turn up any drugs or weapons. 
("That he would even say that is pretty amazing to us," says Rohrbough. "Nobody's 
talking about how many drugs were found in the cars.") Recently DeAngelis told a 
Denver Rocky Mountain News reporter that he was aware of "some kids wearing 
black dusters" but not of the harassment claims; yet even his supporters don't 


understand how an administrator as ubiquitous as DeAngelis, always roaming the 


14 


halls and dropping in on classes, could fail to take note of such an exhibitionistic 


crew and ponder what it might mean. 


"I can't imagine he wouldn't have noticed eight or nine kids wearing trenchcoats in 


May," says Strahl. 


But the group's seeming invisibility may explain why few people paid any attention 
to the increasingly bizarre behavior of Klebold and Harris. If school officials 
weren't particularly interested in the problems of a few purple-haired types--some 
of whom were chronically ditching school, obsessing on madness and suicide and 
all but wearing signs around their necks screaming "TROUBLED YOUTH"--then 


it's unlikely that they would take much notice of other black-coated students. 


Klebold and Harris didn't dye their hair or wear makeup; by most accounts, they 
didn't even adopt the fashion statement of black dusters until last fall, after most of 
the Trenchcoat crowd had left Columbine. They were not leaders of the group and 
had only a tenuous relationship to it, through their friendship with one key member. 


They certainly didn't share the group's desire to revel in their outcast status. 


Several students who knew Klebold and Harris as classmates or even as friends 
have trouble with the notion that they were really outcasts at all. Most of the 
Columbine population comes from a single middle school, a situation that would 
seem to encourage long-term friendships and rivalries, yet the school's cliques were 
actually more fluid than most media reports indicate. Harris kept mostly to himself, 
but Klebold had a wide range of friends, from skaters and stoners to preps and even 


jocks. 


The two participated in school-spirit skits on the Rebel News Network. Klebold 
volunteered to do the sound for school plays and one time scrambled to correct a 
technical problem in order to save a performance by Rachel Scott, who would later 
become one of the first casualties of April 20. Harris made good grades and got 
along well with most of his teachers; he presented his composition teacher with a 
Christmas present last year. Both teenagers may have complained bitterly about the 


jocks on occasion, but it's possible to conclude that the two actually liked school-- 


15 


or, at least, certain aspects of it. (From Harris's list: "YOU KNOW WHAT I 
LOVE!!!? SCHOOL! YOU KNOW WHAT I HATE!!!? SCHOOLWORK!") 


"I never saw them being hostile or dissing on other people," says Jeni LaPlante, 


Darry Strahl's youngest daughter. 


LaPlante had several classes with Harris her junior and senior years, as well as a 
bowling class with Harris and Klebold. Her two closest friends worked with them 
at Blackjack Pizza, and she frequently went with them to Rock 'n Bowl at 
Belleview Lanes on weekends. She considered the pair to be "out of the ordinary"-- 
but then, there were a lot of people who were a little unusual at Columbine. She 
didn't see anything terribly disturbing about them. She continued to think that up 
until the morning of April 20; she was outside the school when terrified students 


began pouring out and running for cover. 


"I never saw this coming," she says. "It hit me hard, because I didn't ever see a 
problem at Columbine. It was the all-American school. It had different cliques, but 


that was also diversity." 


Eric Harris, in particular, remains an enigma to LaPlante. He was so...involved in 
class, always had his hand up. Wouldn't put in his two cents unless nobody else 
spoke up, but he knew every single answer. Grammar, Shakespeare, class 


discussion on whatever--he always had an opinion, always was polite about it. 


LaPlante asked him why he was putting himself through the grief of college-prep 
classes when he was planning to enlist in the Marines, and he told her, "I probably 
won't go." But if he was planning to blow up the school for a year, like people say, 
why was he working so hard in school? Why was he struggling over a research 
paper that wasn't due until after April 20? Why was he talking about what he was 


going to write in his college application essay? 


"The only way I can explain it is that he was just two perfectly different people," 
she says. "What he showed to the rest of the world and what he kept to his garage 


or his computer were so different." 


16 


A few months before his death, Harris had changed his AOL screen name to Reb 
Domine--no longer just a Rebel Doommaker, but the Lord of the Rebels. Hobbies: 
"making fun of you people." Occupation: "senior at CHS and the rest is still 


unpublished." Personal quote: "its fun being schizophrenic." 


That Harris and Klebold were leading a double life is a familiar theme among those 
who thought they knew them well. "The most horrifying thing is that these kids 
didn't have the signs they want to point to," says Victor Good, who frequently saw 
the pair when they visited his stepson. "Eric was always the perfect little 


gentleman. He seemed more mature than other kids." 


Yet there were signs, from the essays they wrote in class to the T-shirts they wore, 
the random comments about bombs and killing, the pictures with their hands 
cocked as if cradling a weapon and preparing to shoot the photographer. That these 
expressions of malevolence seem sinister only in hindsight says a great deal about 
what passed for normal--or even "out of the ordinary" but readily accepted--at 


Columbine. 


They were hiding in plain sight, perfectly camouflaged in the undercurrent of trash 
and violence swimming in your average 2,000-student suburban high school. 
Resentment of jocks? Nobody had a corner on that concession. Videos featuring 
car crashes and explosions? Finding ways to emulate the special effects of big- 
budget action thrillers was part of the challenge of video production classes. (In one 
video for a marketing class, the pair offered to provide a protection service and 
simulated shooting someone.) Klebold's interest in Charles Manson? Wild-eyed 
Charlie has become a popular research topic in high schools nationwide; the shock 


value alone is worth at least a grade point or two. 


Weird T-shirts and an affection for gloom-and-doom rock lyrics? Nothing new 
here, even though the duo's embrace of one German band's ludicrous paeans to 
mass murder ("You in the schoolyard/I'm ready to kill and nobody here knows of 


my loneliness...We announce Doomsday/There will be no mercy/Run, run for your 


17 


lives... You believe killing might be hard/But where are all the dead coming from") 


was so intense that other kids referred to them as the Rammstein Boyz. 


Bragging about coming across bomb instructions on the Internet and coming up 
with new ways to kill people? Lots of kids talk about stuff like that. 


Reportedly, at least one English teacher did find a Klebold short story about a 
killing so disturbing that she contacted his parents. Harris's parents were notified 
about a similar story. But these were only stories, the boys insisted. Fantasies. As 
long as the violence exists only in the mind, who cares? Why not stories about 


multiple homicides? Stretch for excellence. 


In a school full of kids desperate to stand out, two killers in training did not seem 


remarkable at all. 


Dylan 
Sarah Bay: "From the start, I saw Dylan as a follower. If he got an idea from 
someone that he thought was cool, he'd go along with it, as long as that other 


person was doing it, too." 


Jeni LaPlante: "He did have a lot of anger, but he hid it most of the time. One time 
in bowling class, he got so pissed he slammed his fist down on the ball return. It 


freaked me out." 


Sarah Bay: "In a way, Dylan's mind was still back in junior high, where girls were 
yucky and video games were cool and you sort of had this fantasy land you could 


go to." 


Everyone sees you as a follower. True, when it comes to the usual adolescent rites 
of passage--smoking, drinking, seeking out music obnoxious enough to annoy your 
parents--you aren't exactly a trendsetter. But when you find something that really 
fires your brain, you embrace it with enthusiasm. Hence your nickname, borrowed 
from the magic elixir that produces so many weepy late-night phone conversations 
with friends: VoDkA. 


18 


People remember that shy, vulnerable, teen-angst side of you, so they make 
excuses for you. You must have been drawn into Eric's orbit, brainwashed 
somehow, they say. You did not have that kind of hate in you. Hell, you were still 
making trades in the fantasy baseball league with Tim Kastle the night before the 
massacre; hours later, you were waving a TEC-9 at him in a ceiling crawlspace, 
trying to make up your mind whether to shoot. You must have had some kind of 
psychotic break to switch from good old Dylan to a head case like that in a matter 


of hours. 


They want it to be simple--little Eric the evil mastermind, and you trailing after 
him, towering over him, a six-three zombie in a black coat, shades and a turned- 
around Boston Red Sox cap--Dr. Rammstein and his monster. They don't 
understand the bonds between VoDkA and Reb. They don't understand that he 
needed you as much as you needed him, maybe more so. Like prisoners manacled 
together, you reinforced each other in your misery. Together you could accomplish 


things you wouldn't dream of attempting alone. 


The relationship begins the way a lot of adolescent friendships do, as a buffer 
against loneliness and the grim demands of growing up. You play Doom and 
Quake, cruise the malls, take a lot of the same classes. You cultivate a mutual 
interest in death-rock and Tarantino movies, ape the casual attitude toward racism 
and violence that you see on the screen. None of this is terribly unusual, but at 
some point you recognize something in each other that most of your friends don't 


share: a boiling rage against your enemies. 


The more time you spend in each other's company, the more enemies you seem to 
have. Other kids call you faggots. They misunderstand. What you are is a two-man 


terror squad. 


"Ok people, im gonna let you in on the big secret of our clan," Reb writes on his 
Web page. "We aint no god damn stupid ass quake clan! We are more of a gang. 
We plan out and execute missions. Anyone pisses us off, we do a little deed to their 


house. Eggs, teepee, superglue, busyboxes, large amounts of fireworks, you name it 


19 


and we will probly or already have done it. We have many enimies in our school, 


therefor we make many missions." 


In your junior year of high school you embark on several nighttime raids. Both you 
and Reb have curfews, but your parents are busy people and it's easy to sneak out. 
You drive to Wyoming to load up on fireworks, extract the gunpowder and make 
pipe bombs. You set them off in the fields and ravines surrounding your parents’ 
stunning house in Deer Creek Canyon. The secret is exciting, in part because you 


share it. It's one more wedge separating the "gang" from everyone else. 


In January 1998, the two of you are caught in a field with stolen electronic 
equipment. This is your first encounter with the legal system, the world of adult 
laws and adult consequences, and it's a joke. You enter a diversion program, write a 
letter of apology, pick up trash for no pay, pee in a cup. You are polite to the judge 
and feed your folks some corn syrup about how much you're learning from all this. 
Your probation officer sees you as a dreamy slacker who just needs to get cracking: 
"Dylan is a bright young man...if he is able to tap his potential and become self 


motivated he should do well in life." 


By senior year, the amount of time you spend with Eric Harris would be scary, if it 
didn't seem so right. You share four classes, work together at Blackjack Pizza, 
make videos, go bowling and spend long hours on the computer together. Your 
attachment to him creates inevitable conflicts with your other friends, many of 
whom you've known much longer than Harris, a relative latecomer to the south 


Jeffco scene. When you must choose between them, you choose Eric. 


Many of your friends are getting into dating now, getting serious with girls. It's one 
place you can't follow. This social stuntedness is another quality that the two of you 
share, that isolates you from the rest--but at least Reb had a girlfriend once, before 
the gang of two was formed, a girl named Tiffany. (When Tiffany broke up with 
him, Harris staged a fake-suicide scene for her benefit.) You can't score a date to 


save your life. 


20 


A platonic friend, an honors student who likes you so much that she bought guns 
for you, pleads with you to take her to the prom. Your parents offer you $250 to go. 
You agree. For a few hours you're in the social whirl, and Eric Harris is nowhere to 


be seen. He shows up later, at the after-prom party, with no date. 


There is no escape from each other. With all that you know about each other now, 
all that you share, how can you go your separate ways? People want to say that Eric 


Harris is the problem. They don't get it. 
Graduation is the problem. 


Shaking his head, Randy Brown flips through the paperwork connected to a 
complaint he filed with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department against Eric 
Harris more than a year before the shootings at Columbine. He points to an Internet 
address the deputy wrote down incorrectly and to a street address for Eric Harris 


that's also wrong. 


"This shows how little they investigated this," he says. "We thought this was 
serious. We changed the exterior lighting on our house because of this. The 


detective didn't do his job. How big a red flag does a professional need?" 


Brown's story, which he has repeated patiently to reporters from around the 
country, poses an uncomfortable challenge to school and law-enforcement officials. 
How could they fail to recognize that Eric Harris was dangerous, Brown wonders, 


when he brought a bundle of red flags to authorities months before the massacre? 


Brown's complaint went nowhere. His criticism of the sheriff's office and school 
administrators has been largely ignored. After the massacre, his oldest son, Brooks, 
was treated as a possible suspect because he told reporters that Harris warned him 
away from the school moments before the shooting started. The Browns paid for a 
private polygraph exam to establish that Brooks had no prior knowledge of the 
attack. Brooks passed. Sheriff John Stone told reporters he was still "suspicious" of 


Brooks Brown. 


21 


Randy Brown has no doubts about his son's innocence. But plenty of people had 


cause to be suspicious of Eric Harris, he says. They just did nothing about it. 


Brooks Brown and Dylan Klebold grew up together. The arrival of Eric Harris, 
though, gradually began to strain the friendship. Late in 1997 the Browns learned 
that Harris was attempting to blame the vandalism of a neighbor's house--the same 
kind of midnight mission that VoDkA and Reb were conducting regularly at that 
point--on Brooks. But Brooks had an ironclad alibi that night, Randy says; he was 


grounded. 


The Browns told the neighbor of their suspicions about Eric's involvement in the 
vandalism. Furious, Harris threw a piece of ice at Brooks's car and cracked the 
windshield. The Browns called the police, and Brooks decided to have a word with 


Wayne and Kathy Harris. 


"Brooks got mad and told his parents everything Eric was doing," Brown says. 


"Eric's drinking. His sneaking out at night." 


Brown recalls that Kathy Harris was "all upset" about her son's behavior--at first. 
"She called back the next day and said, 'My husband said it's not that serious'--that 


he basically trusted his son." 


Wayne Harris drove Eric to the Brown house and waited in the car while his son 
offered a begrudging apology. Eric left angrily after Randy's wife, Judy, questioned 
his sincerity. "He didn't fool my wife, but he fooled me and everybody else," 


Randy says. 


Not long after the windshield fracas, Dylan urged Brooks to check out Eric's Web 


page. Under the heading "Philosophy" was an unmistakable message. 


"I am the law, if you don't like it, you die...Dead people cant do many things, like 
argue, whine, bitch, complain, narc, rat out, criticize, or even fucking talk. So that's 
the only way to solve arguments with all you fuckheads out there, I just kill! God I 


cant wait till I can kill you people...I don't care if I live or die in the shootout, all I 


22 


want to do is kill and injure as many of you pricks as I can, especially a few people. 


Like Brooks Brown." 


There was more: "You all better fucking hide in your houses because im comin for 
EVERYONE soon, and i WILL be armed to the fuckin teeth and i WILL shoot to 
kill and i WILL fucking KILL EVERYTHING! Noi am not crazy, crazy is just a 


word...if you got a problem with my thoughts, come tell me and ill kill you." 


Also on the site was a description of pipe bomb missions and one of Eric's Doom 


wads, the layout designed to resemble the Browns' neighborhood. 


The Browns downloaded the materials and contacted the sheriff's office. "We didn't 
take it to the dad, and I have second-guessed that decision since this happened," 
Randy says. "We said, 'Look, every time we report this kid, it escalates.’ We told 
them, 'You can't go to Eric directly.' If you go to the school, the stupid counselors 
bring them into a room and say, 'Eric and Brooks, we see you're having a problem. ' 
That doesn't work with Eric. We were afraid of him, okay? We told them they 
didn't need to say where they got this information--it's on the Web. They said, "We 


don't even know if this is a crime." 


Much to Brown's dismay, the sheriff's department never interviewed the Harris 
family about the threat. An investigator couldn't locate Harris's Web site, either 
because Harris took the material offline or because the address was copied wrong. 
Several phone calls the Browns made to the investigator went unreturned. Although 
a copy of the "suspicious incident" report was forwarded to the deputy assigned to 


Columbine High, no official action was taken as a result. 


After the massacre, as news of Brown's report began to make headlines, sheriff's 
department officials vigorously defended its handling of the case. A computer 
check had failed to turn up Harris's previous juvenile theft conviction, they said, 
and Brown's request that investigators not contact various individuals involved in 
the case, including Brooks and Harris himself, had tied their hands: "Without the 
ability to speak to a victim or positively identify a suspect, elements of a crime 


could not be established." 


23 


Randy Brown says he made no such blanket request. "We didn't want to be 
contacted? That's absurd," he snaps. "We wanted them to go to Eric's parents. Why 


would we take it to the police if we didn't want them to do anything?" 


Brown also insists that the investigator assigned to the case, John Hicks, told him 
he already had a file on a juvenile named Eric Harris. Even if the threats and 
accounts of setting off explosives and vandalizing houses weren't enough to file 
charges, Brown says, they should have been brought to the attention of school 
administrators and the people supervising Harris's probation. Such action could 
have resulted in a search warrant, revocation of probation--or, at the very least, a 
reassessment of Harris's progress in the anger-management classes required by his 
juvenile diversion program. ("Eric did a very nice job on Diversion," his supervisor 


reported. "He impressed me as being very articulate and intelligent.") 


Frustrated by official inaction, Brown lived several weeks in anticipation of bad 


news. "You get used to checking your house for pipe bombs," he says. 


Gradually, the sense of danger receded. Brooks was still friends with Dylan 
Klebold--"There were a lot of kids my kids knew that we worried about, and Dylan 
wasn't one of them," Brown says--and everyone thought that Dylan might have a 
"calming effect" on Harris. Two weeks before the shootings, Brooks informed his 
parents that he'd made a separate peace with Eric, too, that his former nemesis was 


acting more grown-up these days. 


He was also acting more cautious. In the spring of 1998 Harris removed some of 
the more explicitly violent writings from his Web site--tipped off by Dylan, 
perhaps, that the Brown family was reading them. He still talked about wanting to 
blow up the school, but he was careful of his audience. Unlike Melissa Sowder, he 


didn't make the mistake of saying such things to the dean. 


Around the same time, he began to keep a handwritten journal of his plans for an 
attack on Columbine High. Investigators have released few details about the 
journal, but it appears to be an evolving manual of possible weapons and tactics, 


with lists of hated athletes thrown in for good measure--a crash course in applied 


24 


Doom. As the months wore on, the imagined carnage became more and more 
extreme, an exit strategy Reb and VoDkA could embellish upon whenever they'd 
had a bellyful of bullshit. 


One element that appears to be missing from the journal is any clear rationale or 
motive for the plan. "A lot of it, it's hard to discern fantasy from reality," says Steve 
Davis, spokesman for the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department. "For example, the 
part about taking the plane and crashing it into New York City--who knows? We 
may never know how much of it was an actual plan and how much of it was just 


talking. I don't think there's any real explanation that we're getting from that diary." 


Yet the date chosen for the attack--April 20, Adolf Hitler's birthday--is one kind of 
explanation. Harris's fascination with Hitler is debatable; he and Klebold may have 
offered 'Heil Hitler’ salutes after bowling strikes, but not often enough to attract 


much comment. Yet Harris did embrace a kind of social Darwinism any Nazi could 


damn its the best thing that ever happened to the Earth. Getting rid of all the stupid 


and weak orginisms...but its all natural!! YES!" 


Harris had a T-shirt that read "Natural Selection." According to some students, he 
was wearing it the day he died. The fantasy of wiping out the inferior "dumbasses" 
who got in his way was at the heart of his megalomania. In his inscription of 
Nathan Dykeman's 1998 yearbook--a seriously deranged note, peppered with lyrics 
from Rammstien ("God damn not an angel when I die"), references to Doom ("kick 
some, take some, and get some"), and German phrases proclaiming "No pity" and 
"I am God"--he offers this piece of advice: "Hey don't follow your dreams or goals 
or any of that shit. Follow your fucking animal instincts. If it moves, kill it. If it 


doesn't, burn it." 


As the fantasy grew, reality receded. At some point the plan was no longer about 
revenge against jocks but about taking down the whole school--and themselves 
with it. There would be no God mode once they started shooting, Harris realized. In 


what appear to be later writings about the attack, he refers to the event as "NBK"-- 


25 


possibly a reference to Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, a movie about people 


born to kill--and expresses a fatalistic detachment about what is to come. 


One document, consisting of three pages about building and storing pipe bombs, 
was obtained by several Web surfers from Harris's site within hours of the attack, 
before America Online took down the account. Investigators won't confirm its 
authenticity, but several internal clues suggest it is Harris's own writing. In 
discussing ways to add shrapnel to the bombs, the author writes, "I am not sure that 
method works. I did try it on the Delta batch, and since they won't be used until 
NBK it'll be kind of hard to report the results. You might try asking the survivors if 


they got a good look at the bomb before it went off and then the remains!" 


Several people who knew Klebold and Harris have suggested that something must 
have happened in the last few weeks of their lives--Harris's rejection by the 
Marines or being turned down by three girls he asked to the prom, perhaps--that 
prompted them to carry out their fantasy of doom. Yet the tangible preparations for 
NBK, including buying guns and training with them, building bombs and figuring 
out ways to conceal them in their dusters, had been going on for months. And the 
rumblings Harris was posting on his Web page and scratching in people's 
yearbooks a year ahead of time can't be dismissed as mere posturing; these are the 
works of someone already losing his way back to a world where other people might 


matter. 


He may not have been the only member of the Harris household fighting a losing 
battle with reality. According to Nathan Dykeman, who sold his story to the 
National Enquirer and then claimed that the tabloid distorted many details, Wayne 
Harris found a pipe bomb in Eric's room last year, possibly as a result of his 
conversation with Brooks Brown. Whatever punishment Harris may have meted 
out to his son--who was already on probation, taking anti-depressants and seeing a 


psychiatrist--it didn't include calling the police. 


April 20, 1999 


They shot one young man in the back as he tried to run away, shot another in the 


26 


face as he lay writhing on the ground, crying for help. They shot young women in 
the head as they crouched meekly under library tables. They giggled like little boys 
setting off firecrackers and snarled like hit men. And when it came to deciding who 


to kill and who to spare, they were as capricious as gods. 


Despite the endless blow-by-blow accounts of the massacre, heartbreaking 
questions remain about what actually happened on April 20. Until the authorities 
see fit to release the autopsy reports, for example, it's impossible to know if teacher 
Dave Sanders and several critically wounded students might have been saved by 
more aggressive action by the SWAT teams or if the painfully cautious response 


was justified, as officials have maintained. 


This much is clear: Whatever plans Klebold and Harris might have had to settle a 
score with jocks, whatever they might have said in the library ("All jocks stand 
up!"), the attack itself was vicious, cowardly and utterly random. Several of the 
injured and dead had scarcely been at Columbine long enough to make friends, let 


alone enemies, and had never even met the killers. 


Whoever came into their line of fire was fair game. They killed Isaiah Shoels 
because he was black. They reportedly said something to Kyle Velasquez about 
being "pathetic" and killed him, too. They had become executioners on behalf of 
the caste system they despised. Anyone they didn't like, anyone who looked 


different...to them, these weren't people, but targets in the ultimate death match. 


If they'd succeeded in setting off the propane bomb they planted in the school 
kitchen, they would have killed many more, including dozens of classmates who'd 
thought of them as their friends. Instead, they retreated to the library and took their 
own lives before the reality of what they'd done could sink in. They would leave 


that for the injured and their families and the families of the dead. 


It was an obscene day in Colorado. For many survivors, the terrible violence they 
endured was followed by one more shock--the shock of recognition. Nobody had 
dreamed that such a thing could happen here. But when students were given the 


descriptions of the shooters, dozens of them nodded their heads in understanding. 


27 


Oh yeah, they said. Those guys. 


A dozen members of the Columbine community gather in Steve Schweitzberger's 
kitchen on the Fourth of July. Some are wearing "Flush Howard Stern" T-shirts. An 
elderly woman passes around an antique print bearing the Ten Commandments, 
which she would like to see prominently displayed in schools. A man in a baseball 
cap sings along to a tape of "Columbine, Friend of Mine," the song written by two 


students in remembrance of the shooting victims, playing on a boombox. 


Ron Aigner, the man who's proposed building a fifteen-story memorial to the 
victims in the shape of a cross on land he owns within Roxborough State Park, 
complains to a Westword reporter about a recent illustration on the cover of the 


newspaper depicting a tennis player with horns. "You represent the devil," he says. 


Schweitzberger has his own plans for a memorial at the school's back door. A 
former Denver mayoral candidate, Littleton real-estate investor and a Columbine 
parent--his sixteen-year-old daughter, Sara, escaped unharmed on April 20--he's 
vowed to devote the next year of his life to raising funds to help the victims' 
families and to erect a permanent shrine on Rebel Hill, the mound in Clement Park 
across from the school where thousands paid their respects in the weeks after the 
massacre. His plans call for a single cross and a visitors' center in the shape of a 
Columbine ribbon. So far, though, his efforts to purchase the hill from the county 


have met with a less than enthusiastic response from local officials. 


"I moved out of Denver because I was tired of the city council,” he says, "and now 


it's the same thing--people with attitudes who won't even give me a call." 


Like a lot of conservatives stirred to action by the massacre, Schweitzberger sees 
the violence of April 20 as symptomatic of a larger breakdown in social values 
rather than a reflection of the bully-boy jock culture at Columbine. "The two killers 
had a perfectly good coach available, Coach Sanders," he says. "They chose Coach 
Hitler. We've been preaching tolerance. Why should we have to tolerate something 
like that? 


28 


"From what I know, the school was doing its job. But you take a little poison from 
Howard Stern and a little violence from Jerry Springer and this stuff on the 
Internet--I'm not for censorship, but how much of this are we supposed to take? 
Sure, there ought to be some local heroes who aren't capable of throwing the ball 


sixty yards. But how do you pick Adolf Hitler as a role model?" 


The killings, he believes, are a watershed event that will prompt parents and 
students nationwide to become more involved in shaping the values of their 
schools. "We are no longer Generation X or Y," Schweitzberger declares. "We are 
the Columbine Generation, people of all ages who will not apologize for our faith, 
who will pay more attention to what's going on in the schools. Whenever a 
Columbine student has something to say for the next three years, the class that my 


daughter is in, the world will tune in." 


Yet there seems to be little consensus within the community about how to stem the 
plague of school violence. Some grassroots groups are pushing gun legislation; 
others want increased security, a battery of checkpoints to protect students from 
enemies foreign and domestic; still others promote hug-a-thons and diversity clubs 
as ways to defuse hatred before it explodes. The school district has moved 
cautiously, tightening security policies--for example, allowing staffers to 
"interrogate" students without a parental presence if parents can't be reached--while 


denying that the moves have anything to do with the massacre. 


A community task force has devised a bolder set of recommendations for Jeffco 
schools, but several of the more sweeping proposals, including a strict dress code 
("underwear may not show...no camouflage") and closed campuses, have been 
greeted with skepticism by many of the group's own members. (At one recent 
meeting of the task force, Principal DeAngelis pointed out that Columbine couldn't 
close its campus and still feed all of its 1,900 students without extending the school 


day substantially.) 


"I'm hearing from the schools [an emphasis on] 'tolerance and inclusiveness,' and 


I'm hearing from the parents 'character and respect," says Don Lee, the state 


29 


legislator who organized the task force. "There seems to be a philosophical 


difference there." 


Some parents believe that the Jefferson County school district, the largest in the 
state and one of the largest in the country, is simply too unwieldy and bureaucratic 
to be responsive to their concerns. Randy Brown, who recently called on the school 
board to resign, would like to see the district dissolved into several smaller, more 


locally accountable agencies. 


"The bureaucracy doesn't bend, and apathetic parents like me let them get away 
with it," he says. "You want to stop the public anger over this, so you break into 


eighty committees and have them do nothing until things quiet down." 


Brian Rohrbough supports some of the measures that have been discussed, such as 
an anonymous tip line for students. "The kids need to have some kind of board of 
independent parents that they can contact when they see things going on that 
shouldn't happen," he says. "There has to be some way for accountability to take 


place." 


Yet Rohrbough, too, believes that the district has been expending more energy on 
ducking criticism than on making positive changes in response to the shootings. He 
points to the emotional issue of whether to reopen the Columbine library, where ten 
victims died. The district had drawn up plans for some minor changes in the site 
and was preparing to show them to the public when victims' families protested; the 


question of what to do with the library remains on hold. 


"The decision of what to do with that location should be left up to the parents 
whose kids were murdered or wounded there," Rohrbough says. "But this was like 


everything else they've done. They've left the parents out of the process." 


Columbine students are feeling left out, too. Security at Chatfield during the final 
weeks of classes was so airtight that some students scribbled "Chatfield Prison" on 
their IDs and grumbled about being treated like cattle. Students have only minimal 


representation on Lee's task force, and that's alarming to those who see the 


30 


proposed crackdown as a threat to their privacy and their rights of free expression. 
Some fear that Columbine could become a more hostile environment than it ever 


was before. 


"We hardly have a voice on this task force, and we're going to have to endure this, 
not them," says Sarah Bay. "This is mostly for the parents to feel safe, not for us. I 
know people who are afraid of going back to school because of the way they're 


going to be treated." 


More than any survey or research study, the tragedy at Columbine has exposed the 
uneasy gulf between parents and their children in middle America. Anonymous tip 
lines, monitoring of reading materials and other traditional tools of the thought 
police are being pressed into service as parents seek to find a way into a secret 


world of adolescence they no longer recognize. 


"They ought to be focusing on kids who are violent, not just different," says one 
goth sophomore, who asked that her name not be used. "I may go to school in my 
black lipstick, and the people in the halls part like the Red Sea. But I've never 
physically threatened anyone in that school. Why should I be singled out?" 


Tomorrow 
Today you are the poster boys of Satan, leading examples of gun craziness, 
symbols of the virus racing through our blood-soaked culture. You made the cover 


of Time as "The Monsters Next Door." 


But your moment of infamy is passing. Tomorrow it will be someone else. A racist 


in Illinois. A handyman in California. A day trader in Georgia. 


Your legacy is fear and grief and nightmares. Parents in mourning. A brave teacher 
slain as he sought to save kids. Young lives cut short. Others scarred and savaged 


by the attack, some trapped in bodies that no longer work right. 


It is all so horrific that some people would like to erase all trace of you, dreading 
that you will attain cult status--especially in cyberspace, where there is something 


for everyone. Yet it seems best to remember your cruelty as proof of what raw- 


31 


boned boys can do when they put their damaged minds to it. People may loathe you 
or forgive you, attempt to explain you or dismiss you, but the cruelty is a revelation 


to us all. 


How to honor the people you murdered and injured has become a matter of 
paramount importance. It has sparked an outpouring of compassion and financial 
help and a ring of Web sites pledged to "Remember Forever." Some of the tributes 
are tacky. Some celebrate the dead as heroes and martyrs. These are easy labels that 
those who knew them best have resisted--not just because, like all of us, they led 
imperfect lives, but because they deserve to be remembered for who they were, not 


simply as victims. 


Something to remember: They were at school that day because that was where they 
went to learn and work and grow. Until the moment you arrived, they relied on the 

kind of unwritten contract that makes civilization possible. They thought that their 

school was safe, that adults knew how to deal with injustice and violence in their 


midst. 


They were under the impression that, whatever accommodations they had to make 


to get along at Columbine, the rules didn't include mass murder. 


Stonewalled 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / APRIL 13, 2000 / 4:00AM 
The Story They Don't Want to Tell 


On the morning of Judgment Day, minutes before they launch their deadly assault 
on Columbine High School, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold complete their last 

video project together. Guns loaded, bombs and extra ammo packed in duffel bags 
and trench coats, they take turns staring into the camera, making their farewells to 


their families and willing their belongings to various friends. 


32 


"I know my mom and dad will be in shock and disbelief," says Harris. "I can't help 
it." 

"It's what we had to do," says Klebold. 

"That's it," says Harris. "Sorry. Goodbye." 

"Goodbye," Klebold echoes. 


The tape ends with an image that disappears too quickly for the casual viewer to 
absorb. It's a momentary glimpse of a sign on the wall of Harris's bedroom, with 
someone's arm partially blocking the view. Still visible, though, are the letters 
CHS, a drawing of a bomb with fuse lit and, in big black letters, the word CLUE. 


Thirty minutes later, the two teens will be roaming the halls of Columbine, tossing 
bombs and shooting helpless classmates. Thirteen dead. Twenty-three wounded. 
Within an hour or so, Harris will put a shotgun in his mouth and excavate the 
cranial vault -- followed into extinction, seconds later, by Klebold. But even with 
the countdown under way, the pair can't resist thumbing their noses at their parents, 
the cops, the whole world one last time. They leave behind a billboard of their 
intentions, knowing that investigators will find it after it's too late. Here you go, 


boys and girls: a CLUE for the clueless. 


The information about this last-frame image didn't come from inside the 
Columbine investigation, which has been as leaky as a grass hut in a monsoon. It 
didn't come from Time magazine, which revealed the contents of the Harris- 
Klebold tapes in a splashy cover story right before Christmas, or from the 
thundering herd of reporters who demanded their own screening of the tapes in the 


wake of the Time scoop. 


No, the uncovering of the killers' final message was the work of a small group of 
angry, frustrated Columbine parents, who were blindsided by the Time story -- 
published only weeks after Jefferson County officials had assured them that the 


tapes wouldn't be released. The parents then insisted on having a chance to view 


33 


the mess themselves. They took notes, rewound and freeze-framed their way 
through the three hours of Klebold-Harris videos, all the way to the final shot. 

For Brian Rohrbough, whose son, Daniel, was killed at Columbine, the tapes 
answered many questions; they left him with plenty more. A harsh critic of Sheriff 
John Stone's handling of the Columbine probe, Rohrbough has made numerous 
requests for information from investigators, many of which have been denied. "It 
turns out that [the Time reporter] saw just about anything he wanted to see, stuff 
we've never been allowed to see," he says. "Stone promised to provide us with 


more, but now he's saying he can't show us anything else." 


The furor over the Time story widened an already serious rift between Sheriff Stone 
and victims' families. Outrage over the release of the tapes has prompted calls for 
Stone's resignation, and inspired an effort to petition for a recall election targeting 
him, which will commence in earnest this summer. It's also been a source of 
embarrassment and consternation within the sheriff's office; morale has sunk so 
low that a handful of deputies' wives have shown up at recall meetings, eager to 
lend a hand. 


For his part, Stone has publicly expressed regret for the videotape mishap but said 
that he, too, was victimized. He claims that Time reporter Tim Roche suckered him, 
violating a confidentiality agreement with his office that allowed Roche to view the 
tapes on a "background" basis. Executives at the news magazine have denied there 
was any such agreement; several key sources within the sheriff's office, however, 


insist Roche promised to keep the tapes out of his reporting. 


Yet the Time debacle is hardly an isolated occurrence. Ever since Stone's office 
took charge of the Columbine crime scene last April 20, the biggest criminal 
investigation in Colorado history has been a freak show of grisly rumors and leaks, 
scattershot accusations and official misstatements, ranging from the sheriff's initial 


announcement of "up to 25" deaths to the very public hunt for additional suspects 


34 


to the appearance of a snippet of the cafeteria surveillance video on the national 
news (and, later, on the cover of Time). Just three weeks ago, after the Denver 
Post ran a copyrighted front-page story supposedly offering a preview of the long- 
awaited final report on the investigation, Stone felt compelled to write a letter to 
the families of the dead, assuring them that the Post hadn't been privy to any 
confidential material. 

"The information contained in the Post stories had already been made public," 
Stone wrote. "While most of the reporters we have worked with have been 
honorable and responsible, I underestimated the competitiveness of some members 
of the media. Unfortunately, this has caused some of you distress, for which I hope 
you will accept my apology. 

"Our goal throughout the Columbine investigation has been to ascertain the most 
accurate information possible and to present it to you and the public in order to 
help bring this tragedy to some closure...We all share the same objective: To 
determine as accurately as possible how the attack on Columbine was planned and 


carried out." 


The letter didn't placate Brian Rohrbough. He says the sheriff is mistaken if he 
thinks the families' questions only concern how the attack took place, and he 


bristles at the word "closure." 


"There is no such thing as closure, or any desire for closure," he declares. "It's our 
kids, and we don't want to put them behind us. We're not trying to relive April 20; 
everyone's accepted that their kids are gone. But everyone wants to know why it 
happened, if it could have been prevented, should it have been handled differently - 
- and, most important, what can we do right this minute to keep it from happening 


again? We're not getting those answers." 


With the release of the sheriff's final Columbine report still weeks, if not months, 
away, there's little prospect of closure soon for anyone who wants those answers. 
And many of the toughest questions about Columbine won't be addressed in the 


report. Undersheriff John Dunaway describes it as "an executive summary of the 


35 


entire investigative effort," which will present a scrupulous timeline of official 
actions but won't attempt to evaluate the performance of the emergency response 
teams or stray into discussion of possible accomplices. Despite the fact that 
investigators say they've found no evidence to date anyone other than Klebold or 
Harris was directly involved in the attack, the case remains open, much of its 


findings sealed from public view. 


"The sheriff's office is under no obligation, legally or otherwise, to produce a 
public report," Dunaway notes. "But because of the nature of this crime and the 
attention it has generated, we have felt some obligation to report to the public at 


large what occurred." 


Dunaway maintains that there has never been "a 'leak' of any confidential 
information that was done intentionally by any member of the sheriff's office. This 
office is open and forthcoming with the media, to our own detriment, it would 


seem." 


From the outset, the sheriff's office has blamed much of the confusion surrounding 
the investigation on the press. It was the media, after all, that ran with sketchy, 
unconfirmed stories about bogus suicide notes, the Trenchcoat Mafia and the 
killers' supposed affiliations with goths and hate groups, a mythology about the 
massacre that persisted months later ("Doom Rules," August 5, 1999). It was the 
media that stirred up the families' animosity with secondhand revelations and 
phony exclusives. ("They had that information for months," Dunaway says of the 
recent Post article. "Yet it's structured in a way that looks like these bozos over 
here at the sheriff's office can't keep anything confidential.") It was the media that 
created the "perception" that the final report has been delayed again and again, by 
running overly optimistic stories about its pending release. And it was the media, in 
the form of Time, that bamboozled Sheriff Stone and offered the grieving families, 
as a sick Christmas present, the spectacle of Harris and Klebold showing off their 


stash of weapons and their hit list. 


36 


But blaming the messenger ignores the extent to which media outlets have taken 
their cues from the sheriff's office -- often from Stone himself. In the first weeks of 
the investigation, Stone repeatedly aired his conviction that Harris and Klebold 
didn't act alone, and then obligingly named suspected accomplices on national 
television. Reports that the investigation was nearing completion came out of the 
sheriff's office as early as last August, only to be "corrected" by subsequent reports 
(many phases of the investigation, Dunaway says, didn't wind down until January). 
And regardless of the actual arrangement, it was Stone's decision to provide access 
to sensitive materials to Time, thereby incurring the wrath of Columbine parents. 
The ongoing public-relations fiasco has prompted several parents of the murdered 
and wounded to throw their support behind the recall effort. Some have accused 
Stone of grandstanding, using the tragedy for his own political gain, and worse. His 
most virulent critics predict the final report will be a whitewash, skirting ugly 
questions about how the sheriff's office handled previous complaints concerning 
Eric Harris and what might have been done to save more lives once the shooting 


began. 


"There are 9,000 rumors about Columbine, and the police report, unfortunately, is 
one of them," said Randy Brown, the Columbine parent who launched the recall 


campaign, at a recent gathering of recall supporters. "Don't expect the truth." 


Dunaway says Brown, whose son Brooks was labeled a possible suspect by Stone, 
is pursuing his own agenda with the recall. But the sheriff's right-hand man seems 

baffled by the outrage of other parents. "I feel our handling of this case has been as 
clean and objective as it could have been," he says. "No law-enforcement 


jurisdiction in the country has ever dealt with a case like this." 


He adds, "We have communicated extensively with the families at every turn. But 
this thing has taken on a life of its own. We don't have anyone to prosecute, other 
than the people who helped them obtain the guns. There's nobody to put in the dock 


for the murders of all these children. Not having somebody to blame, except the 


37 


killers themselves, [the families] turn and attack the very people who have tried to 


help them." 


Rohrbough says that Jeffco investigators promised to meet with him at any time 
and answer all of his questions, but have since blown him off repeatedly. "They 
don't want to talk to us," he says simply. "They have a ton of things to hide. They 
don't want to tell the families what happened to their kids, but a lot of them have 
started to put it together." 


For months Rohrbough and his ex-wife, Sue Petrone, have tried to recover the 
clothes their son was wearing when he was murdered. Their reasons are both 
personal and forensic; Rohrbough is convinced that "the clothes tell the story they 
don't want to tell," the story of how Dan died. At first investigators told them the 
clothing was a biohazard, he says. When they checked with medical labs and 
presented evidence to the contrary, the investigators still refused to give them the 
clothing, citing the open nature of the case. At one point, one of the lead 


investigators "got nasty" with them, yelling at Sue. 


"I'd sensed before that there were a lot of problems," Rohrbough says, "but that was 
the first time I realized that we're the enemy. It was never Klebold and Harris. It's 


W 


us. 
Blowing Smoke and Pointing Fingers 


Given the pandemonium of April 20 and the emotional television coverage that 
followed, it was probably inevitable that the Columbine investigation would be 
mired in controversy from the start. Law-enforcement officials were quick to praise 
the multi-agency response to the tragedy, but no amount of kudos could defuse the 
images of carnage replayed over and over on the nightly news, or answer the 


questions those images raised. 


Two days after the attack, Attorney General Janet Reno assured reporters at a 
Jefferson County press conference that Columbine was emerging as "a textbook 


case of how to conduct an investigation, of how to do it the right way." Reno's view 


38 


was soon seconded by that of Los Angeles police chief Bernard Parks, who'd sent 
officers to observe the investigation process hours after the shooting stopped and 
later wrote a warm letter of thanks to Sheriff Stone, praising "the professionalism 


of all the involved personnel" and "their bravery and supreme dedication to duty." 


But such endorsements, from the folks who brought you Waco and the chronic 
scandals of the LAPD, offered scarce comfort. They were at odds with what the 
nation had seen on TV: the massing of hundreds of police officers outside the 
school while scores of terrified students were still trapped inside; the painfully 
methodical, four-hour sweep of the building by SWAT teams while gravely 
wounded victims, including teacher Dave Sanders, fought for their lives without 
medical help; the slow-motion rescue of a wounded Patrick Ireland -- more than 
two hours, it turned out, after the shooters had killed themselves. Over the next 36 
hours, as the bodies of the dead remained in the school while bombs were removed, 
the questioning began: How could law enforcement be so powerless to counter the 


rampage of two teenagers? What the hell happened? 


People looked to Sheriff Stone for answers. And that's when the questions started 


to multiply. 


John Stone had been Jefferson County's sheriff for less than four months when 
Columbine came crashing down on his shoulders. Although he'd worked nineteen 
years as a police officer in Lakewood, he'd been out of law enforcement for more 
than a decade, serving as a county commissioner, when the retirement of Ron 
Beckham prompted him to run for the sheriff's job in 1998. Stone emerged 
victorious in a three-way Republican primary and then easily beat an independent 
opponent in the GOP-dominated county, despite reservations among line officers 


about his long hiatus from police work. 


Accustomed to speaking his mind as a commissioner, Stone had difficulty adjusting 
to the crisis that was Columbine. On April 20, while parents waited in agony for 
news of their kids, he was all too eager to share what he thought he knew, telling 


reporters there were seventeen "confirmed" dead and reports of up to 25 bodies. 


39 


Over the next few days Stone and his top commanders stumbled again and again, 
referring to three youths in trench coats who'd been picked up near the school as 
suspects when they'd already been cleared; suggesting that surveillance videos 
from the school would show the gunmen firing at students when the tapes hadn't 
yet been analyzed; claiming that sheriff's deputies had prevented Klebold and 


Harris from escaping. 


Crossed signals with the investigation team prompted Jefferson County District 
Attorney Dave Thomas to declare on national television that an arrest was 
imminent. At one point, Stone was obliged to hold a midnight press conference to 


correct statements he'd made hours earlier. 


Stone soon opted to give fewer interviews and let his able public-information 
officers handle most of the questions. He's become even more cautious about 
talking to the press since the Time article, which was accompanied by an ominous 
photo of Stone and Undersheriff Dunaway, in full dress uniforms and latex gloves, 
posing with the guns Klebold and Harris used to murder their classmates. "He's 
been pretty reluctant to do any interviews after the Time flap," says sheriff's office 
spokesman Steve Davis. "He's a little gun-shy." (Stone declined Westword's request 


for an interview, but responded to questions in writing.) 


Some Columbine families wish Stone had curbed his tongue earlier -- particularly 
Randy and Judy Brown. In the winter and spring of 1998, before Stone took office, 
the Browns filed several complaints about Eric Harris with the sheriff's department; 
they even provided investigators with pages downloaded from Harris's Web site in 
which he discussed assembling and detonating pipe bombs and threatened to kill 
their son Brooks: "I don't care if I live or die in the shootout, all I want to do is kill 
and injure as many of you pricks as I can, especially a few people. Like Brooks 
Brown." But the sheriff's office never contacted Harris's parents or took any action 


against the teen, who was on probation at the time for theft. 


40 


After the shootings, the Browns publicly blasted the sheriff's office for failing to 
take their complaints seriously. Stone shot back on the Today show, describing 
Harris's online invective as a "subtle threat" that wasn't prosecutable. Noting that 
Brooks had told reporters Harris had warned him away from the school minutes 
before the attack began, he declared the criticisms a "smokescreen." 

"Brooks Brown could possibly be a suspect," Stone said. "Mr. Brown, as well as 


several others, are in the investigative mode." 


The Browns were livid. It was the sheriff who was blowing smoke, they declared, 
trying to cover up his agency's incompetence by casting suspicion on the very 
people who'd recognized that Eric Harris was dangerous and had tried to get the 
cops involved. "Every time we brought up the Web pages, he always diverted 
attention to us," Randy Brown says now. "Sheriff Stone had absolutely no evidence 


of Brooks being involved. This shows what kind of person he is." 


Brooks Brown wasn't the only one to get the Richard Jewell treatment from Stone 
and his top brass. The sheriff's off-the-cuff sniping at Harris's parents undoubtedly 
contributed to their reluctance to speak with investigators for months, and his 
office's willingness to identify other potential suspects by name, including at least 
one juvenile, appalled defense attorneys. But Dunaway says that his boss's 


terminology was accurate, that there were plenty of reasons to suspect Brooks. 


"This Brown person is telling us that he is in direct personal contact with Harris 
moments before the killings begin," Dunaway says. "And Harris tells him that he 
likes him and that he should leave the school. Then he shows up in a class photo 
with Harris and Klebold, and they're all pointing fingers at the camera, as if they 


had guns." 


The Browns paid for a private polygraph test to establish that their son had no prior 
knowledge of the attack; he passed. But to this day the sheriff's office has never 
formally cleared Brooks; Dunaway will only say there's no evidence "at this time" 


to connect him to the shootings. 


41 


"They're the ones who keep talking about this stuff," he says of the Browns. 
"They're the ones who went to their own polygraphist, but when our investigator 
asked for the results and the questions, they refused to give us any of that 
information. To say they were cooperative with the investigation is not correct. 


They were not cooperative." 


"That's a lie," Randy Brown responds. "We spent hours with the police and the 
FBI. The only reason they wanted the polygraph results was to try to discredit 
them. All these people care about is their own reputation. They don't care about 


anyone else at all." 


Over the past year the Browns have sought to assemble the paper trail of their 
contacts with the sheriff's office, only to find much of it missing or denied to them. 
They have been told there's no record of any incident report stemming from their 
first complaint about Eric Harris over a broken windshield (Judy Brown says that 
deputies contacted the Harrises twice about that complaint). They have been told 
that the Browns themselves insisted that the Harrises not be contacted about the 
online death threats. (Randy Brown says he asked that the officers not mention 
Brooks as the source of the information, for fear of reprisals, but strongly urged 
them to contact Eric's father.) They have been told that John Hicks, the detective 
assigned to the case, has no record of meeting with them in his office in March 
1998 -- a meeting the Browns recall vividly because, they say, two bomb 
technicians gave them a quick lesson in pipe bombs and Hicks indicated that his 


office already had a file on Eric Harris. 


According to Division Chief John Kiekbusch, many of the "missing" records the 
Browns have sought were routinely purged or never existed to begin with. Last 
spring the sheriff's office issued a statement confirming that a computer check in 
response to the Brown complaints had failed to turn up Harris's prior arrest for 
theft; "I cannot verify that a computer check on Harris was done or the information 


produced by such a check," Stone says now. 


42 


Judy Brown says she has been told she can no longer contact clerks in the sheriff's 
office to make public-records requests like any other citizen, but instead must 
direct her inquiries to a senior administrator, who hasn't returned her calls in weeks. 
"The Browns are free to speak with any sheriff's office personnel as appropriate to 


their inquiry or needs," Stone says. 


"Our lives have turned into a really bad X-Files," says Brooks Brown. 

For Brooks, the burden of being branded a suspect has never entirely gone away. 
Students have hissed "murderer" at him on the street and hurled obscenities from 
passing cars; even a year later, total strangers feel entitled to berate him. An avid 
debater, he recently returned to Columbine to watch his former team in action, only 


to be escorted out by a security guard. 


"It's been horrible," he says. "I don't think anyone knows how hard it is to have a 
best friend that was killed, a really close person like Daniel Mauser, and you can't 
go to his parents because they might think you helped kill him. I was also good 
friends with Rachel Scott." 


Brooks's own contact with investigators left him with the impression that the probe 
was proceeding in a very selective, even myopic fashion. In his first three 
interviews with a Jeffco sergeant and an FBI agent, the pair focused exclusively on 
the events of April 20. "That's pretty much all they asked me," he says. "They 
never asked about my friendship with Eric or Dylan. They never asked about the 
Web pages. They never asked about anything but what happened between eleven 


and twelve o'clock that day." 


On the fourth and final interview, they arrived with Brooks's backpack, which he'd 
left in a friend's car during the melee. They had found poems he'd written and left 
in the pack, poems about hating jocks and about a Columbine student who'd killed 


his stepfather and then himself the year before. 


"They had me read four or five of them," Brooks recalls, "and then they asked, 


"What does this mean?’ They thought it meant I was involved in Columbine. I told 


43 


them I like to write poetry and it's not happy all the time. After about an hour, my 
dad told them to leave." 


Brooks Brown has never seen the tapes Klebold and Harris made documenting 
their preparations for Armageddon. No investigator has ever quizzed him or his 
friends about the nicknames and cryptic references on those tapes to various 
associates and enemies. No one from Jeffco or the FBI has ever solicited his 
insights for a psychological profile of the killers, even though he'd been a close 
friend of Dylan Klebold's since they were children. As far as motive goes, it seems 
the investigators are satisfied with the oft-quoted phrase, "They hated everybody" - 
- an explanation that doesn't explain anything, while seeming to exonerate 
Columbine's see-no-evil administration and its troubled student culture from any 


liability in the matter. 


Brooks has his own theories about what drove the killers. He suspects their motives 
may have been different, even if the mission was largely the same. He wonders if 
their suicides in the school library may have been hastened by a merciful mistake, 


one last miscalculation leading to a hasty exit. 


"They were assuming the SWAT team was going to be there any minute," he says. 


"Just like everybody else." 
"Like a Couple of Rambo Nuts" 


Sheriff Stone has tended to characterize the recall action as an extension of his feud 
with the Browns; he's even referred to the campaign as "the Brown effort to recall 
me." But the situation is actually more complicated than that. Although Randy 
Brown obtained the official paperwork for the recall, he says he did so at the urging 
of other Columbine parents who were upset with the Time article, and he has since 
received support from other quarters as well. 

To place the recall before voters this fall, Stone's opponents will have to gather a 
minimum of 42,000 valid signatures in sixty days -- which means they'll probably 
have to collect at least 60,000. That's a tall order for a grassroots campaign in the 


sprawling suburbs, particularly since Columbine is a hot-button issue primarily on 


44 


the south side of the county. Other high-profile homicides, such as the still- 
unsolved Subway shop murders, have spurred further criticism of the sheriff's 


office, but the recall effort remains largely a reaction to Columbine. 


"Stone has no business being sheriff," says Victor Good, chairman of the Colorado 
Reform Party, which has voted to back the recall. "We thought he'd learned his 
lesson. But instead of having a legitimate press conference when the facts are 
known, he chooses to play favorites and pander to Time. That's just unacceptable." 
Like Brown, Good is hardly a disinterested party; his stepson, Nate Dykeman, was 
also a friend of Klebold's and Harris's who was caught in the maw of the media 
frenzy. But anger over the release of the tapes has also forged unlikely alliances 
between the Browns and victims' families that had previously shunned them 


because of the cloud of suspicion cast on Brooks. 


"Randy and Judy Brown are wonderful people, and every point they have is 
absolutely valid," declares Angela Sanders, daughter of slain teacher Dave Sanders. 
"Tve had very little contact with the sheriff's office, but I do believe that Sheriff 


Stone needs to be gone. He hasn't done a very good job of protecting the families." 


Dunaway contends that the sheriff's office decided to cooperate with Time in an 
effort to help the families. "Time has misrepresented to the nation their direct 
violation of our confidentiality agreement with them," he says. But even if an off- 
the-record agreement was violated, the affair raises disturbing questions about how 
the sheriff's office has dealt with the most sensitive aspects of the Columbine 
investigation -- and why. 

According to Dunaway, Time writer Timothy Roche first approached him about 
doing an article on the "human impact of this experience" -- how the tragedy had 
affected the investigators as well as teachers, students and others. So that no 
confidential details of the investigation would be released inadvertently, Dunaway 
monitored Roche's interviews with his officers. 

"This guy was here probably a week or more interviewing key people," Dunaway 


says. "I sat in on those interviews, and the questions were perfectly consistent with 


45 


the nature of the story as he represented it to us. We believed he was going to write 


a story that would bring closure to the community around this thing." 


After most of his interviews were completed, Roche asked to see the Harris- 
Klebold tapes. Dunaway already had "a hundred requests" from media 
organizations for the tapes, excerpts of which had been read into the record at a 
sentencing hearing for one of the teens' gun suppliers in November; under the state 
open-records law, he couldn't release them to Time without turning them over to 
everyone else, too. But Roche had a novel pitch, Dunaway says. The reporter told 
him he wanted to view the tapes, not for their content, but in order to obtain crucial 
insights into the way the killers thought and acted, so that he could write a better 
story. 

With Stone's blessing, Dunaway and Roche struck a deal. "I told him that if he 
were allowed to see them, he couldn't reference them in any way," Dunaway says. 
"He couldn't refer to ever having seen them, because the instant he did that, it 
would put them in the public domain, and they'd have to be available to everyone. 


He agreed explicitly to every condition." 


Roche went to Kate Battan, the Columbine lead investigator, and told her that the 
undersheriff had given him permission to view the tapes. "I said, 'I think there may 
be a misunderstanding here’ -- because there was no way on God's green earth I 
was going to show him those tapes," Battan recalls. "So I called the undersheriff 


and told him I was a bit confused." 


Battan handed the phone to Roche. While she and two other witnesses listened, she 
says, Roche repeated to Dunaway the conditions he had accepted: "I listened to him 
say, "That's right, I'm not going to quote from them, I only want a better 
understanding of what you guys were going through when you were investigating 
this."" 


Roche referred questions about his dealings with the sheriff's office to 


a Time spokeswoman, who simply reiterated an earlier statement that the magazine 


46 


had violated no agreement. Dunaway acknowledges that the arrangement was an 
unusual one, but insists that it did exist. 

"Frankly, he had our confidence," the undersheriff says. "In thirty years, I had 
never been burned by a journalist. Think about it. Was there any reason we would 
have subjected ourselves to this kind of abuse? This caused the whole office a lot 


of grief." 


But Stone's critics say the effort to portray the sheriff and his people as innocent 
victims of a manipulative journalist won't wash. What shocked the Columbine 
parents wasn't the possibility that a national magazine might have thrown ethics out 
the window for the sake of a killer exclusive ("Are you going to burn a source over 
the largest circulation that magazine has seen in some time? Hell, yes," snaps Kate 
Battan), but the astonishing degree of access the magazine was granted, "in 
confidence" or not, to previously off-limits material -- including key details about 


the massacre itself. 


Battan says she was present when Roche reviewed the Harris-Klebold videos. He 
took notes, she recalls, but he wasn't allowed to pause or rewind the tapes. Another 
source, however, says Roche went over the tapes several times; the extensive 
quotation and description of physical details in the final article certainly indicates 
repeated viewings. It's also clear that Roche obtained extensive information about 
the rampage that could only have come from the investigators themselves, 
including the positions in which certain victims’ bodies were found and the final 
actions of the killers in the library. (Battan says she refused Roche's request to see 
crime-scene photos.) The sheriff's office even provided Time with its cover, a 
technically enhanced still photo of Harris and Klebold, armed to the teeth, taken 
from the cafeteria surveillance video. Dunaway explains that the image had already 
leaked out indirectly, through law-enforcement presentations; Battan says Roche 
promised not to use the photo on the cover. 

The eagerness to cooperate with Time displayed an astonishing lack of skepticism 
by veteran law-enforcement officials. Basic questions were never asked: Why 


would a deadline- harried reporter spend hours reviewing materials (and taking 


47 


notes) that he couldn't use in any way? How could watching Eric Harris recite the 
names of the "fucking bitches" who never returned his phone calls help the reporter 
understand what the police were going through? What does all this have to do with 
"closure" for the community, anyway? 

After the article came out, Battan received a phone call from Roche. "He wouldn't 
say he lied to me, but he didn't deny it, either," she says. "He said, 'Kate, you know 


how editors are."" 


But if Roche was overruled by his bosses in the matter, so was Battan; she didn't 
want to show him the tapes in the first place. "It doesn't matter what the intent 
was," she says. "There are going to be people who say, 'Why did you allow them to 
do this?’ I don't know that we can answer that. But it seems absurd to believe that 
we let them see something, knowing they were going to put it in their magazine, 


when obviously it was going to cause a stir." 


Obviously. Recognizing that other news outlets were after the tapes and fearing 
that it would get beat on its own scoop, Time moved up the scheduled publication 
of its Columbine story by a week, guaranteeing that the killers’ venom-laced 
tauntings and recriminations would be on everyone's breakfast table in time for the 
holidays. Within hours of the magazine hitting the newsstands, the calls for Stone's 
resignation began. The sheriff was publicly vilified and privately castigated by 
seething victims’ families, whom he sought to appease with apologies and offers to 
view the tapes. Merry Christmas. 

The Time story presented a great deal about Columbine that was previously 
unknown to the public; it also revealed quite a bit about the leadership at the 
sheriff's office. Take the now-infamous picture of the sheriff and the undersheriff 
holding the murder weapons. The image was actually the result of two photo 
sessions. When the first session didn't produce a usable shot because of poor 
interior lighting, the photographer requested another chance outdoors. Stone and 
Dunaway obliged, dressing up and hauling the guns out of the evidence room for a 


second time. 


48 


Here's how Dunaway explains the evolution of that picture. The photographer 
wanted "candid photos" of the officers in uniform. Then he persuaded them to 
assist him in photographing the guns, saying that shots of the weapons merely lying 


on a table were "too stark." 


"Remember, the whole story was to be a closure thing," Dunaway says. "The way 
they were going to present these photos was, 'Here are the county's senior law- 
enforcement officials, determined to see this Columbine investigation through 


relentlessly.’ 


"I think they deliberately posed these photos to make them as inflammatory as they 
could. If they'd written the story from the slant they said they would, the photo 
would have been fine. But the way it came out, it made us look like a couple of 


Rambo nuts or something." 


Randy Brown thinks the photo reveals why the sheriff's office opened its evidence 
vaults for Time. "They thought they were going to look like heroes," he says. "I 
believe John Stone thought he was going to be on the cover." 

"That photo is ego, pure and simple," says one veteran Jeffco deputy, who spoke on 
condition of anonymity. "When Columbine happened, the smartest thing Stone 
could have done is say, 'I'm new here, talk to this guy.’ That's not his style. He's 


concerned with whatever will put him on the front page." 


Stone's supposedly colossal ego has been a sore point among his own line officers, 
many of whom regard the sheriff as a career politician rather than a career cop. As 
a candidate, Stone pledged to cut bureaucracy and beef up the number of street 
officers in the chronically understaffed agency; he's since reshuffled the command 
structure to create three "division chiefs," a new layer of management. (Stone says 
he's deployed more deputies by modifying duty schedules and has slightly 
decreased overall supervisory positions.) But much of the grumbling out in the 
field has to do with the sheriff's efforts to repackage the agency's image to suit him 
-- changing the official name from sheriff's "department" to "office," for instance -- 


while sullying its reputation with his shoot-from-the-lip behavior. 


49 


"Morale is as bad as I've ever seen it," the deputy declares. "The arrogance is still 


there, and we all suffer the consequences for it." 


Brown accuses the sheriff of trying to "capitalize" on Columbine. In a six-month 
period following the shootings, Stone made presentations at eleven out-of-town 
conferences dealing with the tragedy, ranging from a Florida Sheriff's Association 
gathering in Palm Beach to a hate-crime symposium in Sacramento to a group of 
Canadian police chiefs in Ontario. He's hardly unique in that regard; school 
officials, fire and medical personnel and even journalists have offered their 
"expertise" on Columbine in dozens of forums since last April. Stone says he has "a 
professional obligation" to help other law-enforcement agencies prepare for 
incidents of school violence and to assist in developing intervention strategies 
before violence occurs. Still, his travels amounted to 32 days in six months; while 
Stone was overseeing the investigation and running the sheriff's office, over one- 


sixth of his time was devoted to speaking engagements out of state. 


"He's gone around the country telling people how great he is and how his officers 
did everything right," says Brian Rohrbough. "At the same time, he's saying they're 


not going to critique themselves in this final report." 


The Klebold-Harris videos are now tied up in several lawsuits, including one filed 
in federal court by the county attorney on behalf of the sheriff's office, seeking a 
belated ruling on whether those tapes and the school surveillance tapes can be 
turned over to the media. The Time story is still available to the public, though, and 
the recall group has made fliers featuring the photo of Stone and Dunaway. 
Seduced by the national press, the sheriff has become the poster boy for the 


campaign to remove him from office. 
The First Lie and the Last Breath 


Brian Rohrbough knows exactly when people started lying to him about 
Columbine. It started on April 20, 1999, at 5:30 p.m., when a handful of parents 
were still waiting at Leawood Elementary School, with faltering hopes, for news of 


their children. 


50 


m 


"The first lie was, "There's another busload of kids coming," he says. 


For hours Rohrbough had been struggling with a feeling that he was never going to 
see his son again. Officials' assurances that there were still kids being evacuated 
rang hollow, and by half-past five he'd had enough. He turned to Sue Petrone and 


said, "Danny's dead. It's over." A woman standing nearby overheard him. 
"Don't give up hope," she said. "There's one more bus coming." 


Rohrbough turned to the woman and said, "Have you no decency at all? My son's 
dead. We've heard there's 25 kids dead in there. And you're going to stand here and 


lie to me?" 


The woman shut up and walked away. Perhaps she meant well; perhaps she merely 
believed what others were telling her. But Rohrbough is convinced she was lying to 
him -- knowingly, deliberately, because the truth was simply too terrible. "When 


people lie to me, I have to know why," he says. 


Other parents of murdered Columbine students have channeled their grief and 
anger into litigation, crusades for gun control or safer schools, religion, books and 
Web sites and the campaign to build a new library. Rohrbough has been active on 
several fronts, including the library effort, but a great deal of his energy has been 
devoted to trying to learn the truth about April 20. He and Sue Petrone and their 
circle of friends and loved ones have emerged as the official investigation's worst 
nightmare: a victim's family that isn't satisfied with the official answers and wants 


to know much, much more. 


Publicly, prosecutors and cops have to offer respect, or at least lip-service, to 
victims’ families. Rohrbough has sought to exert the moral leverage of his position 
to full advantage, using the media to take the sheriff's office to task again and 
again. During one two-day period after the Time debacle, he estimates he did close 
to seventy interviews. "It's the only way I have of putting pressure on them to find 


answers," he says. 


51 


No one can take such a public stance without catching some heat as well. 
Rohrbough has been sharply criticized for taking it upon himself to remove 
"forgiveness" memorials to Klebold and Harris. But nothing has drawn as much 
hate mail as his attacks on Sheriff Stone: "Your victim act is wearing thin," one 


anonymous scribe informed him. 


Rohrbough says that he's never considered himself a victim. He is the father of a 


victim, and he wants to know what happened to his son. 
The whole story. 


The problem is that the story keeps changing. Recently Rohrbough was intrigued to 
read in the Rocky Mountain News an account of DA Dave Thomas's visit to 
Leawood on April 20, clutching a list of thirteen names and steeling himself to 
notify the families because he "couldn't bear to prolong their agony." As 
Rohrbough recalls, Thomas informed the group that nobody knew anything for 
certain yet and then turned things over to the coroner, who asked for descriptions to 
help identify bodies. 

"No one ever officially notified me that my son was dead," Rohrbough says. "We 


saw it in the newspaper." 


In the immediate aftermath, officials maintained that they couldn't remove the dead 
-- including Daniel Rohrbough, who was slain outside the school -- for more than a 
day because of all the explosives, including the likelihood that the bodies were 
rigged with pipe bombs. Nobody talks about booby-trapped bodies any more. "You 
can't name another crime scene in history where dead kids were left for 36 hours," 


says Randy Brown. 


Bomb squad members have told Rohrbough that the killing power of the explosives 
has been greatly exaggerated -- that even if the main propane bombs in the cafeteria 
had detonated, the blast "would not have affected the structure of the building and 
would have been unlikely to kill many people," he says. Yet public accounts 
continue to stress that Harris and Klebold came close to setting off an oxygen- 


devouring fireball that would have killed hundreds. 


52 


Early accounts, drawing on passages from Harris's writings, suggested that the 
killers planned to escape into the neighborhood, crash a plane into a major city, or 
otherwise spread the carnage somehow. Within a few days, the sheriff's office was 
downplaying such reports as sheer nonsense. Yet as late as last September, 
Undersheriff Dunaway told a school-safety convention in Pittsburgh that Harris and 
Klebold had intended to storm Columbine, then journey into the neighborhood, 
shooting more people until they committed suicide or died in a firefight with the 


cops. 


Lately the sheriff's office has been eager to dispel the "myths" of Columbine: That 
Harris and Klebold had help. That they targeted jocks and minorities. That the 
attack was in honor of Hitler's birthday. That bombs were smuggled into the school 


on prom night. 


Rohrbough would be more impressed if most of the "myths" they're now debunking 
hadn't come out of the sheriff's office to begin with. "Their story doesn't work very 
well," he says. "The fact that they won't release the report really concerns me. They 


have promised me this report month after month after month." 


Declaring the case still open, even though there's no evidence of any third-party 
involvement, has allowed the sheriff's office to shield many aspects of the 
investigation from scrutiny -- while satisfying no one. Documents that would 
otherwise be public, such as the autopsy reports, remain sealed, as the possibility of 
an as-yet-undiscovered conspiracy lingers in the air. "My sense is that they're trying 
to save whatever face they can," says one attorney who's had some involvement 
with the Columbine probe. "By saying the investigation is still open, it doesn't 


make Stone look like a complete idiot." 


Rohrbough believes there may be good reasons to keep the case open. "Did they act 
alone on April 20? Possibly," he says. "But there's no question other people knew 


about it." 


But what gnaws at Rohrbough, every bit as much as the prospect that possible 


accomplices have evaded justice, is the official story of the police response at 


53 


Columbine that day. Over the past year he has talked to numerous eyewitnesses 
about how the attack unfolded and how rescue teams responded. Many of the 


accounts contradict the official timeline of the event. 


Rohrbough has also seen surveillance video taken in the school commons area 
during the attack. The tape shows Harris and Klebold advancing, classmates 
running for their lives, a teacher getting shot in the ankle, two janitors -- "who are, 
without question, heroes," Rohrbough declares -- using handheld radios to summon 
help and escorting students to safety. But in the forty minutes of the tape he was 
allowed to see, from the time Harris and Klebold came in shooting around 11:20 
a.m. until their suicides around noon, no police officer appears in a single frame of 


the video. 


"They had the 911 calls from inside the school, the radio calls from the janitors, the 
eyewitness accounts,” he says. "They knew by 11:24 where the shooters were in 


the school, and they did nothing." 


Dunaway says his people have been criticized endlessly for not acting fast enough 
in a chaotic situation when, in fact, the first team entered the school before 11:45 
a.m. "I had made the policy decision, driving to the scene, that if this thing was real 
-- I was really hoping that it was going to be a senior prank -- that we would make 
an immediate entry to the school," he says. "I knew that would be contrary to all 
conventional SWAT tactics, and I authorized that ad hoc team. They were inside 


within five or ten minutes of receiving that authorization from me." 


Unfortunately, he adds, most of the shooting was already over before the SWAT 
teams arrived on the scene. "We've been beaten up so long and so badly," he says. 
"All of us here are at the point of saying, 'We did what we did.’ We don't make any 
apologies for it. In fact, we're proud of how we handled that situation. There were 
dead kids in that incident, but they were killed in the space of a very few minutes, 


and there are a lot of them who are alive today because of the way we reacted." 


Vince DiManna, the police captain who heads the Denver SWAT team, was a 


member of the first team to go in -- along with five other Denver officers, two from 


54 


Jeffco and two more from Littleton. DiManna, who had a son and a niece at 
Columbine that day, says his group was moving as quickly as possible, following 


the procedures for a "TNT," or tactical neutralization team. 


"This was an active shooter response,” he says. "We were moving rapidly through 
the school, but when you get to a door that's locked, you can't just go by. We don't 


know where the suspects are." 


Like Rohrbough, DiManna praises the janitors as the "real heroes" of the day. 
"They're the ones who saved a lot of kids, locking doors so [Klebold and Harris] 
couldn't go in, and then going out to find more kids," he says. "It amazed us how 


many locked classrooms there were." 


Soon there were other SWAT teams, funneling through two entry points -- one 
upstairs, one down, to avoid crossfire situations. But each door had to be opened, 
safe paths of escape established for the fleeing students. The teams were told that 
there were up to seven suspects, that they were changing clothes and might be 
blending in with the kids running out of the building. Although it ended up taking 
more than four hours to clear the building and reach the library, DiManna insists it 


couldn't have been done any faster. 


"I wish I could have had a crystal ball that said, 'The library, let's go there,'" he 
says. "These guys were jumping over bombs. The whole purpose of a TNT is to 
draw their fire so you can end this, either by getting them to drop the weapon or 
killing them. As it is, we had crossfires set up and SWAT teams raising weapons at 


other teams coming around the corner." 


Rohrbough has heard all the explanations about bombs and fire alarms, scrambled 
communications and crossfires. He knows the officers didn't have a crystal ball. 
But he argues that they did have a command post, one that was being flooded well 
before noon with information about casualties in the library, about Dave Sanders 
bleeding to death in the science room -- information that somehow didn't reach the 


front lines or alter the procedure. 


55 


"If someone had radioed that they had a cop down in the library, they would have 
stormed the building,” he says, with mounting anger. "They didn't know if they had 
two shooters or four? That's okay, you figure it out; the one holding the big gun, 
he's your target. If they're not prepared to do it, then get the cops out of the way and 
let the parents go in. There isn't one parent who wouldn't have gone in the school. I 
saw a video of one who stormed past the police line and went right up to the school 


before they stopped him." 


According to DiManna, the teams had an obligation to protect the students they 
encountered even as they moved forward. "From a SWAT perspective, I'd do it all 


the same way," he says. 


Yet many other victims' families have raised privately the same sort of painful 
questions Rohrbough is now asking publicly. Could police have reached the library 
sooner, would more students have survived there? And what about Dave Sanders? 
When a paramedic reached the science room with the SWAT team around 3 p.m., 
he reported encountering an adult male who had no detectable pulse but was still 
manifesting "agonal breaths"; he was instructed to move on to the next patient, to 
treat those who were still breathing on their own first. A Denver Health Medical 
Center physician entered the building at 4:30 p.m. to confirm deaths; Sanders was 
the last casualty to be examined, and he had no vital signs at that point. Would a 
couple of hours or even a half hour in the response time have made a difference in 


his case? 


The families don't have answers to those questions -- but that is not the same thing 
as saying they are unanswerable. In many cases, the parents don't even have a time 
of death for their children. Other multiple homicide cases around the country have 
been cleared up in weeks or a few months, with vital information from the 
investigation released within hours. A year later, the families of Columbine are still 


waiting for the sheriff's office to deliver the answers. 


Rohrbough thinks he's waited long enough. This week, an attorney representing the 


families of Daniel Rohrbough and Kelly Fleming, another student killed in the 


56 


attack, filed a formal open-records request with the sheriff's office. Citing pending 
deadlines for filing lawsuits, the families are seeking immediate release of the final 
report, 911 tapes, surveillance tapes, ballistics reports and other key information 
about the events of April 20. Rohrbough says he wants to see how the sheriff's 
report matches up with what he already knows. 


"They lie as a practice," he says. "The police did everything they could do wrong 


April 20, and I mean specifically the command." 


The Missing Motive 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / JULY 13, 2000 / 4:00AM 


One of the most glaring deficiencies of the sheriff's report is its cursory treatment 
of the circumstances that led up to the attack. "While this report establishes a 
record of the events of April 20," it states, "it cannot answer the most fundamental 
question -- WHY?...The evidence provides no definitive explanation, and the 


question continues to haunt us all." 


In the course of their nine-month probe of the killers’ lives, investigators 
interviewed dozens of friends, relatives, classmates and teachers, and pored over 
journals and videotapes made by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Yet several of 
those interviewed say the investigators were primarily interested in the pair's 
movements the day of the massacre and asked few questions about their possible 
motivations. What might have happened at school or at home prior to April 20, the 
extensive plotting and preparations made during the previous year -- the report 


summarizes this information in a mere seven pages. 


The brief excerpts of the killers' writings and videotaped statements don't do justice 
to the seething, malignant hatred they were nurturing, hatred that would lead Harris 


to conclude that killing hundreds of people was necessary because "war is war." 


57 


The report does give a passing nod to the notion that Harris and Klebold were 
seeking revenge, but with a novel twist. In 1998, the report notes, Klebold wrote in 
Harris's yearbook about "killing enemies, blowing up stuff, killing cops!! My wrath 
for January's incident will be godlike. Not to mention our revenge in the 
commons." It's unclear whether the emphasis on "killing cops" was added by the 
report's authors, who speculate that the "January incident" refers to the pair's arrest 
for breaking into a van on January 30, 1998. But the implication is that the killers 
were hoping to annihilate as many police officers as they could on April 20 -- a 
plan utterly smashed, the report would seem to suggest, by the prudent response of 
the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. 

That interpretation makes no sense to Randy Brown, whose son Brooks knew the 
killers well. "If they wanted revenge on the police, they would have gone to a 


police station," he says. "Where did they go to kill people?" 


Brown believes that the "January incident” was one of two events at Columbine 
that month rather than the van break-in. The first was an unfounded accusation that 
Harris and Klebold had brought marijuana to school, prompting a search of their 
property that enraged them. The second was even more humiliating, exactly the 


kind of thing that would focus their hatred on the "commons," the school cafeteria. 


"People surrounded them in the commons and squirted ketchup packets all over 
them, laughing at them, calling them faggots," Brown says. "That happened while 
teachers watched. They couldn't fight back. They wore the ketchup all day and 


went home covered with it." 


By itself, the ketchup-dousing explains little. But the report's inference that the 
killers had vowed revenge on the police takes the spotlight off the harassment and 
bullying at Columbine; it also suggests that their arrest made a bigger impression 
on Harris and Klebold than the record indicates. The two breezed through a 
diversion program for the van break-in and had no trouble with authorities 
thereafter -- not when they bought guns or exploded pipe bombs, not even after the 


Browns reported Harris for making death threats against Brooks on his Web page. 


58 


The sheriff's office never contacted Harris's parents as a result of the Browns' 
complaints or took any action against the teen, a failure that has become a 


prominent claim in several of the lawsuits against the county. 


The sheriff's report is quite circumspect in addressing the death threats, which 
occurred before Stone took office. Investigators couldn't access Harris's "alleged" 
cyberspace writings, the report states, neglecting to mention that the officer who 
took the initial complaint wrote down the wrong Web address. "Further 


investigation was initiated but no additional information was developed." 


Are the threats still only "alleged" now that investigators have examined the 
contents of Harris's home computer and his America Online account? Since the 
detective assigned to the case has said he has no record of meeting with Randy and 
Judy Brown in his office in March 1998 -- a meeting the Browns recall vividly -- 


what did the "further investigation” consist of? The report doesn't say. 


The Browns get their comeuppance in another section of the document, though. 
Given that the couple is leading the recall effort against Sheriff Stone, it's strange 
that the report would flub its one reference to the movements of Brooks Brown on 


April 20. But according to the Browns, the sheriff's office gets that wrong, too. 


Shortly before the attack begins, the report states, "Harris speaks to one student 
briefly outside the west entrance of the school. According to the student, Harris 
tells him to leave the school because he likes him...This student is the only person 
Harris and Klebold direct away from the school grounds moments before the 


killing begins." 


The student was Brooks Brown, whom Stone labeled a "possible suspect" a few 
weeks after the massacre. But Brooks has consistently told reporters that he met 
Harris by his car in the junior parking lot on the south side of the school as he was 
leaving to have a smoke -- which would place him further away from the action 
when the carnage starts. If the exchange happened on the west side, Brown could 
hardly have failed to notice the bombs and guns Harris was in the process of toting 


to the west entrance. 


59 


"It wasn't moments before the shooting, obviously,” says an exasperated Judy 
Brown. "They make it sound like Eric and Dylan both talked to him. Brooks didn't 
even see Dylan." 

It's a small point, perhaps -- unless you happen to have been vilified by law 
enforcement, as Brooks Brown has been, for his "suspicious" escape. The report's 
account also ignores the fact that Klebold and Harris deliberately, if capriciously, 


spared other students after the shooting started. 


The Lost Command 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / JULY 13, 2000 / 4:00AM 


What may have been the defining moment in the history of the Governor's 
Columbine Review Commission unfolded last month. Consigned to a small 
meeting room in the basement of the Jefferson County Justice Center, struggling to 
make sense of the worst school massacre the country has ever seen and faced with 
an epidemic of lockjaw in the law-enforcement community -- its star act a no-show, 
other key witnesses abruptly unavailable -- the panel turned to its depleted roster of 


police experts for answers. 
And heard a familiar story. 


"When I arrived on the scene, it was chaos," said Mark Campbell, a captain with 
the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office, one of numerous police agencies summoned 
to Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, in the wake of the rampage by Eric 
Harris and Dylan Klebold that left twelve students and one teacher dead. "The first 


responding officers were outgunned." 


"It was one of the most chaotic things I've seen in my life," said Arapahoe County 
SWAT officer Bruce Williamson, who participated in the four-hour evacuation 
efforts. "[The SWAT teams] didn't know where these guys were. Every room they 


went into was hot at first." 


60 


Students who had barricaded themselves in classrooms were so relieved to see 
rescuing SWAT officers that they latched onto them with viselike grips, noted 
Robert Armstrong, a former Arapahoe County captain who was one of the first 
senior officers to arrive at the school. "These students would not let go of the 


officers," Armstrong said. "They were not able to go aggressively forward." 


The commission seemed grateful to get even shreds of fresh information. A panel 
of criminal-justice and education professionals appointed by Governor Bill Owens 
last fall to review the government response to Columbine, the thirteen-member 
group has no subpoena powers. Its ability to ferret out facts about the shootings 
depends on the voluntary cooperation of those who watched the crisis develop on 
April 20 and fought to end it. But some of the most crucial participants have been 


curiously unresponsive to the governor's summons. 


For months the commission had eagerly awaited the testimony of Jefferson County 
Sheriff John P. Stone, whose office was in charge of rescue operations that day and 
spearheaded the investigation of the slayings. But Stone, besieged by nine lawsuits 
filed by victims' families accusing his agency of negligence, first accepted the 
commission's invitation and then declined, saying that the county attorney had 


advised him against making any comment. 


Vince DiManna, the Denver Police Department SWAT captain who helped to 
organize the initial entry teams at Columbine, pulled out of testifying at the last 
minute, too, citing similar concerns about possible lawsuits against the DPD. That 
left the witness table to a handful of officers from Arapahoe County and Arvada, 
folks who'd participated in the emergency response but had no ultimate command 


duties -- or threats of litigation -- hanging over their heads. 


Stone's absence may have been a source of embarrassment for the committee, but it 
was a bitter disappointment for Randy and Judy Brown, the Columbine parents 
who are leading a lonely campaign to recall the sheriff ("Stonewalled," April 13). 
For weeks the Browns and a handful of volunteers have been haunting the county's 


supermarkets, seeking petition signatures from passersby who, for the most part, 


61 


don't want to think about Columbine anymore. Stone has ducked the couple's 
questions at public meetings and has refused to comment on the recall effort. After 
months of delays that were curtailed only by a court order, in May the sheriff 
issued a "final report" on Columbine that was supposed to be the final word on the 
matter -- and then refused to answer questions about the report, too. Now it 
appeared he wasn't going to have to answer to the governor's blue-ribbon panel, 
either. 

Instead, the Browns and the commission got an earful from Robert Armstrong, who 
offered an impassioned defense of the command decisions at Columbine. A florid- 
faced, no-nonsense career officer, now a top administrator at the Colorado Bureau 
of Investigation, Armstrong marched through a prepared statement that bristled 
with bombast, conundrums and outright contradictions. One moment he stressed 
that the first priority was to establish a perimeter so that "this incident will not 
leave Pierce Street. That was my order...that we've got to contain this thing." The 
next he was talking about how desperately the command wanted to get officers into 


the school: "We fully realized we must engage these suspects." 


Armstrong praised the "uncommon valor" of DiManna and other SWAT officers 
who put together an entry team even though they didn't have the proper equipment, 
hitting the school without full-body armor or helmets. At the same time, he 
conceded, it wouldn't do to have these officers going off half-cocked, not with all 
the reports of snipers, gas leaks and bombs everywhere: "We couldn't rush SWAT 
down the hall and set off additional bombs." 


By the time Armstrong addressed the death of science teacher Dave Sanders, 
Randy Brown could hardly contain himself. Sanders had been shot while trying to 
direct kids to safety; he died, still awaiting medical aid, more than three hours later. 
Yes, Armstrong said, the top brass at the command post had taken notice of a sign, 
"1 BLEEDING TO DEATH," posted in the window of the science classroom 
where Sanders lay wounded. But the command was worried that it might be a trick; 
the question was, who put that sign there? 


"We had no way to confirm it," Armstrong said. 


62 


That was too much for Brown. "You were on the phone with them at the time," he 
blurted out. 


Armstrong seemed startled. Someone had interrupted his testimony...a voice from 
the peanut gallery...a reporter or, worse, a civilian...saying what, exactly? 


"You were on the phone with a teacher in the science room," Brown insisted. 


Armstrong turned beseechingly to the commission chair, retired state supreme 
court justice William Erickson. "Mr. Chief Justice," he said, "we didn't know that 
was a teacher at the time." 

If there was a ripe moment to examine the logic of Armstrong's explanation -- 
indeed, the logic of the entire rescue effort -- this was it. If the cops were so eager 
to "engage" the shooters, why hadn't they answered the plea for help, even if they 
did suspect it was a trap? How could it be that the library, the place the shooters 
were most active, the room most likely to contain wounded kids if not the shooters 
themselves, was the last place reached by the rescue operation? The students in the 
library didn't have helmets or body armor, but no one was talking about their 


uncommon valor. 


Erickson merely smiled. "Hindsight's 20/20, isn't it?" he asked. "It's extremely 


difficult when you have an emergency of this type to meet all the exigencies." 


Before the day was over, Erickson would warmly thank Armstrong and the other 
officers for their testimony, stating that he didn't see how they could have 
responded any differently on April 20 -- an extraordinary absolution, given how 
little official scrutiny the police response has received to date. But then, Erickson 
has always maintained that the commission's purpose is not to reinvestigate 


Columbine but to make recommendations for future public policy. 


Yet how can the commission fulfill its mission when critical facts remain so 
elusive? "I said at the first meeting, "You guys have got to hunt for the truth,'" says 
Mike Slater, a Columbine parent who's attended all of the commission hearings. 
"But they've said all along that they're not out to find fault. You can see that there 


are a lot of questions they're not asking." 


63 


Slater believes there is ample fault to be found, if the commission were so inclined. 
"I think there were some officers who would have gone into the school 
immediately,” he says, "but whoever was in charge made some real poor 
judgments. Someone has to take responsibility for that. A man died because they 
didn't do their job." 


Assigning blame for Columbine may seem like a fruitless exercise at this point. 
After all, the two hate-gorged adolescents responsible for the havoc are no longer 
in a position to answer anybody's questions. ("It's my fault!" Harris wrote in his 
journal. "Not my parents, not my brother, not my friends, not my favorite bands, 
not computer games, not the media, it's mine.") It is, in any case, an exercise that 
will be played out in court for years to come, in the multiple lawsuits filed on 
behalf of the injured and the dead. 


Still, there are larger issues at stake than whether any particular officer faltered 
under fire last year. Columbine raises troubling questions about police emergency 
training and preparedness, the means and tactics of responding to an incident that 
"breaks the mold," as Armstrong put it, and the integrity and accountability of law 
enforcement. Those questions are neatly sidestepped in Sheriff Stone's report, 
which presents a highly selective and self-serving account of police actions that 


day. 


Drawing on the work of eighty investigators, the largest criminal investigation in 
Colorado history, the digitalized report offers a detailed, "minute-by-minute" 
account of the slayings and the rescue effort, including several audio and video 
clips. Although its release was anticipated as early as last fall, the material 
underwent extensive review by Stone and his top aides, and still wasn't available by 
the one-year anniversary of the massacre -- the deadline for filing lawsuits over the 


incident. 


Victims' families have blasted the report, calling it a desperate stab at spin control 
and an attempt to deflect legal liability. As a result of a public-records battle 


initiated by some of the families, in recent weeks Judge Brooke Jackson has 


64 


ordered the release of a considerable amount of raw data gathered in the Columbine 
investigation, including video footage from news helicopters and the cafeteria 
surveillance cameras; last week, officials finally released 45 hours of 911 and 
dispatch calls. These materials, coupled with the accounts of eyewitnesses, offer a 
far messier picture of the Columbine rescue effort than the one provided in the 
sheriff's report; in several instances, they contradict the official timeline of events 
and challenge the fundamental claims that the command did not know where the 


shooters were and could not have moved any quicker to save lives. 


The sheriff's report was supposed to explode the "myths" of Columbine, such as 
longstanding rumors regarding a third shooter or a special hit list of athletes. 
Instead, the report has spawned new myths: the myth of "bombs everywhere" 
hampering a swift response, for example, and the myth of impeccable police 


performance in the face of unimaginable horror. 


Like all myths, the sheriff's version of Columbine isn't entirely fanciful. It is true, 
as the report claims, that the particular strategy adopted by the police resulted in the 
safe evacuation of hundreds of students. But that accomplishment must be weighed 
against the dubious command decisions that essentially turned over the school to 
Klebold and Harris for what turned out to be more than two hours. That the pair 
opted to kill themselves less than an hour into the siege rather than continue to 
massacre at will can be chalked up to dumb luck; perhaps, like everyone else, they 


expected the cops to arrive any moment. 


Much has been made of the sheer size of the sheriff's report, as if loquacity equaled 
candor. The CD-ROM has been compared to an 800-page book, but sections 
dealing directly with police actions on April 20 amount to fewer than 150 pages of 
text, skimpier than your average mystery novel. Passages explaining the command 
decisions guiding those actions are almost nonexistent. Thanks to Judge Jackson's 
rulings, though, it's now possible to glimpse some of what is missing -- and begin 


to understand why it is missing. 


65 


There is a point where spin becomes lies, where omission of important facts 
becomes deception. In the official silence that has descended on the subject of 


Columbine, there is much that can be learned. 


At the heart of the Columbine report's defense of police actions is the assertion that 
the killers struck with lightning swiftness, spreading panic and chaos throughout 
the school, and ended their attack before SWAT officers could arrive. "Within the 
span of 16 minutes, the gunmen had killed 13 people and wounded 21 others," the 


report declares. 


The statement is false. As a Rocky Mountain News editorial pointed out recently, 
only the most tortuous interpretation of the word "killed" could make it true, since 
Dave Sanders was still alive, though gravely wounded, when SWAT officers found 
him at 2:42 p.m. -- three hours and 23 minutes after the shooting started. Yet even 
if you remove Sanders from the equation (which the report seems all too eager to 
do), the statement is still a reach. It's the first volley in a concerted effort to fix the 
time of death of the other twelve fatalities within the brief period that Klebold and 
Harris were on the rampage, as if to demonstrate that any speedier response by the 
rescue teams would have been beside the point. 

Because of an unprecedented court ruling, all but one of the victims’ autopsy 
reports remain sealed more than a year after the murders. Without the autopsies, it's 
impossible to verify the claim that the victims died instantly. Yet there are several 
reasons to be skeptical of that claim. Close-range shotgun wounds tend to be fatal, 
but are the autopsy reports so precise that there's no fudge factor whatsoever in the 
report's statement that Corey DePooter, the last student shot in the library, "was 
killed at 11:35"? 


Such unqualified accounts seem even more doubtful when you consider that 
several critically injured students survived for hours without medical attention, 
including Patrick Ireland, who crawled out of a library window only minutes before 


the police reached Sanders. Whether their recovery would have been substantially 


66 


aided by swifter rescue efforts is one of those nasty "hindsight" questions the report 


simply doesn't address. 


Legal considerations may have played a part in developing the theory of instant 
death. Consider the report's treatment of the students killed outside the school, 
Rachel Scott and Daniel Rohrbough. Scott was killed outside the school's west 
entrance by the "first gunshots," the report states, and a few moments later, Klebold 


shot an already wounded, fallen Rohrbough at close range, "killing him instantly." 


In their lawsuit, Rohrbough's parents allege that he was shot not just by Klebold, 
but by an unnamed sheriff's deputy, an accusation Stone has denounced as 
"outrageous." Whether the allegation of friendly fire will hold up in court is 
anybody's guess, but Brian Rohrbough claims to have eyewitnesses who dispute 
the report's account of his son's death and the timeline for when various officers 
arrived on the scene, making the notion of a crossfire seem more plausible. In that 
context, the assertion that Daniel Rohrbough died "instantly" from Klebold's shot 


becomes a convenient form of rebuttal. 


As for Scott, investigators appear to have no doubt that she was the first to fall, 
based on eyewitness accounts and crime-scene evidence. But doubts remain. At 
least four witnesses to the shootings outside the school have questioned the 
sequence of events there; at a recent meeting of Columbine parents, one teacher 
reportedly complained that the police were trying to get her to "change her story" 


because it didn't square with the official account of Scott's death. 


It's also worth noting that the first dispatch call after the shooting starts refers to a 
"female down in the south lot"-- almost certainly a reference to Anne Marie 
Hochhalter, who, according to the report, was the eighth person to be shot. Perhaps 
Hochhalter just happened to be the first victim observed by someone with a cell 
phone, but it's also possible that the sequence is not as clear-cut as the report 


indicates. 


In many crime-scene investigations, ballistics evidence can clear up the 


ambiguities. But investigators were able to recover only one of the three bullets that 


67 


struck Daniel Rohrbough, and his father has raised several issues about the 


ballistics data released under Judge Jackson's order. 


"{Chief investigator] Kate Battan said she knew who killed each of these kids and 
she has ballistics to prove it," Rohrbough says. "Then they fought us in court to 
keep us from seeing the ballistics. I told them, 'If you have the ballistics and can 
answer a few questions for me, I'll withdraw the suit.’ Then they came back and 
said, 'We're basing the accounts of what happened on an injured eyewitness.’ They 


don't have the ballistics. Two of the bullets were never found." 


According to the sheriff's report, twelve officers fired a total of 141 rounds at 
Columbine, almost as many as Klebold and Harris; but the ballistics summary 
notes testing of only eleven police weapons. (The twelfth, a shotgun, was test-fired 
later.) According to the report, "the firearms of most officers who fired a weapon 


that day" were collected that afternoon. 


"Most" isn't good enough for Brian Rohrbough. "That's against the procedure of 
every county in this state," he says. "There is no such thing as waiting until 


tomorrow to collect the guns." 


Harris and Klebold began shooting on the west side of the school at around 11:19 
a.m. They finished the executions in the library at 11:36, tried to set off the bombs 
in the cafeteria, then returned to the library and committed suicide shortly after 
noon. Whatever hope the police had of ending the conflict by stopping the shooters 


in their tracks evaporated in that first three-quarters of an hour. 


The police say they didn't know the shooters had killed themselves in the library at 
the end of that time, just as they didn't know that the serious shooting, for all 
practical purposes, ended sixteen minutes after it began. The report stresses that the 
first half-dozen officers on the scene, the only ones who were in a position to stop 
the rampage, were quickly overwhelmed -- by superior firepower, conflicting 
reports of multiple shooters and a tide of frightened and injured students pouring 


out of the school. 


68 


The confusion of that initial response is strongly reflected in the report itself: 
excerpts of garbled dispatch calls, scenes of deputies running in different 
directions, an elaborate but ultimately hazy rendition of the killers' movements 
before they enter the library. One section places Harris and Klebold in the hallway 
outside the library, shooting and tossing pipe bombs in two directions -- toward the 
science area, down the stairs into the cafeteria -- at the same time Harris is 
supposed to be engaged in a gun battle with two deputies at the west entrance to the 


school. 


While the killers seem to be everywhere at once, it's difficult to place the deputies 
anywhere for very long; they appear and disappear. Take, for example, the report's 
account of the movements of Jeffco deputy Neil Gardner, the school resource 
officer. At 11:22 a.m., Gardner is eating his lunch in Clement Park, a short distance 
from the school, when he receives an urgent call from a custodian summoning him 
to the "back lot." According to the report, it takes Gardner two minutes to drive the 
long way around, from the northwest side of the campus to the southwest parking 
lot, where he spots Harris and exchanges gunfire with him from sixty yards away. 
It's three minutes after that before he calls dispatch requesting emergency 
assistance, and then another two minutes pass before he asks for emergency 


medical units. 


One reason for the delays is that Gardner is involved in three gun battles with 
Harris in the space of about six minutes. Gardner gets off four rounds when Harris 
is outside the west doors, then Harris retreats into the school, re-emerging a couple 
of minutes later, at which point Deputy Paul Smoker fires three rounds at him. 
Unharmed, Harris retreats again, only to fire on the officers from the library 
windows. This time he and Klebold are met with return fire from the growing 


contingent of cops arriving at the school. 


Yet at this point the fleeting "engagement" of the shooters abruptly ends. By 11:30 
a.m., Jefferson County has six deputies on the scene. There are several wounded 


and dying students on the west side of the building and a flood of 911 calls about 


69 


explosions and gunfire inside the school. Where are Gardner and the others? 
According to the report, they're setting up a perimeter and evacuating students who 
happen to make it out of the school on their own; one deputy is directing traffic on 
Pierce Street. Lacking "long guns" equal to the firepower displayed by Harris, 
nobody seems keen on following the killers inside, even though several officers can 


hear more shots being fired within the school. 


It's possible that the deputies are ordered to withdraw pending the arrival of SWAT 
teams. (A lawsuit filed by Kacey Ruegsegger, one of the students wounded in the 
library, claims that one officer tried to rush into the school but was ordered to 
"stand down.") Perhaps the risk of a crossfire involving fleeing students is just too 
great. Perhaps, as Rohrbough's lawsuit alleges, such a crossfire has already 
occurred. But whatever the reason, there is an abrupt shift in the mode of response, 


from confrontation to containment. 


The decision not to pursue the shooters inside is a costly one. The engagement 
breaks off at a time when 911 calls from the office area and the library, as well as 
the officers' own observations, leave no doubt about where the killers have gone: 


They're in the library, shooting 22 people, killing ten. 


In interviews with Westword last April, a few weeks before Judge Jackson ordered 
Stone's office to release its long-awaited report, Jefferson County Undersheriff 
John Dunaway and Denver police captain Vince DiManna both insisted that the 
first SWAT team entered Columbine by 11:45 a.m. 

The report tells a different story. There was no command structure on site to 
authorize immediate entry by 11:45; in fact, it isn't clear who was in command at 
Columbine for the first half hour or so. Lieutenant Terry Manwaring of the Jeffco 
SWAT team established a command post at the school at 11:36, and the report 
states that Lieutenant Dave Walcher assumed "the role of incident commander" at 
11:45, but elsewhere it notes that Dunaway put Walcher in charge after the 


undersheriff's arrival -- at 11:52. 


70 


The first SWAT team to enter Columbine went in at 12:06 p.m., on the southeast 
side of the school. That's the opposite side of the school from the library, where, at 
that moment, Harris and Klebold were about to kill themselves or already had. But 
the sheriff's report all but credits his department for the suicides, which police 
didn't discover until three hours later: "The number of law enforcement officers on 
scene within minutes...plus the entry of SWAT inside the school minutes before 
their suicides denied the gunmen additional time to plan further actions or take 


other lives or hostages." 


Despite that boast, the SWAT entry didn't exactly ruin the killers' day. It's doubtful 
that they even knew the first team was at the east door; the second team didn't go in 
the west side until more than an hour later. And once inside, the teams moved with 
slow, interminable deliberation. It took nearly four hours to clear the entire 
building, and the wounded in the science area and the library weren't reached until 


the latter stages of the search. 


Why did it take so long? The report dwells on numerous potential and real hazards 
facing the teams: smoke, alarms, unexploded bombs, a gas leak (Harris and 
Klebold evidently turned on valves in the science labs), communication problems, 
accounts of a sniper on the roof and up to eight shooters, and so on. But any SWAT 
scenario assumes a strong dose of the unknown, and several of the dangers that 


supposedly slowed them down have been overstated or were quickly cleared up. 


For example, dispatch calls reveal that the sniper report was discounted shortly 
after noon -- the hapless suspect turned out to be an unlucky repairman. As for the 
"bombs everywhere" excuse, the majority of the 44 unexploded devices found in 
the school were still among the killers’ gear in the library; the teams didn't even 
know those bombs existed until the very end of their operation. Most of the 
remaining "live" bombs scattered about weren't ticking propane tanks but much 
tamer "crickets," small gas canisters filled with gunpowder that were about as 


"live" as an unlit firecracker. Even if a perp was still around to light a fuse or two, 


71 


the bombs probably would have to be inserted in an unsuspecting officer's rectum 


in order to prove lethal. 


As it turns out, bombs and snipers couldn't possibly have hindered the teams' 
efforts more than their own commanders’ conservative tactics and apparent 
ignorance of the school layout. The dispatch and surveillance tapes indicate that 
these two factors played an enormous part in the sluggish response. In the case of 


Dave Sanders, they may well have finished what Harris and Klebold started. 


Dunaway has characterized the immediate-entry plan as a dicey solution to a bad 
situation, an effort to mount an "active shooter response" more quickly than 
conventional SWAT procedures would allow. But as the Arapahoe County officers 
conceded at the commission hearing last month, that response actually amounted to 
a clock-burning room-to-room search for hostages. This was not a high-risk rapid 
invasion, designed to take out terrorists, but a systematic evacuation that involved 
busting through dozens of locked doors and setting up officers to direct the flow of 
evacuees to safety. By its very nature, the procedure was bound to take hours in a 
building as large as Columbine, but it had the advantage of not exposing anyone's 
backside -- especially not those of the commanders outside, who authorized the 
laborious search and then failed to modify it, even as it became clear that the only 


shooting still going on was the teams' own cover fire. 


The tactical blunder was compounded by several miscalculations concerning the 
best points of entry into the school and the direction the search should take. There's 
no reason to doubt that the SWAT teams wanted to get to the "hot zones" as 
quickly as possible. Some members of the team even had a personal stake in the 
matter; DiManna, for instance, had a son and a niece at Columbine that day. From 
the 911 calls, it seems clear that the commanders had a pretty good idea that the hot 
zones were the library (the last place the shooters had been observed, firing out the 
windows shortly before their suicides), the cafeteria and the science area. But 
SWAT leader Manwaring, unfamiliar with the layout of the school since a recent 


renovation, apparently didn't know how to get to those areas. Working from hastily 


72 


drawn maps provided by students failed to solve the problem; an hour after he 


arrived, the report states, Manwaring was still trying to find a decent floor plan. 


Why Manwaring didn't consult with Deputy Gardner, principal Frank DeAngelis or 
any of the teachers who'd escaped about the quickest route to the library is one of 
the deeper mysteries of the police response. His "conflicting information" about the 
location of the library and the cafeteria, which form a prominent double-decker 
wall of glass on the west side that's hard to miss, is the only explanation the report 
offers for why the first team was sent in on the southeast side, to be swallowed up 


immediately in a warren of hallways and classrooms. 


The westside entry was even more problematic. It took Manwaring's team nearly 
half an hour to travel from the southeast corner of the school to its northwest 
corner, using a fire truck as cover. There the team rescued badly wounded student 
Richard Castaldo, an event the report states took five minutes (the sequence 
actually lasted more than ten, according to the helicopter footage). In the course of 
the rescue, the team "observed an undetonated explosive device" in front of the 
west entrance. Manwaring decided to ram the doors, figuring the fire truck could 


take the brunt of any bomb blast, but the truck got stuck in the mud. 


And that, the report explains, is how the second team ended up making its entry at 
1:09 p.m. from a window leading to the faculty lounge, a location on the lower 
level rather than the upper level, closer to the cafeteria than the library above. 
Omitted from this account is one vital detail: Even if the "live" bomb at the west 
doors made that an unacceptable entrance, there was another door several feet 
away. That door, an emergency exit, opens into a narrow hallway that leads directly 
into the library. You can see into the library from that door, the same door that 
dozens of students used to make their escape after the killers left the library at 
11:36 a.m. ("They ran to the safety of the waiting patrol cars and armed deputies 


who could give them protection and lead them to safety," the report burbles.) 


73 


Did the SWAT team know where that door went? Were they working in such a 
void of critical information that they failed to grasp its importance? The report's 


silence on this matter is deafening; it's as if the door doesn't exist. 


Brian Rohrbough tries to conjure up the image of wounded students rushing out 
that door to the waiting arms of police officers -- and grimaces in disgust. "You 
have to know kids in there are injured and bleeding to death," he says. "You don't 
go in? How could you ever wait outside that open door after seeing those kids 


come out?" 


The report states that the west team liberated students locked into the kitchen area 
and then entered the cafeteria at 1:32 p.m. Actually, the cafeteria videotape shows 
that the team didn't clear the cafeteria until 1:45. In almost two hours of effort, the 
team had managed to secure only a small area of the building, rescuing thirty 


students and staff members in the process. 


From there the group moved on to the lower hallway, ignoring a flight of stairs to 
the upper level. They would not return to the stairs until they finished clearing the 
lower level half an hour later, even though those stairs were the fastest route from 
the cafeteria to the library and the science area, the same stairs Harris and Klebold 


had taken in their trips back and forth, from hot zone to hot zone. 


A Jefferson County dispatcher discovered how important those stairs were well 
before noon. One of the earliest and longest 911 calls came from Denver police 
officer John Lietz, who was on the phone with students trapped in the kitchen area. 
Aware of the shooting in the library, the dispatcher asked Lietz "if the library is 


close to the cafeteria." Lietz, a Columbine parent, didn't hesitate. 


"The library is right upstairs from the cafeteria," he said. "There's a stairway from 


the commons directly up." 


"Directly above," the dispatcher noted. 


74 


To reach Dave Sanders, whose life was slowly draining away in an upstairs science 
room, the SWAT officers had to overcome a wealth of "obstacles," the report notes, 


including burnt carpet and empty bullet casings. 


No kidding. Here's the report's strained account of what the officers found when 


they finally climbed the stairs from the cafeteria, around 2:30 p.m.: 


"The top of the stairs opened into an intersection of two hallways... A pipe bomb 
had exploded and singed the carpet in front of them. Glass had shattered 
everywhere. There was blood in a large area on the carpet in front of them, on one 
of the windows, and blood made a trail into one of the other science rooms. Live 


ammunition rounds and spent casings were lying on the floor." 


The harder the report tries to explain away the delay in reaching Sanders, the more 
it makes the SWAT officers look foolish -- a crack team dodging bullets that were 
lying on the floor. There was an ongoing concern about a possible third shooter still 
lurking somewhere on the upper level, but the slow-mo slinking around doesn't 
square with the notion of an active shooter response -- which, according to 
DiManna and others, often involves trying to draw fire in order to get a fix on the 
location of the gunman. The real explanation for the long, long wait Sanders 
endured may have less to do with the messy hallway than with command decisions 


that were made over the previous three hours. 


The command had detailed information about Sanders's position and his condition 
almost from the start. Shortly before noon, a dispatcher contacted Manwaring: "Is 
there any way to get to a victim in Room 3, second level...they cannot control the 


bleeding," she said. 
"We don't have a secure inside door we can get in," the SWAT commander replied. 


SWAT had that secure door fifteen minutes later, after the first team made its entry 
on the east side. But the path from there to the science area was a circuitous one, 
and the team would have had to modify its room-to-room search procedure to get 


there in a timely manner. The procedure was never altered. 


75 


Why? According to statements made by Armstrong and others before the review 
commission, the commanders believed that the absence of any hostile gunfire after 
12:10 p.m. meant a possible hostage scenario, not dead gunmen. That assumption 
never wavered, not even as more officers poured into the building and discovered 
that the kids behind the locked doors were not hostages, but in hiding -- "staying 
put,” as 911 dispatchers had told them to do. 


Several calls throughout the afternoon kept SWAT leaders informed about 
Sanders's deteriorating condition, but officers still seemed confused about his 
location. The report states that the sign in the science window was spotted at 2:15; 
helicopter footage indicates the sign may well have been visible to officers on the 
south side of the building -- who were only a ladder's length away from Sanders -- 
earlier than that. In any case, dispatchers knew about the sign hours earlier because 
of the phone link with students in the room with Sanders. The students even offered 
to break a window to show the police exactly where they were -- but were told not 
to do so, for fear of attracting the attention of the gunmen. (Oddly, that concern 
didn't lead the police to dissuade the students from tying a shirt on the doorknob to 
mark their location; at one point, they suggested that the room's occupants "start 


yelling" in order to help the officers find them.) 


Sanders was still conscious when SWAT members found him at 2:42 p.m. Another 
twenty to thirty minutes elapsed before a paramedic could reach the room, 


following a "safe" route set up by the police. By then it was too late. 


Before the paramedic arrived, the report states, two SWAT deputies had already 
decided "to evacuate the wounded teacher themselves or at least move him closer 
to an exit." Inexplicably, they dragged him into a storage area at the back of the 


room instead. 
He died there, still waiting for deliverance. 


Many people performed heroically at Columbine last year. That fact has never been 
in dispute, and the release of the audio and video record of the tragedy brings some 


of the heroics into sharp relief: gutsy teachers evacuating students, police 


76 


dispatchers keeping their cool despite a barrage of panicked phone calls, officers 


under fire trying to relay information about explosions, fires and possible suspects. 


Despite all the media coverage of Columbine, some of the most impressive deeds 
done that day have scarcely been mentioned. The cafeteria video shows two school 
custodians, Jon Curtis and Jay Gallatine, rushing back and forth to shoo students to 
safety and lock doors so the killers can't get to them. Armed only with radios, 
Curtis and Gallatine dodged bombs tossed from above and persisted in their task, 
saving many lives in the process. The two men continue to decline interview 


requests to this day. 


But the audio- and videotapes also reveal many of the mistakes and failures of the 
Columbine rescue effort, and not enough attention has been paid to them. A 
Jefferson County dispatcher was on the phone with a frantic and wounded teacher, 
Patti Nielson, for more than four minutes before the killers entered the room. The 
dispatcher asked her if she could lock the doors or block them. When the library 
began to fill with smoke, the dispatcher advised her to "keep everyone low to the 


floor." But the dispatcher never asked if there was another way out of the library. 


The report treats this lapse as irrelevant. "Nielson knew they had nowhere to go," it 
states. "The last time she saw the gunmen, they were outside (near the emergency 
exit from the library) and they were heading inside the hall that led to the library." 
This is a gross distortion. According to the official timeline, the killers spent almost 
three minutes roaming the hall outside the main entrance to the library -- and 
Nielson told the dispatcher the gunman was right outside the main door, which is a 
considerable distance from the emergency exit. Once the shooting started, another 
911 operator on the line with a staffer in the principal's office asked if there was 


another exit from the library; the staffer said no. 


"As far as I know, I've lost everybody in the library," a dispatcher told a SWAT 


officer a few minutes later. 


Although Nielson dropped the phone after the killers came in, the line remained 
open until 11:52 a.m., when it was "terminated" by dispatch, thereby denying 


77 


authorities the sounds of Klebold and Harris returning to the room at noon, opening 
fire on police below, then committing suicide. But with all the confusion over 
possible additional shooters and the commanders committed to a hostage scenario, 
it's unlikely that even perfect knowledge of the suicides would have altered the 


response at that point. 


Just what was known by the officers who went into the school remains in dispute. 
For months, several SWAT members have insisted that they didn't have critical 
information that their commanders clearly did have: reports of multiple victims in 
the library, reports of a badly wounded teacher in the science area. The 
"communication problems" have been blamed on the incompatible radio 
frequencies used by different agencies, but the report acknowledges that the inside 
teams had ongoing, if limited, communication with the command. The degree to 
which the front-line troops may have been misled, in every sense of the word, can 
be gauged in Arapahoe County SWAT officer Bruce Williamson's testimony 


before the review commission last month. 


Williamson, who arrived at the scene around one o'clock, was under the impression 
that "the initial team went in at the last place they knew these guys were." Although 
his unit assisted in clearing the science area, he was not one of the officers who 
went into the room where Sanders was, he said, and didn't know he was there. As 
he remembered it, the search of the library came somewhere in the middle, rather 


than the end, of the operation. 


Williamson's version is strongly at odds with the report. But then, the report's 
version is at odds with the evidence on several points. "There was no one injured in 
the cafeteria as a direct result of Harris and Klebold's actions," declare the findings 
of the investigative team assigned to that area. Yet the commons video shows a 
teacher running in the foreground as an explosion goes off at 11:27. The teacher 
first clutches his leg, then is bowled over by the blast. A limping, similarly dressed 
figure, identified by two sources as the same teacher, can be seen exiting the school 


in footage of the evacuation effort shot by a news helicopter that afternoon. 


78 


The teacher's name doesn't appear on the official list of the wounded. According to 


the sheriff's report, the injury never happened. 


The key Columbine questions can't be answered by the sheriff's slickly packaged 
and deeply flawed report, or even by well-meaning line officers like Lieutenant 
Williamson -- who, after answering the commission's questions, stayed behind to 
field a few more from reporters while his colleagues hurried to their cars. 
Uncomfortable in the spotlight, Williamson displayed a brief flash of emotion after 


the cameras were turned off. 


"We did everything we could," he said, memories of April 20 tugging at his voice. 


"I went home and hugged my kids." 


Williamson didn't pretend to have the answers. The men with the answers weren't 
at the commission meeting that day. They were not standing in front of cameras. 


They were not in the line of fire at all. 


They were taking cover, waiting for the enemy to give up. 


Killing Time 
ALAN PRENDERGAST / SEPTEMBER 14, 2000 / 4:00AM 


In an effort to streamline what promises to be a lengthy legal process, all fourteen 
lawsuits filed by families of people injured or killed in the shootings at Columbine 
High School have been moved to federal court in Denver. But an attorney for two 
of the families says his clients aren't much closer to getting their most pressing 
questions answered -- questions regarding what law enforcement knew about 
killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold prior to the massacre, and how police 


responded to the rapidly developing crisis on April 20, 1999. 


Last spring, several plaintiffs went to state court to force the public release of the 
Jefferson County Sheriff's Office long-delayed "final report" on Columbine, as well 


as 911 and dispatch tapes, video surveillance footage, ballistics reports and other 


79 


key documents related to the investigation. The audio and video record, released 
over a period of months, contradicted the sheriff's account of the five-hour rescue 
effort on several critical points, highlighting numerous self-serving distortions and 
omissions in the official report ("The Lost Command," July 13). But now concerns 
are also being raised about possible omissions in the "edited" evidence that's been 
made public, too, particularly in the audiotapes of communication between 
Jefferson County dispatchers, commanders and officers at the scene that day. 
"We'd like to know where some people were and what they were doing -- and so 
far, in the information we've got, that isn't there," says Jim Rouse, an attorney 
representing the families of slain students Kelly Fleming and Daniel Rohrbough. 
"There may be a perfectly good explanation why it's not there, but we're not getting 


as much detailed information as we'd hoped for." 


In his order granting the Fleming-Rohrbough public-records request, District Judge 
Brooke Jackson allowed the sheriff's office to make brief deletions of names, 
addresses and phone numbers to protect the privacy of various 911 callers, police 
officers and third parties, including the names of students other than Harris and 
Klebold who were accused of being somehow involved in the shootings. The 
judge's order also banned release of a portion of the 911 call from the school library 
after the killers entered the room because an enhanced version of the tape captures 
screams and dialogue accompanying the executions. The edited tapes, amounting to 
more than forty hours of recorded calls, were digitalized and released on two 


compact discs in July. 


Most of Judge Jackson's restrictions refer only to the 911 calls. However, an 
analysis of the audio files reveals that the radio traffic between dispatchers and 
various responding officers was significantly edited, too. Police dispatchers are 
trained to give the time as they acknowledge reports of key events in the field -- 
"Shots fired, 11:32," for example -- and while the practice is far from consistent on 
the Columbine tapes, there is sufficient time-stamping on the calls to determine that 


the actual time elapsed far exceeds the running time of the tapes. In several 


80 


instances, gaps of five to fifteen minutes in "real" time can be detected between 


seemingly consecutive calls. 


One explanation for the gaps is the elimination of dead air. According to employees 
of Quality Data Systems of Boulder, the outside firm that transferred the edited 
tapes to CD for the sheriff's office, there were considerable silences between 
transmissions on some radio channels, especially as the afternoon wore on and the 
rescue effort became a cleanup operation. To save the expense of producing several 
discs with little activity, QDS compressed the dead spots. Thus, the audio file for 
Channel Two -- which begins with sheriff's deputy Neil Gardner reporting that he's 
under fire and ends with discussions about securing the crime scene -- squeezes 


nearly twelve hours of real-time calls into ninety minutes of tape. 


But QDS staff could not account for the presence of hefty time lapses on the 
primary police channel, Channel One, that occur in the first three hours of the 
siege, when radio activity was at its peak. Neither the compression of dead air nor 
the deletion of personal data (which takes only a few seconds in other instances) 


adequately accounts for the phenomenon. 


"They were supposed to be editing names, addresses and telephone numbers, 
basically," Rouse notes. "By the middle of the afternoon, I don't think they'd be 
worrying about [officers'] home numbers. Everybody and their dog was out there 
by then." 


A detailed examination by Westword of the Channel One calls, which were 
released in three audio files, shows an increasing disparity between the clock time 
noted by the dispatchers and the events actually present on the tape. The first 
fifteen minutes of the attack on the school, for example, account for only eleven 
minutes of running time. By the end of the first hour, there's more than ten minutes 
unaccounted for. The first ninety-minute file ends shortly after 1 p.m., around the 
time a SWAT team enters the west side of the building -- nearly two hours after the 
shooting started. The second file begins roughly thirty minutes later, at 1:40 p.m. In 


the first 25 minutes of that file, another hour in real time elapses. 


81 


It's possible, of course, that dispatchers consistently misstated the time, or that 
some mechanical malfunction in Jefferson County's aging communications 
equipment is responsible for the gaps. But the sheriff's report maintains that the 
dispatch center encountered no technical difficulties throughout the day, and the 
agency is so confident of the accuracy of the digital clocks used for the dispatch 
tapes -- they'd been calibrated with the National Institute of Standards and 
Technology's atomic clock in Boulder shortly before April 20 -- that the dispatch 
time was used as the primary source for developing an official timeline of the 


events of April 20. 


Critics of the police response suspect that there may be another reason for the gaps. 
They say it's too coincidental that the "missing" time corresponds to critical points 
of the police operation, when one would expect to glean some information about 
command decisions regarding whether to pursue armed suspects into the school, 
the subsequent SWAT entry into the school and efforts to reach wounded victims 
in the library and science area, including Dave Sanders, the teacher who bled to 
death while awaiting medical attention. As it stands, few commanders' voices can 


be heard anywhere on the tapes. 


"I don't know if it's deliberate or not," says Randy Brown, the Columbine parent 
who led an unsuccessful effort to recall Jefferson County Sheriff John Stone, "but I 


think it's interesting that these [gaps] occur where they do." 


Calls to several ranking officers in the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, which at 
the moment has no official spokesman, went unreturned. ("I don't talk to the 
media," responded Columbine chief investigator Kate Battan, the subject of 
numerous media interviews before the tide of litigation rolled in.) Kathi Grider, the 
community-relations officer who was involved in preparing the tapes for release, 
says the agency suppressed nothing. "Nothing was deleted that was not ordered by 


Judge Jackson," she says. 


82 


But Grider was at a loss to explain why there would be a thirty-minute gap between 
the first Channel One file and the second. "If, indeed, that's there, that's a lot of 


time that's elapsed," she notes. "I would like to find an explanation." 


Grider agreed to look into the matter -- but called back minutes later to say that, on 
the advice of the county attorney, she couldn't provide any further comment on the 
sheriff's report or the tapes. "If we talk to you about it, we have to talk to 


everyone," she explained. 


Attorney Rouse says he hasn't listened to the tapes himself; he doubts that the 
families he represents have heard more than fragments of them. Consequently, he's 
not prepared to bring concerns about possible non-compliance with the court's 


orders to the attention of Judge Jackson. 


"We'll have to wait and see if we get what we want through discovery in the federal 
case or have to go back to court and ask for more public disclosure," he says. 
"Frankly, we're walking a fine line of further traumatizing the community with 


some of this stuff." 


But with Jefferson County seeking to dismiss the claims against its police officers, 
Rouse doesn't expect the families' lawsuits to reach the discovery stage anytime 
soon. "If it goes according to the defendants' plans, it's going to be a year or a year 


and a half down the road before we start," he says. 


Confusion over "missing" evidence isn't confined to the tapes. Judge Jackson 
continues to review evidence gathered by the sheriff's investigators to determine 
what might be released to the public. Last week he ordered the release of a pile of 
three-ring notebooks containing witness interviews and other documents. In court, 
investigator Battan and others have referred to "200 volumes" of such notebooks 
gathered in the Columbine probe, but Jackson now says that information is not 


correct. The judge says there are only forty volumes. 


Until the lawsuits are resolved, it may be impossible to close the book on 


Columbine -- or even to know how many books there are. 


83 


Lights, Camera...No Comment 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / APRIL 12, 2001 / 4:00AM 


David Gelber adjusts his tie. He tugs it left, then right again. It's as if he's trying to 
get more oxygen without disrobing, as if what's needed right now is a little fresh 
air, something to cleanse his lungs of the bad odor wafting through the halls of the 


Jefferson County Justice Center. 


"Did you hear that?" he asks, nodding toward Judge Brooke Jackson's courtroom, 
the scene of a just-completed open-records hearing, during which Gelber and his 
employer, CBS News, sought to pry loose certain police records dealing with the 
Columbine shootings. "They don't have it. "You destroyed it? You shredded it?' 'Of 
course we did.' Of course!" 

A restless, peripatetic New Yorker, Gelber is a veteran network newsman with a 
deep aversion to seafood and bureaucrats. In recent years he's been the executive 
producer of one-hour documentaries hosted by Ed Bradley that air on 60 Minutes 
IT, a job that seems to have placed him on a collision course with all manner of fish 
and petty officialdom. He has produced award-winning programs about poorly 
regulated psychiatric hospitals, AIDS in Africa, the war in Bosnia, a toxic dump in 
Louisiana. 

For the past five months, Gelber has been spending a lot of time in Denver, asking 
tough questions about Columbine. It hasn't been easy. In some ways, Bosnia was 
friendlier, the psych wards more conducive to mental health. Many school and 
police sources refused to be interviewed about Columbine or, even more 
maddening, they agreed to a date with Bradley and the cameras, then abruptly 
canceled. Now Gelber has exactly three weeks until he has to screen his project for 
CBS executives, and he's still finding out about vital documents that turn out to be 


missing, hidden -- or destroyed. 


Despite the recent wave of copycat shootings, despite nagging questions about the 
worst school massacre the nation has ever seen, Columbine has become The Story 
Nobody Wants to Talk About. "This is, without a doubt, the hardest story I have 


84 


ever done," Gelber says. "You carry the ball three yards, and you get knocked back 


" 


two. 


Heaven knows, I warned the man. I first met Gelber last November, when he 
contacted me about articles I had written for Westword examining the police rescue 
effort at Columbine. "You're going to get a lot of doors slammed in your face," I 
told him. 

Having done my share of heavy lifting on the subject, I had come to understand 
why the families who lost children that day are so frustrated with Jefferson County 
Sheriff John Stone and his merry deputies. The cops said they couldn't answer the 
families' questions, for fear of compromising their investigation -- then leaked 
confidential information to Time and Salon. And then they shut up altogether, 
citing the wave of lawsuits that resulted from all those unanswered questions: Just 
what did the school and the police know about Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold 
before the massacre? Could they have done any more to save lives once the 
shooting started? What caused this to happen, and how could it be prevented from 
happening again? 

For the most part, the local media stopped asking those questions long ago. They 
wrapped up their coverage with hefty, colorful "hope-and-healing" packages for the 
one-year anniversary and then walked away. If the public has learned anything 
about Columbine since, it's largely been through the efforts of the families 
themselves, who went to court last spring to force the Jefferson County Sheriff's 
Office to issue its long-delayed final report on the investigation. Then they 
persuaded Judge Jackson to release video footage, police dispatch calls and other 
evidence gathered in the investigation, evidence that contradicted the official 
version of what happened at Columbine on several key points ("The Lost 
Command," July 13, 2000). 


Last fall, Jackson ordered the release of almost 11,000 pages from the Columbine 
investigative files, including witness statements, reports by SWAT and emergency 
rescue personnel, and interviews with the killers' associates and family members. 


The Denver dailies spent a couple of days pawing through the material, like geezers 


85 


in raincoats looking for the naughty bits, then went back to sleep. But Gelber and 
his team were keenly interested in what those documents might contain: They were 
even more interested in what they didn't contain -- key diagrams, witness 
interviews and police reports that were referenced in the documents but were 


nowhere to be found. 


And that is how Gelber, associate producer Kyla Dunn and I came to be sitting in 
Judge Jackson's courtroom, seeking to join in the open-records lawsuit already 
launched by the families of Kelly Fleming, Dan Rohrbough and other victims. The 
seating arrangement had an odd symbolism to it. On one side of the room sat the 
attorneys for CBS News and the Columbine families, hungry for information. At 
the defense table was an even unholier alliance -- Assistant County Attorney Lily 
Oeffler, Columbine chief investigator Kate Battan and attorneys for the Klebold 


and Harris families, all trying to guard their clients’ secrets. 


As a paid consultant for CBS, I had prepared a detailed list of dozens of items that 
appeared to be missing from the investigative files. The county attorney's office 
responded that some of the items had been "inadvertently omitted," while others 
had been misfiled. Other documents had never been collected in the first place or 
were considered "evidence" -- in other words, the sheriff's office was refusing to 


release them. 


After weeks of lawyerly correspondence, Jefferson County generously turned over 
twelve pages out of the hundreds of pages of documents we'd requested. Five of the 
twelve pages were duplicates, yet their pagination indicated that there were at least 
3,000 other pages of investigative materials that the county had not yet released -- 
or even bothered submitting to Judge Jackson for review in response to earlier 


court orders. 


At the March 19 court hearing, we discovered that there were other materials Jeffco 
officials didn't want to give us -- or couldn't give us, anyway, because they couldn't 
find them. Investigators had taped at least six of the twelve interviews they'd 


conducted with police officers who fired their weapons at Columbine. Assistant 


86 


County Attorney Oeffler reported that the county had tapes of only four of those 
interviews, one of which had to be retrieved from another police agency shortly 
before the hearing. Yet the official evidence log indicated that the two missing 
tapes had been placed in the evidence vault by Kate Battan herself. (Last week, 
Jackson ordered the realease of all six tapes -- including the "missing" two, now 


found -- and several documents CBS had requested.) 


What sent Gelber tugging at his tie, though, was the county's response to a simple 
request for a timeline. In a carefully worded letter to Gelber -- in which he declined 
to be interviewed -- Sheriff Stone had boasted that his officers had created "a 
detailed timeline of movement, associations and actions by the 
perpetrators...starting months before the incident." Little of this material had made 
it into Stone's report, which featured a timeline starting nine minutes before the 
attack began on April 20, 1999. Clearly, the more extensive chronology would be a 


matter of considerable public interest, and CBS News wanted it released. 


Oeffler explained that investigators had indeed compiled a months-long timeline at 


one point, but it no longer existed. 

"What happened to it?" Judge Jackson asked. 

Oeffler shrugged. "It was destroyed, your honor,” she said. 

Deadpan, Jackson stared at her. "Destroyed," he repeated. 

"It was shredded," Oeffler said. 

"So," Jackson said slowly, "that [timeline] was created. But then destroyed." 
"Of course," Oeffler said. 


Of course. It would be a routine matter, after all, for detectives involved in the 
biggest criminal investigation in Colorado history to go about painstakingly re- 
creating the events leading up to the murders of thirteen people...and then decide 


not to publish this information in the official investigative report...and then shred 


87 


the document...and forget to tell the sheriff that it was now so much confetti. Of 


course! 


Jackson had begun the hearing exchanging casual quips with Oeffler and asking 
Battan about her golf game. By the end of it, he was unwilling to accuse anyone of 
bad faith, but he'd heard enough to issue a stern warning. "If I find someone's 
hiding the ball or misrepresenting anything to this court," he said, "the papers will 


have plenty to write about." 


For Gelber, the problem was not what to write about, but how to get it all on 
television, his deadline ticking away like the famous 60 Minutes stopwatch. Maybe 
nobody was hiding the ball, but it seemed pretty clear that various people -- cops, 
school officials, parents -- had dropped it and now wanted the whole mess to go 
away. Gelber and Bradley and their team were trying to pick up that ball and run 
with it. 


But two years later, was anyone still paying attention? 
There Is No Monkey 


Although much more is now known about the events of April 20, 1999, than was 
known even six months ago, the timing of the CBS documentary wasn't exactly 
ideal. Given the orgy of press coverage in the year following the tragedy, the 
prospect of yet another platoon of national media types parachuting into Littleton 


was enough to make some locals want to bar their doors and let loose the hounds. 


Memories of the camera crews surrounding Rebel Hill in the days after the killings 
still loom large among staff and students at the high school. 20/20, 48 

Hours, Dateline and the morning shows waded through the grief and rage for their 
own purposes, offering gooey hymns to dead children or portraits of plucky 
survivors that bordered on tabloid exploitation. And Time magazine had poisoned 
the well for other journalists with its December 1999 cover story on the videotapes 
that Klebold and Harris had made in the weeks before they carried out their suicide 


mission. 


88 


Time had set out to do a story on how the community was recovering from the 
murders; its reporters spent days interviewing teachers, students and victims' 
parents about their experiences and insights, their determination to honor their lost 
friends and loved ones. Most of that material never made it into print. Instead, the 
sheriff's office gave the magazine exclusive access to the so-called "basement 
tapes" -- under conditions that remain a matter of dispute -- and Time rushed into 
print with the scoop of the year. 

The Time debacle left many in the Columbine community feeling betrayed -- not 
only by the press, but by Sheriff Stone ("Stonewalled," April 13, 2000). So 

when 60 Minutes, the venerable Cadillac of network newsmagazines, announced it 
was taking a "fresh look" at the story, lots of folks were understandably wary. 
Curiously, the degree of suspicion at the center of the Columbine maelstrom was 
not as great as might be supposed. Many parents, teachers and even police officers 
were eager to talk to Gelber and company -- although not necessarily on camera. 
They had their own doubts about the sheriff's self-serving report, their own 


questions about the official story. 


Some, like Randy and Judy Brown, who'd reported Eric Harris's Internet death 
threats to the police a year before the shootings, had been thrust into the spotlight 
from the beginning; others had never before talked publicly. Several parents were 
embroiled in lawsuits with Stone or the school district and had been vilified by 
critics as greedy, but they insisted they weren't after money. Could money bring 
their children back? What they wanted was answers, and if 60 Minutes could 
provide them, so be it. 

As Gelber saw it, the cooperation of the victims' families was essential to the 
success of the documentary; it's not an exaggeration to say that their quest for 
information became its driving force, its moral center. They had questions about 
how the Browns' complaint had fallen through the cracks, even though Harris was 
already on a diversion program in another criminal case. They had questions about 
the threats and violent essays and videos Klebold and Harris had presented in class. 


They had questions about why, despite frantic 911 calls for help, police had held a 


89 


perimeter outside the school while the gunmen executed students in the library; 
why teacher Dave Sanders bled to death while SWAT officers searched mostly 
empty rooms on the other side of the school; why the library was one of the last 
rooms reached by the rescue effort. Finally, they had questions about what officials 
had done since the killings about threat assessment, rapid response and other issues 


to prevent another school massacre. 


These were darned good questions, but among those in a position of official 
accountability, they didn't seem to merit a response. "This community has no 
unanswered questions about Columbine," a spokeswoman for one of the rescue 


agencies told associate producer Dunn. 
"Well, we've talked to people who do have questions," Dunn replied. 
"This community has no questions," the woman repeated. 


Jefferson County School District spokesman Rick Kaufman took a similar stance. 
The district had answered any questions about its role, he insisted; CBS was simply 
raking old muck -- and traumatizing people in the bargain. "We have been working 
with 60 Minutes to mitigate the impact on the school and the community," he told 
the Columbine Courier. "These stories continue to damage the school and the 
community. We want to move forward." 

It didn't take many conversations with Kaufman and his brethren for CBS to 
conclude that the flacks for various public agencies had been talking to each other 
and had decided to present a united front: There are no questions, hence we have no 


answers. Go home. 


Among some members of Gelber's team, this kind of studied obtuseness became 
known as the "There is no monkey" line of defense. Helen Malmgren, Gelber's co- 
producer, tells the story of a man housesitting for a friend who has a pet monkey. 
The man's dog eats the monkey. When anyone calls to inquire how the monkey is 
doing, the man replies simply, "There is no monkey." Not a lie, exactly, but hardly 


the soul of candor. 


90 


The most astonishing display of monkey business came from the Denver Police 
Department. Lawsuits have a way of zipping the lips of even the most media- 
friendly officials; still, no one quite expected the reception we got from the DPD, 


which isn't being sued by any of the Columbine litigants. 


The investigative files released by Judge Jackson revealed, for the first time, the 
true scope of Denver's role in the police response on April 20, 1999 -- a 
contribution that was greatly downplayed in Sheriff Stone's report. Denver police 
responded en masse to Jeffco's call for assistance; some officers were on their way 
even before the official call went out, thanks to Columbine student Matt Depew, 
the son of a Denver cop, who got on the phone to DPD's District 4 soon after the 


shooting started. 


Denver officers called for ambulances to aid wounded students outside the school. 
When no ambulances came, several officers left the safety of their perimeter 
assignments to evacuate the students themselves, while coming under fire from the 


gunmen in the library. 


DPD dispatch tapes obtained by CBS show that the Denver command operated 
independently of Jefferson County's command post to a great extent, making many 


crucial decisions throughout the afternoon to try to contain the chaos. 


Most important of all, the records confirmed that three veteran Denver SWAT 
officers, equipped with a submachine gun, a rifle and a .45 automatic, respectively, 
reached the west side of the school early enough in the conflict to spot a gun barrel 
sticking out of the west doors. Two of them fired at the shooter, who promptly 
retreated. But according to Sheriff Stone's report, two "outgunned" deputies armed 
only with pistols -- Neil Gardner and Paul Smoker -- exchanged shots with Harris 
at the west doors. Denver's participation in the gun battle isn't mentioned; in fact, 


Denver isn't even supposed to be on the scene at this point. 


These were matters worth reporting, Gelber figured, since they raised a number of 
issues regarding the true circumstances of the police response and the accuracy of 


the official timeline. But to do it properly meant securing interviews with Denver 


91 


commanders and responding officers. A meeting was arranged between Ed Bradley 
and Mayor Wellington Webb to seek official authorization to speak to the Denver 


officers. 
The answer was a big, fat "There is no monkey." 


The official explanation for Denver's refusal to cooperate with the documentary 
crew was a concern over "potential" lawsuits. This was the same explanation 
offered to the Governor's Columbine Review Commission when the city abruptly 
pulled two officers scheduled to testify before the panel last summer. Yet any 
letters of intent to sue Denver filed by victims' families expired long ago, with no 
legal action taken. Although a federal lawsuit against Denver could still, in theory, 
be filed up to April 20 of this year, a state statute shifts liability for police agencies 


responding to a call for mutual aid to the agency that put out the call. 


The real reasons for not talking, sources inside the DPD told us, were political. 
Denver wasn't about to allow access to its officers if their stories called into 
question the actions of Jefferson County's commanders. The blue wall of silence 


must not be breached. 


Gelber's team ended up talking to several Denver officers anyway. The 
conversations were off the record but highly illuminating. Many Denver officers 
were still angry about what they'd seen at Columbine. Some were sharply critical of 
Jeffco's commanders and the first deputies on the scene. Others defended the entire 
operation, insisting that no one could pass judgment on cops thrown into an 
impossible situation. Almost all of them were disgusted with the second-guessing 
of the past two years, as well as the gag order that had been imposed on them, and 


were dying to tell their side of the story. 
But none of them would agree to appear on camera, for fear of losing their jobs. 
Let Bradley Be Bradley 


Most people have strange ideas about how television journalism works. They get 


these notions from movies, I suspect, in which TV journalists are invariably 


92 


portrayed as lissome pariahs and obnoxious twits, chasing some poor slob with 


cameras and questions as he's trying to get from his house to his car. 


Working with Gelber, I learned that ambush interviews, also known as 
"doorstepping,"” are far less common than Hollywood supposes. For one thing, they 
don't make for good television; just what journalistic point is made by a shot of the 
sanitation commissioner's rump as he waddles down the street, fumbling with his 


car keys? 


Doorstepping is actually a tactic of last resort, spawned by the need to give the 
viewer at least a glimpse of the elusive bureaucrat who won't return your phone 
calls. Investigative programs such as 60 Minutes rely to a much greater degree on 
extensive face-to-face interviews conducted by its star correspondents, who try to 
cajole, coax, cross-examine, castigate or ignite the various opposing sides of the 
story -- whatever it takes to get them to explain themselves. 

Fairness demands such interviews. The medium demands it, too. Shots of intrepid, 
trench-coated reporters standing outside the building where the elusive bureaucrat 
works (also known as "guilty building” shots) just aren't as satisfying as a sitdown 
with the sanitation commissioner himself. In some cases, the interview turns out to 
be cathartic for everyone involved; it could be an opportunity for Mr. Big Rump to 
defuse the situation, lay the blame on some higher-ups or explain that the missing 


money isn't missing after all -- rather than lurking, guiltily, in his guilty office. 


The dramatic content of network magazine shows revolves around the sitdown. It's 
a formula that 60 Minutes invented and, with Mike Wallace and then Ed Bradley, 
has practically perfected. At the heart of every hard-nosed Bradley piece is at least 
one Confrontation Scene, in which the correspondent brings forth evidence of 
wrongdoing and demands an accounting from the powers that be. It's the moment 
in which Bradley gets to be Bradley -- complete with glacial glare, withering frown 
and headmaster voice dripping with skepticism. 

It sounds theatrical, but the sitdowns aren't staged; CBS News standards require 


that the interview subjects are never provided the questions in advance. Still, the 


93 


sitdowns are often the result of weeks or months of negotiations, during which the 
potential candidates are urged to tell their story to 20 million people; to respond to 
what CBS's reporting has uncovered; to take their chances in the arena, rather than 
be a no-show. The groundwork for these interviews is done by a team of reporters 
and producers, who also compose questions for the interview and brief the 


correspondent. 


Bradley, of course, didn't spend nearly as much time in Denver on the Columbine 
project as Gelber and his team. He certainly didn't have to join in long lunches in 
the culinary wasteland of South Wadsworth, meeting with sources at Applebee's, 
Bennigan's and the International House of Pancakes, an experience their jaded New 
York palates won't soon forget. (Associate producer Michael Karzis spent so much 
time quizzing Columbine kids at the IHOP that the mere mention of "The Hopper" 
could cause him to mist up.) The star correspondent works on several stories with 
different teams of producers at the same time, and Bradley's travel schedule kept 
him moving; if he did have any spare time, he fled Denver as quickly as he could 


for his house in Woody Creek, down the road from Hunter Thompson. 


But Bradley is no actor, brought on stage at the climactic moment to interrogate the 
usual suspects. Unlike some superstars of TV news who are truly wretched 
journalists, he has remained interested in risky and difficult stories. When CBS 
executives balked at the idea of devoting an hour of prime time to the AIDS 
epidemic in Africa -- "a foreign story, a story about dying black people, with hardly 
any white people in it," Gelber notes -- it was Bradley who championed the project. 
(Two weeks ago the program won a Peabody, the most prestigious award in 
broadcast journalism.) No one on the CBS team seems to begrudge Bradley his 
seven-figure salary, either; as one member explained it to me, his appeal is what 


pays their salaries, too. 


Bradley proved to be a quick study of the Columbine situation. Given how many 
other stories he was working on simultaneously, his command of the details was 


impressive. He really wanted to get to the bottom of this thing. There was only one 


94 


problem: No one in a position of accountability was willing to sit down with him -- 
to let Bradley be Bradley. 


Try as he might, Gelber was unable to budge Sheriff Stone from the media-proof 
bunker he's inhabited since the Time flap. Phone calls and letters appealing to the 
sheriff's sense of civic duty yielded only a polite, three-page response, in which 
Stone defended his officers and his department -- better than nothing, but a poor 
substitute for a sitdown. His refusal was disappointing but not unexpected, since 
he'd been telling people for months that he'd love to talk but that worrywart county 
attorney wouldn't let him, what with all those lawsuits piling up in federal court. 
Stone had already been pilloried by William Erickson, the head of the governor's 
Columbine commission, for not talking to that august panel, and he could hardly 
chew the fat with Bradley after snubbing the governor. (The commission's final 
report is due on Governor Bill Owens's desk around May 15.) 

Gelber asked Stone to designate a surrogate, but that led nowhere, too. Former 
sheriff's spokesman Steve Davis, a smooth and leonine presence who had hustled to 
correct Stone's gaffes in the days after the shootings, left his post for the greener 
pastures of private enterprise months ago. There were a number of top law- 
enforcement people from other agencies at the command post that April 20, but 
none of them were eager to go on camera and defend the police response. Like the 
Denver brass, they wouldn't publicly criticize the sheriff -- but they weren't going 


to pinch-hit for him, either. 


The school district was just as wary. After months of discussions with the district's 
attorneys and top administrators, Gelber was finally able to secure interviews with 
several Columbine teachers -- ordinary folk caught up in an amazing and traumatic 
situation, whose dedication and concern for their students made a vivid impression. 
But principal Frank DeAngelis, whose bland bafflement at the evil in his school 
had been expressed in countless interviews, canceled his sitdown at the last 


moment, saying he didn't feel "comfortable" about the prospect. 


95 


Frustrated, Bradley was reduced to practicing his more aggressive techniques on 
Gelber himself. Trips to Whole Foods in Cherry Creek, the correspondent's favorite 


lunch spot, became odysseys of inquisition. 


"Just how many cell phones have you lost?" Bradley demanded one day, as Gelber 


dialed furiously on a borrowed Nokia. 

"Not many," Gelber replied, then tried to change the subject. 
"Is it five or six?" 

"No more than four, Mr. Bradley." 

"And how many pagers?" 

"This is only my second one." 

"You're sure of that?" 


At the eleventh hour, the school district realized that it was better to provide a 
spokesperson to handle the tough questions than to join the ranks of the no- 
commenters. The correspondent flew in special for the interview from New York 
and was joined by an elite camera crew from San Francisco. For a brief and shining 


hour, Bradley got to be Bradley. 
It's Always Spring in the Commune 


A former Village Voice writer with a keen ear for leftist cant, Gelber liked to repeat 
cheery slogans from the People's Republic of China to bolster spirits during the 
Columbine project. 


"Just remember," he'd say, "it's always spring in the commune." 


Whenever he said it, I knew another interview had just been canceled, another lead 
squashed. The phrase was also invoked after the City of Littleton informed CBS 
that it wanted $20,000 to redact and release its police-dispatch tapes. No setback 


could change the course of spring in the commune. 


96 


But with so many officials suffering from laryngitis, Gelber had to find other ways 
to tell an extremely complex story. Fortunately, the paper trail of Columbine, along 
with the audio and video record of the police response, told a great deal. Here are 


three examples. 


Item one: Our document hunt turned up an affidavit for a search warrant for Eric 
Harris's house drafted by a Jefferson County sheriff's investigator months before 
the shootings, in response to the Browns' complaints about death threats and pipe 
bombs. The warrant was never executed or even submitted to a judge; after the 
killings, it had been shown to Jefferson County District Attorney Dave Thomas, 
who told the cops that he never would have approved it anyway, based on the 
information presented. Yet the affidavit's very existence contradicts the sheriff's 
explanation that the Brown complaint was a "routine" matter that led nowhere, that 
there was no real indication that a crime had been committed. At least one 
investigator took the report seriously enough to want to pursue it, and that raises all 


sorts of questions about the lack of further action on the case. 


Finally released Tuesday, the affidavit shows that the investigator was able to link 
Harris to another open case involving pipe-bomb materials found in a field. "You 
tell me there isn't enough in this affidavit to get a search warrant? In what 


universe?" demands a livid Randy Brown. 


Item two: After the killings, school officials took an odd comfort in the news that 
police hadn't found any drugs in student lockers when they processed the crime 
scene. But glimpses of another side of Columbine are scattered through the 
investigative files, including a report of a bag of marijuana found outside the 
school. Hardly stop-the-presses stuff, but it's one strand in a larger puzzle. 
According to the autopsies, Harris and Klebold had no drugs in their systems -- 
other than trace amounts in Harris's system of the prescription drug Luvox, an 
inhibitor of anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behavior -- but the evidence log 
obtained by CBS through its court action indicates that a drug pipe was found on 


one of their bodies. 


97 


Other inside dope on dope could be contained in the interviews a Jeffco 
investigator conducted with former Columbine student Brooks Brown. I say "could 
be," because the written record of those interviews is missing -- one of the most 
glaring omissions from the investigative files. Assistant County Attorney William 
Tuthill's response to a request for the documents was coy: "No report was 


generated if there was nothing to report." 


Actually, the 11,000 pages of investigative files released to date contain countless 
examples of interviews that generated no new information but were written up 
anyway. Brooks Brown and his parents -- whose ongoing feud with Stone led to a 
failed effort to recall the sheriff last year -- say Brooks spent several hours with a 
Jeffco investigator and an FBI agent, answering questions about his friendship with 
Klebold and conflicts with Harris. Other police reports make reference to the 
statements Brown gave in those interviews. But the statements themselves are 


missing. 


Brooks Brown doesn't know what happened to his interviews. He does, however, 
recall telling the investigators that somebody ought to check out the Subway shop 
near the high school, which had become a haven for drug dealing. Nearly a year 
after the massacre, two Columbine teens were murdered in that same sandwich 
shop. The killings remain unsolved, but speculation that the crime was drug-related 


continues. 


Item three: In concocting its official report of the events of April 20, 1999, the 
sheriff's office had to ignore or contort several crucial details found in its own 
deputies’ statements about what they saw, heard and did. The result is a "minute- 


by-minute" timeline that is not only flawed, but misleading. 


Take, for instance, the official story of the first few minutes of the attack, before 
the library rampage. According to the report, Deputy Gardner pulls into the 
Columbine parking lot, sirens blazing, at 11:24 a.m. His arrival distracts Harris and 


Klebold from their killing spree. Harris, who is at that moment outside the west 


98 


doors, firing into the doors and wounding teacher Patty Nielson and student Brian 


Anderson, turns and opens fire on Gardner. 


When Gardner returns fire, Harris retreats into the building. Two minutes later he 
reappears, and this time both Gardner and motorcycle cop Paul Smoker shoot at 
him. Harris retreats into the building again. The library killings begin three minutes 


later, with the handful of deputies outside helpless to do anything about it. 


It's a heck of a story, but it doesn't match up with the times and circumstances 
reflected in dispatch calls and police reports. In their statements, both Gardner and 
Andy Marton, a school employee who was riding with Gardner, report that there 
was already shooting going on inside the building when they arrived. Both say that 
Harris came out of the west doors to engage them, rather than being "distracted" in 
the middle of his shooting spree outside. Klebold doesn't make an appearance at all. 
And when did this happen? Gardner's 11:26 a.m. call to the dispatcher is about 
shots in the building, not about being under fire or even seeing a shooter. He 
doesn't report "getting a couple of shots off at the shooter" until 11:29. His actions 


during the first five minutes after his arrival remain unclear. 


As for Smoker, the report places him on the west side of the school, firing at 
Harris, at 11:26. But his statement indicates he's still in Clement Park, north of the 
school, when he hears Gardner's 11:26 call for assistance. At 11:28 he reports to 
dispatch that the shooter is wearing a black trench coat -- information he gathered 
from students fleeing into the park. According to his statement, he doesn't fire on 
Harris at the west doors until after "a whole slew of kids ran out of the cafeteria. 


Numerous had gunshots, bleeding all over the place." 


Those kids didn't come out of the cafeteria. The only injured party in the cafeteria 
was a teacher, caught on the surveillance videotape as he's bowled over by a pipe 
bomb -- an event the report ignores. No, those kids ran and crawled out of the 
library emergency exit around 11:37 a.m., after Klebold and Harris left the library, 


and took cover behind the patrol car manned by Smoker and another deputy. 


99 


In other words, the report's timeline for the two gun battles is at least ten minutes 
out of whack, and the report's claim that the deputies twice tried to stop Harris 
before the library massacre is problematic, at best. Instead, it appears that after 
Gardner's brief exchange of shots, the Jefferson County officers busied themselves 
setting up a perimeter while ten people were being murdered inside. And when 
Harris did reappear at the west doors, there were far more cops on the scene -- 
including, as noted earlier, some well-armed Denver officers -- than the public has 


been led to believe. 


The account of the gunfights is just one of several claims in the sheriff's report that 
don't match up with the evidence. How many of these glaring contradictions find 
their way into the final cut of the CBS documentary is anybody's guess. (Tune in to 
KCNC/Channel 4 on Tuesday, April 17, to find out.) Television requires not only 
images but a kind of emotional certainty that mere documents can't provide. 
Ultimately, it depends on people to tell the story, and many of the people who 


know the secrets of Columbine aren't talking. 


Yet their silence gains them nothing. In a way, it only confirms what Gelber 
suspected all along, that the Columbine story is far from over. Much of the media 
attention has dwelled on the violent netherworld of teenagers, their capacity for 
rage and access to firepower, and their clueless parents. But it is also a story about 
the failure of public institutions to take responsibility for their own mistakes and 


indifference. 


One of the most disturbing aspects of my 60 Minutes experience was the discovery 
of how little attention the authorities have devoted to investigating themselves. 
Despite the intensive self-examination and breast-beating the Columbine 
community has gone through over the past two years, fundamental questions were 
never asked by the people in the best position to get the answers. The costly, year- 
long police investigation focused primarily on dispelling the rumor of a third 


gunman; motives, causes and lessons to be learned were all given short shrift. 


100 


Police and school officials seem to have a feebler grasp of the details of what 
happened than reporters who've spent months poring over their statements. 
Perhaps what 60 Minutes learned will compel the keepers of the secrets to hold an 
open house. Until that day, spring is still a long way off, in the commune or 
anywhere else. 

What couldn't happen here did. As long as officials continue to say, "There is no 
problem, and we have solved it," there is no reason to believe it won't happen 


again. 


Chronology of a Big Fat Lie 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / APRIL 19, 2001 / 4:00AM 


The last two weeks have not been the best of times for the Jefferson County 
Sheriff's Office. The agency has been in serious damage-control mode since the 
court-ordered release of hundreds of pages of police records that indicated the 
JCSO was telling something less than the whole truth about its investigation into 


the Columbine massacre. 


The documents had been sought by CBS News for a one-hour documentary on 
Columbine that aired April 17 on 60 Minutes IT (Lights, Camera...No Comment," 
April 12). The most damning revelations to emerge from the paper chase were 
contained in a two-page draft of an affidavit for a search warrant for the house of 
Columbine gunman Eric Harris, prepared by JCSO investigator Mike Guerra 
almost a year before the shootings at the high school. 

Although never submitted to a judge, Guerra's affidavit demonstrated that the 
police had more information about Harris and his bomb-making activities than they 


had previously admitted, yet had failed to pursue the investigation. 


Stirred to action by the media furor over the affidavit, the sheriff's office actually 
issued a press release -- its first detailed comment on a Columbine-related matter 


since victims’ families filed nine lawsuits against Sheriff John Stone a year ago. 


101 


The release was a momentous event, not unlike a puff of smoke emerging from the 


Vatican to announce the selection of a new pope. 


The press release itself quickly became a matter of controversy. It began by 
asserting that Judge Brooke Jackson, the judge overseeing the open-records 
litigation, "was provided access to all of our documentation relative to Columbine" 
(in court last month, Jackson announced that even he hadn't seen everything the 
sheriff's office had). It went on to explain that the JCSO had opposed the release of 
certain materials "to prevent further heartache for the victims' families" -- while 
neglecting to mention that the families were suing the JCSO for access to those 


materials. 


But the statement that sent reporters scurrying to their clip files was the claim that 
the search-warrant affidavit was really old news. "A few days after the Columbine 
shootings, the Sheriff's Office disclosed the existence of the so-called 'secret' search 


warrant affidavit," the release claimed. 


No reporter could find any mention of the affidavit in news coverage after the 
Columbine shootings. A Westword review of a videotape of the JCSO news 
conference on April 30, 1999, in which the affidavit was supposedly "disclosed," 
turned up something else entirely: a running stream of excuses, half-truths and 
outright lies about what the JCSO knew and did about Eric Harris before he and 
Dylan Klebold killed thirteen people. 

Over the past two years, The House That Stone Walled had plenty of opportunities 
to tell the truth about its investigation of Harris, but it chose not to -- not until a 
judge made the JCSO produce the affidavit. For the record, here's what sheriff's 
department did: 


January 30, 1998: Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are arrested in Deer Creek 
Canyon for breaking into a van and stealing electrical equipment. 

February 15, 1998: A resident of south Jeffco reports a pipe bomb found in a field 
a few blocks from Harris's house. The size and materials are similar to those of 


bombs Harris describes in writings posted on his America Online Web pages. 


102 


March 18, 1998: Randy Brown reports that Eric Harris is making death threats on 
his Web site -- including a specific threat against Randy's son, Brooks Brown -- 
and boasting that he is detonating pipe bombs and vandalizing neighbors’ property. 
He provides a JCSO deputy with ten pages of Harris's writings, downloaded from 
the Web site. The complaint is written up as a "suspicious incident" rather than as a 
felony investigation, with Harris listed as a "subject" rather than as a suspect. The 
report is designated to be forwarded to Neil Gardner, the deputy assigned to work 
at Columbine High School. Gardner will later claim that he never saw the contents 
of the report. 

March 25, 1998: Harris and Klebold are placed in a juvenile diversion program for 
the van break-in. 

March 31, 1998: After persistent phone calls, Randy and Judy Brown finally 
obtain a meeting with sheriff's investigator John Hicks concerning Harris's threats. 
According to the Browns, Hicks is already aware of Harris's previous arrest and 
record. 

April 2, 1998: A criminal background check by JCSO fails to turn up any 
information on Harris because of his juvenile status and the low-level nature of his 
felony arrest. 

April 11, 1998: Judy Brown contacts the JCSO about an e-mail threat received on 
her son's computer but then accidentally deleted. A deputy takes the report by 
phone as a "suspicious incident” and indicates that it should be forwarded to 
Investigator Hicks. 

July 19, 1998: Randy Brown reports that a paintball gun was fired at his garage 
and that he suspects Eric Harris. The officer writing up the report notes, "No 
suspects -- no leads." 

February 3, 1999: Harris and Klebold are released from the diversion program 
with glowing reports. 

April 20, 1999: Harris and Klebold kill thirteen people, wound two dozen more, 
and try to blow up Columbine High School before killing themselves. 


103 


April 30, 1999: Facing mounting questions about its handling of the Brown 
complaint, the JCSO issues a press release stating that its investigators couldn't find 
the Harris Web site and couldn't establish the "elements of a crime" -- in part 
because the Browns had requested anonymity. But the case had remained officially 
"open," and Deputy Gardner had kept an eye on Harris and Klebold, the statement 
says, occasionally engaging them in "light conversation." 

At a press conference, Lieutenant John Kiekbusch admits that someone should 
have called the Browns back to check the Web address, but argues that the case 
was hardly a promising one. "If you look at the information that was provided to 
us, some of it is quite outlandish," he tells reporters. "When an individual on a Web 
site talks about having exploded numerous bombs and kills numerous people -- 
obviously, that's not happening. So we're looking at it as someone's fantasy, but 
we're still pursuing it to see if there's any substance here...We compared that 
information against explosive pipe bomb devices that had been recovered in the 


county, and there was nothing to match up there." 


But Harris didn't write that he had killed numerous people; he wrote that he 

was going to kill people. And the Browns vigorously dispute the JCSO's contention 
that they did not want the case followed up or Harris's parents contacted. 

May 4, 1999: Appearing on the Today show, Sheriff Stone suggests the Browns' 
criticism is "a smokescreen to divert attention" from their son's friendship with 
Klebold and Harris. "Brooks Brown could possibly be a suspect," he says. 
Summer 1999-Spring 2000: The Browns make numerous requests for the 
complete case file on their complaint. They are given essentially the same 
paperwork each time, but nothing that indicates any followup by the JCSO or even 
any written record of their meeting with John Hicks. JCSO officials repeatedly tell 
reporters that the Browns never met with Hicks -- a claim they will continue to 
make right up until the affidavit surfaces. 

May 15, 2000: Judge Jackson orders the release of the JCSO's much-delayed final 
report on Columbine. The report notes that, after the shootings, Jefferson County 


District Attorney Dave Thomas was provided with information from the Harris 


104 


writings and assured the investigators that "there would have been insufficient basis 
to legally support a request to obtain search or arrest warrants." The report fails to 
mention, though, whether anyone at JCSO had ever drafted or even contemplated a 
search warrant affidavit. 

November 21, 2000: Judge Jackson orders the release of 11,000 pages of police 
investigative files on Columbine. The Brown case file is included, but nothing that 
suggests the case was ever pursued. However, other documents show that 
investigators had no difficulty accessing Harris's Web site immediately after the 
shootings. They also show that the Brown complaint was listed as "closed" before 
April 20, 1999 -- and long before the JCSO insisted it was still an open lead. 
February 20, 2001: In response to a request from CBS News seeking any 
additional paperwork connected to the Brown complaint not previously released, 
Jeffco assistant county attorney William Tuthill denies that such paperwork exists. 
"A copy of the 1998 Brown complaint was placed in the investigative files for 
reference," he notes. 

March 19, 2001: Having confirmed the existence of Guerra's affidavit with 
District Attorney Thomas, CBS asks Judge Jackson to order it to be released. 
April 10, 2001: In compliance with Jackson's order, the affidavit is finally 
released, two years after the shootings and nearly three years after it was written. It 
establishes that Hicks not only met with the Browns, but passed on the Web pages 
to Guerra. Contrary to Kiekbusch's assertion that the investigators were unable to 
"match up" the bomb information with any existing cases, Guerra suspected a link 
between the bombs described in Harris's writings and the one found in a field on 
February 15, 1998. The document also lists a correct street address -- and a possible 
Web address -- for Eric Harris. 

April 12, 2001: In a newly released interview with an Arvada investigator, 
conducted hours after the Columbine shooting, Deputy Neil Gardner states he "had 
never dealt with Eric Harris" before the gunfight that day and didn't recognize a 
photo of him -- raising fresh questions about how he could ever have engaged in 


conversation, light or otherwise, with someone he had never met. 


105 


The Do-Nothing Defense 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / MAY 3, 2001 / 4:00AM 


For a moment last Friday, U.S. District Judge Lewis Babcock sounded like one of 


the Brothers Karamazov -- the brooding, metaphysically challenged one. 


"If you're confronted with evil, what do you do about it?" he asked the attorneys 


gathered in his courtroom. "If you do nothing, doesn't that become evil itself?" 


Up to that point, doing nothing had been touted as a virtue by the lawyers 
representing Jefferson County police and school officials in Babcock's court. 
Confronted with the evil that was Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, Jeffco authorities 
did next to nothing right -- but more important, their attorneys argued, they did 
nothing wrong, legally speaking. And that's what these attorneys wanted Babcock 
to do with the nine lawsuits filed against their clients by families of those injured or 


killed in the Columbine massacre: absolutely nothing. 


Last week's hearing on motions to dismiss the cases presented a formidable hurdle 
for the Columbine families. They are seeking to hold the Jefferson County Sheriff's 
Office and the school district accountable for not doing more to head off the 1999 
attack on the high school, in which thirteen people were killed and two dozen more 
injured. Some plaintiffs contend that the sheriff's office effectively handed over the 
school -- and their children -- to Harris and Klebold by failing to pursue the 
gunmen into the building after the rampage started; a daughter of wounded teacher 
Dave Sanders charges that the inept rescue operation basically left him to die. 
These claims have drawn renewed media attention in the wake of the 60 Minutes 
II investigation aired last month, which revealed that authorities had more 
information about the dangers posed by Harris and Klebold than they'd previously 
admitted ("Lights, Camera...No Comment," April 12). 


106 


But police officers and other government employees enjoy a high degree of 
protection from liability for violent acts committed by third parties. Under federal 
law, a cop has no constitutional duty to protect almost anybody from anything. A 
high school principal has no duty to protect one student from another. A SWAT 
officer has no obligation to haul a badly wounded gunshot victim to a waiting 


ambulance. 


In its wisdom, the law has carved out two narrow exceptions to the defense of 
qualified immunity (which, as one jurist put it, "provides ample support to all but 
the plainly incompetent"). If a "special relationship" exists between the government 
and the victim -- an inmate in custody, for example, or an institutionalized mental 
patient who no longer has the ability to defend himself -- then the immunity claim 
may fail. And if police officers take action and increase the danger to an individual 
in a manner so reckless that it "shocks the conscience," then even cops are fair 


game. 


According to lawyers for the victims’ families, both exceptions apply to the 
Columbine situation. They argue that the sheriff's office created a "custodial 
relationship" with the victims in the library and the students trying to help Dave 
Sanders because 911 operators told them to stay put, that help was on the way. And 
the sheriff's troops made the situation worse by driving the killers into the school, 
then forming a perimeter and delaying rescue efforts until long after Klebold and 


Harris had committed suicide. 


"If the police had left and gone home, the tragic irony is that Mr. Sanders would be 


alive," Peter Grenier, the attorney for Sanders's daughter Angela, told Babcock. 


In sheer strength of numbers, the plaintiffs clearly had a tactical advantage over the 
embattled police and school lawyers. There were so many attorneys at the 
plaintiff's table that they spilled into the gallery, making it hard to distinguish the 
high-profile legal talent hired by the families (Grenier, Walter Gerash, Jay 
Horowitz) from the high-profile legal analysts on hand to provide media bites 


(Scott Robinson, Craig Silverman, Andrew Cohen). 


107 


The plaintiffs had certain rhetorical advantages, too. For the purpose of ruling on 
the motions to dismiss, procedures require that Babcock regard the factual 
allegations of the plaintiffs as true. Consequently, their attorneys were able to assert 
many as-yet-unproven elements of their claims -- that student Dan Rohrbough was 
killed by a police officer, for example, or that a Denver SWAT team was on the 
scene and ready to stop the library executions but was ordered not to go in -- as 
compelling examples of the cops' outlandish behavior. In some instances, this 
allowed attorneys who seemed to have only a tenuous grasp of the facts of the 
attack to present mere rumors as evidence of a coverup. But then, the affidavit for a 
search warrant that a Jeffco investigator prepared for Harris's house in 1998 was 
just a rumor, too, until a judge forced the county to produce it last month 
("Chronology of a Big Fat Lie," April 19). 

No one railed at the county's penchant for "concealment" more than aged 
courtroom warrior Walter Gerash, who wanted Babcock to strip the sheriff's office 
of its immunity for hiding the affidavit for the past two years. With his voice set on 
bellow, he demanded to know why the Harris home was never searched, in light of 
what investigators knew about Eric Harris's bomb-making activities a year before 
the massacre. "Was Eric Harris an informer? Was he getting special treatment?" he 


asked. "Something is rotten here." 


Gerash has a particular interest in arguing that the botched investigation prior to the 
attack is conscience-shocking. His clients, Lance Kirklin and Sean Graves, were 
injured outside the school in the early stages of the attack, a circumstance that 
makes it more difficult to hold the police somehow responsible for their injuries. 
Other attorneys, however, had no trouble blasting the police response to Columbine 


as even more outrageous than their previous inaction. 


Phil Gordon called the promise that help was coming, when the first deputies were 
actually intent on staying outside, "a stunning abuse of governmental power." 
Miles Cortez described the perimeter tactics adopted by responding deputies as "a 
decision to stand by and let Harris and Klebold kill or wound for as long as their 


ammunition held out... The killing field turned out to be the Columbine library." 


108 


Defending the sheriff's office, Assistant County Attorney Bill Tuthill coolly 
shrugged off the rhetoric and focused on case law. Columbine doesn't meet any of 
the criteria for the exceptions to immunity, he insisted. Whatever the reason that 
the investigation of Harris's bombs and death threats was aborted, the case was 
"irrelevant" to what happened a year later, he argued. His clients had done nothing, 
and nothing is good. Such a position "may offend our common sense, but it doesn't 


offend the Constitution," he said. 


So the 911 operators had told everyone to stay put. So they promised that help 
would be there in minutes, rather than three or four hours later. So what? Under the 
law, a police officer's promise of assistance is meaningless. "Promises do not create 
a special relationship,” Tuthill claimed. "Police officers shouldn't be found 
constitutionally liable for the decisions they make, even if they later turn out to be 


mistakes." 


School district attorney Stuart Stuller took a similar stance. No special relationship, 
no creation of danger. The existence of a school security plan that Columbine failed 
to follow, as reported on 60 Minutes IT, didn't create any kind of duty to protect 
students. Maybe the school screwed up by doing little or nothing with previous 
complaints about Harris and Klebold, but nothing is good. "There is no evil in 
being hoodwinked by evil," Stuller argued. 

Yet as the day wore on, Judge Babcock seemed to grow impatient with such 
arguments. Whatever their legal merits, they trifled with logic. "Your defense rests 
upon inaction," he told Tuthill. "Is the lesson to be learned from these cases that, 
when confronted with this type of expression, we close our eyes to it -- because by 


doing nothing, there is no liability?" 


Tuthill argued that it was ridiculous to think that the sheriff's commanders had the 
"luxury" to think through their misguided rescue operation during the first two 
hours of the siege. Babcock growled back that they surely could have figured out 
how to reach Sanders by the third hour. 


109 


When the assistant county attorney suggested that the failure to investigate the prior 
bomb reports was due to "allocation of resources," the judge merely scoffed. When 
Tuthill went on to advance the notion that Dave Sanders wasn't in any kind of 
"special relationship" with the police because, after all, Sanders wasn't even in 
direct contact with the 911 operator, Babcock felt compelled to point out that the 


teacher was critically wounded and unconscious at the time. 


Babcock has not yet issued a decision as to which lawsuits, if any, he will dismiss 
at this point. But there's little question which arguments he found to be more 
compelling on a common-sense level, if not in legal terms. Two years ago, 
Jefferson County officials were boasting that they did everything right at 
Columbine; now they're reduced to arguing that they did nothing so wrong that it 


amounts to a violation of constitutional rights -- that doing nothing is doing good. 


Before Tuthill finished his final remarks, the judge stared at him with a mournful, 


deeply troubled look on his face. 


"Maybe it's just late in the day," Babcock said, "but you're beginning to shock my 


conscience." 


More Whoppers from Jeffco 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / OCTOBER 25, 2001 / 4:00AM 


For the past eighteen months, ever since Columbine families filed nine lawsuits 
against him and his agency, Jefferson County Sheriff John Stone has refused to talk 
to reporters about the school massacre. When other county officials deign to 
comment on the police response to the attack, they invariably parrot the account 
presented in the sheriff's official Columbine report that was released in May 2000 - 


- an account riddled with glaring omissions and factual errors. 


110 


Last spring, Westword requested a meeting with Sheriff Stone in an effort to clear 
up several troubling contradictions between the report and evidence contained in 
police investigative files. The response was cordial; citing pending litigation, Stone 
declined to be interviewed, but he agreed to respond to written questions 
concerning the official timeline of events on the day of the attack. 

"I would be happy to clarify any point you feel is unclear or confusing to you," 
Stone wrote. "Any questions you have on the timeline can be answered in full 
detail." 


Ten questions were submitted to Stone in June. Four months and several phone 
calls later, a four-page reply arrived -- not from Stone, but from Jeffco Assistant 
County Attorney Lily Oeffler, whose office is defending Stone in the litigation. The 
letter upholds the official timeline to the last tittle, insisting that contradictory data 
found in police-dispatch tapes, witness interviews and statements by Stone's own 
deputies aren't contradictions at all. In short, evidence to the contrary be damned: 


There are no problems here. 


But there are significant problems with the official Columbine timeline, and they're 
important for several reasons. A correct timeline is crucial in order to determine 
when the attack starts, when police arrive, and what they do after they get there. 
Particularly in the early stages of the attack, when every moment counts, it's not 
simply minutes, but lives that are at issue. 

Take, for instance, the report's account of the actions of two Jeffco deputies, Neil 
Gardner and Paul Smoker, before the library rampage begins. According to the 
official timeline, Gardner pulls into the Columbine parking lot at 11:24 a.m. His 
arrival distracts Eric Harris, who at that moment is outside the west doors, firing at 


teacher Patty Nielson. Harris turns and opens fire on Gardner. 


Gardner fires back. Harris retreats into the building. Two minutes later, he 
reappears at the west doors. This time Gardner and Smoker, who've taken a 


position near the west entrance, both return fire. Harris retreats again. The library 


111 


killings begin three minutes later, with the handful of deputies outside pinned down 


by gunfire from the library windows. 
That's the official story. And it's emphatically and provably wrong. 


Here's what the evidence shows: Both Gardner and Andy Marton, a school 
employee who was riding with him, reported that there was already 

shooting inside the building when they arrived. The library windows were broken, 
and they heard explosions inside. Both say Harris came out of the west doors to 
engage them, rather than being "distracted" in the middle of the outside shooting 
spree. And Gardner's first on-scene call to the dispatcher, at 11:26, was about shots 
in the building, not about being un-der fire or even seeing a shooter. He didn't 
report "getting a couple of shots off at the shooter" until 11:29, seconds before the 
library massacre began. 

As for Smoker, the report has him on the west side of the school, firing at Harris, at 
11:26. But his statement indicates he was still in Clement Park, north of the school, 
when he heard Gardner's 11:26 call for assistance. He didn't fire on Harris until 
after "a whole slew of kids" ran out of the building, including several who had 


gunshot wounds and were "bleeding all over the place." 


Although Smoker said the kids came out of the cafeteria, which is directly below 
the library, the only wounded students to emerge from the building who fit his 
description were the survivors of the library massacre. They escaped through an 
emergency exit around 11:37 and took cover behind the patrol car manned by 
Smoker and another deputy, several dozen yards away. In other words, Smoker's 
gun battle with Harris occurred at least ten minutes later than the report claims -- 
and after ten people had already been murdered inside while the deputies were still 


setting up their perimeter outside. 


How do Jeffco officials account for these discrepancies? By creative interpretations 
of the physical evidence and by insisting that their officers didn't say what they 


said. 


112 


Broken library windows don't mean the attack had already moved inside by the 
time Gardner arrived: "The numerous shots fired by Harris and Klebold when they 


were shooting outside could have easily caused the broken windows," Oeffler says. 


Yet none of the 46 witnesses in the library interviewed by police recalled the 
windows breaking before the gunmen came in and started shooting the place up. 
(We're talking major damage, not BB-sized holes; Gardner said one window was 
completely "gone," with "jagged edges around it.") The first indication most of 
them had that anything was wrong was the frantic arrival of a wounded Patty 
Nielson, who told the students to get down and started dialing 911. Then they heard 
explosions and shooting in the hallways, then Harris and Klebold came in and 
started killing people. 

Oeffler maintains that Gardner came under fire from Harris before his 11:26 call 
for assistance. So why did he talk about shots inside the building and neglect to 
mention the battle at that point? Well, by the time Gardner got on the radio, Harris 
had moved inside, so "shots inside the building" is "an accurate statement," Oeffler 
explains. "To use valuable time and attention to air details about the exchange of 


gunfire was unnecessary." 


Or maybe the exchange hadn't happened yet. Gardner's debriefing by investigators 
on the day of the attack is clear on this point. The gunman didn't come out of the 
building and shoot at him until right after his 11:26 call. That's Marton's 
recollection, too. The 11:26 call was about the shots Gardner was hearing inside the 
school, before he'd seen a suspect. At that point, he said, all he knew was that 


"someone's shooting up the school." 


The record of Smoker's actions is equally clear. Oeffler's letter insists that Smoker 
was on the west side of the school by 11:24. Four minutes later, "he aired that the 
shooter may be wearing a black trenchcoat, information that he obtained from 


students on the west side of the school." 


But Smoker told a police interviewer that he was still in Clement Park, on the other 
side of the ballfields that stretch north from the high school, when he heard 


113 


Gardner's call for assistance at 11:26. A motorcycle cop, Smoker decided to hook 
up with an officer in a patrol car, Scott Taborsky, before getting any closer to the 
fray. Taborsky reported to dispatch that he and Smoker were taking up a position 
on the west side of the school at 11:29 -- five minutes later than Oeffler claims. As 
for the information Smoker aired at 11:28 about the trenchcoated suspect, it 
probably came from a student named Adam Thomas, who remembers fleeing the 
shooting on the west side and coming across a motorcycle cop minutes later -- in 
Clement Park. 


Oeffler says the wounded students who took cover with Smoker and Taborsky 
weren't wounded at all. "Many uninjured students had blood on them from assisting 
injured students...The deputies began to evacuate the students who continued to 


come out of the school cafeteria and, moments later, the library." 


The mass exodus from the cafeteria occurred fifteen minutes before the library 
evacuation, not "moments" before. And few, if any, of the kids fleeing the cafeteria 
-- where no one was injured, according to the sheriff's report, so how did these kids 
get blood on them? -- would have sought refuge behind Taborsky's patrol car. Not 
only was it not there yet, but the students were running away from the shooters, to 
the south and east sides of the school. 

Put aside, for a moment, Smoker's own statement that the kids he saw had 
"numerous" gunshot wounds. Here's what Columbine teacher Craig Place, who'd 


taken cover on the west side of the school after the shooting started, told the FBI: 


"A police car arrived and parked on the side of the hill. Approximately ten minutes 
later, students came out and ran behind the police car. Place believes these students 
came out the back door exit of the library. Place wanted to try to help the 
students...A police officer told [him] to 'Get the fuck out of here." 


Perhaps Place is wrong about the amount of time involved. But chances are he had 
a better idea of the location of the Columbine library and cafeteria than Paul 
Smoker did that day. 


114 


The official version of what happened at Columbine depends on windows that 
break without anyone noticing them, gunshot wounds that don't exist, gun battles 
that aren't worth reporting, and cops and bad guys who manage to be in several 
places at once. Any way you slice it, it's a pretty rank piece of bologna. But that's 


Jeffco officials’ story. 


And they're sticking to it. 


Back to School 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / OCTOBER 25, 2001 / 4:00AM 


The Fire Last Time 
They dreamed of fire. 


It would be a cleansing fire, fueled by propane, gasoline, gunpowder, homemade 
napalm -- and their own savage hatred. Explosion after explosion, building to a 
conflagration that would settle all arguments and consume hundreds, perhaps 


thousands of lives. 


At first, when the fire was just a revenge fantasy flickering in the fevered brains of 
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, they thought about ways they could escape 
retribution for the killing. There had to be some island where they could find 
sanctuary, a tribe somewhere that would embrace their kind. But as the plan 
hardened, practical considerations dictated a suicide mission. They did not want to 


be taken alive. 


If, by some strange luck, they survived the annihilation of Columbine High School, 
they would take the campaign to the streets. Harris was full of notions about how to 
boost the body count, which he scribbled in his journal. One idea was to hijack a 


plane and fly to New York City. 


And then crash the plane into a skyscraper. 


115 


Days after the Columbine massacre of April 20, 1999, investigators dismissed the 
hijacking scheme as just one more example of how unhinged the two killers were. 
Everybody knew that two teenagers didn't have the sophistication or the resources 
to engineer such an unimaginable catastrophe. No, something like that, if it was 
even remotely possible, would require professional terrorists, specially trained for 
the job. 


But Harris and Klebold were terrorists. Amateurs, certainly, with an imperfect 
understanding of explosives and timers -- if the bombs they planted in the school 
cafeteria had worked, they could have killed more people than the Oklahoma City 
bombing -- but terrorists just the same. The differences between what they did and 
the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are 
dramatic, but they're chiefly matters of scale and ideology. In both cases, the object 
was to commit not just a crime, but an act of war, a kamikaze strike that would end 
in the fiery deaths of the attack force and as many civilians as they could take with 
them. 

Although it was the worst school shooting in American history, the attack on 
Columbine was essentially a failure. The toll was "only" fifteen dead, including the 
gunmen, and two dozen wounded. (Small comfort for the injured -- some of whom 
face a lifetime of surgeries and rehabilitation -- and the families of the dead.) Yet 
there is much we can learn from the failures of Harris and Klebold, just as we are 


beginning to learn from the hideous success of the September 11 attacks. 


In recent weeks, the talking heads have saturated the airwaves with their musings 
on "the new face of terror." But we have seen this face before, in different guises. 
We've seen it in a yearbook photo taken in the suburbs, graced with an awkward, 
I've-got-a-secret half-smile. We've seen it in grainy surveillance video of an 
adolescent commando strutting through the wreckage of his high school, trying to 
act out the Tarantino-style shootout playing in his head. But nobody recognized 


that face for what it was until it was too late. 


Do we recognize it now? 


116 


Pieces of Hate 

The truth about Columbine has emerged slowly over the past thirty months. Much 
of it has been pried loose, piece by painful piece, from reluctant school and police 
officials, who have refused to discuss the stickier details about what their agencies 
knew about Harris and Klebold before the massacre or how they responded once 


the attack began. 


The battle over information dates back to the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, 
when parents waited for hours -- and, in some cases, days -- for confirmation that 
their children had been murdered. It took Jefferson County Sheriff John Stone's 
office more than a year to release its official report on the shootings -- a tidy, self- 
serving CD-ROM package that didn't begin to address the most troubling questions 
about the attack (""The Lost Command," July 13, 2000). 

By the second anniversary, thanks to a lawsuit filed by families of the dead and 
wounded, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office had been forced to release 11,000 
pages of police reports and witness interviews, as well as recordings of 911 calls 
and school surveillance videos -- raw evidence that was considerably at odds with 
the official version of events presented in the sheriff's report. Last spring, 60 
Minutes IT aired proof that even though the sheriff's office had more prior 
knowledge about Harris's bomb-making activities than the department had 
admitted, it had mysteriously dropped its investigation ("Lights, Camera...No 
Comment," April 12). 

The broadcast caused a furor in local media circles and put pressure on the 
department to release other Columbine documents. Over the past six months, as a 
result of ongoing open-records requests filed on behalf of the families, CBS News 
and Westword, nearly 5,000 additional pages have been made public, including 
formerly "misplaced" witness interviews and some of the ballistics data that 
Columbine parents have been seeking for more than two years. 

The most recently released documents don't answer all the questions about 
Columbine. Some pieces of the puzzle are still missing, lost, or locked away in the 


county's evidence vault. They may never become public -- except, perhaps, through 


117 


the lawsuits filed against the sheriff's office and the school district by the victims' 
families. Those cases have been in limbo for months, awaiting a ruling by U.S. 


District Judge Lewis Babcock on the government's motions to dismiss. 


Still, the documents reveal a great deal. We now have glimpses of the extensive 
planning involved in the attack and of the wide range of people who knew 
something about the plan -- most of whom, unfortunately, didn't believe it would 
ever be carried out. We also have a more disturbing picture of the massive five- 
hour rescue effort that drew hundreds of cops and emergency workers to the high 
school. Although the law-enforcement agencies involved still aren't talking, the 
police actions taken that day now appear to have been even more chaotic and 
ineffective -- and, in some instances, more reckless -- than has previously been 


reported. 


Harris and Klebold attracted little attention as they planned their apocalypse. 
Family, friends, even enemies chalked up their increasingly odd behavior as so 
much teenage nonsense -- a phase, a pose. Some students saw them as "living in 
their own world," one populated by video games and violent fantasies. Blowing up 


the school, crashing a plane into a building...ridiculous, no? 


But it was the people around them who were dreaming. One April morning, the 


alarms started shrieking, and there was a sad and terrible awakening. 


The No Sports 

Excerpt from police interview of Columbine graduate Greg Hydle, May 4, 1999: 
"Greg stated that he was the student body president so he was around the school a 
lot...he had been on both the golf and baseball teams, and he knew what went on 


with other kids in school. 


"I asked Greg what that meant, and he stated that all the sports type kids referred to 
the Trench Coats as the 'no sports.' Greg knew that these kids got picked on all the 
time, and that most of it was done by the football team. He believed it was just 


because they were different. 


118 


"Greg then stated that he knew about Eric and Dylan talking about blowing up the 
school, because it was the big rumor for two years. I asked Greg if school officials 
knew about the threats, and he stated that he had heard that they did, but no one 


took it seriously." 


Twelve days before the attack, custodian Jay Gallentine arrived at Columbine 
shortly before five in the morning, only to find that the locks of every door leading 
into the high school had been glued shut. Gallentine heard voices and footsteps on 


the roof, then silence. He called the police and set about getting the locks replaced. 


' 


An inspection of the roof revealed that someone had spelled out the word "seniors' 
in duct tape across a large glass skylight. Later that same day, Jeffco sheriff's 
deputy Neil Gardner, the resource officer assigned to Columbine, reviewed video 
taken that morning by security cameras outside the school. The tape showed two 


male suspects in dark clothing, including gloves and masks or hoods of some kind. 


The case was never solved, but odds are pretty good that the rooftop ninjas were 
Klebold and Harris. On his Web site, Harris boasted of how the pair executed 
various nocturnal "missions" around their neighborhood, vandalizing houses and 
detonating pipe bombs in ditches, even pouring epoxy into locks on occasion: 
"Anyone pisses us off, we do a little deed to their house. Eggs, teepee, superglue, 
busyboxes, large amounts of fireworks, you name it and we will probly or already 


have done it....Its sort of a night time tradition for us." 


Was the roof-prowling a senior prank? A way of testing the school's security? A 
dry run for what was to come? It may have been all three. Klebold and Harris had 
been stretching their limits and refining their plan -- building bombs, acquiring 
guns and ammo, studying the school layout, making other preparations that often 


passed for more innocuous activities -- for months before the attack. 


The conventional wisdom about Columbine is that the attack came out of nowhere, 
and thus there was no way to prevent it, no way to prepare for it. Yet at the time the 
planning began, nearly a year earlier, Klebold and Harris were already in a juvenile 
diversion program for burglarizing a van. Randy and Judy Brown had reported 


119 


Harris to the police for threatening to kill their son Brooks and had provided the 
cops with pages of Harris's Internet rantings. A Jeff-co sheriff's bomb investigator 
had linked a pipe bomb found in a field with the kinds of bombs Harris described in 


his writings and had drafted a request for a search warrant. 


The official explanation of why the Brown complaint wasn't pursued keeps 
changing. The sheriff's office has suggested that the detective assigned to the case 
was overwhelmed with more pressing matters, including a serial ax murderer, but 
an official log of his investigations for that time period shows an unremarkable 
workload, including several fraud-by-check cases. The sheriff's office has told 
reporters that its computer experts couldn't access Harris's Web site, even though it 
was still up and running months later. (In the hours after the massacre, it was 
available to any curious twelve-year-old with a mouse.) The sheriff's office has also 
said that its investigator never met with the Browns and couldn't link the complaint 
to any bomb cases in the county. Both assertions are contradicted in the search- 
warrant affidavit -- which the agency failed to disclose until a judge ordered its 
release, two years after the attack ("Chronology of a Big Fat Lie," April 19). 
Whatever the real reasons, the case was not a priority for Jefferson County. Back in 
1998, bounced checks trumped bombs. It isn't clear to what extent the sheriff's 
office even recognized -- or bothered to share with Deputy Gardner or officials at 
Columbine High -- the subtler nuances of the Harris writings ("you all better 
fucking hide in your houses because im comin for EVERYONE soon, and 1 WILL 
be armed to the fuckin teeth and i WILL shoot to kill and i WILL fucking KILL 
EVERYTHING!""). This inability to share basic information about death threats 


became an intelligence failure of staggering proportions. 


The refusal to investigate becomes even more galling when you realize that, 
besides being on probation, Harris and Klebold also had an extensive disciplinary 
record at school. The full extent of that record has never been made public, but you 
catch glimpses of it in the reams of interviews police conducted after the massacre. 
The two were suspended, along with another student, for hacking into the school's 


computer system to obtain locker combinations (which were used to place a 


120 


threatening note in an enemy's locker). According to their pal Nate Dykeman, 
they'd also been helping themselves to school computer parts from a locked room, 


and Klebold's father made him return one stolen laptop. 


They got into fights with classmates; Klebold was known to swear at teachers, 
struck a female supervisor at work and may have threatened one developmentally 
disabled student. A dean of students who'd had them in his office several times told 
police "that he was not totally shocked that Dylan and Eric did this because in his 
dealings with them he saw the potential for an 'evil side’...that there was a violent, 
angry streak in these kids and they tried to make a statement and to bring down 


[Columbine] because they wanted the rules their way." 


Read a few dozen of these interviews, and you get the impression that everyone 
was holding their breath, waiting for these potential evils to graduate. But in the 
larger scheme of things, the pair's transgressions weren't that notable. Columbine 
was no blackboard jungle, yet it was hardly the peaches-and-cream suburban refuge 
it's been made out to be in countless articles about the massacre. Like any large 
high school, it had bigger crime problems than locker-number thieves. During the 
year leading up to the massacre, the place drew dozens of police calls, for 
everything from burglary and underage drinking to narcotics and sexual assault. 


Ninjas on the roof may have seemed like the least of their worries. 


Still. If folks in the sheriff's office or the school had bothered to track down the 
correct Web address for the Harris site, then poked around the site itself, they might 
have come across a document titled "The Book." First disclosed in Westword two 
years ago, its authenticity since verified through the release of other documents, the 
three-page account vividly describes Harris's experiments with different types of 
bombs, shrapnel and napalm. It also makes references to the "pre-war era" and the 
impending apocalypse, also known as "NBK" -- short for Natural Born Killers, a 


movie that Harris and Klebold had practically memorized. 


121 


The authorities might have read the treatise and wondered what war the writer was 
preparing for. They might have taken the masked pranksters on the roof more 


seriously. But it didn't happen that way, of course. 


Klebold and Harris wore masks on many occasions. They revealed themselves only 


when it no longer mattered. 


When the shooting started, many students thought they were witnessing a senior 
prank. Some even described the gunmen as masked. Those accounts were later 


discounted because of the many other descriptions of two bare-faced killers. 


But those witnesses didn't imagine things. Found outside the school's west 
entrance, next to Eric Harris's trenchcoat, which he shed as he started shooting 


students: a green knit ski mask and gloves. 


Why So Blunt? 
Handwritten statement provided to police by Columbine student Eric Veik, April 
22, 1999: "I met Eric & Dillon 1st semester of my junior year (August 98). Eric 


was a part of my video productions class... 


"Dillon & Eric needed a business video for another class. They created this idea 
and asked me to film it. It was 'Hitmen for Hire.’ Dillon & Eric were the hitmen, I 
was the victim & [another student] was the jock harassing me. They used replicas 


of guns & spoke of killing in the video. I never heard if this video was successful... 


"I was learning about videos fast and was able to help them on one last 
video...Filming got started, and I noticed they put more on this video than I thought 
they would. They were swearing, smoking, and more serious about it. I played 
along. When I asked 'Why so blunt,’ they said, 'Who cares, [the video class teacher 


is] the only person that is going to see it and he won't care...' 


"We were a small group of people going from town to town stopping radioactive 
clothing from taking over the world. They were very serious about this. Eric was 


using military strategy in parts of this... The movie ends with a very large explosion 


122 


from a house that was put in using editing technology. No explosives or live 


ammunition were used." 


Hiding in Plain Sight 
Sometimes they wore masks. But they were also advertising their intentions by 
every means possible: Internet, school assignments and videos, yearbook 


inscriptions, good old word of mouth. 


Lots of people knew, for example, that Harris and Klebold had a passion for 
explosives. They blew up fireworks behind the pizza parlor where they worked, 
and Harris once brought one of his pipe bombs to show other employees. To his 
closest friends, such as Nate Dykeman, he confided that his parents had found one 


of his bombs and taken it away from him. 


Several students had also heard of the enemy lists Harris and Klebold were 
compiling. In the fall of 1998, Harris wrote notes to a girl in his German class, 
informing her that her boyfriend was near the top of his "hit list": "I just don't want 
the little fuck going to [administrators] or the cops and start whining that we are 
threatening him or intimidating him, because if I get in ANY more trouble with the 


cops I will fucking lose it." 


At the end of his junior year, Harris wrote a long, Nietzschean epistle in the same 
girl's yearbook: "Anyone who shows more thoughts or emotion than the norm is 
said to be so weird or crazy, wrong! They are just more in touch with their 
humanity...People are funny, they want to be accepted. Don't be afraid to judge 


people.” 


At the bottom, next to a drawing of a machine-gun-toting commando, he added a 


portentous postscript: "If anything ever happens to me, publish this page!!" 


Klebold wrote an admiring essay about Charles Manson for one class, comparing 
him to the Woody Harrelson character in Natural Born Killers. ("The question of 
whether or not he is insane is a question of opinion, which cannot have a 'true' right 


answer.") A few weeks before the attack, he wrote another school paper about a 


123 


trenchcoated avenger who guns, knifes and blows up a group of mocking "preps": 
"The man smiled, and in that instant...I understood his actions." 

His teacher was so appalled at the cruelty of the story that she spoke to his parents 
about it. "They did not seem worried, and made a comment about trying to 


understand kids today," she reported to the police after the shootings. 


For the same creative-writing class, Harris wrote an essay from the point of view of 
a bullet fired from a gun. In psychology class, invited to submit dreams for 


analysis, he told classmates that he dreamed about shooting people. 


School officials have maintained that all of these "Warning signs" seem sinister 
only with the advantage of hindsight, that there was no way to put together the 
random clues Klebold and Harris were doling out to various teachers and friends. 
After all, plenty of adolescents write gory stories. Some think it's hilarious to pose 
as if aiming a gun at the camera, as Klebold and Harris encouraged several of their 
pals to do for a yearbook class photo. But the record they left behind -- filled with 
"a lot of foreshadowing and dramatic irony," Harris noted in one videotape -- was 


more extensive and less ambiguous than authorities have acknowledged. 


The videos they edited in the school lab, in full view of other students and possibly 
the instructor, included not only the "Hitmen for Hire" commercial, but several 
others involving simulated explosions and weapons. One was a home movie of the 
two teens in the mountains, blasting away with their sawed-off shotguns. 
According to a police report, computers seized from the school after the shootings 
contained "several graphics files that appear to be bomb-making plans," as well as 
"several dozen student video projects, many of which appeared to depict violence 


or guns.” 


Friends bought their guns for them. Mark Manes, who sold Klebold a TEC-9 
semiautomatic pistol and went with the pair to the mountains for target practice, 
couldn't help but notice that their shotguns were "way, way too short." Honor 
student Robyn Anderson fronted for them on the shotgun purchases and later 


boasted to a male friend of landing Klebold as a prom date: "I convinced my friend 


124 


Dylan, who hates dances, jocks and has never had a date let alone a girlfriend to go 


with me! I am either really cute or just really persuasive!" 


Posters around the school announcing the prom consisted of a cryptic message, 
designed to intrigue: "It's coming! 4/17/99." On several posters someone crossed 


out the number 17 and replaced it with a 20. 


In videos Harris and Klebold made and intended to be discovered after their deaths, 
the so-called basement tapes, they show off their arsenal and discuss their plans. 
They make farewell speeches and thank their friends, as if they're attending an 
awards ceremony. They lash out at their parents, the cop who arrested them in the 
van break-in and various "bitches" who didn't return their phone calls, as if Eric 
Harris and Dylan Klebold are the real victims of the atrocity they are about to 
commit. Harris manages to squeeze out a few tears. (The role of self-pity in acts of 


mass murder has, perhaps, been grossly overlooked.) 


Leaked to Time and then screened for local media on only one occasion, the 
basement tapes are only part of the goodbye-cruel-world messages the gunmen left 
for the cops. Harris's journal and other writings and recordings -- including an 
audiotape found at Harris's house featuring the voices of the killers talking about 
the "day that will be remembered forever" -- have never been released. 

The day before the shootings, three students from the video production class were 
filming in a hallway at Columbine. They came across Harris, who was sitting 
outside the west doors -- the same spot where the killing would begin 26 hours 
later. He was writing or drawing something on white sheets of paper. They asked 


him what he was doing. 
"Planning for tomorrow," he said. 


One of the video crew laughed. "Well," he said, "if the school blows up, we'll know 
who did it." 


Eric Harris? Never Heard of Him 


125 


Excerpt from Critical Incident Team interview of Deputy Neil Gardner, school 
resource officer, by Arvada police detective Russ Boat-right, April 20, 1999, 5:35 


p.m.: 
RB: Okay. The suspect that you saw that you exchanged gunfire with, was he 
Dylan? 

NG: I believed him to be Dylan...He was more in stature of Dylan 'cause Dylan's a 
lot taller than Eric Harris. 

RB: But you wouldn't know Eric Harris, correct? 

NG: I didn't know till I saw a picture of him. 

RB: Okay. Did you recognize him from the photo, then? 

NG: No. 

RB: Okay, so you really don't know this kid at all. 

NG: I had never dealt with Eric Harris. 


Oh, Wait. That Eric Harris... 
Excerpt from a press release issued by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, April 
30, 1999, regarding actions taken by the agency in response to the 1998 report of 


Eric Harris's death threats and bomb-making activities: 


"School Resource Officer Deputy Neil Gardner was briefed as to the information 
[in the Brown complaint] by Investigator Mike Guerra. Deputy Gardner with this 
knowledge occasionally engaged Harris and Klebold, along with several of their 
friends and associates, in light conversation. Deputy Gardner made no observations 
of inappropriate behavior and has stated that both Harris and Klebold treated him 


with appropriate respect." 


Outgunned 
In the aftermath of the attack, investigators promised to assemble a "minute-by- 


minute" account of the massacre and the police response. They reviewed 911 and 


126 


dispatch tapes, fire alarm data, the cafeteria surveillance video and other electronic 


sources and compared them with the recollections of hundreds of witnesses. 


The official timeline, presented in the sheriff's report a year later, has been disputed 
by several Columbine families. They charge that the timeline leaves out important 
events, including the arrival of three Denver SWAT officers on the west side of the 
school in time to engage one of the shooters in a brief gun battle. They also point 
out that the timeline is contradicted by material in the dispatch tapes, accounts of 
responding officers and other evidence, such as a computerized log of purchases 
recorded by the cafeteria cash register. (According to the register's receipts, 
adjusted ten minutes by investigators to reflect the "real" time, student Rachel Scott 
bought her lunch three minutes after the timeline says she was shot and killed by 
the gunmen outside. Jefferson County officials say the cash register readout was 
never properly synchronized with the dispatch time.) 

Even if you accept the official timeline as gospel, the picture that emerges of law 
enforcement in action that day is a dismal one. Match up the timeline with the 


reports of officers arriving on scene, and the picture grows ever blacker: 


11:19 a.m. Attack on Columbine begins. Reports of shooting outside the school and 
an explosion in a field nearby. Two students are killed in the first few minutes of 


the attack and seven others wounded. Number of police officers on scene: 0. 


11:26 a.m. Deputy Gardner pulls into the south parking lot and reports shooting in 


the building. Number of officers on scene: 1. 


11:29 a.m. After exchanging shots with Gardner outside, Harris retreats into the 
building. He and Klebold head for the library, where teacher Patty Nielson, 
wounded at the west doors, is already on the phone with a 911 dispatcher. Number 


of officers on scene: 7. 


11:37 a.m. Klebold and Harris exit the library, leaving behind ten dead and twelve 


wounded, and start shooting up the halls. Number of officers on scene: 20. 


127 


11:45 a.m. A fire breaks out in the cafeteria as the gunmen attempt to set off their 
propane bombs. Hundreds of students and teachers are still trapped in the building. 


The number of officers on scene is now at least 50. 


12:01 p.m. From the windows of the library, the gunmen fire on police and rescue 


workers outside. Police return fire. There are now more than 75 officers on scene. 


12:08 p.m. Harris and Klebold kill themselves in the library, moments after the first 
SWAT team enters the opposite side of the school. Police will not discover the 


killers' bodies for more than three hours. 
1:09 p.m. A second SWAT team enters on the west side of the school. 


2:38 p.m. Wounded student Patrick Ireland crawls out a library window and is 


caught by SWAT officers on top of an armored car. 


2:41 p.m. Responding to phone calls for medical aid that began three hours earlier, 
the second SWAT team finally locates wounded teacher Dave Sanders and 
numerous students and teachers in an upstairs science room. Sanders dies before a 


paramedic can be brought to the room. 


3:22 p.m. SWAT officers enter the library, the last room to be reached. There are 


now more than 350 police officers on scene. 


Asked by reporters why the first responding officers didn't pursue the shooters into 
the school, why they waited for a SWAT operation that took hours to stage, Sheriff 


Stone explained that the situation was just too dangerous. 
"We were way outgunned," he said. 


The Bullet in the Backpack 
Police officers didn't enter the school for nearly an hour after the attack started. But 
their bullets did. 


According to the sheriff's report, twelve officers fired a total of 141 times at 
Columbine that day. Three Denver SWAT veterans fired 105 of those rounds. Most 


128 


of the police gunfire was in response to shooting by the gunmen from the west 


doors or the library windows. None of the shots hit Klebold or Harris. 


Whether one of those bullets might have found another target is the central 
question behind the lawsuit filed by the parents of Daniel Rohrbough, who was 
killed outside in the early stages of the attack. Brian Rohrbough, Danny's father, 
contends that his son, already wounded by Klebold and Harris, was fleeing the 
gunmen when the fatal bullet was fired from the front by a police officer. Stone's 
office has denied the allegation, insisting that no police were even on the scene at 


the time Danny was slain. 


The bullet was never recovered, and the question may ultimately be settled in a 
courtroom, where a jury will have to sort through testimony from dueling ballistics 
experts and the conflicting memories of eyewitnesses. Recently released documents 
show that the Colorado Bureau of Investigation was unable to establish through 
forensic tests that Klebold shot Rohrbough at close range, as the sheriff's report 
claims. The records also contradict the sheriff's office claim that numerous bullet 
fragments were found in the vicinity of Rohrbough's body; only one fragment, 


consistent with Harris's carbine, was collected by the evidence team. 


But the Rohrbough case isn't the only murky ballistics puzzle to emerge from the 
Columbine investigation. The evidence teams collected a nine-millimeter shell 
casing from the east side of Columbine that doesn't match up with any police or 
suspect firearms in the case. Dismissing the discovery as irrelevant, a sheriff's 
office press release flatly declares, "There are no witnesses to anyone shooting on 


the east side of the school." 


Actually, at least five students interviewed by police told similar stories of fleeing 
out the east doors, running to the park across the street and then seeing a figure in 
dark clothing emerge from the doors and fire in their direction. The shell casing 
may have nothing to do with the attack, but in defending its position, the sheriff's 


office has once again distorted the record compiled by its own investigators. 


129 


A more disturbing ballistics trail was assembled by the evidence-collection teams 
assigned to the battle-scarred school library. In addition to the carnage wreaked by 
Harris and Klebold, the area was riddled with dozens of police bullets. Several 
were found in the ceiling or the west window frames, indicative of officers outside 
firing from below at the gunmen in the windows. But at least fifteen bullets came 
from SWAT officers laying down cover fire outside the library as they checked on 


two students at the upper west doors -- one wounded, one dead. 


That rescue operation took place forty minutes after Harris and Klebold committed 
suicide. The cops weren't firing at anything or anyone in particular -- although 
Terry Manwaring, the Jefferson County SWAT commander, thought he'd seen "a 
bad guy," or at least a reflection of some kind, before squeezing off three rounds. 
Police bullets went whizzing through an emergency exit at the school's northwest 
corner and into the library and adjacent rooms, not far from where several survivors 


of the massacre were still hiding or lying wounded, awaiting rescue. 


There is no evidence that the police cover fire struck anyone. However, months 
after the shootings, investigators found a new piece of evidence in Corey 


DePooter's backpack, and their handling of that evidence is far from reassuring. 


DePooter was the last victim killed in the library. According to police records, he 
was shot once by Klebold, two or three times by Harris. Only two bullets were 
recovered, both from Harris's gun. Despite noting a bullet hole in Corey's 
backpack, investigators apparently didn't inspect the pack closely until August 
1999, when they found a bullet lodged in a notebook inside. They didn't inform his 
parents, Neal and Patty DePooter, of the find until months later, when the 


DePooters asked if Corey's backpack could be returned to them. 


Circumstance would suggest that the bullet was one of the through-and-through 
rounds fired by Harris or Klebold, and that was the impression the police gave the 
DePooters. But there's no record that the bullet was ever tested against the 


gunmen's weapons for positive identification. Instead, investigators asked the CBI 


130 


to compare the bullet to test-fired bullets from four police weapons of various 


calibers. The bullet did not match any of the four weapons. 


Why was the bullet never tested against the Harris and Klebold firearms? Was 
there something about it that told investigators that it came from a police weapon? 
If so, why were only four cop guns tested? Why not the six other non-shotgun 
firearms discharged by police that day -- including several weapons used by 


officers firing into the library area? 


The sheriff's office and the Jefferson County attorney declined to answer questions 
about the bullet in the backpack. The DePooters are not parties to any of the nine 
lawsuits filed by Columbine families against the sheriff's office, but they say 


they're frustrated with the lack of information they've received from the county. 


"I gave up on getting a straight story from them," Patty DePooter says. "It changed 


every time we talked to them." 


Brian Rohrbough knows the feeling. "I have said over and over that we would drop 
the lawsuit,” he says, "if they would show me evidence that proves no police 
officer shot Dan. They don't have it. It looks like going to court is the only way 


we're going to find out what happened." 


The Fire Next Time 

So it begins again. The funerals. The grief counselors. The ribbons. The 
fundraisers. The signs and the vows. Never forget. Never again. 

But we do forget. Tragedies mount. Compassion fatigue sets in. The world 


changes, and yesterday's horror can't compete. 


Two years ago we were told to beware the terror next door: the overlooked teenage 
malcontent, armed to the teeth, who dreams of going out in a blaze of glory. Now 
it's the terror from across the world, global yet intimate, invading our skies, our 


offices, our homes. 


The families who are still grieving over Columbine, still battling in a courtroom to 


find out what happened, are told to "get over it." But there are compelling reasons 


131 


to remember the attack and to continue to ask questions about it. Just as the attacks 
of September 11 have changed the world of air travel, Columbine changed the 


world of high school -- in some ways, for the better. 


The shootings sparked a wave of outreach efforts and "bullyproofing" programs 
designed to make school more tolerable for the most disaffected students. Both the 
FBI and the Secret Service published extensive studies of school shooting incidents 
in a quest to build safer schools. From Florida to California, several copycat plots 
have been foiled -- and lives saved -- by alert teachers, by students who have 


learned not to keep silent about troubled classmates, and by quick police work. 


The Columbine investigative files themselves offer countless examples of the 
heightened vigilance about school violence. Police spent hundreds of hours running 
down possible threats that surfaced in the wake of the shootings, scrutinizing 
anonymous Internet chatter and tracking offhand rumors that somebody knew 
somebody whose girlfriend's ex-boyfriend used to hang out with the Trenchcoat 
Mafia. One ex-girlfriend of Harris's, who at one point was investigated for making 
threats in a chat room, had a seeming fleet of FBI agents at her disposal when she 
reported a threat against her life. If a fraction of the resources devoted to her 
complaint had been used to investigate the Browns' 1998 report on Eric Harris's 


cyberspace spewings, the entire tragedy might well have been averted. 


Everything has changed. Across the country, police agencies are training patrol 
officers in rapid-deployment techniques so that they can respond quickly to "active 
shooter" situations like Columbine rather than wait for the SWAT team. More 
schools are implementing the kind of threat-assessment policies that the Jefferson 
County School District was supposed to have in place in 1999 but which the 
administration at Columbine all but ignored, according to former school district 
security officials interviewed on 60 Minutes II. 

Everything has changed. But the change may be less noticeable in Colorado than 
elsewhere. To admit change is to admit the old ways failed, and lawyers might take 


that as an admission of liability. So while the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office 


132 


quietly trains in rapid deployment methods, preparing for the next unthinkable 
event, the shift in priorities isn't reflected in the office's operating manual, which 
still instructs patrol officers to set up a perimeter and wait for SWAT. The rules for 
stopping a shooting rampage inside a large, suburban high school have been 
rewritten everywhere but in Sheriff Stone's book. 

Over at the Jefferson County School District, administrators continue to wrestle 
with the threat-assessment question. Bomb threats are rarely reported in the media 
or even to oblivious parents and students, since to do so might encourage copycats. 
The district is, however, spending $10,000 to make an instructional video 
encouraging parents to stay away from school the next time a real crisis hits, in 


order to avoid getting in the way of rescue efforts. 


The idea of such a video incenses Randy Brown. He says the most bitter lesson he's 
learned from Columbine -- from the day he contacted the sheriff's office about Eric 
Harris to the bungled police operation during the attack a year later -- is that 
parents shouldn't naively rely on law enforcement, school officials and other 


professionals to protect their children. 


"They don't want parents involved in threat assessment, and that's a big mistake," 
Brown says. "Parents are the only ones who care about their children. These other 
people are paid to do a job, and what they care about is their jobs. They're still 


lying to us about what happened and withholding information." 


Brown no longer has any children at Columbine. (This year's senior class will be 
the last to have any firsthand memories of the attack.) But he continues to press 
county officials to release more information about the case. He's convinced that 


true domestic security begins at home -- and at school. 


Two weeks ago, as a result of Brown's persistent inquiries, the Arvada Police 
Department released 660 pages of records related to the Columbine investigation. 
Arvada officials say they turned over these records to Jefferson County 
investigators years ago. But among the materials are dozens of pages of interviews 


and police reports that Jefferson County had failed to release to the public, despite 


133 


several court orders and open-records requests. The new releases include the first 
police interview with shooting victim Mark Taylor and a report by a police officer 
who found a bullet on Pierce Street, east of the school -- where, according to the 
official version of events from the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, no shooting 


occurred. 


Another newly discovered document is a report by an Arvada detective assigned to 
interview neighbors of one of the gunmen's trenchcoat-wearing associates. The 
neighbors had generally good things to say about the teen; one woman even told 
the officer how the boy put plastic bunny ornaments on her tree every Easter, to the 


delight of her young daughter, and retrieved her cat whenever it strayed. 


After the killings, police questioned the associate closely. Because of his physical 
resemblance to Dylan Klebold, several witnesses claimed that he was one of the 
gunmen. But he had a solid alibi, and there was no evidence to link him to the 
crime in any way. Two of his friends conspired to bring about one of the darkest 


days this state has ever seen, but he was innocent. 


Yet even innocent people may know more about terror than they realize. According 
to another student who met up with the associate in the pandemonium following 
the attack, he was "quite angry" that day and said to her: "This has got to be Eric 


Harris's doing." 


She told police that the associate went on to explain "that Eric Harris had told him 
that he was planning on doing something like this...he told her that he wished he 
had killed Eric before he did something like this." 


Perhaps, like so many others, the associate didn't see how such a monstrous plan 
could ever be more than mere talk. "Evil is unspectacular and always human," 


W.H. Auden wrote, "and shares our bed and eats at our own table." 


All it asks is that we pay it no mind. 


134 


shocking the Conscience 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / DECEMBER 6, 2001 / 4:00AM 


Last week's dismissal of most of the lawsuits against police and school officials 
stemming from the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School left frustrated 
victims’ families contemplating a wide range of responses, from legal appeals and 
legislation to renewed calls for a grand jury to investigate possible police 


misconduct. 


If nothing else, U.S. District Judge Lewis Babcock's rulings spotlighted the 
immense protection from liability that police officers and other government 
employees enjoy, regardless of their actions -- or inaction. Not even the Columbine 
debacle, in which gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold rampaged through the 
school, killing thirteen people and wounding two dozen more while Jefferson 


County sheriff's deputies set up a perimeter outside, will change that. 


"It's not just what happened to my kid or anybody else's kid," says Dale Todd, a 
former Jeffco deputy whose son, Evan, was wounded in the school library. "It's 
more important than that. What [Babcock's decision] says is that we have no 
protection. The police don't have to respond to crime, they don't have to stop a 
crime in progress, they don't have to investigate. They have no duty -- none -- to 


serve and protect." 


Jefferson County's attorneys argued that, while the sheriff's office may have made 
"mistakes" in its response to the attack on Columbine, the agency is still protected 
by governmental-immunity laws ("The Do-Nothing Defense," May 3). In eight of 
the nine lawsuits filed against the county, Babcock agreed. 

The failure of sheriff's deputies to investigate prior complaints about Eric Harris, 
including the death threats and bomb-making activities he wrote about on the 
Internet, may have been "grossly negligent," Babcock wrote, but it wasn't 
sufficiently "shocking to the conscience" to meet the elaborate criteria for holding 


law enforcement liable for Harris's subsequent actions. Similarly, the failure of 


135 


school officials to take action in response to violent videos and essays prepared by 
Harris and Klebold may have been negligent, even reckless, but it wasn't the kind 
of "willful and wanton" conduct that would permit parents to sue the school district 
for endangering their kids. 

As for the police failure to intervene during the shootings, Babcock ruled that the 
deputies were faced with a "rapidly evolving violent situation" and hadn't intended 


to harm anyone by their conservative response. 


Only one case, the lawsuit filed by the family of slain teacher Dave Sanders, 
survived Babcock's exacting analysis. Wounded early in the attack, Sanders bled to 
death in a classroom three hours after Klebold and Harris committed suicide. In 
that instance, Babcock reasoned, the police had ample time and information to 
mount a rescue effort. Instead, a SWAT team refused to let teachers and students 
carry Sanders to a waiting ambulance and effectively hindered his access to 
medical aid. Sheriff John Stone's commanders "demonstrated a deliberate 
indifference towards Dave Sanders' plight shocking to the conscience of this 


federal court," Babcock concluded. 


The judge also let stand two wounded students’ claims of being mistreated by 


responding officers but dismissed the rest of their case. 


Motions to dismiss are still pending for plaintiffs' claims involving several 
additional Columbine defendants, including various companies involved in 
marketing Doom and other violent video games and movies, as well as the Tanner 
Gun Show and two sellers at the show who sold weapons to Robyn Anderson, a 
classmate who purchased guns for Klebold and Harris. Another lawsuit targeting 
the manufacturer of Luvox, the mood-altering prescription drug Harris was taking, 


is still at an early stage. 


Anderson and several other tangential defendants have already reached settlements 
with the Columbine families. The parents of Klebold and Harris have settled with 


some of the plaintiffs but not others. 


136 


But what police knew about the two teenagers prior to the attack and how they 
responded to the evolving crisis remain key questions about the tragedy. Although 
some of the families may appeal Babcock's ruling, several say their best hope of 
learning more about the police command decisions now rests with the Sanders 
case. Others say they may press Jefferson County District Attorney Dave Thomas 


to consider convening a grand jury. 


Brian Rohrbough, whose lawsuit alleged that his son Dan was killed by a police 
officer, says his efforts to present a viable case to Babcock were severely hampered 
by official stonewalling. Because he didn't have enough specific information 
concerning the circumstances of his son's death, he says, he's been denied the 
opportunity to conduct the kind of legal discovery that could provide such 


information. "It's a catch-22," he says. 


It's only in the last few months, Rohrbough notes, that the sheriff's office has 
released detailed ballistics data indicating that police cover fire may have 
endangered students; the reports also show an unidentified bullet in the backpack of 
Corey DePooter, one of the students killed in the library ("Back to School," 





October 25). In addition, as the Rocky Mountain News recently reported, three 
bullets fired by first responding officer Neil Gardner were found in the library -- 
despite Gardner's official statement that he did not fire in that direction. 

Dale Todd says he discussed Gardner's shots into the library months ago with Kate 
Battan, the Jeffco investigator heading up the Columbine probe. Battan told him 
she'd questioned Gardner about it. "She expressly told me that he aimed above [the 
gunmen's] heads, which drove them away from the windows and back to killing 


kids inside," he says. 


But no police interviews with Gardner other than the one that included his original 
statement have been released by the sheriff's office, despite court orders to produce 
all such materials. "There were evidently subsequent interviews that were not 


produced," Todd says. "We're not getting everything." 


137 


Todd is hopeful that state representative Don Lee of Littleton will introduce a bill 
in the legislature next month that could help prevent future Columbine standoffs. 
As envisioned by Todd, the bill would require Colorado law-enforcement agencies 
to revise their policies, doing away with language stating that "officer safety is 


paramount" in crisis situations. 


"If we can't get any help from the courts," he says, "maybe we can through 


legislation. I don't know." 


There Ought to Be a Law 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / MARCH 7, 2002 / 4:00AM 


On a Monday in early January, Arapahoe County Sheriff's Deputy Jim Taylor was 
finally brought to account for the strange and disturbing story he'd been telling 
about the Columbine massacre for nearly three years. Summoned that morning to a 
meeting with internal affairs, Taylor admitted that the story was, in essence, a pack 


of lies. 


"I think, emotionally, I just got too attached to the whole thing," Taylor told Brant 
Reed, an inspector from the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office of Professional 


Standards. "I guess I got overloaded." 


Taylor was attempting to explain why, only hours after the shootings, he'd told the 
grieving mother of slain student Daniel Rohrbough that he had seen her son killed 
on the west side of the school. The story clashed with the official version of 
Rohrbough's death -- that he was killed in the early stages of the attack by gunmen 
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, before any police arrived on scene -- and it 
launched his parents on a nightmarish odyssey that would eventually lead them to 


sue the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, alleging that Dan was killed by a cop. 


138 


When the family went public with Taylor's account last December, shortly after 
their federal lawsuit was dismissed, Taylor denied that he'd ever said any such 
thing. Dan's parents, Sue Petrone and Brian Rohrbough, promptly released excerpts 
of a taped conversation in which Taylor, a longtime family friend, had repeated the 
story in detail nearly a year after the shootings. On the tape, Taylor and his wife, 
Pam, discuss how he'd come home from Columbine on April 20, 1999, and told her 


that he'd seen a boy get shot. 


"It was Dan," Taylor says on the tape, "and I didn't know that until I seen [his] 


photo the next morning in the newspaper." 


Taylor, who didn't know he was being taped, was caught. Now he told Reed that he 
had been "trying to console the family" and "help with the grieving" by placing 
himself in the middle of the gunfire on the west side. Actually, he admitted, he'd 


spent the day holding a perimeter position a block away from the school. 


"I never stopped to take a look at the whole big picture of what this was doing," he 
said. "At the time, I didn't realize I was being untruthful....Unfortunately, it sounds 


like this has totally misled the family, and that was not my intention at all." 


Arapahoe County Sheriff Pat Sullivan fired Taylor two days later. The department's 
interviews with other officers on the scene and a review of transcripts of dispatch 
transmissions indicated that Taylor hadn't been assigned to the west side of 
Columbine and had arrived after Dan was killed. "This is not an uncommon issue, 
people embellishing their role," Sullivan told the Rohrboughs and the Petrones 


when he met with them to discuss the affair. 


But the family is far from satisfied with the sheriff's explanation. Sue Petrone 
recalls how, when she showed Taylor a photo in the April 21, 1999, Rocky 
Mountain News of her son lying on the sidewalk outside the school, "his face went 
ashen." And many details of Taylor's "eyewitness" account coincide with physical 
evidence the family has since uncovered, evidence that's seriously at odds with the 


official story. 


139 


"If the guy was lying, it's strange that he got so many things right," says Brian 
Rohrbough. "Where was he getting his information?" 


A few weeks ago, Rohrbough pressed Sullivan to release Arapahoe County's 
dispatch tapes from the day of the attack, as well as any additional paperwork that 
would help nail down Taylor's whereabouts that morning. (The available record is 
far from conclusive; investigators insist the deputy didn't report to the command 
post at Columbine until 12:22 p.m., an hour after the attack began, but his call sign 
shows up in the dispatch transcripts shortly before noon, which is about the same 
time another officer recalls arriving on the scene with him.) Sullivan told 
Rohrbough and his attorney that they were welcome to request additional 


documents and that his office hadn't destroyed anything. 


But Sullivan now says that there is no other paperwork and that the dispatch 
tapes were destroyed -- "recycled," as he puts it -- a year after the shootings. Even 
though other Arapahoe County evidence was turned over intact to Jefferson 
County, the lead investigative agency, the tapes -- starting at 11:35 a.m., fifteen 
minutes after the attack started -- were transcribed, then reused to save money. 
"Nobody wanted them," Sullivan says. "Not even Jeffco." 

"This is the worst school shooting in the country, and they destroy the primary 
record of what their officers did that day?" Rohrbough asks. "They don't save a 
copy for anybody? I find that really hard to believe." 


But where Columbine is concerned, the unbelievable has become commonplace. 
Troubling as it is, the bizarre saga of Jim Taylor is only one strand in a tangled tale 
of police misstatements and disinformation, bungled investigations, missing or 
destroyed evidence, stonewalling by public officials and embarrassing leaks of 
sensitive tapes and files ("Lights, Camera...No Comment," April 12, 2001). The 
missteps have only added to the trauma faced by families whose children were 
killed or injured that day. As they see it, Jim Taylor may be the first public servant 
to be fired for lying about Columbine, but he's hardly the only one with something 
to hide. 


140 


Like exiles without portfolios, the families have sought sanctuary in one chilly 
forum after another. They've jousted with Jefferson County officials over open 
records, extracting sporadic releases of police files months and even years after 
they were first requested. They've sat through months of hearings conducted by 
Governor Bill Owens's Columbine Review Commission, only to have key law- 
enforcement commanders, including Jefferson County Sheriff John Stone, decline 
to testify. They've gone to federal court, hungry to depose witnesses, only to see 
most of their lawsuits tossed out last fall by U.S. District Judge Lewis Babcock on 
the grounds of governmental immunity. They've been joined by major media 
outlets in calls for a county or federal grand jury to investigate possible police 


misconduct, to no avail. 


At the end of their tether, several of them recently stood on the steps of the State 
Capitol and committed an act of sheer desperation: They asked the Colorado 


General Assembly for help. 


Two weeks ago, state representative Don Lee introduced legislation to create an 
investigative committee to explore the "unanswered questions" about the attack on 
Columbine and its aftermath. Unlike the governor's commission, Lee's group would 
have the authority to issue subpoenas and compel testimony. Police witnesses 
wouldn't be able to evade testifying by citing the threat of civil litigation, as they 
did when invited to appear before Owens's panel. Since Lee doesn't plan to offer 
immunity for testimony, their only other option would be to invoke their Fifth 


Amendment right against self-incrimination. 


Lee acknowledges that some lawmakers may balk at the cost of mounting such an 
effort, but he says he's also received a lot of support for the proposal. "Once it starts 
to go through the system," he says, "and we start to clarify to my colleagues the 


intent of the committee, I'm confident that it'll make it through." 


If the measure passes, the committee's legal counsel could be taking sworn 
depositions from witnesses as early as this summer. Lee sees the process as 


essential, not only to get "information the community needs, to get some closure 


141 


and put this behind them," but to address the larger credibility crisis that local 
police agencies have endured because of the mushrooming allegations of a 


coverup. 


"Trust in government, ever since Watergate, has fallen," Lee notes. "Since 9/11, it's 
starting to go up again, but there are questions surrounding local government in 
Jefferson County. This is an opportunity for both sides. Some people have been 
much maligned in the media and would welcome an opportunity to speak about 
what they've done since Columbine to improve things. Right now, I think guilt by 


silence is occurring -- and suspicion by silence." 


Officials in "key leadership positions" who have direct knowledge about what 
happened at Columbine have told him that "they would welcome a subpoena to 


clear the air," Lee adds. 


But if the committee wants to rid itself of the bad odor of previous Columbine 
investigations, it's going to have to ask hard questions -- the kind of questions 
Owens's commission didn't dare to ask. And it's going to have to press for detailed 


answers that could shape legislation aimed at preventing similar police fiascoes. 


Many of the most difficult questions about Columbine, such as the motives of the 
two killers or what their parents knew about their activities, have haunted the 
investigation from the beginning. Others have emerged only in the past few 
months, as more evidence has come to light that challenges the version of events 


contained in Sheriff Stone's self-serving "final report," issued in May 2000. 


The following questions are derived from interviews with victims’ families, 
eyewitnesses and police sources, as well as a review of recently released 
investigative files. If lawmakers choose to enter the labyrinth that Columbine has 


become, these are the questions they won't be able to avoid. 











1. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SEARCH WARRANT? 


142 


On April 30, 1999, ten days after the shootings, Jefferson County officials held a 
press conference in an effort to head off a growing media furor. Over the course of 
thirty minutes, Jeffco sheriff's spokesman Steve Davis and Lieutenant John 
Kiekbusch spooned out enough misleading and patently false information to make 


even Jim Taylor blush. 


The subject was the Brown complaint. Reporters had recently learned that 
Columbine parents Randy and Judy Brown had complained to the sheriff's office in 
March 1998 that Eric Harris was making death threats on the Internet -- including a 
specific threat against their son Brooks -- and boasting about detonating pipe 
bombs and vandalizing private property. The Browns had even provided 
investigators with copies of pages downloaded from Harris's Web site, but the 


sheriff's investigation had seemingly vanished into a black hole. 


Davis began the press briefing by reading a prepared statement. The Browns hadn't 
wanted police to contact Harris, he said, and the Web site address they provided 
couldn't be located, so "elements of a crime could not be established." (Randy 
Brown has always maintained that he did want the Harrises contacted by police; he 
just didn't want to be identified as the source of the complaint, out of concern over 


reprisals. ) 


Kiekbusch then fielded questions. Harris's writings were "quite outlandish," he 
said, but it's not a crime to say anything you want on the Internet. "We're looking at 
it as someone's fantasy. We compared that information against explosive pipe- 
bomb devices that had been recovered in the county. There was nothing to match 


up there." 


One item that Davis and Kiekbusch neglected to mention was a search-warrant 
affidavit drafted by bomb investigator Mike Guerra in response to the Brown 
complaint; if they had, it would have blown their whole story. Guerra stated that 

he had matched Harris's description of his pipe bombs to an exploded device found 
in the county. Coupled with the death threats, the matter had sufficient "elements of 


a crime," in his view, to justify a search warrant. If executed, the search warrant 


143 


could well have uncovered Harris's detailed plan to attack Columbine, which was 
already nestled in his computer in late April 1998 ("I'm Full of Hate and I Love It," 
December 6, 2001). Guerra's affidavit also put the lie to official denials that the 
Browns had ever met in person with the lead investigator on the case. 

Kiekbusch's dismissal of the Brown complaint as a non-story was a remarkable 
performance, particularly since the Guerra affidavit had already been brought to the 
attention of Columbine investigators. Shortly before the press conference, Sheriff 
Stone had shown it to Jefferson County District Attorney Dave Thomas, who told 
him he wouldn't have okayed the warrant without more evidence. But neither 
Thomas, who was also at the press conference, nor the sheriff's mouthpieces saw fit 


to mention the document. 


Despite numerous public-records requests by families and reporters for any 
additional records pertaining to the Brown complaint, the Guerra affidavit 
remained buried for two years -- until CBS News went to court to pry it loose last 
spring ("Chronology of a Big Fat Lie," April 19, 2001). The sheriff's office 
responded with the preposterous assertion that the affidavit's existence had been 
disclosed shortly after the shootings. 

Given that Jeffco's investigation of Eric Harris went further than county officials 
said it did, what stopped it? Who made the decision not to take Guerra's search- 
warrant request to the district attorney? Could it be, as some Columbine families' 
attorneys have speculated, that the Harris family had some kind of "juice" with the 
sheriff's office? If not, if some other factor tipped the scales, why did Stone's 
people go to such pains to try to minimize the issue, discredit the Browns and 


conceal the existence of the affidavit? 


Three months ago, in a private meeting with victims' families, Dave Thomas 
pledged that he would try to answer those questions by making inquiries among the 
officers who were directly involved in handling the complaint. "He promised that 
the investigation would be concluded by the end of January," says Randy Brown. 


"It never happened.” 


144 


Pam Russell, spokeswoman for Thomas's office, says the inquiry is "on hold" 
pending the resolution of other matters, including the special probe into Dan 
Rohrbough's death by El Paso County Sheriff John Anderson at the start of the 


year; Thomas's office expects those results in a few weeks. 


No Jeffco official has received the slightest reprimand for playing hide-and-seek 
with the Guerra affidavit for two years. County Attorney Bill Tuthill has said that 
because the document wasn't specifically requested until CBS asked for it in court, 


the county wasn't hiding it at all. 





2. WHAT DID THE SCHOOL ADMINISTRATION KNOW? 

School officials have acknowledged that they were notified of the Brown 
complaint, but only to the extent that Eric Harris "may be messing around with pipe 
bombs." They took no action, they say, because they were told that the sheriff's 


office was handling the investigation. 


But communication between the school and law enforcement wasn't everything it 
could be. Several Columbine administrators knew about the 1998 arrest of Harris 
and Klebold for burglarizing a van -- Harris even wrote about the experience for 
one class assignment -- but it doesn't appear that they passed on to police any of the 
complaints they received about the pair. Their disciplinary records, which include a 
suspension for hacking into the school computer system and reports about possible 
vandalism and intimidation of other students, remain sealed because of school 


privacy laws, as do the violence-laced videos they made as class assignments. 


Hours after the killings, Jeffco deputy and school resource officer Neil Gardner 
told investigators he "had never dealt with Eric Harris." Ten days later, his memory 
had been refreshed to the point that the sheriff's office acknowledged that Gardner 
had briefed a dean about the Brown complaint and had subsequently "kept an eye" 


on Harris and Klebold, occasionally engaging them in "light conversation." 


It remains unclear whether all this eyeballing led to any coordinated effort to assess 


the potential threat Klebold and Harris posed to their fellow students. One teacher 


145 


read Klebold's graphic essay about a trenchcoated assassin and reported it to his 
parents and a counselor. A student claims to have met with a vice principal to 
express her concerns that Harris was dangerous; a parent claims to have gone to yet 
another administrator to report Klebold for harassing her son. The video-class 
instructor may have seen the tape the gunmen made of themselves firing sawed-off 
shotguns in the mountains, which they edited in the video lab. But none of this 
information went to a central source with responsibility for followup, such as 


principal Frank DeAngelis. 


School officials aren't talking about this breakdown in their security procedures, 
and that frustrates Phyllis Velasquez. Her son Kyle had been at Columbine only 
four months, enrolled in a special-education program, when he was murdered by 
Klebold and Harris. 


"My kid was labeled a ‘problem child,’ and he couldn't sneeze without something 
being reported," Velasquez says. "It was like a daily phone call: If he knocked over 
a chair, I'd get a call. I don't understand how these two boys can make these videos 


and write these violent essays, and the school doesn't know anything about it." 


Velasquez says she had to fight numerous battles to get Kyle into the special- 
education program at Columbine, which included an agreement that staff would 
supervise him at lunchtime so other kids wouldn't get him into trouble. ("He'd do 
anything for anybody if he thought they were going to be his friend," she says.) 
And while the school was quick to notify her of any problem behavior, she says she 
was never told that he was being allowed to leave the cafeteria at lunch and go on 


his own to the library, where he was killed. 


mm 


"The teachers said they were trying to let him ‘spread his wings," she recalls. 
"That's fine, but I was never notified that they were doing it. That's the way 


Jefferson County treated us the whole time." 





3. WHO WAS IN CHARGE OF THE POLICE RESPONSE? 


146 


The problems police encountered in setting up command and communications to 
respond to the attack was a fundamental concern of the Governor's Columbine 
Review Commission. Unfortunately, because Sheriff Stone and other key 
commanders refused to testify, "much remains unclear about the command center's 


operations," noted the commission's report, released in May 2001. 


The sheriff's own report describes how, as ranking officers arrived on scene, they 
coolly made assignments and pulled together to organize an efficient response to 
the evolving crisis, battling radio glitches, pesky media types and witnesses' 
hysteria the entire way. An incident command post was established minutes after 
the attack began, the report states, and quickly branched out to encompass tactical 
command, perimeter control, evacuation and investigation. But this portrait of a 
battle-ready, level-headed corps of commanders bears little resemblance to the 
disarray and conflicting orders encountered by officers from other agencies who 


rushed to assist with the emergency. 


In theory, Deputy Neil Gardner, the first officer on scene, was in charge during the 
first fifteen minutes of the attack, until command officers started to arrive. Stone's 
report implies that Gardner was the one who started to deploy responding officers 
in perimeter positions around the school. But dispatch tapes and Gardner's own 
statements to investigators don't indicate that he ever gave such an order; 
apparently, the arriving deputies simply defaulted to their training for a potential 
"hostage" situation, which was to set up a perimeter and wait for SWAT teams to 
arrive. Meanwhile, Harris and Klebold were executing students in the library -- a 
situation indelibly impressed on the dispatchers at Jeff-co's headquarters in Golden, 
who had a phone link to a teacher in the room and could hear the shots and the 


screams. 


Lieutenant Terry Manwaring, Jeffco's SWAT commander, was the first member of 
the agency's command staff to arrive; Manwaring quickly assumed the role of 
tactical commander. But he was soon embroiled in a rescue effort that took him on 


a very slow ride around the school in a fire truck, during which he lost 


147 


communication with the command post. (The time-consuming ride had other 
consequences as well; see Question #4, below.) Arriving officers from Littleton 
and Lakewood found so much confusion at the Jeffco command post and so little 
direction in the way of a SWAT command that they decided to form their own 


tactical command post closer to the school. 


The Jeffco commanders "were not yet ready to provide a specific mission," wrote 
one Lakewood SWAT officer in his report. "In the interim, we had received 
reports...that there were many victims both inside and outside of the school who 
were wounded and needed to be rescued.... I instructed our team to join up with 


Denver SWAT to begin rescuing wounded students." 


One Littleton officer reported that he was told by Bob Armstrong, an Arapahoe 
County captain who was one of the first commanders on the scene, "that our 


SWAT unit was the closest and that 'It's your problem." 


An Arapahoe County SWAT commander arriving at the tactical command around 
one o'clock found a Littleton sergeant in charge. Manwaring didn't return to the 


east side of the school to assume command until later that afternoon. 


Several officers reported being sent to one location by Jeffco commanders, then 
another by their Denver counterparts, or being assigned to commands they couldn't 
contact by radio and couldn't find in the swelter of traffic and evacuees. Many 
SWAT teams, bomb teams, paramedics and other rescue personnel spent the day 


"standing by,” waiting for orders or wounded victims who never arrived. 


"This was the most difficult day of my career," one paramedic wrote. "To sit in 
staging five hours listening to calls for more medics and medical equipment was 


unbearable, and we did nothing." 





4. WHY DID IT TAKE THE SWAT TEAMS FOUR HOURS TO REACH 
THE LIBRARY? 


148 


Stone's office has cited numerous potential and real hazards that hampered rescue 
teams as the afternoon dragged on: smoke, shrieking fire alarms, radio problems, 
locked doors, a lack of maps, unexploded bombs, reports of multiple shooters, and 
so on. But the confusion within the command structure certainly contributed to the 
delay, and the sheriff has never explained why the library and the science area -- 
the rooms that contained critically wounded victims, from which 911 operators had 
received desperate phone calls seeking help -- were the very last places the SWAT 


teams reached. 


One episode that had a powerful influence in shaping the SWAT response at 
Columbine has never been properly scrutinized: the effort by Manwaring and an ad 
hoc collection of SWAT officers from different agencies, using a fire truck as 
cover, to rescue victims outside the west doors. Much of the sequence was captured 
on video by hovering news helicopters; what the tape doesn't show very well, 
though, is the shooting spree that occurred mid-rescue, altering the course of the 


operation for the rest of the day. 


Manwaring's original plan, he told investigators that evening, was "to get the bad 
guys engaged and pinned and out of everybody's way." He commandeered a 
Littleton fire truck and dropped off the first entry team on the east side of the 
school shortly after noon. But moving at a crawl, checking windows for snipers 
along the way, it took the team half an hour to reach the west doors, where the 


truck was soon mired in mud. 


Officers laid down cover fire as the team dragged wounded student Richard 
Castaldo and the body of Rachel Scott away from the west doors. The shots went in 
two directions, toward the library and the west doors, and may have ricocheted. 
Several members of the team were under the impression that they were under 
attack, even though Klebold and Harris apparently had committed suicide in the 


library long before the fire truck arrived. 


149 


Manwaring saw what he thought was a "bad guy" inside the west doors and 
squeezed off two shots. "It could have been a reflection; it could have been us, with 


the sun reflecting on the glass," he later told investigators. 


Denver sergeant Dan O'Shea, who fired more rounds than any other officer at 
Columbine, would report that a suspect tossed an explosive from the emergency- 
exit door that led to the library. He said he saw a muzzle flash, which he attributed 
to a suspect firing "at least three rounds in the direction of the SWAT officers,” so 
he returned fire. He also went down the hill, near Rohrbough's body, and pumped 


cover fire into the faculty lounge. 


Denver SWAT commander Vince DiManna reported feeling some kind of 
"concussion/ heat" coming out of the library door during the rescue of Castaldo. 
Days later, he would tell a reporter from the Los Angeles Times how "a chunk of 
shrapnel gouged into his cheek when the killers tossed a bomb his way." 

Are Jeffco's investigators mistaken about the time of the gunmen's suicide? Or was 


the rescue team firing at phantoms? 


Concerned about making entry in an apparent hot zone, with one unexploded bomb 
visible at the west doors, the team made no further moves toward the building. 
Eventually, Manwaring, who'd slipped and injured his hand, returned to the east 
side with DiManna to regroup. When a west entry did take place, at 1:09 p.m., it 
was done from a window on the lower level, closer to the cafeteria than the library. 
It would be another ninety minutes before that team moved upstairs and found 
gravely wounded teacher Dave Sanders in the science area. By the time a 


paramedic was escorted to the room, around 3:20 p.m., Sanders was dead. 


Recently released ballistics evidence shows that the Manwaring team's bullets 
sprayed the library and the hallway inside the west entrance at a time when dozens 
of students and teachers were still trapped in classrooms and another police team 
was roving the halls. Two police bullets fired from the west doors traveled the 


length of the hallway and were found in the east foyer of the school. 





150 


5. WHO KILLED DANIEL ROHRBOUGH? 

This question may never be answered with any degree of certainty. But that doesn't 
mean lawmakers shouldn't look into the matter. Even if one puts aside Jim Taylor's 
account as a "consoling" gesture gone awry, the contradictions in the information 


that's emerged from the investigation are formidable. 


The sheriff's office has always maintained that Rohrbough was slain in the first 
minutes of the attack on the school, killed at close range by Klebold, but it's now 
clear that their conclusions are based more on eyewitness accounts than on physical 
evidence. Details in some eyewitness statements -- for example, saying that 
Klebold shot Rohrbough at close range with a shotgun -- indicate that at least some 
of the witnesses confused him with Lance Kirklin or another shooting victim. But 
others unambiguously identify Rohrbough as one of those shot before any police 


arrived. 


Yet the fatal bullet was never recovered. Contrary to what investigators told the 
Rohrboughs, the one bullet found in his body was consistent with ammo fired from 
Harris's carbine, not Klebold's TEC-9. There were no shell casings from either 
gunman found in the vicinity of his body, no evidence that Klebold fired at close 


range. But there were plenty of police shells in the area. 


Brian Rohrbough has always felt something was wrong with the official story. Not 
simply because of Jim Taylor, who may have sent him on his current path for all 
the wrong reasons. Not because of the recently revealed statements and 
circumstances that led him to file court papers accusing Sergeant Dan O'Shea of 
being in a position to shoot his son, an accusation O'Shea has repeatedly denied. It 
goes back to the scenario investigators outlined to him months before the sheriff's 


report was completed, a scenario that doesn't fit the physical evidence. 


His case against O'Shea may be highly circumstantial, Rohrbough says, but the 
official version makes no sense. If the detectives truly believed their story, why did 


they fight him so long before releasing Dan's clothes? Why did they dawdle for 


151 


more than a year over releasing detailed ballistics data, even after a judge ordered it 


released? 


"I believe they're still hiding information," he says, "and trying to make the 


evidence fit their story." 


Rohrbough doesn't expect the review of the evidence now being conducted by the 
El Paso County Sheriff's Office to resolve the issue. No one from that office has 
bothered to contact him, he says, to find out what evidence he might have about his 


son's death. 





6. HOW ACCURATE IS THE OFFICIAL TIMELINE? 

Investigators promised that the sheriff's report would provide a detailed, "minute- 
by-minute" account of what happened at Columbine. The report's timeline was 
dutifully accepted by media outlets as an unimpeachable chronology of events. Yet 
a review of the source materials upon which the timeline is based, including 


dispatch and 911 calls and video surveillance tapes, suggests otherwise. 


A case can be made that Stone's office fudged its timeline to make it appear that 
Jeff-co deputies took swifter action to try to engage the gunmen than they actually 
did ("More Whoppers From Jeffco," October 25, 2001). But the report's minute-by- 
minute tracking of the killers’ movements during their 47-minute rampage is 


suspect, too. 


Consider, for example, an episode the sheriff's report never mentions: the arrival of 
two Denver police officers on the west side, early enough to engage a suspect at the 
west entrance. The two had spotted a gun barrel, presumably Harris's carbine, 


sticking out of the doorway and fired at it; the suspect retreated. 


When did this happen? Jeffco's timeline states that Harris was at the west doors, 
trading bullets with deputies Neil Gardner and Paul Smoker, at 11:26 a.m., well 
before any Denver officers were on scene. Harris never returned to the west doors, 


according to the timeline. 


152 


Could he have come back after the library massacre, which ended at 11:36? The 
timeline says the two gunmen were in the science area at that point, on the opposite 
side of the building. How about after their three-minute appearance on the 
surveillance video, trying to set off the bombs in the cafeteria? Possibly, but the 
timeline has them heading for the office area, a long way from the west doors. 
Then they're back in the cafeteria at 11:57 before heading upstairs to the library to 


commit suicide. 


The official account of what Harris and Klebold were doing whenever they weren't 
actually captured on audio or videotape is hazy, at best. Many aspects of their plan 
of attack remain a mystery. Investigators do know that their cafeteria bombs were 
set to go off at 11:17; when the bombs failed to explode, the sheriff's report says, 
the gunmen's actions became increasingly "random" and inexplicable, right up to 


their suicides. 


But maybe it wasn't quite as random as the report would have us believe. The 
report offers no explanation for the library massacre, why the pair decided to return 
to the library, or why they chose that particular moment to kill themselves. Yet 
Harris's journal writings, first published by Westword last December, show that he 
had planned from the beginning to go into the school to "pick off" victims at will. 
And the pair may have had a special reason for returning to the library before their 
deaths: A photo of the timing device taken from one of the bombs police found in 
their cars shows the alarm set for noon. 

The library is an excellent location for viewing a fireball in the parking lot. Perhaps 


they hoped to see their cars explode, killing rescue workers and police. 


When that didn't happen, maybe they decided it was time to go. 

















7. WHY DID INVESTIGATORS PROVIDE MISLEADING AND FALSE 
INFORMATION TO VICTIMS' FAMILIES? 
They told grieving families that their children's bodies were boobytrapped and 


couldn't be moved. They told the parents of one boy that their son never knew what 


153 


hit him. They told the parents of another that their wounded son fell to the sidewalk 
and waited there for one to two minutes, until Klebold came up and shot him again. 
And they didn't bother to correct the rumor about which girl said "yes" when the 
killers asked if she believed in God, not even as the story spiraled into a media 


legend about martyrdom. 


None of it was true. Years later, some Columbine parents are still seething over the 
bad information they received from the police and how it poisoned their 


relationship with the investigation. 


"The boobytrap story was, for me, the most difficult thing to bear," says Ann 
Kechter, mother of slain student Matt Kechter. "I cannot to this day understand 


why they would say something like that." 


Some early gaffes, such as the boobytrap reports, may have been a simple 
misunderstanding. When investigators first tried to move Klebold's body in the 
library, unexploded "cricket" bombs began to tumble out of his pockets, prompting 
the rest of the crime-scene processing to be conducted with a high degree of 
caution. But other bits of misinformation have persisted for years. The Kechters 
have been waiting patiently for months for the results of sophisticated tests that 
would explain the burns on their son's body; they recently learned that investigators 


aren't sure those tests were ever conducted. 


Phyllis Velasquez says detectives told her that her son was sitting at a library 
computer, ignoring the commotion around him, when Klebold walked up and shot 
him in the back of the head. She has since studied crime-scene sketches, listened to 
the 911 tapes and learned the truth: Kyle was crouching under the table, hiding like 
all the others, when he was shot. He was not so oblivious to his surroundings that 


he escaped the terror that swept through the room. 
It's important to know such things, Velasquez says, no matter how painful. 
"My son was murdered,” she says. "Nothing worse than that could ever happen to 


me. It's downhill from there, you know? So the truth is not going to hurt you. But 


154 


being told one thing and finding out the truth later, that hurts a lot. You end up 
reliving the whole thing, falling apart all over again. How unfair is that, to put a 


parent through that twice? 


"I feel like they made a decision to tell us something else, for whatever reason -- to 
cover something up, to spare people's feelings, whatever. But that's not their 
decision to make. You should be told the truth. I don't understand why they did it 


this way." 


After the Velasquezes joined other families in calling for a legislative committee to 
investigate Columbine, Phyllis received a phone call from Kate Battan, who headed 
up Jeffco's probe of the shootings. The two had not spoken much since the families 
filed their lawsuits against the sheriff's office, but Battan was now offering to 


answer any questions Velasquez might have about her son's death. 


"I told her I did have a lot of questions, and I wanted to see all of the crime-scene 
photos that involve Kyle," Velasquez says. "There was this long pause, and she 
said, 'I don't know if I can do that. I'll have to check.' And I told her I would be 
bringing my attorney. There was this really long pause, and she said, 'T'll have to 
check and get back to you.' I haven't heard back from her, and I really don't expect 


W 
. 


to 


"I work for the victims," Battan told a reporter from Time magazine two years ago. 


"When they don't have any more questions, then I feel I've done my job." 





8. WHY DID JEFFERSON COUNTY FAIL TO COLLECT, ANALYZE AND 
PRESERVE IMPORTANT EVIDENCE? 


Missing interviews. A shredded timeline. Untested bullets. Missing tapes. 


The Columbine open-records battle has yielded documents that investigators never 
anticipated would be made public. It's also shown that the county has been less than 
an ideal custodian of the records comprising the largest criminal investigation in 


Colorado history. 


155 


Some of the materials that Jefferson County has been unable to produce -- because 
they can't be located or were never prepared in the first place -- are of minor 
significance. But others could resolve major questions about Columbine, and their 
absence has only generated more suspicion about the thoroughness and integrity of 


the sheriff's investigation. 


For example, a key interview with Sergeant O'Shea, now at the heart of the 
Rohrbough controversy, was not taped, contrary to standard "shoot review team" 
policy. The brief summary of the interview provided -- by an investigator from the 
Jefferson County District Attorney's office -- doesn't begin to account for the sixty 


rounds he fired that day. 


The county has produced no follow-up interviews with its own crucial witnesses, 
including Deputy Gardner, even though it's clear that investigators questioned him 
on more than one occasion. Jeffco apparently never bothered to collect hundreds of 
pages of witness interviews and reports that have since surfaced in the files of other 
police agencies. And other vital records the county didn't collect, such as the 
Arapahoe County dispatch tapes or tapes of Denver's SWAT channel, have 
apparently been destroyed. 


"There's no unknown bullets from an unknown gun," Kate Battan told the Denver 
Post eleven months after the shootings. But the ballistics record is riddled with 
examples of unaccounted-for police gunfire and bullets of questionable origin. One 
police weapon fired that day was kept in the officer's patrol car for more than a year 
before it was finally submitted for ballistics tests. 

Last month, Jeffco finally got around to having a bullet found in the backpack of 
Corey DePooter, the last victim to be killed in the library, tested against the 
gunmen's weapons. The bullet had previously been tested against four police 
weapons, none of which had been used to fire into the library. The bullet came 
from Harris's carbine. When asked why it had taken so long to have the bullet fully 
tested, a Jeffco spokesman said that Battan had only discovered the "oversight" a 


few weeks earlier. 


156 


Actually, Jeffco had been notified of the problem with the DePooter bullet eight 
months before the testing, in a letter from Westword to Sheriff Stone. According to 
a department spokeswoman, the letter was passed on to Battan for response. When 
the response finally arrived, four months later -- from the county attorney's office, 
not Stone or Battan -- the questions about the DePooter bullet were simply ignored. 
So were the DePooters' questions about the bullet, as raised in a 

subsequent Westword article ("Back to School," October 25, 2001). It was only 
when the family stood on the steps of the Capitol last month, requesting lawmakers’ 
help, that Jefferson County finally decided it would be a good idea to run ballistics 
on a bullet found two and a half years earlier in the backpack of a murder victim. 
Such glaring investigative lapses are only part of what troubles victims' families. 
While being stonewalled on information they believe they should have, they've also 
been blindsided by leaks of materials that were supposed to be safely tucked away 
in Jeffco's evidence vault, including the gunmen's "basement tapes" and Harris's 
journal writings. Crime-scene photos have also made their way to reporters and 


other parties, although none have been published yet. 


Jeffco's handling of the evidence has been a sore point for Don Fleming, the lead 
plaintiff in the families' open-records battle. "I don't see why these people should 
have immunity for fabricating and lying and destroying evidence," says Fleming, 
whose daughter, Kelly, was killed in the library. "If they did nothing wrong on 
April 20, what they did afterward was criminal." 


9. WHAT ARE THE POLICE STILL HIDING? 


See questions # 1-8, above. 





10. WHAT CAN THE LEGISLATURE DO? 
Last fall, Don Lee found himself on a panel at a youth-violence summit in Oregon 
alongside administrators involved in responding to the shooting at Santana High 


School in Santee, California, last spring. Lee was struck by how much had been 


157 


accomplished in Santee in a few months compared to what has happened in 


Colorado over the past three years. 


"It's just incredible how the community and the stakeholders got together and really 
made some changes in how they deal with things," Lee says. "We have done some 
things, but it's frustrating to try to get all the stakeholders together here and get the 


information on the table. It's been difficult for us because of the lawsuits." 


Yet the impasse over Columbine began long before the lawsuits were filed. It 
began with half-truths and stall tactics, boobytraps that didn't exist and search 


warrants that were never mentioned. 


"When we started out, we never thought of any kind of lawsuit," says Joe Kechter, 
Matt Kechter's father. "But then all the lies started, and holding back information, 
and it makes you wonder. If we could have got the information we needed, I don't 


think any of us would be here right now." 


Lee says he doesn't know yet what sort of legislation might come out of his probe, 
but he does have some sense of the general areas that need to be addressed. The 
Columbine experience could prompt proposals to put some teeth in the state's open- 
records act, for example, so that bureaucrats who suppress important documents 
might receive more than a wrist slap for ignoring the law. It could lead to 
strengthening victims'-rights laws, making it easier to obtain information once an 
investigation is concluded; to protect the privacy of victims’ families; and to lower 
the boom on officials who provide false information about the circumstances of a 


loved one's death. 


Some progress has already been made in clearing the barriers that keep schools and 
law enforcement from sharing information about possibly dangerous students. But 
several Columbine families say that much remains to be done about threat 
assessment and prompt notification of parents, about training police for rapid 
deployment situations and organizing a proper command-and-communication 


structure for such major emergencies as a school rampage. 


158 


Re-establishing trust in law enforcement in Jefferson County may be the most 
formidable challenge of all, one the legislature has little ability to address. For the 
Browns and for many of the families of the injured and the dead, the task may be 


impossible. 


"It's been almost three years," notes Judy Brown. "People call us about their kids 
being threatened at school, and they ask us what they should do. I honestly don't 
know what to tell them. Would I go to the police now? It sounds terrible, but I 
think I'd handle it myself." 


Several families, including the Kechters, still have children in Jefferson County 
schools. "If anything like this ever happens again, I won't stop this time from going 


in," says Joe Kechter. "No way. They'll have to shoot me." 


Follow That Story 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / MARCH 14, 2002 / 4:00AM 
"Shame on you." 


Like monkeys and reporters, state lawmakers can be a shameless bunch. But that 
didn't stop Randy Brown from heaping shame on members of the House Civil 
Justice and Judiciary Committee last week. After four hours of emotion-charged 
testimony, including pleas by Brown and other parents to seek the truth, the 
committee effectively killed efforts to launch a legislative investigation into the 


Columbine massacre and its aftermath. 


The surprisingly lopsided 7-2 vote squashing HJR 1017 was more than a political 
setback for the bill's sponsor, Littleton representative Don Lee. Members of several 
victims’ families testified that the proposal was their last hope to break through 
police stonewalling and try to resolve unanswered questions about the 1999 school 


shootings and the investigation that followed. Lee's bill called for an investigative 


159 


panel that, unlike previous task forces, would have had the authority to issue 
subpoenas and compel testimony ("There Ought to Be a Law," March 7). 
"I don't want to do this," Lee told his colleagues. "But this is something I feel we 


need to do." 


Yet as Lee, Brown and other backers of the measure quickly discovered, there is no 
problem so vast, no crisis so grave that the Colorado Legislature can't rise to the 


occasion -- and refuse to take any action whatsoever. 


A course of no action was precisely the remedy urged by the bill's chief opponent, 
Bill Tuthill, acting county attorney for Jefferson County. Tuthill, who's in the midst 
of defending the county and various police officers against lawsuits filed by 
victims’ families, began his testimony by putting on display three hand trucks 
stacked with investigative files; the idea was to give the lawmakers a glimpse of the 
"unprecedented volume" of material about Columbine that the county has already 


released. 


"The truth is that, contrary to what you may read in the newspapers, a wealth of 


information has been produced," Tuthill said. "This inquiry is unnecessary." 


When it was their turn to speak, the victims' families pointed out that the mother 
lode of documents Tuthill was boasting about had only been released by court 
order, over the county attorney's protests, through open-records litigation by the 
families and the media. And those documents had only served to point out serious 
contradictions between the sheriff's version of what happened at Columbine and 
what the actual evidence shows, leading to growing concerns about other police 


records that may be missing or destroyed. 


"There is no one to hold the officials accountable," said Brian Rohrbough, whose 
son, Dan, was murdered at Columbine. "This is why people lose their faith in 


government." 


But several lawmakers seemed uneasy about embarking on a search for answers 


about Columbine, especially armed with subpoena power. Boulder representative 


160 


Alice Madden doubted the wisdom of sending "six politicians in an election year" 
on such a mission, even with the assistance of professional legal counsel. "I have 


great fears that this body is not the way to do it,” she says. 


Dawn Anna, mother of slain Columbine valedictorian Lauren Townsend, tried to 
urge the lawmakers out of their timidity. "Have the strength to go where there is no 
path, and then leave a trail," she told them. Then she added a pointed reference to 
the executions of Lauren and nine others while police officers stood outside the 
school awaiting orders: "We already know what happens when people stand by and 


do nothing." 
She also asked the group, "If not you, who? If not now, when?" 


The answer: Not us, not ever. Lawmakers who'd started the hearing fretting about 
"retraumatizing" victims had, by the end, concluded that the ongoing trauma they 
were facing was just too overwhelming to investigate; better to do nothing. 
Representative Joe Stengel, who apparently has lived in a media-proof bubble for 
the past three years, seemed puzzled at the outset about what there might be left to 
investigate with regard to Columbine; several hours later, after hearing a stream of 
allegations about police lies, suppressed evidence and thwarted inquiries, he 
declared that any competent investigation might take three years rather than the six 


months Lee was asking for. 


In the closing minutes of the hearing, Lee and committee chairman Shawn Mitchell 
scrambled to amend the bill to keep it alive, even pledging to seek out donations to 
reduce the cost of the effort. It did no good; their colleagues soon dispatched the 


whole matter to oblivion. 
"We could focus on several things and do it badly," Madden observed. 


Randy Brown said it was a shame. Some family members wept. Staying on a 
familiar path, the legislators made a beeline for the exit. Afterward, Lee told 


reporters that he'd thought he had the votes to keep the probe alive. He vowed to try 


161 


again, next time with a more narrowly focused proposal. Because as Lee sees it, it's 


the inability to resolve basic questions that perpetuates the trauma of Columbine. 


"The retraumatization is happening now," he told his colleagues. "My own son asks 


me, 'When is this thing going to stop?" 


Deeper Into Columbine 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / OCTOBER 31, 2002 / 4:00AM 


Memo To: 
Jefferson County Sheriff John P. Stone 


Re: 


Columbine 


I know that you're a busy man. You've got a lot on your mind and only a few weeks 


to go before you clean out your desk. So I'll try to keep this short. 


I realize, too, that you're tired of hearing about Columbine. Many people are. Folks 
in my business have the attention span of a hyperactive gnat, and most of them 
would rather move on to other horrors: the Beltway sniper, chronic wasting disease, 


the new fall sitcoms. 


But it's different for you. On April 20, 1999, the worst high school shooting in 
American history happened on your watch, when seniors Eric Harris and Dylan 
Klebold killed thirteen people, injured two dozen more and then turned their guns 
on themselves. Your name and your department's reputation will be forever linked 


to this tragedy. 


Frankly, one reason so many questions remain about Columbine, more than three 
years after the event, is that your people tried to thwart public scrutiny through a 
strategy of stonewall and spin control. Issuing an official report riddled with 


inaccuracies and glaring omissions, ducking the governor's review commission on 


162 


the advice of the county attorney, lobbying state lawmakers to squash a legislative 
probe, cranking out self-serving press releases to fade the heat rising after each 
embarrassing revelation -- the basement tapes, the search warrant, the Harris diary, 
the confusion over who killed Daniel Rohrbough, to name a few -- all of this has 


done little to put the matter to rest. 


Perhaps you believe that the recent settlements between the county and various 
families of the dead and injured, including the $1.5 million coughed up to settle the 
lawsuit filed by the family of slain teacher Dave Sanders, closes the book on the 
shootings. It may surprise you to learn that there are still lawsuits pending 
(although none against your office) and that there are still people searching for the 


truth about Columbine, some of whom discuss their concerns in the following 
pages. 


Sheriff, have you ever managed to wade through the 16,000 pages of documents 
released by your office over the past two years? (Released reluctantly, I might add, 
trickling out over months and years in response to court orders.) I wish I knew what 
you think about that material; our correspondence has languished, unfortunately, 
ever since my last letter to you was shanghaied by the county attorney's office, 
which issued a predictably obfuscatory response ("More Whoppers From Jeffco," 
October 25, 2001). At the very least, what the ballistics records reveal about the use 
of police firepower that day should trouble you (see "Going Ballistic"). 

There are so many haunting loose ends. Take the case of Sarah Cudworth, an 
eighteen-year-old interviewed by an Arapahoe County investigator less than two 
weeks after the shootings. Cudworth told the deputy that she'd been introduced to 
Eric Harris in 1997 by her friend Robert Craig, a Columbine honor student who 
killed his stepfather and himself later that year. Like Harris, Craig was a bright, 
moody young man who hung out with a disaffected crowd but was not a member of 


the Trenchcoat Mafia. His stepfather happened to be a former sheriff's deputy. 


"Sarah told me they were all drawn together by their intelligence and boredom with 


school," the investigator wrote in his report. "Harris had a lot of hate, but he never 


163 


told her about any plans to hurt anyone. Harris did talk about how he was 


harassed." 


Eric Harris and Robert Craig. You'd think such a startling nexus of anger and 
despair would require some followup, but there is no trace of any subsequent 


interviews with Cudworth or anyone else on that point. 


Or take a more current example, if you like. Recently, gun-rights activist Duncan 
Philp settled a lawsuit against two of your officers for $20,000 -- an amazing sum 
for what seems, at first glance, to be a case of a faulty traffic ticket. Philp was 
pulled over by a Jeffco deputy last December on his way to a protest rally at the 
home of Columbine parent Tom Mauser, who has become an outspoken advocate 
for tougher gun laws since his son Daniel was killed in the school library by Harris 
and Dylan Klebold. 


This was no random stop. Your deputies had Philp under surveillance that night 
and had compiled an intelligence file on him, not unlike the Denver Police 
Department's notorious "spy files." Philp beat the traffic ticket -- apparently, your 
deputies didn't know that a motorist doesn't have to signal a turn when pulling out 


of a private parking lot -- and then sued for alleged constitutional violations. 


In a deposition, Don Estep, a member of Jeffco's intelligence unit and the FBI's 
multi-agency terrorism task force for Colorado, made several damaging 
admissions. He acknowledged that his unit had videotaped events the night of the 
protest but never logged that tape into evidence; that Philp had been cited for not 
having a valid Colorado driver's license when there was no proof that he was even 
a Colorado resident; and that a Jeffco sergeant had obtained information about 
Philp from the state motor vehicle database by telling a DMV official that Philp 


was under investigation for felony fraud, when there was no such investigation. 


In another deposition in the case, investigator Kirk Beaulieu admitted that it's still 
policy in Jefferson County for individual SWAT members to report to 
headquarters, then proceed to the scene of trouble to stage a response -- a time- 


consuming procedure that hasn't changed since the Columbine shootings, even 


164 


though other agencies' SWAT teams are trained to head directly to the scene. 
Beaulieu, you may recall, was one of the first SWAT guys to reach the classroom 
where Sanders lay dying, more than three hours after students and other teachers 


began trying to summon help for him. 


Although the county admitted no wrongdoing in the Philp case, you can see why it 
was smart to settle the matter: Who needs all this dubious police work coming out 
in court? Small wonder, then, that Columbine families continue to doubt if your 
office has produced all the records it's been ordered to produce concerning the 
tragedy, if your people have come clean about what they know about Harris and 


Klebold -- and if the "lessons" for law enforcement have truly been learned. 


Sheriff Stone, your work is almost done. Perhaps in the months ahead you will 
have the leisure to read Brooks Brown's book and find out how your campaign to 
discredit him devastated him and his family. Perhaps not. But take notice: The 


investigation of Columbine is far from over. 























The Negotiator 

In the aftermath of the Columbine shootings, the hunt for culprits began well before 
the funerals ended. By the next morning, everyone knew that Eric Harris and Dylan 
Klebold had committed the carnage, but had they acted alone? Who supplied their 
weapons? What did their parents know? What role did police and school officials 
play in the tragedy? And what about violent video games, drugs, Marilyn Manson 


and other presumably pernicious influences? 


There were almost as many theories of liability as there were lawyers involved in 


the case. And that number quickly swelled to alarming proportions. 


Going to meeting after meeting of plaintiffs' attorneys, who gathered around large 
conference tables at law firms across the city, Steve Wahlberg began to have the 
uneasy feeling that he was sinking into a quagmire. The meetings featured long 
discussions about what claims might be filed, which court to file them in, which 


defendants to name and what deadlines they were up against. 


165 


Wahlberg had been brought in as co-counsel by famed bulldog Walter Gerash to 
help represent students Sean Graves and Lance Kirklin, both of whom had been 
shot and critically wounded outside the school in the early stages of the attack. It 
didn't take many meetings for Wahlberg to realize that his clients were facing the 
prospect of extremely complex, protracted litigation -- and that avoiding that 


process might prove even trickier. 


He decided to advance what would turn out to be a controversial proposal. "I know 
that litigation is the hammer we will have to bring down," he announced at one 
meeting, "but I've got a kid in a wheelchair, Sean Graves. I was talking to him at 
his house last night, and he could use some kind of long-term medical trust. And I 
don't know if there's enough money here. If we spend hundreds of thousands of 
dollars on litigation -- well, I want to go on record early that I support a 


settlement." 


Wahlberg credits Graves with keeping him focused on a fundamental truth about 
Columbine. No amount of punitive litigation was going to bring back the dead or 
help the injured recover, and most of those who had suffered the worst injuries -- 
including Graves (who has since regained some mobility), Kirklin, Richard 
Castaldo, Anne Marie Hochhalter and Mark Taylor -- would require extensive 
medical care. So why not find out what resources were available among the 


potential pool of defendants and make the best possible deal for all concerned? 


"This was an idea out of the mouth of an eleventh-grader," Wahlberg says now. 
"Do we really need World War IHI? How much money do they have, and will they 


give it to us?" 


Over the next two years, Wahlberg emerged as the point man in what he describes 
as a "team effort" by the lawyers of victims' families to settle Columbine. The 
effort was only partly successful; but in light of the differing, often opposing goals 
of the families involved in lawsuits, it worked remarkably well. Wahlberg's pivotal 
role owed a great deal to his well-established and wide-ranging contacts within 


Denver's legal circles, as well as his reputation for evenhandedness. 


166 


"I try to bring a level of professionalism to what I do," he says. "It's more than 
being diplomatic. I think it's at the core of being able to get things done. All these 
petty fights my colleagues get in -- I'm critical of that, because they're screwing 


around and wasting time." 


From previous cases, Wahlberg already had working relationships with several 
attorneys representing potential defendants, including the parents of Harris and 
Klebold. He soon learned that the Harrises had a maximum of $300,000 in 
homeowners’ insurance coverage and the Klebolds $1.3 million; that the carrier for 
Mark Manes, who sold Klebold his TEC-9 semi-automatic handgun, could kick in 
another $720,000; that Philip Duran, who introduced Klebold and Harris to Manes, 
could provide $250,000; and that Robyn Anderson, the honor student who fronted 
for the gunmen in a straw purchase of their other guns at the Tanner Gun Show, 
had coverage amounting to $300,000. In other words, if all the claims were settled 
at the insurers’ policy limits, the total pool of cash available from that group would 
be close to $3,000,000, with a small percentage set aside to address any future 


claims. 


Yet the logistics of any negotiation were daunting from the start. Some of the 
defendants were eager to settle but wanted a "global" deal with every possible 
litigant. Several families of the injured and dead had no attorneys and no interest in 
litigation, and Wahlberg was in no position to negotiate on their behalf. ("Some of 
the parents were separated, and some of them weren't even speaking to each other," 
he recalls.) And what about so-called "zone of danger" claims that might arise from 
people who suffered no physical injury but witnessed the attack and might assert 


claims of emotional distress? 


The plaintiffs decided to bring in the Judicial Arbiter Group, a well-respected 
private mediation service made up of prominent attorneys and former judges. It 
would be up to JAG to contact unrepresented Columbine families, to assess the 
potential value of various injury claims, and to decide how to divide up the 


settlement funds among dozens of plaintiffs. The amount of individual awards 


167 


would be confidential, so that no one family would know what the others received. 
The arrangement had its advantages -- particularly since JAG refused to charge 
even an administrative fee for its services -- but it also created a dramatic rift 


between the families of the injured and those who'd lost a loved one at Columbine. 


Under Colorado law, damages for wrongful-death claims have a statutory cap of 
$366,000. Injury claims, depending on the circumstances, can be worth much more. 
The mediation process treated every death claim as being of equal value -- but how 
much is a dead child worth compared to a lifetime with a spinal cord or brain 
injury? The families of the severely injured had a legitimate argument that their 
financial needs were greater, but some of the families of the dead weren't eager to 
settle at any price: They wanted to go to court -- or at least to the discovery stage -- 
to find out what happened and why. Their attorneys hinted that an arrangement that 
allowed the killers' parents to fork over insurance money without digging into 


personal assets wouldn't satisfy all of the parties involved. 


"The people with death claims had great resistance to these settlements," Wahlberg 
acknowledges. "They wanted a guaranteed percentage, but it was whatever the 
arbiter rules. I would have done a disservice to my client to treat all the claims 


equally. I'm sure some families didn't get very much money, in the final analysis." 


But the alternative, Wahlberg insists, was much worse. "What if a jury found that 
Eric and Dylan are 99 percent at fault for what happened and everybody else is 
only 1 percent responsible?" he asks. "There's a scenario under which a jury could 
refuse to hold the parents or the gun suppliers responsible, and we would have lost 


the case. The overwhelming majority of the injured were behind the settlement." 


Ultimately, the job of playing Solomon fell to JAG's Jim Carrigan, a retired 
Colorado Supreme Court justice and former federal judge. After months of 
reviewing medical records and other data, Carrigan worked out his own plan for 
awarding the $2.85 million put up by the various insurance companies. He 
lamented that an adequate settlement would require millions more. "JAG spent 


enormous amounts of time trying to be fair," Wahlberg says. "How can you say 


168 


that this injury is worse than that one, when they're all horrible? Carrigan really 


wrestled with this." 


By the time the details were finalized, the alliance among the plaintiffs had 
fractured badly. The families of five slain students agreed to settle with the gun 
suppliers but are still pursuing their lawsuit against the killers' parents. The family 
of a sixth, Isaiah Shoels, also refused to sign off on the Harris-Klebold offer and is 
pursuing its case against the parents, although the Klebolds' attorney recently filed 
a motion seeking to compel the Shoels family to accept the settlement with his 


clients. 


Subsequent settlements followed. After U.S. District Judge Lewis Babcock threw 
out most of the families' claims against the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office and 
the school district, those defendants decided to head off future appeals by offering 
the litigants a modest award: $15,000 from each agency to each family. The one 
case against the sheriff's office that Babcock didn't dismiss, the Sanders case, was 
settled in August for $1.5 million. ("I always thought that was a real good claim," 
Wahlberg says. "They let that man bleed to death. I don't fault the family for 


settling, but part of me would have loved to see that one go forward.") 


Several cases are still pending, including claims against one of the gun vendors at 
the Tanner show and Mark Taylor's lawsuit against the manufacturer of Luvox, the 
anti-depressant prescribed for Eric Harris. Taylor's case has been ardently contested 
by the drug's maker, Solvay Pharmaceuticals, but it could lead to an airing of the 
killers' homemade videos at trial -- the first public glimpse of the "basement tapes” 
since December 1999, when they were leaked to Time magazine. 

For the most part, though, the lawsuits have not shed much light on what happened 
at Columbine. The plaintiffs won a minor victory in their settlement with Robyn 
Anderson, which required her to give a videotaped deposition about the gun 
purchases she made for the killers. "It showed how cavalier the Tanner Gun Show 
dealers are about the law," Wahlberg says of the tape. "Let's say I'm 21 and you're 


eighteen, and we walk into a liquor store together. Can we have you pick out the 


169 


bottle, show them my ID, and then hand you the booze and walk out? That's how it 


went down with Anderson." 


The plaintiffs extracted money from the killers' parents but no fresh information 
about the events leading up the massacre. The negotiations with the sheriff's office 


were just as tight-lipped. 


"It's a problem," Wahlberg admits. "Trying to get information was so frustrating. I 
couldn't believe the way the sheriff's office treated us. But they're concerned about 
liability, and so are the parents of Harris and Klebold. How do you even express 
remorse for these other families that lost children without sounding like you're at 
fault? Eliminating the specter of litigation would go a long way toward letting this 


community heal." 


Early in the Columbine litigation, Wahlberg and other interested parties went to 
Governor Bill Owens to see if there was a way to establish a state funding 
mechanism that would compensate victims and allow public officials to divulge 
what they knew about the tragedy without fear of lawsuits. Owens declined to 


intervene, and Wahlberg moved on to other concerns. 


He is now serving as a consultant, without charge, to families of victims of the 


September 11 attacks. 





The Dissenter 
Most days, Brian Rohrbough can be found working in his auto-sound shop in 
Sheridan, a place his son Dan used to visit after school. Nothing much has changed 


in the past three years except that Dan is no longer there. 


The shop is bright, busy and cluttered with projects. Other than the piles of court 
filings and other paperwork stacked in one office, there is little to indicate the 
waking nightmare Rohrbough has been living since April 20, 1999, the day his 


fifteen-year-old son was shot down on the steps of Columbine. 


170 


Suspicious of the official version of the attack from the start, Rohrbough soon 
emerged as the most visible spokesman for several Columbine families who've 
fought relentlessly to learn the true circumstances of the shootings and the police 
response that followed. It's been a long, bruising battle, one that has put Rohrbough 
at odds with Jefferson County officials, state lawmakers and others seeking a tidy 


"closure" to the messy tragedy. And it's far from over. 


Three months ago, Rohrbough, his ex-wife, Sue Petrone, and the parents of four 
other slain students -- Lauren Townsend, Kelly Fleming, Kyle Velasquez and Matt 
Kechter -- agreed to settle their lawsuit against the sheriff's office. Because of the 
formidable immunity that protects government agencies from being sued for their 
actions, the plaintiffs believed they had little choice but to settle; the alternative 
was a costly appeal of Judge Babcock's dismissal of their claims and the prospect 


that Jefferson County would go after them for the county's own legal fees. 


But even in settlement, Rohrbough's group won a key concession. The settlement 
states that the county won't oppose the plaintiffs if they seek access to certain 
sensitive Columbine materials, such as the killers' homemade videos, in connection 


with other litigation. 


"I was encouraging my people not to settle, but no one had the stomach for it," 
Rohrbough says now. "No one wanted the risk of the fees. The real incentive was 
that we got them to open the door to us under court restrictions. We'll have the right 


to see the evidence under protective orders." 


Rohrbough believes that a review of those portions of the investigation that haven't 
been disclosed to the public could help answer a range of questions about the 
killers' actions, what school employees and police officials knew about them before 
the attack, and what the police did after the attack was under way. "We want to 
know a lot of things," he says. "Who gave the orders not to go in? What was the 


real chain of command? Why did they lie to me about what happened to Dan?" 


The changing stories about his son's death have been particularly galling to 


Rohrbough. The sheriff's investigators initially told him that Dan was wounded by 


171 


Klebold, fell to the steps, then was killed by him at close range minutes later. The 
scenario didn't match up with the available ballistics evidence, and Rohrbough 
resisted it from the start. "Dan wouldn't have just laid there,” he insists. "He would 
have struggled, because he wasn't Klebold and Harris. He wanted to live. There 
was no bullet, no shell casings to support their claims. But it wouldn't have 
occurred to me that it might have been a police officer without Jim Taylor." 

Hours after the shootings, Arapahoe County deputy Jim Taylor told Sue Petrone 
that he'd seen Dan killed. Taylor and his wife had been friends of Petrone's for 
years, and his story -- later recounted on tape -- included several persuasive details, 
even though it clashed with the official version, which stated that Dan was shot 
before any police officers arrived on the scene. Taylor's account, along with other 
unreconcilable details in the physical evidence, prompted Rohrbough and Petrone 
to accuse a Denver SWAT officer of mistakenly shooting their son during the 


chaotic effort to rescue students. 


The allegation angered law-enforcement officials and brought a wave of hate mail 
to Rohrbough's door. Cited as an eyewitness in court filings, Taylor at first denied 
that he'd ever told Dan's parents such a tale. Confronted with the tape of the 
conversation, which Petrone had secretly recorded, he told an internal-affairs 
investigator that he'd been "trying to console the family" and "help with the 
grieving" by placing himself at the scene of Dan's death ("There Ought to Be a 
Law," March 7). Arapahoe County Sheriff Pat Sullivan fired him two days later. 
As it turned out, both Taylor and the Jeffco investigators were wrong. Last spring, 
an independent probe conducted by the El Paso County Sheriff's Office concluded 
that Harris, not Klebold, had killed Dan in the early stages of the attack ("In Search 
of Lost Time," May 2). Less than a day after Rohrbough's settlement with the 
sheriff's office was finalized, he and Petrone filed suit against Taylor for 
defamation and outrageous conduct. 

Rohrbough says the suit is necessary to untangle fact from fiction in Taylor's 
account. "We've waited for him to come and tell us why he lied to us, and he 


hasn't," he says. "He's caused us a tremendous amount of injury and expense. He 


172 


implicated police officers in the death of my son by his statements. He implied that 
the timeline was a complete lie -- and he had credible information. The lawsuit has 


to do with accountability and an explanation for his actions. 


"All the people lying to me about Columbine are police and school officials. It's 
like everybody had their own agenda, and I don't know what it is. If it was just 


sloppy police work, then they owe my family an apology." 


Rohrbough expects to be thumped in the court of public opinion for filing yet 
another Columbine-related lawsuit; Sheriff Stone and other previous targets have 
claimed that the parents are simply "greedy" or looking for someone to blame. But 
for the families of the dead, the lawsuits have never been about money; if that were 
the case, they would have joined in the settlement Wahlberg negotiated with the 
killers' parents. Rohrbough's group refused to sign without being given an 
opportunity to question the parents concerning what they knew about their sons' 
activities. Discussions with the attorneys for the Klebold and Harris families are 


now at an impasse, Rohrbough says, and he expects the case to proceed to trial. 


"I believe they had warning signs," he says. "I believe they rolled the dice, thinking 
it was close to the end of the school year and they could get their children through 
it, with total disregard for the other people in that school. They've chosen to lie 
about what they know, through third parties, and to pretend they didn't know 
anything." 


Recently, the Klebolds went to court to oppose the release of Dylan's juvenile 
probation records, stemming from the teens' arrest for breaking into a van in early 
1998. Harris's file has already been leaked to the Rocky Mountain News, and his 
parents have stated that they won't oppose public release of the records. But both 
couples have fought to keep their sons' writings and homemade videotapes under 
wraps, citing a concern that the tapes may inspire copycat killers, and they have 
repeatedly declined requests for media interviews or private meetings with the 


victims' families. Their long silence may be a result of the ongoing litigation, as 


173 


Wahlberg suggests, but Rohrbough says it's also a primary reason the lawsuits 
continue to drag on. 

"They've never had the decency to talk to the parents," he says. "The insult to 
injury is the premise that they're somehow in the same category as the families of 
the victims in terms of their right to keep things private, and they're not. They 
raised a murderer; none of us did. Yet we've lived our lives under a microscope, 


and no one even knows who they are." 





The Survivor 

When Brooks Brown graduated from Columbine in the terrible spring of 1999, he 
still owed the school ninety hours of community service for smoking on school 
grounds. He figures he's paid off at least part of the debt by writing a book about 
the massacre and its aftermath, No Easy Answers: The Truth Behind Death at 
Columbine, which just arrived in bookstores. 

Over dinner at a Littleton sports bar, Brown is expansive, confident, somber -- a 
22-year-old author who's already had more experience in the public eye than most 
writers will experience in a lifetime. "The worst things that happen to you build the 
most character," Brown says. "I slowly learned that over the past three years and 


wanted to put that in book form." 


Brown's own struggle with the mysteries of Columbine revolves around two life- 
altering events. In 1998, he discovered that his classmate Eric Harris had posted 
violent writings on his Web site, boasting of building pipe bombs and threatening 
to kill people -- including Brooks Brown. Brown's parents, Randy and Judy Brown, 
took the Web pages to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. It was the only serious 


attempt by anyone to alert authorities that Harris was dangerous. 


The second event came thirteen months later. Minutes before the attack began, 
Brown ran into Harris in the school parking lot. Harris was pulling duffel bags out 


of his car. "Brooks, I like you now," Harris told him. "Go home." 


174 


Brown says he suspected that a school prank was in progress. He headed down 
Pierce Street, debating whether to skip his next class. Then he heard gunshots, and 


nothing was ever the same. 


In the orgy of scapegoating that followed, his bizarre encounter with Harris became 
a source of endless speculation and suspicion. Classmates shunned him. School 
administrators tried to discourage him from finishing the year with the rest of his 
class. Investigators grilled him and attempted to persuade his parents that he was a 
threat to their safety. Sheriff Stone branded him a "potential suspect" on national 


television. 


Brooks and his parents embarked on a tortuous journey to clear his name and find 
out what happened to the complaints they'd filed about Harris months before, a 


journey that continues to this day. 


Co-authored with Rob Merritt, an Iowa journalist Brown met on the Internet, No 
Easy Answers is largely Brown's own story, a work of recollection and meditation 
rather than reportage -- the story of a rebellious, Ayn Rand-reading adolescent who 
became an outcast in a school where jocks rule, narrowly avoided the killing spree, 
then was left to cope with his own guilt-by-association notoriety. It's also a soul- 
searching inquiry into what could possibly lead two fellow outcasts, kids he 
thought he knew well, to commit mass murder. 

"I know plenty of kids who drew pictures of the school blowing up," Brown says 
now. "It was a joke. It became commonplace. A lot of kids share the situation Eric 
and Dylan were in, but they won't do what these two did. The fact is, Eric was 
beyond rage about things, all kinds of things. How he got that way is something 
people need to think about." 


As his title suggests, Brown offers no definitive answers to explain away the 
tragedy. But the book does provide glimpses of the childhood of Dylan Klebold, a 
lonely, introverted youth Brown first met in grade school, and a more shadowy 
portrait of Eric Harris. It also paints a grimmer picture of the bullying situation at 


Columbine than school officials will ever concede. One memorable passage 


175 


recounts how a group of seniors would "go bowling" with freshmen, squirting baby 
oil in the halls and then sending victims sliding into other students or crashing into 


lockers. 


Brown insists that he witnessed such activities himself. "I was tall, so I blended in," 
he says. "It didn't happen to me, but it happened to people I knew. This one girl 
broke her leg." 


But bullying has never been an adequate explanation for what happened at 
Columbine. You might as well blame video games or rock music, two bogus 
"causes" that Brown soundly rejects. He also is critical of what he regards as the 
exploitation of the tragedy by Christian groups, including a stream of books that 


have characterized the victims of the rampage as martyrs of their faith. 


"There are no heroes or martyrs of Columbine, period," Brown says. "Cassie 
Bernall wasn't a martyr; she was a kid. Dave Sanders died a horrible death. 
Everybody did what they could. If there were heroes, it would be the janitors, who 


were getting kids out despite the gunfire." 


Two years after the shootings, the Browns finally learned that a sheriff's 
investigator had drafted a search-warrant request for Harris's house in 1998 in 
response to their complaints. The document, hidden until CBS News went to court 
to pry it loose, contradicted several statements Stone's people had made about their 
dealings with the Browns and raised even larger questions about why the sheriff's 
office failed to investigate further ("Chronology of a Big Fat Lie," May 3, 2001). 
It's one of many questions Brown still has about Columbine, questions beyond the 
scope of his book. 

"I want to know what Eric's and Dylan's parents knew," he says. "I want to know if 
any of their friends knew this was going to happen. I want to know what happened 
with the search warrant. And I want to know why the people in Jefferson County 
don't give a damn that the cops won't protect you when something like this 


happens.” 


176 


Brown's book ends with a call for a wider dialogue about the roots of violence, one 
that would include more young people and those who, as he puts it, "think outside 
the norm." Toward that end, he's set up his own Web site for discussion of 
nonviolent protest (www.atlasisshrugging.org). He's also acquired an interest in 
filmmaking after assisting Michael Moore in the making of his 

documentary, Bowling for Columbine. (He's visible but not identified in the movie's 
Kmart sequence, in which Moore and former Columbine students shame the chain 
into discontinuing sales of handgun ammo.) Recently, director Gus Van Sant 
(Drugstore Cowboy, To Die For) contacted him about possibly serving as a 
consultant on a feature film dealing with school shootings, one of several 
Hollywood projects in various stages of development that could keep the issues of 
Columbine before the public for years to come. 

Poised to set out on a book tour, Brown isn't finished talking about Columbine; if 
anything, he's just starting. "If this book does well, I might do another one," he 


says. "There's so much about this that people don't understand." 





The Contender 

Unless he's really, really busy, Russ Cook answers his own phone. It's a habit that 
has earned the Golden police chief high marks from reporters over the years -- and 
left some of them wondering what he's trying to pull. Who ever heard of a cop who 


actually welcomes calls from the press? 


Cook insists it's no act. He figures if he's forthright and candid, then the media will 
give him a fair hearing. "I won't engage in spin control," he says. "Obviously, if we 
did something, we're going to try to explain our side of it and put our best front 
forward -- but not to the degree to hide something. You don't want it to look like 
some goofball game. We serve the public. The truth should come out, and we 


should learn from what comes out." 


As the GOP candidate for sheriff in Jefferson County, Cook is the likely successor 


to John Stone after next week's election. He's facing two write-in candidates, but 


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his three decades of law-enforcement experience has made him the heavy favorite 
in the race since last spring, when Stone decided not to seek a second term. One of 
his opponents, Columbine parent Steve Schweitzberger, even declared that should 
he win the race, his first official act would be to designate Cook as his undersheriff; 


Cook says he appreciates the offer but would rather have the top job, thank you. 


The prospect of Cook taking the helm has raised hopes among the Columbine 
families of a new era of detente with the sheriff's office, an end to the bunker 
mentality that has gripped the agency since the massacre. "I think Russ Cook could 
be a real key to what we could learn," says Brian Rohrbough. "I can't see a better 
way for him to establish credibility than to find out what happened at Columbine 


and tell the families involved." 


Cook responds cautiously to such a challenge. He says he realizes that the firestorm 
of criticism the office has received over its handling of the attack and the 
subsequent investigation has demoralized the troops and eroded public trust. But 
he's not in a position - not yet -- to promise that still-secret files will suddenly 


become public. 


"I still don't know what the truth is with Columbine,” he says. "I'm not privy to the 
information the sheriff's office has. I presume that most of what can be released has 


been released. I certainly don't want to traumatize people further." 


At the same time, he adds, "At some point, I'm going to need to talk to the families. 


I want them to be comfortable with the sheriff's office." 


Cook has long ties with many of the top commanders in Jeffco; some of them, 
including John Stone, worked with him on the Lakewood police force back in the 
1970s. Although he's avoided attacking Stone directly, it's no secret that Cook has 
had his disagreements with the current sheriff. He backed Stone's opponent four 
years ago and has differing ideas about crisis management -- for example, to what 
degree an elected official should refuse to talk, "on the advice of the county 
attorney," when faced with demands for information about a litigious matter such 


as Columbine. 


178 


"The county attorney gives advice to policy-makers," he notes. "It's advice, not 
policy. Someone else has to decide if it's good advice or not. When you tell the 
public you're not releasing something for their own good, they become suspicious. 


And if you're trying to avoid litigation, that might be the wrong reason. 


"You cannot hide behind lawyers. I've probably been guilty of the same thing, but 


ultimately, you're responsible. You're an elected official." 


Cook doesn't expect to be making any sudden, sweeping changes in the sheriff's 
office. "I'm going to be very slow to make any calculated moves at all," he says. 
"The people who work there are longtime county employees who I've known for a 


long time, and I will take my time evaluating their performance." 


One of the most frustrating consequences of the Columbine litigation, he suggests, 
is that dedicated police officers have been unable to respond directly to the 
questions that have been raised, unable to tell their own stories about April 20 and 


its aftermath. Cook would like to remove that muzzle. 


"The whole department has been living under a cloud," he says. "I would like to see 
that cloud lifted." 





The Filmmaker 

Shambling on stage like a fuzzy orca, Michael Moore arrives 45 minutes late for a 
Denver International Film Festival panel on gun violence and cinema. Blame it on 
America’s current climate of fear: Moore missed his flight out of Newark because 
of terrorist-screening overload, then got trapped on an underground train at Denver 


International Airport for half an hour because of a security breach. 


It's a wonderful bit of irony for a guy who's just made a movie about this country's 
obsession with guns and the fears engendered by that obsession, and Moore can't 
resist chewing on it. Before the panel discussion ends, he'll sing a song about items 
banned from airplanes, to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" ("...seven 


swords and sabers, six sticks of dynamite, five cat-tle prrrrods..."). 


179 


The tone of the panel, which also features Columbine parent Tom Mauser and 
earnest film critics and up-and-coming directors, shifts abruptly after Moore shows 
up, from somber dialogue to stand-up diatribe. Soon Moore is off and running on 
his favorite topics: stupid white men, the stupid occupant of the White House, the 
stupidity of capitalism, of males in general -- an orgy of self-loathing, really, 


couched as a denunciation of evil Amerika. 


"I think Mother Nature is going to get rid of [men] because we're becoming a 
menace to the planet," he says. "What good are we? Nature is just going to weed us 
out... That's the other defect, we're Americans... Our ethic is everyone for himself, 
pull yourself up by your bootstraps, beat up on the poor, me-me-me-me-me-me. As 
individuals, we're very generous, but when we put ourselves together as a society, 
it's 'Fuck you.’ Folks, the fish rots from the head down. When you've got a man in 
the Oval Office who thinks it's okay to launch a pre-emptive strike and kill first --" 
[Wild applause from slavishly adoring audience]. 

Those familiar with Moore's previous work -- his scathing appraisal of corporate 
greed in his breakthrough 1989 film Roger & Me, the cheap laughs exacted from 
bullying petty bureaucrats in his television shows TV Nation and The Awful Truth, 
the rambling screeds attacking callous conservatives in his best-selling books -- 
will find much familiar ground in his latest documentary, Bowling for Columbine. 
The film is Moore's most ambitious work to date, a sprawling attempt to explore 
the undercurrents of violence in American society, the nation's historic attachment 
to firearms, the racial bias of crime coverage in the media, possible links between 
economic and foreign policy and school shootings, and much more. 


It's also, like its creator, a huge, unsightly mess. 


As Moore readily admits, his movie has little to do with Columbine. But not only is 
the title a come-on, it's also flat-out wrong. It's based on the premise that, since 
Harris and Klebold went bowling on the morning of April 20 before shooting up 
their school, one could just as easily blame their rampage on bowling as, say, rock 
music. Actually, the evidence is clear that the gunmen skipped their bowling class 


that morning -- a detail Moore's researchers surely uncovered, just as surely as he 


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chose to ignore it. Facts never matter to Moore when he has a good motif to milk. 
(In failing to throw Brooks Brown's "freshman bowling" claim into the mix, he 


missed an opportunity to give the motif some actual punch.) 


Some sequences work well. Interviews about Columbine with "celebrity experts" 
Marilyn Manson and Matt Stone, co-creator of South Park (South Park, Littleton -- 
what's the difference, really?), prove unexpectedly insightful. The trip to Kmart 
headquarters with Columbine survivors to protest sales of handgun ammo is a 
classic piece of Moore mau-mauing, showing the power of the media to alter 
corporate behavior. Much of the film, though, is preoccupied with oddball linkages 
that may be coherent only to Moore, such as his attempts to insinuate that the 
Columbine massacre owes something to the fact that Eric Harris's dad "flew planes 
during the Gulf War" or to the strong presence of the defense industry in Colorado. 
"I'm not saying that because Lockheed Martin is the number-one private employer 


in Littleton, there's a direct A-to-B correlation to the mass murder at Columbine," 


Moore explained during a brief press conference between film festival appearances. 


"What I am asking is that Americans take a look at all the little pieces of the 
threads of violence that permeate our society. I could plop my camera down in any 


area, not just Denver, and show the things I showed here." 


But Moore did plop his camera down here -- and came away with surprisingly little 
for his trouble. Perhaps he found himself in over his head with the subject of 
Columbine (though a triple murder in a Littleton bowling alley months later helped 
to keep his motif alive). In any case, as the film lurches on, Moore's off to Canada 
and his familiar stomping grounds in Michigan, pursuing correlations that aren't A- 
to-B but A-to-Z, with steps B-to-Y missing. Moore's tortured cause-and-effect 
logic has him chasing down poor Dick Clark, of all people, to try to scold him 
about his policy of hiring welfare moms for his restaurants as part of a welfare-to- 
work program. If Clark wasn't doing such a disgraceful thing, Moore reasons, then 
he wouldn't have hired one Flint mother...who could no longer properly supervise 


her six-year-old son...who took an uncle's handgun to school and killed a 


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classmate. Clark, to his credit, flees the scene before Moore can work up a proper 


froth of indignation. 


Bowling for Columbine adds a new layer of ambiguity to the blame game that 
Americans play over its eruptions of violence. The usual suspects targeted after the 
Columbine shootings -- video games, death rock, violent movies -- have changed 
little in the past three years, and Moore suggests that their influence is far less 
insidious than the nation's casual attitude toward guns and its unblinking embrace 
of the military-industrial complex. But Moore's own list of culprits is so broad, his 
rap about "collective responsibility" so glib, that it verges on gibberish. When 
everything is everybody's fault, it's nobody's. 

The most revealing moment in Moore's documentary comes when he's jerking 
around a Littleton home-security expert. The man mentions Columbine -- and 
suddenly chokes up. For several seconds, he can hardly speak, let alone continue 
with his sales pitch. "There's something overwhelming about that kind of 


viciousness, that kind of indiscriminate killing,” the man says. 


Yes, there is. Some events defy easy explanation, but that doesn't mean we should 
stop trying to understand them. Sadly, the word "Columbine" has become a 
buzzword for something dark and inexplicable, while much of what happened at 


Columbine, and why, has yet to be told. 


Going Ballistic 
ALAN PRENDERGAST / OCTOBER 31, 2002 / 4:00AM 


Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold weren't the only ones engaged in a shooting spree 

at Columbine on April 20, 1999. Denver police officers were generous with their 
own ammunition that day, firing at phantoms and pumping rounds into a school full 
of trapped students long after the killers were dead. 

The official story of police actions at Columbine, as set forth in officers' statements 


and investigative reports, gives the impression that most of the police shooting 


182 


occurred during exchanges of gunfire with the killers. Harris fired on the first 
responding officers from the west doors of the school, and both he and Klebold 
opened fire from the library at least twice over the next forty minutes. Jefferson 
County's official report states that the "majority" of the shots fired by police were 
directed at the west entrance and the library windows: "This was done when shots 
were exchanged with the gunmen, and when law enforcement and medical 


personnel were evacuating students." 


But ballistics records, including documents released by the Colorado Bureau of 
Investigation more than three years after the shootings, tell a different story. Most 
of the police rounds recovered at Columbine were found well inside the school, 
along a major east-west hallway and around the library. The vast majority of these 
bullets were fired by Denver police officers as cover fire to protect their own, even 
though there was no gunfire coming from the building at that point, because 


Klebold and Harris had committed suicide almost an hour earlier. 


Officially, the police fired a total of 141 shots at Columbine. But that figure is a 
rough estimate at best; statements by individual officers indicate they could have 
fired as many as 162 rounds. Fewer than a hundred fired bullets and fragments 
recovered from the school were identified as "consistent" with police weapons, and 
only a handful of those bullets were ever positively linked to individual officers’ 
guns. Many of the police rounds don't appear on evidence maps that have been 


released by Jefferson County and may never have been properly accounted for. 


None of the police bullets hit Harris or Klebold, and none of the 188 shots fired by 
the gunmen wounded any police officer. But the actual exchange of gunfire 
between cops and killers accounts for a small percentage of the total. Of the five 
dozen police bullets and fragments that can be accurately mapped, more than 80 
percent turn up in places that suggest they weren't part of any gunfight at all. They 
were sprayed down hallways and into classrooms after Harris and Klebold were 


already dead, whizzing near wounded victims in the library and posing a potential 


183 


risk to dozens of students and teachers trapped elsewhere on the west side of the 


school. 


There is no evidence to suggest that anyone was actually injured by police fire. But 
the ballistics evidence is sharply at odds with early media reports concerning police 
actions at Columbine, as well as with the official sheriff's report, released a year 


after the shootings. Among the most disturbing details: 


e A rescue squad made up primarily of Denver SWAT members fired repeatedly 
into the west doors and the library around 12:45 p.m. The shooting was supposed to 
cover officers as they checked on one wounded and one dead student outside of the 
school. Denver Sergeant Dan O'Shea reported seeing a suspect hurl an explosive 
during the rescue operation, followed by a "muzzle flash" as the suspect fired on 
police; Vince DiManna, the Denver SWAT captain, reported that he "felt a 
concussion/heat on my right side." Actually, Harris and Klebold had killed 
themselves shortly after noon, and the hostile "fire" reported by the officers may 
have been ricochets from their own guns. Two of O'Shea's bullets traveled the 
length of the hallway to the east side of the building, not far from where another 


SWAT team had begun a room-to-room search of the school. 


e At least one Denver police bullet took an unusual right turn and ended up in the 
hallway outside the library (A on the accompanying map). Was it a bizarre bank 
shot -- or, contrary to their reports, were officers firing down the north-south 


corridor as well? 


e Other police bullets ripped through rooms north of the library and into the library 
itself, where at least two survivors of the massacre, Patrick Ireland and Lisa Kreutz, 
lay wounded. One police bullet was found buried in a counter near slain student 
Kyle Velasquez (B). 


e Another bullet fragment was found lying on top of the bloody shirt of library 
victim Steven Curnow (C). There is no indication that the bullet was responsible 
for any wounds to Curnow, who was killed by a shotgun slug fired by Harris. But 


the fragment doesn't match the killers' ammo; it's similar in size to the base of a 


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.223 bullet, and the only people firing .223 rounds that day were four police 


officers. 


e After the shooting began, most of the students in the cafeteria fled in a panic. A 
few, however, remained huddled under tables and can still be seen on the 
surveillance videotape when Harris and Klebold enter the cafeteria and set it on fire 
at 11:45 a.m.; others were hiding in nearby kitchen storage areas for most of the 
afternoon. Curiously, one of the police bullets recovered from the cafeteria appears 
to be from the gun of Neil Gardner (D), the school resource officer and the first 
Jeffco deputy to arrive on the scene. (Because of the deformed nature of the .45 
slug, the match is not exact, but the rifling characteristics eliminate every other 
weapon fired that day except Gardner's.) Several of Gardner's bullets were also 
found in the library. Gardner's report makes no mention of firing into either of 
those places. The sheriff's report, issued a year later, notes that Gardner fired on the 


suspects in the library but offers no explanation for the bullet in the cafeteria. 


Other areas yielded no bullets where one would expect to find some; for example, 
several officers recalled firing into the teacher's lounge, but no police bullets were 


found there. 


Despite the questions raised by so many mystery bullets, officials were quick to 
absolve responding officers of any possible recklessness that day. In the summer of 
1999, long before ballistics testing was completed, Jefferson County District 
Attorney Dave Thomas commended the Denver police for "their swift and decisive 
action" at Columbine and concluded that all of their gunfire was "utilized as a 


precautionary measure for entry and security purposes." 


The Denver Police Department's own Firearms Discharge Review Board agreed. 
Without interviewing all of the officers involved or inspecting any documents 
beyond the officers' own reports, the board concluded that all seven Denver officers 


had fired their weapons "within the policy and procedure" of the department. 


And what is that policy? Asked by a Lakewood investigator if the "suppression 


fire" sprayed into the high school that day reflected "normal training," Denver 


185 


police officer George Gray replied that such fire was called for anytime officers felt 
there was a possible threat from unseen shooters, a scenario SWAT teams have 
trained for since the "VanderJagt episode" -- a reference to the Denver officer who 
was ambushed and killed by a skinhead in 1997. "That's what we felt was necessary 
to do to safely pull the victims out of there," explained Gray, who fired 29 rounds 


at Columbine. 


The scenario disturbs Columbine parent Randy Brown, who's spent countless hours 
studying the ballistics trail left behind by the killers and the police that day. "This is 
one of the horrible secrets of Columbine," Brown says. "Denver SWAT policy 
allows SWAT members to fire into a school, a business, a house or a condo to 
protect themselves, even if they're not being fired upon. Their safety comes before 


yours. It makes you rethink the idea of calling 911 in an emergency." 


ALasting Tribute 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / APRIL 17, 2003 / 4:00AM 


Four Aprils ago, as investigators strung yellow crime-scene tape and boarded up 
bullet-riddled windows around Columbine High School, snow began to fall -- a 


wet, heavy spring storm that masked the carnage in merciful white. 


But the snow couldn't quite obscure the spontaneous memorials that were already 
surfacing on and around Rebel Hill, just northwest of the school in Clement Park. 
Overnight, it seemed, the park became the focal point of public grieving for the 
attack on Columbine that left fifteen dead and two dozen injured -- the worst school 
shooting in American history. Rebel Hill was soon festooned with flowers, crosses, 
stuffed animals. There were Hallmark cards, long rolls of paper with scrawled 


messages from schoolchildren, placards that asked "WHY?" in foot-high letters. 


Thousands of people trudged through the mud. Read the messages. Pondered the 


questions. And left without answers. 


186 


The impromptu tributes are gone now, collected and put in storage by the Colorado 
Historical Society and other area archivists. Last week, though, reporters and 
camera crews returned to Clement Park, amid sharp winds and swirling 


snowflakes, to tour the site of a future $3 million memorial. 


The quest for a permanent remembrance of Columbine has consumed four long 
years, and like almost every aspect of the public debate over the attack and its 
aftermath, it has been, at times, a contentious process. "We've tried to do the right 
thing,” says Bob Easton, director of the Foothills Park and Recreation District, 
who's spearheaded a 28-member committee that has worked with Columbine 
families to come up with a suitable design. "But with the passage of time, it's 


become clear that this is a journey without a clear start or end." 


Yet the journey is almost complete. Easton's group has collected more than 
$600,000 toward the cost of the project and hopes to raise the rest from local 
businesses, foundations and individuals over the next few months. It hopes to break 
ground in August and complete the memorial by April 20, 2004 -- the fifth 


anniversary of the tragedy. 


Along the way, the choices made have been surprising and revealing. They say a 
great deal about the determination of the victims' families to find a deeply personal 
way to honor their loved ones, to celebrate life rather than death. At the same time, 
the memorial will provide the community a place to reflect on what was lost one 


April day, and what must never be forgotten. 


Consider, for example, the site chosen for the project. Jefferson County school 
district officials balked at the idea of a memorial within the school itself, for both 
practical and political reasons. A public exhibit would be "disruptive," the officials 
said, and the district had gotten crosswise with the families soon after the shootings 
by inviting them to paint memorial tiles, then refusing to display the ones that 
contained religious expressions. (The impasse triggered a federal lawsuit that 


ultimately cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.) So the 


187 


high school, which now has few of the teachers and none of the students who were 


there four years ago, was quickly eliminated from consideration. 


The obvious choice, then, was Clement Park, already the scene of so much public 
sorrow. The memorial will be tucked into an isolated area at the southeast corner of 
the park, flanked by Rebel Hill and a smaller slope -- a short walk from the west 


doors of Columbine, where the shooting began. 


The site was selected almost three years ago, and Easton's group planned to have a 
memorial in place by mid-2001. But the project was put on hold at the request of 
the victims' families. It was too soon, they said, and many of them were already 
occupied by a more pressing project: raising millions in private donations to build a 
new school library. Budget-minded school officials had proposed a "renovation" of 
the existing library, the scene of most of the executions as well as the suicides of 
the teenage gunmen, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold; after the families objected and 


came up with the money on their own, it was razed and turned into an atrium. 


The wait was worth it, says Brian Rohrbough, whose son, Daniel, was killed at 
Columbine, because it gave the families the opportunity to become more involved 
in the details of the project. "Memorials have a tremendous effect on people's 
emotions," he notes. "They give people a chance to examine what happened and 
come to terms with it. A bad memorial is about the most harmful thing that anyone 


could do to those of us who lost someone at Columbine." 


The conceptual design for the site, developed by Denver's DHM Design and 
Oregon artist Tad Savinar, calls for transforming a bare hillside into a place of 
seclusion and reflection. Visitors will stroll past a waterfall to a grove of trees. 
Within the grove, a circular stone wall will feature thirteen stations of inscribed text 
-- one for each of the dozen slain students and teacher Dave Sanders. An outer wall 
will carry quotations from survivors about the impact of the massacre, based on 
Savinar's interviews with injured students, as well as teachers, parents and 
emergency-rescue personnel. Walkways will lead from the stone rings to hilltop 


areas with sweeping views of the Front Range, the school, the city and the plains. 


188 


Mindful of the tile debacle with the school district, the families of the dead insisted 
on having complete editorial control of the texts dealing with their children. The 
intent is to allow for each of the thirteen to be presented as individuals, in the 
words of those who knew them best. Media portraits and church sermons have 
tended to blur the distinctions, lumping them together, but it was individuals who 


died, and it is their glorious particularities that the families want to commemorate. 


Two sample texts were presented at the unveiling of the conceptual design. One 
spoke of Kelly Fleming's shyness and resounding laughter, her crush on 'N Sync 
and efforts to be a "big kid." The other describes Kyle Velasquez's love of Coke 
and pizza and his eagerness to make friends: "He saw good in everyone, even some 


people that didn't seem to have any in them." 


The victims' families will also review the comments destined for the outer wall, 
which Savinar plans to blend into an episodic first- person narrative, without 
annotation or identification of individual sources -- a sort of collective community 
voice. That will be no easy task, yet the memorial will be remarkable not only for 
its text-heavy content, but for what will not be found there. No mention of specific 
police agencies, for instance, or individual officer heroics and command failures, 


the source of so much controversy surrounding the rescue effort. 
And no mention of the names Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. 


Ever since Rohrbough and others took down the crosses that had been planted on 
Rebel Hill for Harris and Klebold, as if the two were victims of a natural disaster 
along with the other dead, the killers have been quietly excised from any memorial 
plans. Their legacy lies elsewhere: in fading magazine covers and moribund Web 
sites devoted to their memory; in homemade videotapes and ranting diaries 
currently under court seal; in the pain and shrapnel still carried by the people 
injured in their rampage. 

For those not directly affected by the shootings, does the tragedy still resonate? 


Raising funds for a Columbine memorial so long after the event may seem like a 


risky enterprise; after all, the world has moved on to fresh horrors. I remember 


189 


standing on Rebel Hill two summers ago with a friend from New York. She wanted 
to see the school, to grasp the physical reality behind the terror she'd watched on 
television. A few months later, my friend was watching from a window in lower 
Manhattan as the World Trade Center's twin towers exploded and collapsed. Now 


New Yorkers are preoccupied with their own losses and memorials. 


Yet there are monuments to Columbine all around us. Books and scholarships in 
memory of the dead. The new school library. The release of almost 30,000 pages of 
investigative records that police and school authorities never wanted to release -- a 
record of "warning signs" ignored or missed, of unheeded anger and threats, of 
bureaucratic ineptitude and parental blindness and the chaos that followed. 
Anonymous hotlines and dramatic changes in police response tactics that may well 


have prevented worse school shootings. 


What is lacking, perhaps, is what only a permanent memorial can provide: A place 
to try to make sense of it all. To glimpse the innocence and vitality of those caught 
in the gunfire that day, to try to fathom the loss of lives cut so short, a loss that 
diminishes us all. To meditate on a society so prosperous and promising, yet 


maimed by senseless rage and violence. 


A place for generations to ask why, even if the answers remain elusive. 


The Plot Sickens 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / NOVEMBER 6, 2003 / 4:00AM 


The sign on the door at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office read: "News 
Conference: Go up stairs and turn right." Reporters who followed the instructions 


found themselves in a parking lot. 


It wasn't the first time that Jeffco's finest have sent the press in the wrong direction 
since the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School left fifteen dead. Was it 


190 


another cover-up, or just further proof that, within the beleaguered agency, the right 


hand rarely knows what the left is doing? 


The hastily called press conference provided plenty of ammo for conspiracy buffs 
and law-enforcement apologists alike. Even when JCSO officials try to do the right 
thing, they can't seem to get their story straight; last week's performance by Sheriff 


Ted Mink, the agency's fourth leader in five years, was no exception. 


A mortified Mink stood before the TV cameras and announced that a crucial police 
report from 1997, which detailed the early criminal mischief of killers Dylan 
Klebold and Eric Harris, had only just come to his attention. But the pages Mink 


then distributed to reporters weren't quite what he said they were. 


The latest piece of paperwork to come dribbling out of the sheriff's office is a 
report by Deputy Mark Burgess, dated August 7, 1997, noting contact with an 
anonymous "concerned citizen" who wanted the police to investigate Eric Harris's 
Web site. Burgess sent the report and several pages from the site to investigator 
John Hicks. In these online postings, Harris boasted of his nocturnal "missions" 
with Klebold and another classmate to vandalize cars and houses in their 
neighborhood, shoot off fireworks and a "sawed-off BB gun" and experiment with 
crude bombs. Hicks fielded a similar complaint from Randy and Judy Brown seven 
months later when the couple gave him several pages from Harris's site that 


referenced bomb-making and a death threat against their son, Brooks. 


What Jeffco did or didn't do in response to the Brown complaint has been a source 
of considerable mystery and stonewalling since their report was first uncovered 
days after the Columbine massacre. Initially, Jeffco officials denied meeting with 
the Browns or finding any evidence that merited investigation. Yet a draft of a 
1998 affidavit for a warrant to search Harris's home that surfaced two years after 
the massacre shows that the Browns did meet with Hicks and that another 
investigator had matched Harris's descriptions of pipe bombs to a bomb found in a 
field ("Chronology of a Big Fat Lie," April 19, 2001). The discovery of an even 


earlier complaint about Harris, which has eluded homicide investigators and 


191 


numerous open-records requests over the past four years, has stirred more suspicion 
and criticism. 

Mink said he'd learned of the 1997 report only two weeks ago, when it was found 
tucked in a three-ring binder. "This discovery and its implications are upsetting to 
me and my department," he said. "The obvious implication...is that the sheriff's 
office had some knowledge of Eric Harris's and Dylan Klebold's activities in the 


years prior to the Columbine shootings." 


Mink has asked Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar to conduct an independent 
investigation into the matter. While praising Mink for releasing the 1997 report, 
some victims' families question whether Salazar's investigation will lead anywhere 
if it doesn't also probe the various contradictory stories officials have offered about 
the Brown complaint. "I don't see how they can get to the bottom of this if they 
don't look at the whole history of the search warrant," says Brian Rohrbough, 


whose fifteen-year-old son, Daniel, was murdered at Columbine. 


Salazar's task may be even more daunting than he realizes. The Web writings that 
were found with the August 1997 report, while containing some previously 
unreleased material, appear to be of later origin. They include a handwritten page 
of URLs and several pages dealing with pipe bombs and Harris's likes and dislikes 
-- all of which the Browns have identified as part of a package of materials they 


gave to a deputy in the spring of 1998 that was subsequently misplaced. 


The "new" material, which predates those documents, describes six missions 
Klebold and Harris undertook dating back to early 1997. But those pages also 
include references to The Lost World, a Steven Spielberg movie that wasn't 
released until November 1997, and to an incident in which Harris threw a snowball 
at Brooks Brown's car, cracking the windshield. According to the Browns, the 
snowball incident occurred during the winter of 1997-98. "We have a receipt for 
the windshield repair in March of 1998," Randy Brown says. 

In other words, all of the Web pages the sheriff's office presented as part of the 


1997 documents are printouts from Harris's site that were made 


192 


months after Burgess's report -- probably by the Browns in the course of their 1998 
complaint. So what happened to the Harris writings Burgess indicated that he was 
attaching to his report? 

"We can't give you what we don't have knowledge of," says JCSO spokeswoman 
Jacki Tallman. "We've asked everyone to search for reports related to Columbine 
many times. If one deputy chooses not to forward something, we can't stop that 


from happening. But if something more is found, it will be released." 


The latest document hunt comes at a time when victims' families -- as well as the 
National Archives, Attorney General Salazar and several other interested parties -- 
are challenging a federal magistrate's unusual order calling for the destruction of 
sealed depositions taken from the killers’ parents as part of a recently settled 
lawsuit. It also comes on the heels of the release of a videotape that shows Harris 
and Klebold test-firing their sawed-off shotguns and other weapons in the 
mountains a few weeks before the attack on their school; as reported 

in Westword two years ago, that video was edited in the school lab and seen by 
other students prior to the massacre ("Back to School," October 25, 2001). 

John Hicks no longer works for the sheriff's office and has not responded to media 
requests for interviews. Also no longer employed there is division chief John 
Kiekbusch, who told reporters ten days after the massacre that the Brown report 
was a minor, isolated complaint that didn't merit much investigation. At the time, 
the official line about the Columbine attack was that it came "out of nowhere" and 


could not have been prevented. 


These days, that's a difficult line to maintain as each new revelation adds to the pile 
of clues and warning signs Klebold and Harris left behind as they plotted their 
apocalypse. ("Only the Kremlin on May Day has seen more red flags," as 

one Denver Post editorial put it.) The latest discovery helps to fill in the story of 
how the two killers' vengeful behavior escalated from sneaking out at night to get 
drunk and set off fireworks to firing guns at houses, building pipe bombs and 


making lists of people who deserved to die. 


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A remaining question is whether people with badges were paying any attention. 
And if so, why they did nothing. 


Quagmire Without End, Amen 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / MARCH 4, 2004 / 4:00AM 


In a belated effort to clear the air, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office offered up 
its souvenirs of a massacre last Thursday. It was quite a show -- but not quite 
enough to dispel the stink that has clung to the biggest criminal investigation in 


Colorado history. 


For a few hours, under tight security at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, the 
public was allowed to view the evidence gathered in the wake of the 1999 murders 
of twelve students and one teacher at Columbine High School. Thousands of pages 
of police reports and witness interviews, maps and crime-scene diagrams, bullet 
fragments and bloodstained carpet remnants, twisted shards of pipe bombs, the 
sawed-off shotguns and black trenchcoats and fancy knives of teenage terrorists 


Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold -- it was all there. 


At least officials said it was. The exhibition was strictly a look-don't-touch affair, 
and even looking was discouraged in many instances. Many materials were laid out 
in plastic bags on tables behind a barrier or tucked away in glass display cases, and 
some of the most intriguing items -- writings and tapes seized from the killers’ 
homes, for example -- were kept sealed in boxes or brown-paper wrappers as a 


result of various court orders, as if to shield visitors from deadly contamination. 


"There is no precedent for this type of evidence viewing," Sheriff Ted Mink told 
the assembled gawkers. "Every piece of evidence in the Columbine High School 


shootings is in this building." 


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Present, but not accounted for. It was a command performance, one day only. Then 
everything was hauled back to the evidence vault to await transport someday to the 
state archives, where most of it would be accessible to nobody -- except, perhaps, a 


few dithering researchers of the far-flung future. 


A fitting arrangement, to be sure. Like the evidence, the truth about Columbine has 
remained tantalizingly, maddeningly elusive. And Thursday's grim peep show 
hardly put to rest the questions that have haunted victims’ families and dogged the 


case, largely as a result of official bungling and stonewalling. 


Concurrent with the viewing, the sheriff's office released a ninety-minute video 
compilation of footage Harris and Klebold shot in and around the school, including 
the infamous "Hitmen For Hire" video, a class project that the pair turned into a 
commercial for two trenchcoated killers advertising their services to bully-plagued 
wimps. But all of the faces in the videos, with the exception of the two stars, had 


been pixilated and obscured. 


The press conference held by Mink, Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar and 
Jefferson County District Attorney Dave Thomas was even murkier than the 
videos. The trio had been widely commended for their efforts to release more 
information about the shootings and blow away the toxic fumes left by Mink's 
evasive, tight-lipped predecessor, John Stone. Last fall, Salazar launched a long- 
overdue investigation into what the sheriff's office knew about Harris and Klebold 
before the shootings ("The Plot Sickens," November 6, 2003). 

But the unveiling of Salazar's report was hardly the act of healing the attorney 
general seemed to think it would be. The report revealed that sheriff's deputies had 
failed to pursue numerous leads that might have prevented the massacre; that the 
public had been grossly misled about the degree of contact the sheriff's office had 
had with the killers; and that a crucial investigative file had been mysteriously 
"borrowed" days after the shootings, then simply disappeared. Yet the three wise 


men neatly ducked the issue of whether any law-enforcement official should be 


195 


held accountable for such a staggering history of ineptitude, obfuscation and 


outright lies. 


"There are things that should have been done differently," Salazar conceded, after 


considerable prodding by reporters. 


Quite a few things, actually. Salazar's inquiry had been prompted by the discovery 
of a 1997 police report containing writings from Harris's website, in which he 
boasted of vandalizing houses and building pipe bombs. But that report is only the 
latest in a series of "misplaced" documents that have surfaced in recent years, 
proving that the sheriff's office had far more knowledge of Harris's activities prior 
to the attack than Stone and his merry men had ever acknowledged. (And also 
proving that when the Jeffco attorney denies an open-records request, insisting that 
the document in question doesn't exist, it probably has just been conveniently 


mislaid.) 


Salazar's investigators interviewed several current and former Jeffco officers about 
their dealings with Randy and Judy Brown, who'd filed several complaints about 
Harris's vandalism and death threats more than a year before the attack on the 


school. Their recollections of the whole business were hazy, yet oddly detailed: 


Michael Burgess, the deputy who took the 1997 report from a "concerned citizen" - 
- actually, from the Browns -- couldn't remember the incident at all. He believes he 
didn't read the Harris writings himself or he would have noted the references to 
pipe bombs. But he did recall going to the Browns' house eight months later on a 


subsequent report of phone harassment. 


Mike Guerra, a bomb-squad member who drafted a search warrant for Harris's 
house in 1998 that was never executed, says the web pages he received from 
another investigator were "sterilized," with no header information on them; he 
couldn't even be sure they were ever posted on the Internet. He says he left his 
investigative file on Eric Harris in his desk when he moved to another post in July 
1999 -- three months after Columbine -- and doesn't know what happened to the 
file. 


196 


John Healy, an investigator who worked with Guerra trying to build a case against 
Harris in 1998, also prepared the case filing for another incident earlier that year, 
when Harris and Klebold were arrested for breaking into a van and placed on 


probation. But Healy apparently never made any connection between the two cases. 


John Hicks, the investigator to whom Burgess forwarded the 1997 report, may have 
simply stuck it into a file as an "intel" item. He doesn't recall the report and never 
made the connection when he met with the Browns a few months later in response 
to another complaint about Harris's website. He says he turned over the case to 
Guerra, even though Randy and Judy Brown say they were under the impression 


that Hicks was handling the matter. 


Mark Miller, a deputy who took a report from the Browns about death threats 
Harris had made against their son in the spring of 1998, was also involved in 
investigating the van break-in. But he never dealt directly with Harris and never 


realized he was the same individual the Browns had been talking about. 


In the spring of 1997, Deputy Tim Walsh had several contacts by phone or in 
person with Randy Brown and Eric's father, Wayne Harris, as a result of Eric's 
suspected vandalism. But Walsh doesn't recall anything about the case, and thus 
didn't connect to it to the youths he arrested several months later for the van break- 
in. 

Hicks, who left the department four years ago and has never spoken publicly about 
Columbine, says that Guerra told him "someone" removed his Harris file from his 


desk after the massacre and then returned it. Guerra doesn't recall the incident. 


Contrary to what Westword reported a few months ago, the state investigators 
concluded that the 1997 file wasn't commingled with later Brown complaints. It sat 
in Hicks's "intel" file and was turned over to Healy when Hicks left the squad. But 
Healy didn't discover it until three years later. 

And so it goes. All of these sheriff's deputies shuffling paperwork on Harris but 
failing to connect the dots -- maybe they should have formed their own Scrabble 
tournament. (How many points for NOT MY JOB?) 


197 


In the interviews conducted by Salazar's team, most of the finger-pointing is 
directed at Lieutenant John Kiekbusch, who is no longer with the sheriff's office. 
Another bomb technician who met with the Browns told the investigators that he 
was present when Kiekbusch nixed Guerra's search-warrant request, saying he 


needed more evidence. Guerra doesn't recall the conversation. 


Hicks says that after the shootings, he "became concerned" that the information 
Kiekbusch was peddling to reporters about the prior Harris complaints was way off 
base. Although Undersheriff John Dunaway told him to "talk to the press," he says, 


he "knew he would not be allowed to tell the truth, so he refused." 


Kiekbusch was the man in charge of the Columbine investigation at the outset, the 
fellow who stood up before the cameras ten days after the massacre to pooh-pooh 
the Browns' claims that they'd tried repeatedly to get the cops interested in Eric 
Harris before the tragedy ("Chronology of a Big Fat Lie," April 19, 2001). 
Kiekbusch told the national media that day that his officers had minimal contact 
with the Browns. He said that Harris's web rants about building pipe bombs didn't 
match up with any actual pipe bombs found in the county. None of that was true, 
according to Guerra's draft affidavit -- but then, the search warrant didn't surface 
until two years later, after CBS News was able to establish that it existed and a 


judge ordered the sheriff's office to release it. 


But Kiekbusch works in private security back East now, and his interview with 
Salazar's people -- conducted only days before the report was released -- hasn't 
been made available yet. Salazar, in any case, wasn't offering scapegoats, not even 
for the inexcusable whoppers the sheriff's office was telling the parents of dead 
children for months and years after the shootings. No amount of demonstrable lies 


would induce him to label the actions of the sheriff's office as a cover-up. 


"I don't know that today," he said. Instead, he spoke quietly about how there would 


be supplemental reports and additional inquiries, then took no further questions. 


Salazar stated his hope that opening more files would produce "lessons learned" 


that "can be valuable to parents, teachers, administrators, law enforcement, 


198 


government and the public at large." But some of the most explosive information 
concerning what school officials and cops knew about the killers, before and after 
the massacre, is still being kept under wraps by judges and others, who aren't 


terribly keen on the public knowing what they know. 


One of the items sealed from view at the Thursday exhibition was a green steno 
book -- the journal kept by Harris's parents concerning Eric's troubling behavior 
and noting various contacts with school and police about him. Salazar's team was 
able to consult the notebook to confirm at least one visit to the Harris house by 
Deputy Walsh in 1997 -- an event the sheriff's office has always denied knowing 
anything about. (Walsh didn't mention the visit when he was interviewed by 


Columbine investigators in 1999.) 


Presumably, the journal could add a great deal to public understanding of Harris 
and his relationships with cops, the school and his own parents. But the notebook is 
under seal by court order, as are the depositions of Wayne and Kathy Harris taken 
in a lawsuit last summer. The case, brought by some of the victims' families, was 
settled shortly afterward, and a court battle has since emerged over a magistrate's 


order to destroy those depositions. 


Other secrets are being guarded by the school district. School officials are now 
taking heat over the "Hitmen" video; the piece is hardly a blueprint for a massacre, 
but what is Columbine's policy about filming simulated violence, bringing fake 
weapons on school property and getting school credit for shouting obscene threats 
at the camera? Yet that bit of auteur cinema seems pallid in comparison to the 
video the lads shot, using school equipment, of their target practice with sawed-off 
shotguns a few weeks before the attack. 

As reported in Westword two years ago, the latter video was edited in the school 
video lab. Other materials released since that time indicate that the video was seen 
not simply by other students, but by a teacher, who contacted Harris's parents about 


the noisy display of illegal weaponry. Wayne Harris, who'd previously detonated a 


199 


pipe bomb found in his son's room but left Eric's bomb-making equipment intact, 
apparently did nothing about the report. Neither did the school. 
Now that same weaponry is headed back to the evidence vault, following its short 


run at the fairgrounds. 


But of all that is sad and absurd about Columbine, the ongoing dance of officials 
trying to "move on" without acknowledging their own breaches of public trust may 
be the greatest travesty. To this day, no one at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office 


has ever apologized to the Browns for vilifying them and branding them as liars. 


No one has explained to the families of dead children why it was necessary to lie to 
them about how their kids died, or what officials knew about Columbine's most 


troubled students before they turned deadly. 


No one in power has acknowledged that Dave Sanders, Kelly Fleming, Rachel 
Scott, Corey DePooter, Daniel Rohrbough, Isaiah Shoels, Matt Kechter, Steven 
Curnow, Lauren Townsend, Cassie Bernall, Kyle Velasquez, John Tomlin, Daniel 


Mauser and all of their injured classmates deserve better than that. 


"The only way to honor these children is to get the truth out," Randy Brown told 


the reporters at the fairgrounds, "so this doesn't ever happen again." 


"What these guys need to do is make a formal apology to the families," says Brian 
Rohrbough, Daniel's father. "The stories they told us have caused us immeasurable 


pain." 


And the pain remains. It always will, as long as the truth is locked away. 


Columbine Five Years After the 
shootings: Anatomy of a Cover-up 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / SEPTEMBER 30, 2004 / 4:00AM 


200 


It took five years, a state grand jury and key evidence from a reluctant witness, but 
families who lost children in the attack on Columbine High School finally had their 
worst suspicions confirmed: Top Jefferson County leaders knew something awful 
about prior police investigations of killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and 
they'd known it since shortly after the 1999 shootings. The officials knew plenty, 


denied most of it, and hid as much as they could for as long as they could. 


Called by Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar, the grand jury released a 
summary of its findings two weeks ago. Although the probe of missing police 
documents resulted in no indictments, it did raise questions about "suspicious" 
actions by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office brass, including the shredding of a 
large pile of Columbine files. Most stunning of all, the report charged that a few 
days after the massacre, several high-ranking county officials met secretly and 
resolved to suppress key documents stemming from the JCSO's earlier 
investigation of Harris, to treat them as if they didn't exist — in short, to lie about 


them. 


"It's amazing," says Brian Rohrbough, whose son, Dan, died on the steps of 
Columbine. "While we were planning a funeral, these guys were already planning a 


cover-up." 


Several former and current county officials have disputed the grand jury report, 
including District Attorney Dave Thomas, who attended the private meeting but 
has disavowed any role in the subsequent cover-up. (Thomas is now running for 
Congress, and the Colorado Democratic Party has bemoaned the fact that he's the 
target of a smear campaign by unholy, unnamed forces.) Yet the trail of duplicity 
surrounding the Columbine files is far more extensive, and disturbing, than the 
report indicates. In their quest to protect their own hides and careers, a pack of 
Jeffco bureaucrats misled victims' families and the public, trashed the state's 
public-records law, and thumbed their noses at civil subpoenas and court orders. 
The conspiracy of silence held fast for 64 months, until the threat of criminal 


prosecution finally cracked it. 


201 


Why would so-called public servants do such a thing? The delicately worded grand 
jury report doesn't delve into such matters, but it's clear that the county had a major 
public-relations and legal nightmare on its hands on April 20, 1999, and that some 
officials were grappling with it even before the smoke and screams had dissipated 
at Columbine. Thirteen people were dead, another two dozen wounded, all at the 
hands of Klebold and Harris — who'd been the subject of several complaints to 


local police over the previous two years. 


Some aspects of the pair's contacts with law enforcement, such as their 1998 arrest 
for burglary and participation in a juvenile diversion program run by the district 
attorney, were bound to come out soon. But the most embarrassing case was one 
that never led to a prosecution: The reports filed by Randy and Judy Brown against 
Harris, who'd boasted on his website about blowing up pipe bombs and had 
threatened to kill the Browns' oldest son, Brooks. Almost a year before the 
shootings, JCSO bomb investigator Mike Guerra looked into the matter, even 
drafting an affidavit for a warrant to search Harris's home. But the warrant was 
never submitted to a judge, and the investigation was abandoned after Guerra was 
reportedly told by a supervisor, Lieutenant John Kiekbusch, that he didn't have 


enough evidence to proceed. 


Given the arsenal in his room, as well as writings dealing with the planned attack 
on Columbine that Harris was assembling a year before the shootings, it's possible 
that pursuing the search warrant could have averted the whole tragedy ("I'm Full of 
Hate and I Love It," December 6, 2001). Several JCSO officials were evidently 
briefed on Guerra's affidavit hours after the shootings. 

Former undersheriff John Dunaway told Salazar's investigators that he discussed 
the affidavit with District Attorney Thomas as early as the day of the attack. He 
thought he had "several discussions" with Thomas about the matter over the next 
few days, in which Thomas assured him that Guerra never had probable cause for a 
warrant. At the same time, investigator Kate Battan used material from Guerra's 


investigation to help prepare the search warrants that were served on the Harris and 


202 


Klebold homes after the attack; sealed by court order, those warrants weren't made 


public for several more years. 


A few days after the shootings, according to the grand jury report, the upper 
echelon of the sheriff's office — including Sheriff John Stone, Dunaway, 
Kiekbusch, public information officer Steve Davis and the hapless Guerra — met 
quietly with Thomas, Assistant DA Kathy Sasak, County Attorney Frank Hutfless 
and two of his assistants, William Tuthill and Lily Oeffler, and others. The meeting 
was held in an out-of-the-way Jefferson County Open Space office, and the 
principal item on the agenda was Guerra's affidavit. Reporters were already 
sniffing around the Brown complaint; the JCSO had first denied that any report was 
taken, then decided to release it, minus the subsequent investigative paperwork. By 
the end of the meeting, authorities had decided that they would not disclose the 


existence of the Guerra affidavit, either. 


Thomas maintains that he was at the meeting simply to render an opinion on the 
probable-cause issue; he insists he didn't know of the decision to suppress the 
document. But in the days that followed, the sheriff's office didn't just omit mention 
of the affidavit. Their people lied about what the Browns told them and the extent 
of their investigation of Harris, misleading the world press about it all. And Dave 


Thomas went along for the ride. 


At a press conference on April 30, Steve Davis read a press release that purported 
to explain what deputies did in response to the Browns' complaints about Harris. 
The statement, drafted by Lieutenant Jeff Shrader, was the start of a long-running 
disinformation campaign targeting the Browns. It contained several statements that 
simply weren't true, some of them flatly contradicted by the information in Guerra's 
affidavit. But then, nobody was going to mention that damning piece of paper. 
(Stung by the grand jury's criticism of his role, Shrader issued a response of the I- 
was-only-following-orders variety: Since County Attorney Hutfless and Thomas 
both thought Guerra's affidavit wouldn't stand up in court, "Mr. Shrader gave due 


deference to the conclusions of these officials.") 


203 


Fielding questions from reporters, Kiekbusch reiterated some of the same 
falsehoods. No, the investigator hadn't been able to find any pipe bombs in the 
county that matched Harris's description of the ones he was building. (Guerra had 
found one.) No, there was no record that the Browns had met with investigator 
John Hicks. (The affidavit noted the meeting.) No, the investigators hadn't been 
able to locate information about Harris on the Internet. (Guerra would later tell 
Salazar's people that a JCSO computer expert had been unable to access the 
website but did find Harris's AOL profile.) The man who by some accounts had 
pulled the plug on Guerra's investigation was now assuring everyone there was no 


investigation worth mentioning. 


District Attorney Thomas stood at the podium with Kiekbusch and Davis and took 
it all in, then answered some questions himself. At no point did he contradict the 
torrent of mendacity flowing from the sheriff's office — which he knew to be 
mendacity, evidently, having been consulted on the Guerra affidavit extensively at 


this point. 


Instead, Thomas added to the misinformation, stating that prior to the shootings, no 
one had connected the pipe-bomb case to the two youths who were in his diversion 
program. This is one of the biggest remaining myths about Columbine. Actually, 
Hicks had mentioned the prior burglary case to the Browns; Guerra recalls finding 
the case in his own check of Harris's record (despite the JCSO claim that Harris 
cleared the computer check); and an investigator from Thomas's own office had 
found the burglary case in 1998 after being contacted by Judy Brown about the 
pipe bombs. Yet even though the kid making bombs and death threats was already 
on probation, nobody did anything about it. 


"I think it's very difficult and painful to look back and ask a lot of questions about 


what could have prevented this," Thomas told the assembled press. 


But Thomas was hardly alone in his complicity. Over the next two years, the 
Browns and news organizations filed numerous open-records requests with the 


county attorney, trying to track down the missing pieces of the reports generated by 


204 


the Browns' complaints about Harris. Tuthill and Oeffler invariably responded that 
the documents did not exist, that everything connected with the Browns' complaints 
had already been released. Lawyers preparing civil suits on behalf of victims' 
families got the same response. Actually, copies of many of the records in question 
had been provided to the county attorney shortly after the shootings, in anticipation 
of future litigation — and then locked away. County Attorney Tuthill, who 
replaced Hutfless in 2001, had no trouble locating his office's copies of the 
"missing" records when the attorney general's investigators came calling a few 


months ago. 


The Browns also requested an internal investigation from the sheriff's office, in an 
effort to clear up discrepancies in their record hunt and the rumors they were 
hearing of a botched search warrant. As the Browns recall it, the officer handling 
the probe seemed more interested in pumping them to find out where they'd heard 
that such a document existed. In a letter dated August 14, 2000, Undersheriff 
Dunaway airily dismissed their complaint: "There is no indication that anyone 


tampered with or withheld entry of information related to Eric Harris." 


Months earlier, Kiekbusch told Westword that the records the Browns were after 
had either been routinely purged from the system or had never existed. But that was 
long before the files would have been purged, under the JCSO's record-retention 
policy, and no one has ever been able to explain why the department would purge 
records that had some bearing on the largest criminal investigation in Colorado 
history. In any case, the "purged files" explanation was just another piece of 
misdirection; the grand jury learned that the sheriff's office had kept copies of the 
documents, too, and had withheld them — even, apparently, from Stone's 
successors as sheriff, Russ Cook and Ted Mink — until Salazar's men examined 
them last January. 

The hide-and-seek game over Guerra's affidavit continued until the spring of 2001, 
when producers from 60 Minutes IT, armed with concrete proof that the affidavit 
existed, went to court to demand its release. (Point of disclosure: I served as a paid 


consultant to CBS News on the project and was involved in that court battle.) The 


205 


proof came, oddly enough, in a letter Dave Thomas had recently sent to the 
Browns; after taking a leisurely five months to respond to their demands for a 
grand jury probe of the missing files, Thomas spilled the beans by acknowledging 
that "a search warrant draft was started" by Guerra. 

Braced by 60 Minutes IT about the letter, a befuddled Thomas said he was under the 
impression that the Guerra affidavit was old news. To the chagrin of the county's 
attorneys, Judge Brooks Jackson ordered the document to be released. The JCSO 
tried to save face with an Orwellian press release that declared, "A few days after 
the Columbine shootings, the Sheriff's Office disclosed the existence of the so- 
called 'secret' search warrant affidavit" — when, in fact, what had happened was a 
conspiracy not to disclose it ("Chronology of a Big Fat Lie," April 19, 2001). 

But other documents remained hidden. It was part of a larger campaign of 
obfuscation and outright deceit that encompassed not only the prior investigation of 
Harris, but the police response to the attack; timelines were distorted or destroyed, 
dispatch logs and other vital evidence deep-sixed ("In Search of Lost Time," May 
2, 2002). As long as the lawsuits against the county filed by victims' families were 
stopped dead in their tracks, what difference did it make how this was done? 

In an effort to dispel the suspicion that the county was, um, hiding something, two 
years ago Thomas and Salazar agreed to co-chair the Columbine Records Review 
Task Force, an effort to see what remaining confidential documents from the 
investigation might be released. Unfortunately, several members of the task force 
— notably, Thomas, Sasak, Oeffler and Battan — were perceived as having a stake 
in not disclosing Columbine's remaining secrets. Oeffler and Battan soon resigned 
from the task force, while Thomas and Sasak soldiered on. 

But it wasn't the task force that uncovered the secret meeting and the lies that 
followed. Last fall, a 1997 police report on Harris suddenly surfaced, prompting a 
mortified Sheriff Mink to ask Salazar to investigate. Over the course of two 
interviews, Guerra offered investigators somewhat contradictory accounts of what 


he'd done and who he'd shown his affidavit to. In a third interview, he finally 


206 


acknowledged the Open Space meeting and its purpose. It was "kind of one of 


those cover-your-ass meetings, I guess," he said. 


Guerra said he was told not to discuss his affidavit with anyone outside the county 
attorney's office. His file disappeared from his desk for a few days, then 
reappeared. His affidavit was mysteriously deleted from his computer files, but he 


suspected that other people at the meeting kept their own copies. 


Stone, Dunaway and Kiekbusch are no longer at the sheriff's office. All have 
emphatically denied any wrongdoing; contrary to the recollections of Guerra and 
another officer, Kiekbusch told investigators he never saw Guerra's affidavit until 


after the shootings. Thomas and Oeffler didn't respond to requests for comment. 


The Browns say they're grateful that the grand jury released its report, but they're 
also frustrated with the narrow scope of the investigation. "It's unbelievable that 
you can have this much evidence of a cover-up and yet no criminal charges," says 
Randy Brown. "People who were in that meeting lied about my family and what 


they knew for five years." 


Hiding in Plain Sight 
ALAN PRENDERGAST / APRIL 13, 2006 / 4:00AM 


Cradling a sawed-off shotgun in his lap, Eric Harris glares into the video camera. 
He takes a pull from a bottle of Jack Daniel's and winces. Then he talks smack 


about the pathetic losers involved in school shootings in Oregon and Kentucky. 


"Do not think we're trying to copy anyone," he tells some future, unseen audience. 
"We had the idea before the first one ever happened. Our plan is better, not like 
those fucks in Kentucky with camouflage and .22s. Those kids were only trying to 


be accepted by others." 


With his parents asleep upstairs and Dylan Klebold manning the camera, Harris 


takes his viewers on a tour of his bedroom arsenal. On the floor, he's laid out 


207 


numerous pipe bombs, a shotgun and carbine with spare clips, boxes of bullets and 
homemade grenades. He models his cargo pants and the slings he's devised to hold 
weapons. He brandishes a knife and points out a swastika carved in its sheath. He 
shows off a fifty-foot coil of bomb fuse hanging on the wall. 

INFO 


Columbine 


"Directors will be fighting over this story," Klebold says. "I know we're gonna have 
followers because we're so fucking godlike. We're not exactly human. We have 
human bodies, but we've evolved one step above you fucking human shit. We 


actually have fucking self-awareness." 


Welcome, once more, to the basement tapes -- nearly four hours of posing, boasting 
and bitching by the obnoxious gods of self-awareness, two teenage killers-to-be 
named Harris and Klebold. The footage was shot in the last weeks of their short 
lives, the final segment just a few hours before the rampage at Columbine High 
School on April 20, 1999, that left fifteen dead and seriously injured two dozen 
more. Seized by Jefferson County investigators right after the shootings, the tapes 
have been sitting in an evidence vault for the past seven years, seen by almost no 
one -- except, of course, a small army of cops, attorneys, reporters, victims' 


families, expert witnesses and assorted hangers-on. 


That could change soon. Following a surprising decision by the Colorado Supreme 
Court last fall, which held that the tapes are part of the "records" generated by the 
Columbine investigation, Jefferson County Sheriff Ted Mink has been wrestling 
with the biggest quandary of his law-enforcement career. Should he refuse to 
release the basement tapes on the grounds that their dissemination is still (in the 
words of the state's Criminal Justice Records Act) "contrary to the public interest" - 
- and thus prolong a five-year court battle with the Denver Post? Or should he 
make the hate-filled rants, along with other long-suppressed writings and 


recordings taken from the killers' homes, available to the world at last? 


208 


Mink has postponed announcing his decision until after the seventh anniversary of 
the massacre next week -- out of respect, his office says, for the victims’ families, 
some of whom have pushed for the release of the materials while others have 
opposed it. But if history is any guide, he will oppose the release, sending the 
whole controversy back to court. County officials have treated the killers' writings 
and tapes as an anthrax-like deadly contagion that must not, under any 


circumstances, be inflicted on an unsuspecting populace. 


"The Sheriff's Office is fearful that release of this information would not help the 
public but could potentially cause another one of these attacks," Assistant County 
Attorney Lily Oeffler said in a hearing before District Judge Brooke Jackson in 
2002. (Oeffler, the county's point person in keeping Columbine's secrets, is now a 
district judge herself.) The county's position mirrors that of the parents of Harris 
and Klebold, whose attorneys have maintained that the tapes are private property 
and that their release would have a disastrous "copycat effect," inspiring more 


school shootings. 


"Mr. and Mrs. Harris do not want the angry and vitriolic rantings of their son to be 
made public," Harris attorney Michael Montgomery wrote to Mink recently, "but 
their overriding concern is to avoid the risk that these tapes and writings might 


influence others to commit similar acts." 


Noble sentiments, to be sure. But the lofty case for suppression has been undercut 
by the actions of Mink's predecessor, John Stone, who didn't seem to have a 
problem infecting the public with the gunmen's vitriol when it served his own 
purposes. Like Poe's purloined letter, like the bomb fuse Eric Harris kept on his 
wall and that his parents viewed as an innocent decoration, many of Columbine's 
remaining secrets aren't all that hidden. They have trickled out over time -- largely 
through the leaks, blunders and self-serving half-truths produced by the Columbine 


investigation itself. 


Copycats and Natural Born Killers 


209 


In his official report on the massacre, Sheriff Stone used excerpts from the writings 
of Harris and Klebold to suggest that no one but the gunmen could be blamed for 
the shootings -- no one at the sheriff's office, anyway, which had failed to 
investigate several previous complaints about Harris. This kind of selective editing 
was anticipated by the killers; in one of their videos, they discuss how the cops will 
censor their work and "just show the public what they want." 

Stone also gave a Time reporter full access to the basement tapes. Claiming to have 
been bushwhacked by the resulting cover story, the sheriff was then compelled to 
let local media types and victims' families view the tapes before locking them up 
for good ("Stonewalled," April 13, 2000). 

Similarly, Stone's office had no qualms about sharing tidbits from Harris's journal - 
- "the Book of God," as Harris calls it in one video -- in presentations to select 
gatherings of school and law-enforcement officials. As long as the cops could 
control the information flow, there was no yammering about the dangers of 


copycats. 


But it was a different story when Westword and then the Rocky Mountain 

News published more extensive excerpts from Harris's writings. The excerpts 
showed that Harris had developed detailed plans to attack the school a year in 
advance, while he was in a juvenile diversion program and supposedly being 
investigated for building pipe bombs and making death threats ("I'm Full of Hate 
and I Love It," December 6, 2001). Now officials were outraged that their top- 
secret investigation had sprung yet another leak. 

So was the Denver Post. Tired of getting its ass whupped in the leak department, 
the Post went to court to demand the release of the rest of the materials seized from 
the killers' homes. Attorneys for the county and the killers' parents responded with 
a flurry of dire warnings about copycat effects, including one from David Shaffer, a 
psychiatrist and expert on adolescent suicide. In addition to a 27-page resumé, 
Shaffer submitted a four-page affidavit asserting the toxic nature of the basement 


tapes, which he hadn't seen. 


210 


Some judges involved in the Columbine litigation have uncritically embraced the 
copycat argument, saying the disclosure of the materials would have "a potential 
for harm" or, in fact, would be "immensely harmful" to the public. Judge Jackson, 
who ultimately may have to decide the matter, has been more skeptical. In one 
hearing on the basement tapes, he pointed out that there were plenty of Columbine 
imitators before the existence of the tapes was even disclosed. All the more reason, 


Oeffler responded, not to release them. 


"What evidence do you have today that release of the documents is going to cause 


some calamity, or are we just speculating?” Jackson demanded. 


"Unless you release the evidence and they actually cause the calamity, Your Honor, 


the question cannot be responded to," Oeffler shot back. 


"Does that mean I can't, and no court can ever release them because maybe some 


additional copycat is going to be inspired?" 
"I don't think it is a maybe, Your Honor," Oeffler responded gravely. 


Yet Harris's web writings, several pages of his journals and detailed descriptions of 
the contents of the basement tapes have now circulated on the Internet for years, 
with no notable surge in copycat incidents. The problem with the copycat defense 
is that it is speculative and thus largely unanswerable, much like forecasting suicide 
clusters based on suicide coverage in the media. (It's just as speculative, perhaps, as 
trying to quantify the number of shooting incidents that might have been prevented 
by frank discussion of the Columbine tragedy.) Some of the same experts who 
consider the Klebold and Harris materials too dangerous for public consumption 
also blame the massacre in part on "the gunmen's previous exposure to violent 
imagery and their study of notorious criminals and tyrants." Does that mean it's 
time to pull Mein Kampf from the library shelves or Natural Born Killers from the 
video store, simply because Harris admired Hitler and Klebold took his style tips 
from Woody Harrelson? 

In several cases, news reports of would-be school shooters note that the suspects 


had trenchcoats or otherwise sought to imitate Harris and Klebold -- but how many 


211 


were actually "inspired" by them? It's true that the gunmen wanted their words to 
find as wide an audience as possible in order to attract followers; but then, they, 
like the sheriff's office, had an exaggerated notion of their own importance. The 
county's efforts to suppress the killers' writings and tapes have given them a cachet 
of consummate evil and menace; being taboo, they've become cool. Yet anyone 
who's actually seen the tapes or read the journal fragments soon recognizes that 
these fabled mass murderers are not gods but adolescents. Angry, scared, mocking, 
disturbed, bitter, pathological, deluded (fucking self-aware, mind you), emotionally 
stunted and deadly, but adolescents just the same. Behind the blather about being 
gods and kick-starting a revolution is a bottomless obsession with their own lack of 
status and sense of injury. Behind the bravado, a snivel. 

"I don't like you," Klebold says in one of the videos, addressing two female 
classmates. "You're stuck-up little bitches. You're fucking little...Christian, godly 
little whores! What would Jesus do? What the fuck would J do?" 

"I would shoot you in the motherfucking head!" Harris chimes in. "Go, Romans! 
Thank God they crucified that asshole." 


"Go, Romans!" Klebold echoes, and the two start chanting like sophomores. 


Far from adding to the hype, the leaks have helped to demythologize Harris and 
Klebold. Showing the tapes in their entirety could have some deterrent value, one 
victim's parent has suggested, removing whatever lingering mystique the killers 


still have. 


Wayne's World and the Clueless Klebolds 

In his letter to Sheriff Mink, Harris attorney Montgomery contends that the single 
media viewing of the basement tapes six years ago "should be deemed 
sufficient...to insure public transparency in the investigative and prosecutorial 
decisions of executive agencies." But what's striking about the drawn-out records 


battle is how little transparency there's been. 


From day one, mortified county officials did their best to conceal the existence of 


an affidavit for a warrant to search Harris's home that was drafted a year before the 


212 


shootings but never submitted to a judge ("Anatomy of a Cover-Up," September 
30, 2004). They kept it under wraps for two years, until CBS News found out about 
it and Judge Jackson ordered its release. 

Investigators lied to the media about what the sheriff's office knew about Harris 
and Klebold before the shootings. They gave victims’ parents bad information 
about how their children died. In an effort to make the facts of the police response 
to the attack fit the official story, timelines were distorted or destroyed and dispatch 
logs and other key documents spirited away, in defiance of court orders and open- 
records requests. Small wonder that critics of the sheriff's office believe that, 
copycat concerns aside, the powers that be have other motives for keeping the 


remaining materials in the vault. 


Some clues to What They Don't Want You to Know can be found in the basement 
tapes and in the Harris writings first published in Westword in 2001. The lads boast 
about how easy it is to fool adults in general and their parents in particular. They 
mock some of their lamer teachers, and Klebold offers a hearty fuck-you to a 
sheriff's deputy who, it turns out, had more contact with the pair than his 
department was prepared to admit. Harris exults in how easy it was to buy guns and 
ammo, how absurdly easy to dupe everyone around him. 

"I could convince them that I'm going to climb Mount Everest or I have a twin 


brother growing out of my back," he says. "I can make you believe anything." 


None of this is terribly complimentary to school officials, law enforcement, the 
supervisors of the diversion program the teens were both in -- or the parenting 
skills of the Harrises and Klebolds. And it raises disturbing questions about what 


similar revelations might be contained in other, as-yet-unreleased materials. 


Evidence logs indicate that police found much more than the basement tapes and 
the "Book of God" when they searched the Harris home. Harris left other 
handwritten notes behind and at least one audio message -- a microcassette labeled 
"Nixon" that was left conspicuously on the kitchen counter. According to a brief 


internal police summary of the tape's contents, Harris can be heard explaining "why 


213 


these things are happening and states it will happen less than nine hours [from] 
now."" 

But the most intriguing, hush-hush item from the Harris home is probably evidence 
item #201, a green steno book found in a desk drawer. The book doesn't belong to 
Eric or God but to Wayne Harris, who used it to write down various matters 
concerning his son's mental health, errant behavior and interactions with neighbors 
and authorities. As a result of the confidential settlements reached in lawsuits 
brought against the Harrises and Klebolds by some victims' families, virtually 
everyone who's ever seen the steno book can't comment on its contents. 

We do know one thing about item #201: It documents more contacts between the 
Jefferson County Sheriff's Office and the Harrises over their son's behavior years 
before the shooting than the sheriff's office has ever acknowledged. In 2004, 
investigators working for the state attorney general's office used the steno book to 
track a complaint against Eric that dated back to 1997, a case for which the 
department paperwork had disappeared. The deputy on the case, Tim Walsh, was 
the same officer who arrested Harris and Klebold for breaking into a van in 1998; 
interviewed by investigators after the shootings in 1999, Walsh made no mention 
of the 1997 case. 


Wayne and Kathy Harris have never given a formal interview to the police. Their 
chief contact with Columbine investigators occurred the day of the shootings, when 
officers arrived to search the house, and particularly Eric's room, despite Kathy's 
protesting, "I don't want you going down there." But the parents’ attorneys have 
had extensive communication with the county attorney's office since that day, and 
they've joined forces with the county on numerous occasions to battle release of the 
steno book and other materials seized from the home. It's a cozy alliance that has 
troubled Brian Rohrbough, whose son Danny was murdered at Columbine and who 
has ended up opposing the team in court. 

"Jefferson County has used taxpayer money to represent the Klebolds' and Harrises' 
demand that these items never be released," Rohrbough wrote in his own letter to 


Mink, urging him to release the materials sought by the Post. "It is long past time 


214 


for you to serve the public's interest in protecting children above the private interest 
of two families who raised cold-blooded murderers." 

Nothing akin to the green steno book was found at the Klebold home. Tom and 
Susan Klebold did talk to investigators; five years later, they even gave one media 
interview, to David Brooks of the New York Times. "They say they had no 
intimations of Dylan's mental state," Brooks wrote. That assertion is spectacularly 
at odds with accounts from school employees -- about chronic disciplinary 
problems, perceived "anger issues" Dylan might have had with his father, and, 
most of all, a class essay Dylan wrote about a trenchcoated avenger who slaughters 
a group of "preps," a scene so vicious that his teacher felt compelled to discuss it 
with his parents -- but Brooks didn't press the issue. 

Written only weeks before the massacre, the essay wasn't Klebold's first foray into 
violent revenge fantasies. He wrote about killing sprees in his own journal, as well 
as thoughts of suicide, depression and his dream of ascending to a higher state of 
existence. The sheriff's report provides only brief references to this material, which 


has been more tightly guarded than the Book of God. 


When the sheriff's office finally got around to releasing thousands of pages of 
Columbine material, a cover sheet for one section was titled "Klebold Writings." 


But the writings weren't released. 


The High Priests 

One proposed solution to the question of the killers' tapes and writings, advanced 
by Ken Salazar before he left the post of Colorado attorney general for the U.S. 
Senate, was to turn over the materials to a "qualified professional," who would 
author a study about the causes of Columbine while keeping the primary materials 
in strict confidence. The proposal soon fell apart, though, after the killers' parents 
refused to cooperate with Salazar's anointed expert, Del Elliott, director of the 


University of Colorado's Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence. 


It's just as well. The notion that only the high priests of social science are qualified 


to handle the gunmen's toxic waste, that only the academic elite have the training, 


215 


the lengthy resumés, the godlike self-awareness to process this information without 


becoming hopelessly contaminated, is absurdly creepy. It's Kleboldish. 


Besides, there's no data to suggest that qualified researchers are any better at 
keeping a secret than the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. Lack of access to the 
basement tapes, the Harris and Klebold journals and the green steno book hasn't 
discouraged amateurs and experts alike from producing "psychological autopsies" 
of the killers, but there are two researchers who've had unique access to all those 


items. The only catch is that they can't talk about it. 


In the course of defending one of the Columbine lawsuits, Solvay Pharmaceuticals 
-- the manufacturer of an anti-depressant prescribed for Harris -- retained the 
services of two expert witnesses, Park Dietz and John March, who were allowed to 
examine confidential discovery materials, including the tapes and writings seized 
from the killers' homes. Dietz and March were subject to the same suffocating non- 
disclosure agreements imposed on parties to the lawsuits against the Klebolds and 
Harrises. But after the Solvay case was settled, the pair sought permission to 


publish their findings in a peer-reviewed journal. 


Lewis Babcock, chief judge of Denver's federal district court, denied their request. 
In a scathing order, he pointed out that March and Dietz had made conflicting 
arguments about why they should be allowed to go public. On the one hand, much 
of the material had already leaked out; on the other, the pair claimed to have 
"important scientific evidence of the motives and reasons" for the massacre that 
had not yet come to light. If the first assertion were true, Babcock reasoned, then 
the experts’ report would be "of no interest to the public" -- but if it contained new 
information, it could endanger "potential victims of those who might take 


encouragement" from what it revealed. 


In other words, damned if you do, damned if you don't. Babcock was also 
unconvinced by the idea that the experts were in a better position to grasp the 


essence of Columbine's remaining mysteries than a layman would be. "The public 


216 


is equally adept at comprehending the depravity under which Harris and Klebold 


labored," he wrote. 


But the public's adeptness depends on having access to the facts -- not just bits and 
pieces of the story, but the whole ugly package. That hasn't happened with 
Columbine. It's been a sorry tale of lies and coverups, of stonewalling, cover-your- 
butt officials and oblivious parents and suffering without end. Harris and Klebold 
relied on just such a climate of denial and deception to allow them to plan their 
massacre and practically advertise it, without fear that they would ever be seen for 


who they were. 


It's been seven years since the pair walked into Columbine for the last time, guns 
blazing. The world has other monsters on its mind now. Yet there are people who 
still contend that the words the killers left behind are so powerful, so evil that the 


average citizen must never hear them. 


The truth hurts. But the lies can be lethal. 


The Good Part 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / FEBRUARY 1, 2007 / 4:00AM 


After Eric Harris shot him and left him for dead on the lawn of Columbine High 
School, all sixteen-year-old Mark Taylor could think about was seeing his family 
one more time before the life ebbed out of him. Fighting to stay conscious, he 
prayed, he babbled -- and, with the aid of police and emergency workers, he made 
it to the ER, where doctors were amazed to find him still breathing despite massive 


blood loss from bullet wounds in the chest, side, thigh and leg. 


Over the past eight years, Taylor, like other seriously wounded students at 
Columbine, has had a long road to recovery. He's had letters and visits from rock 
stars, spent private time with Bill Clinton and appeared in a Michael Moore 


documentary. He's also learned bitter lessons about false friends, the fickle media 


217 


and the fleetingness of fame. And belatedly, he's published his own entry in the 
growing pile of books about the tragedy, I Asked, God Answered: A Columbine 
Miracle. 

A slim volume issued by Tate Publishing, a religious publishing house in 
Oklahoma, Taylor's account is an inspirational memoir that focuses largely on the 
brighter side of his experiences. "It's a triumph-over-tragedy kind of deal," he says. 
"It's about forgiveness, and how I came to forgive Harris and [Dylan] Klebold, 


even though they tried to kill me." 


Taylor, who turned 24 last week, now lives in Colorado Springs and spends much 
of his time talking about forgiveness in churches and motivational gatherings 
around the country. "So many people let their past hold them back," he says. 
"They're victims, and then they go out and do something to someone else because 


they have unforgiveness and bitterness." 


The book gives little hint of the obstacles Taylor has faced in his own not-so- 
distant past. Despite the initial outpouring of support for Columbine families after 
the tragedy and the eventual government settlements awarded in various lawsuits, 
Taylor has struggled financially at times; his mother, Donna, says they were 
practically homeless at one point. He'd transferred to Columbine from a Christian 
school just a few weeks before the shootings and never returned to complete his 
education there, despite intense pressure from school officials to come back. 
(According to his book, a school-district lawyer even threatened to get an 


injunction to force him to attend Columbine.) 


Just getting his book done involved some behind-the-scenes drama. A year-long 
collaboration with a family physician ended in a dispute over control of the 
publishing rights. A second deal with a writer at Oral Roberts University went sour, 
too. Finally, Taylor hired an attorney to draw up a contract with a ghostwriter, 


who's uncredited in the published volume. 


Also unmentioned in the book is Taylor's role in the making of Bowling for 


Columbine, Michael Moore's 2002 documentary about the American gun culture 


218 


that uses the Columbine shootings as a touchstone for reflection and polemics. 
Taylor and fellow students Brooks Brown and Richard Castaldo joined Moore for a 
crucial sequence dealing with Kmart selling ammo to minors (Attention, Kmart 
Shoppers," July 12, 2001). Although the stunt shamed the company into changing 
its policies, Taylor doesn't have fond memories of Moore -- who, he says, used him 
and other Columbine survivors for his own purposes and then discarded them. 

"He lied to me on so many levels," Taylor says now. "He said that if I would be in 
his movie, he'd get me in front of the right people, help me make my own movies. 
He made promise after promise.... Man, he is something. You'd have to get to know 


him on a personal level." 


But not all of Taylor's brushes with celebrity have been so dispiriting. He's been a 
guest of infomercial king Kevin Trudeau and shared his story with an audience of 
5,000 or so assembled by a California Danish-maker. He's particularly proud of his 
testimony before the FDA, criticizing the practice of prescribing anti-depressants 
for troubled adolescents such as Harris, as well as his quixotic lawsuit against the 
manufacturer of an anti-obsessive-compulsive drug Harris was taking shortly 


before the shootings. 


Although the case was dismissed, "the main point was to get to discovery," Taylor 
says. "We got a lot of answers out of that, from deposing Harris's psychiatrist. Just 
because the pharmaceutical companies have the money to hire all these lawyers 
doesn't mean that they won the case." In fact, he adds, the other side agreed to 


donate $10,000 to cancer research in exchange for Taylor dropping his suit. 


Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Babcock said he wants to send records 
from Taylor's lawsuit and depositions of the killers’ parents to the National 
Archives and Records Administration, where they would be sealed for 25 years and 
possibly destroyed. Mark and his mother oppose the move. "We didn't do all this 


just so the records would get thrown away," Donna says. 


These days, Taylor is focusing on how what he's been through might help others. 


219 


"The emotional trauma was probably the worst part of it for me," he says. "Not 
understanding what happened, why they would just shoot me. Seeing my family 
have a hard time with it. That's why I wrote the book -- to encourage others who've 


been through some tragedy in their life." 


He remembers his godmother reading Bible verses to him about forgiveness as he 
lay in the hospital a day after the shooting. His body torn by bullets and perforated 
by tubing, he wasn't ready to forgive anyone at that point, but over time the 


message started to sink in. 


"There was some bitterness at first," he says. "But God has worked with me on that. 


Forgiving my Columbine High 
school friend, Dylan Klebold 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / APRIL 17, 2009 / 8:58AM 


The last time Chad Laughlin saw his buddy Dylan Klebold, the two almost 
smashed into each other in the parking lot of Columbine High School. Laughlin 
was driving his Mistubishi Galant, headed off-campus with a friend for lunch. 
Klebold, wearing his black duster, was barreling into the lot in his Beemer. 


Laughlin flipped him off, by way of a good-natured greeting, then tore out of there. 


It was 11:15 a.m. on April 20, 1999. The shooting and screaming began three 


minutes later. 


Laughlin found out that something was wrong at Columbine when his mother 
paged him at his friend's house. Like most of the country, he watched the horror 


unfold on television that afternoon. 


With the tenth anniversary of the attack on Columbine looming, former students 
and teachers, the wounded and the families of the dead, are all bracing for the 


expected media blitz and an onslaught of traumatic memories. But Laughlin, now 


220 


27, may have more mixed emotions about the event than most. As one of a small 
circle of insiders who considered Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to be their good 
friends before April 20, he's thought about that day a great deal in the last few 


years. 


"I was pretty much in denial, emotionally, for six or seven years," he says. "I knew 
Dylan and Eric better than most people -- particularly Dylan. And that weighs 


heavily, obviously." 


Laughlin and Klebold were close friends in elementary school; they were both in 
the Challenging High Intellectual Potential Students (CHIPS) program for "gifted" 
children. "We were just a bunch of intellectual, dorky kids," Laughlin recalls. "We 


memorized the state capitals and played a lot of chess." 


Klebold was a quiet, somewhat awkward kid -- but not nearly as strange as he 
would become a few years later. Laughlin went to private school for three years; 
when he became reaquainted with Klebold in their sophomore year at Columbine, 
he found him much more reserved, with an increasingly darker outlook on life. 
Although the pair gravitated toward the same social circles -- at one point Laughlin 
and Eric Harris worked together in a fast-food joint at the mall -- their primary 
interaction outside of school became the fantasy baseball league Laughlin had set 


up online. 


By junior year, Laughlin could see the bond between Klebold and Harris 
tightening, to the exclusion of everyone else. The two often sat by themselves in 
the Columbine lunchroom, known as "the commons." They were by no means 
outcasts. "They were well-liked by a fair amount of people," Laughlin says. At the 
same time, he believes the social stratification -- and yes, bullying -- found at 


Columbine played a real part in their isolation. 


"A lot of the tension in the school came from the class above us," Laughlin insists. 
"There were people fearful of walking by a table where you knew you didn't 


belong, stuff like that. Certain groups certainly got preferential treatment across the 


221 


board. I caught the tail end of one really horrible incident, and I know Dylan told 


his mother that it was the worst day of his life." 


That incident, according to Laughlin, involved seniors pelting Klebold with 
"ketchup-covered tampons" in the commons. (For another version of the incident, 
which Klebold may have been referencing when he wrote in Harris' yearbook of 
taking "our revenge in the commons," see my 2000 story, "The Missing Motive.") 
Yet Laughlin is wary of the search for simple, overriding causes for the killers’ 
pathology. He's skeptical of self-appointed authorities on Columbine; the way the 
media appropriated the tragedy and spun its own elaborate myths about the school 
and its subcultures; and the recent books that claim to explain what really 
happened. "I'm not a fan of the stuff coming out that's considered definitive when 


they're not even talking to the people who knew these guys," he says. 


Certain speculations in Columbine, Salon writer Dave Cullen's widely praised 
account, are particularly irksome to Laughlin. He disputes Cullen's portrayal of the 
killers as not athletic ("Eric was a good soccer player and Dylan was a great 
pitcher") and scoffs at the notion that Harris was some kind of chick magnet, an 
assertion based largely on the account of one reputed girlfriend who investigators 
found to have credibility problems. Laughlin introduced Harris to one girl he dated 
for a year but never got serious with; he suspects both killers died as virgins. 
Laughlin gave few interviews after the massacre. He "numbed himself" with 
partying in college and tried not to think about his own unwitting role in what 
happened -- for example, going to Wyoming to buy fireworks for Klebold and 
Harris when they were grounded for a 1998 arrest, stuff they would later use to 
make small bombs. He played poker professionally for a while but eventually 
found himself going back to school (he's now studying Chinese medicine, seeking a 
doctorate in California) and reading a lot more -- researching, among other things, 
the how and why of Columbine. He has come to see his friend Klebold as not a 


mere follower but a much more disturbed, angrier person than he ever suspected. 


222 


"They were both equally responsible," he says. "But if there was one who wanted 


to back out at the end, it was Dylan." 


Laughlin says he went through "a grief cycle" about the tragedy, but is emerging 
with a new perspective. Wounded student Mark Taylor wrote a book about 
forgiving the killers; that notion was incomprehensible to Laughlin a few years 
ago, but he now considers it a vital step in his own journey. (For more on Taylor, 
see my 2007 story, "The Good Part;" for more on other Columbine survivors, see 
our Columbine Reader.) 

"I could talk and talk, and nobody will know exactly how I felt," he says. "Like 
maybe I could have done something. If I wasn't so obsessed with my own life, with 
chasing girls around -- all of us who knew them know that we could have 

done something. But at the same time, we have to forgive ourselves for what we 
didn't do. And we have to forgive them. That's what I've come to realize in the last 
year or two.” 

Laughlin is coming home for the memorial services this weekend. He wants to find 
ways to help others come to terms with the legacy of Columbine and to heal. And 
he wants to come to a better understanding, through his own research and writing, 
of the boy he once thought he knew as well as himself -- but who harbored a secret 


rage that would spread anguish and grief over decades. 


Remembering tough judge William 
Erickson -- and a nasty cover-up 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / JANUARY 15, 2010 / 3:52PM 


William Erickson, who passed away this week at the age of 85, will long be 
remembered for his remarkable 25 years on the Colorado Supreme Court and a host 


of other accomplishments. But he will also be known for his most abysmal failure - 


223 


- the Columbine Review Commission he headed, which was supposed to get to the 


bottom of the 1999 school massacre but never dove deep enough. 


I remember Erickson's beaming, unflappable management of the panel's public 
hearings, at which he praised law enforcement officers for being big enough to 
come down and talk about what they knew. Unfortunately, the officers who showed 
up didn't have any of the answers to the really important questions -- about what 
school officials and sheriff's officers knew about the killers before the massacre, 
key command decisions made in response to the attack, and the cover-up that 
followed. As Jefferson County Sheriff John Stone and others ducked his requests to 
testify, you could see Erickson becoming more petulant as he realized that the 
governor's blue-ribbon commission was just supposed to make a few policy 
recommendations, not get to the heart of what went wrong. 

When it came time to issue the commission's findings in 2001, Erickson took the 
occasion to blast Stone and others. But the report itself was quite mild; it would be 
another three years before much of the deceit and ineptitude by county officials and 
cops would be exposed, and no one would ever be held truly accountable for the 
whole shameful episode. 

Privately, Erickson would later remark that he should have insisted on getting 
subpoena power before taking the job. For all its limitations, his panel gave 
grieving families at least some information they didn't have before -- and served as 


a springboard for further inquiry. 


Still, it's intriguing to think about what might have happened if the commission 
hadn't been toothless. Erickson was very much a product of his time -- a 1950s 
straight-arrow who'd worked in mines and didn't tolerate nonsense or disrespect for 
the law. He could have made a pretty good hash of all those equivocating 
bureaucrats trying to keep their careers from getting mired in the bloody aftermath 


of Columbine, and it would have been something to see him do it. 


224 


Tom Mauser and the Fix Gun 
Checks Tour: Disarming lunatics 
isn't such a crazy idea 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / MARCH 17, 2011 / 3:26PM 


Grief alters people. It can devastate and give a new sense of purpose. The murder 
of his son Daniel in the Columbine shootings has set Tom Mauser on a crusade 
against gun violence that, over twelve years, has yielded small victories and 
gradual change -- and plenty of blowback from gun enthusiasts, including the 
occasional death threat. But even Second Amendment purists don't seem to have a 
quarrel with Mauser's latest effort, part of a national campaign to prevent the 
mentally deranged from purchasing firearms. 

At a sparsely attended rally at the Capitol today -- the number of folks behind the 
podium whose lives had been affected by gun violence far outnumbered the 
audience -- Mauser was one of several featured speakers who denounced the failure 
of the current background check system to catch "prohibited persons" who seek to 
purchase guns illegally. The gathering was part of the Fix Gun Checks Tour, a 
multistate campaign launched by Mayors Against Illegal Guns in the wake of the 


Tucson shootings. 


Current federal law is supposed to bar convicted felons, domestic violence 
offenders, the mentally ill and others from gun purchases. But the National Instant 
Criminal Background Check System (NICS) relies on data provided by the states, 
and not all states are supplying full records to the system, citing various privacy 


concerns or a lack of funding. 


"Some states say it's a matter of money," Mauser told Westword after the rally, "but 
it's an issue of safety for their citizens. They have a responsibility to see that these 


people don't get a gun." 


225 


After Columbine, Mauser successfully pressed for Colorado to close its "gun show 
loophole" -- shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, though underage, had 
purchased some of their weapons through an intermediary at a local gun show, 
where no background checks were required. That's still the case in many states; 
rally speaker Omar Samaha, whose sister Reema was killed at Virginia Tech in 
2007, told of going undercover at a gun show with an ABC crew and buying 


twenty guns in an hour. 


"Buying guns from unlicensed dealers at gun shows is as easy as buying a bag of 


chips at a convenience store," Samaha said. 


Neither Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho nor Tuscon shooter Jared Loughner 
were in the NCIS, despite histories that should have been entered there. Some 
speakers at the rally seemed determined to impose background checks on every sort 
of gun purchase, including transactions between individual owners, but at this point 
Mauser would settle for legislation that would make sure the federal database for 
existing background checks is as complete as possible. 

"That's the low-hanging fruit," he says. "We have the names of people who have 
been mentally adjudicated, but we're just not putting them in the system. That's 


something we can take care of now." 


New York Senator Charles Schumer recently introduced the Fix Gun Checks Act 
of 2011, and today's rally is part of a larger strategy to get the likes of Michael 
Bennett and Mark Udall on board as co-sponsors of the bill. Neither one was 
present -- but then, there were no Second Amendment protesters, either. The people 


who did show up tended to have had some gun-related tragedy in their lives. 


Maybe better background checks would have prevented some of their losses. In 
some cases, it clearly wouldn't have made any difference. But they still felt 


compelled to do something. 


Twelve years after Columbine, Tom Mauser still feels the same way. 


226 


Columbine Killers' Basement Tapes 
Destroyed 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / FEBRUARY 2, 2015 / 8:50AM 


They were the most notorious yet least-seen artifacts from one of the worst school 
shootings in American history — roughly four hours of home videos made by two 
teenage killers-to-be, shot in the last weeks of their lives and offering glimpses into 
the methods and motives behind the 1999 attack on Columbine High School that 
killed thirteen people and seriously injured two dozen more. The so-called 
"basement tapes" of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold have been the subject of intense 
litigation and media speculation, morbid curiosity and outrage, half-baked 
psychoanalysis and earnest requests from violence-prevention researchers to make 


them available for study. 


And now they're history — but not the way the gunmen thought they would be. 


See also: Are Columbine's Remaining Secrets Too Dangerous for the Public to 
Know? 

Law enforcement officials have always regarded the tapes as a particularly 
infectious form of toxic waste, a primer in mass murder that could inspire more 
violence and must never be released. That's no longer a problem: A spokesperson 
for the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, the agency that took custody of the videos 
hours after the shootings, recently confirmed that every known copy of the 


basement tapes has been destroyed. 


"I am not aware of any copies that are out there in anyone's hands," says Jacki 
Kelley, the JCSO public information director. "We actually held on to a lot of 
evidence from the Columbine investigation longer than our retention policies 


require." 


Kelley says Sheriff Ted Mink approved the destruction of the tapes — along with 


shell casings, weapons and other remaining Columbine evidence — in early 2011. 


227 


The obliteration of the videos was only acknowledged recently, though, after a 
private party filed an open records request seeking access to the basement tapes. A 
response from the county attorney's office noted that the sheriff's office "no longer 


has any documents in its possession responsive to your request." 


Mink, who completed an eleven-year stint as sheriff in 2014 and is now a deputy 
director at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, says he wanted to ensure that the 
rantings of Harris and Klebold — who go into some details in the tapes about 
bomb-making and other preparations, express hopes that others will launch similar 
attacks, and say they expect to attract followers "because we're so fucking godlike" 


— never surface on social media. 


"That was my call," Mink says. "My decision. I can't tell you how to measure 


prevention. I feel in my own heart it was preventative." 


But some social scientists have contended that the tapes, along with writings by the 
killers and other videos they made, could be helpful in understanding the 
psychology of school shooters and recognizing warning signs. "A number of 
people have seen them and written about them,” notes Del Elliott, founding director 
of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of 
Colorado Boulder. "Their value by themselves I don't see as critical. But the fact 
that we're losing information that could have been available some time in the future 
is distressing." 

Several victim families, as well as the killers' own parents, had favored suppressing 
or destroying the tapes, fearing they would inspire copycat killings. But some 
families had pressed for their release, seeing Jeffco officials' reluctance to disclose 
evidence as part of a larger pattern of cover-ups and misinformation that plagued 
the Columbine investigation. A few contended that releasing the tapes would de- 
mythologize the killers, showing them to be angry, deluded, self-obsessed and far- 


from-godlike adolescents. 


228 


"When you have Islamic terrorists cutting off people's heads on YouTube, it's hard 
to look back on those tapes and say they shouldn't be released," says Brian 


Rohrbough, whose fifteen-year-old son, Dan, was killed at Columbine. 


The quiet destruction of the tapes, he adds, only deepens his distrust of the sheriff's 
office: "There was a copycat shooting immediately after Columbine, and you can 
make the argument that this stuff shouldn't be released for a while. But all those 
arguments go out the window when you consider the way [former Sheriff] John 
Stone and [former Jefferson County District Attorney] Dave Thomas deceived the 


families about what they knew." 


The content of the tapes was one of the most closely guarded secrets of the 
Columbine investigation during its first few months — right up until the point that 
Jeffco officials provided exclusive access to the materials to a reporter 

from Time magazine, leading to a lurid cover story and community outrage. Stone 
then arranged a hasty viewing of the tapes by some local media outlets and victim 
family members, the only time the tapes — or at least some portion of them — 
have been publicly screened. 

Continue for more about the destruction of the Columbine killers' basement 
tapes. In 2001, after first Westword and then the Rocky Mountain News published 
extensive excerpts from Eric Harris's journal, the Denver Post went to court to 
demand that the rest of the materials seized from the killers' homes be released, 
including the basement tapes. The case dragged on for five years. After the 
Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the materials were criminal justice records, 
under the control of the sheriff's office, Sheriff Mink decided to release the writings 
of Klebold and Harris but keep the video and audio recordings the pair made in the 
vaults. (Other videos, including several made for school assignments and one 
showing the pair test-firing their weapons, had already been released.) 

There were discussions about allowing violence-prevention researchers some form 
of limited access to the tapes, but Colorado's open records laws don't contain 
provisions for such an arrangement. "We were all very much under the impression 


that it would be an all-or-nothing release," Kelley says. 


229 


The tapes also became highly restricted exhibits in civil lawsuits filed against a 
pharmaceutical company and the killers' parents. Following the settlement of those 
cases, U.S. District Judge Lewis Babcock ordered that the parents’ depositions be 
turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration and kept under 
seal for twenty years. It's not clear to what extent some exhibits may also have been 
preserved, but a separate decision by Babcock ordered that the copies of the tapes 


used in the litigation be destroyed. 


Is every known copy of the tapes now gone? Mink and Kelley think so. Other 
sources claim there's at least one bootleg audio recording of at least some of the 
tapes, and partial transcripts of the material have circulated online for years — 
including one summary released by the sheriff's office itself. But text isn't the same 
as video, and Mink feels he's done all he can to ensure the tapes don't end up on 
YouTube. 

Mink is comfortable with his decision, reached after conferring with experts from 
the FBI's famed Behavioral Analysis Unit, who told him that the tapes would be a 


"strong motivator" to violence for other suicidal or homicidal youth. 


"The consensus from the scientists in the room was that there was no value to 
these," Mink says. "They saw nothing there. They only saw the potential for further 


violence if these tapes got into the wrong hands." 


Sue Klebold: Ten Questions 
Columbine Killer Dylan Klebold's 
Mom Wasn't Asked 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / FEBRUARY 16, 2016 / 9:00AM 


When major television folks descend on the fly-over states to rehash some 


notorious tragedy, they're generally better at playing the heartstrings than pushing 


230 


for answers. That was certainly the case when Barbara Walters sat down with John 
Ramsey a few months ago, to bat around a few whiffle-ball questions about the 
1996 murder of his daughter while neglecting to mention that a grand jury had 
secretly voted to indict John and Patsy Ramsey as accomplices in that death back in 
1999, 

Diane Sawyer's exclusive interview last week with Sue Klebold, mother of 
Columbine killer Dylan Klebold, wasn't that kind of ghastly whitewash. It was 
largely an exploration of the anguish and isolation facing a parent whose child has 
done something inconceivably monstrous, and living with the guilt, infamy and 
finger-pointing that results. As a launch party for Klebold's memoir, proceeds of 
which will go to mental-health advocacy, it was a smashing success. 

There is no doubting Klebold's sincerity or the genuine bafflement she expressed 
about how a kid she knew as sweet and gentle became a mass killer. Her apologies 
to victims' families and efforts to try to shed light may be a bit belated, seventeen 


years after the shock of it all, but better late than never. 


Still, Sawyer seemed bent on milking the emotional nature of the interview and not 
getting too hung up on the details. That's understandable; in hindsight, certain 
"warning signs" of pending violence always loom larger than they probably did at 
the time. But to truly understand the extent of the parents' apparent cluelessness, or 
the degree to which they were in some sort of denial about what their kid was 
turning into, you wish Sawyer had known the material better and pressed a bit 


more. Here are some particular areas that deserve better answers: 


1. Did Dylan's escalating criminal behavior — stealing a laptop, scrawling 
something about "fags" on a locker, hacking into the school's computer system, 
getting arrested for breaking into a van — generate real concern? If so, why did 
your supervision of his activities diminish rather than increase in the final months 


leading up to the attack? 


231 


2. Were you aware of the report made to school authorities by the mother of one 
student that Dylan had been harassing him and threatening him five months before 
the attack? 


3. When an English teacher contacted you, weeks before the attack, concerning a 
violent paper Dylan wrote — a fantasy in which a trenchcoated avenger ruthlessly 


executes a bunch of "preps" — why didn't you insist on reading it? 


4. You have stated that you were aware that your good friend Judy Brown "didn't 
like" Eric Harris. Were you aware that Brown had gone to the police about threats 
Eric Harris had made against her family and his boasts on the Internet that he and 


Dylan were making pipe bombs? 


5. You told the police that Dylan had not exhibited any aberrant behavior in the 
months leading up to the shootings. Do you consider "having sleepovers" as a 


senior and falling asleep in class aberrant? 


6. Eric Harris spent the night at your house four days before Columbine. He 
brought with him a large duffel bag so packed with something that he had to drag it 
into the house with both hands. Did you have any curiosity about what was in the 


bag? 


7. Were you aware that Dylan was spending virtually all of his free time with 


Harris and had become increasingly isolated from his other friends? 


8. If you weren't concerned about his social isolation, why did you pay him $250 to 


take a (definitely platonic) date to the prom? 


9. Ever notice how the look Dylan adopted in the months leading up to Columbine, 
with granny shades and trenchcoat, aped the look of Woody Harrelson in Natural 
Born Killers? 

10. What do you make of this statement Dylan made on the basement tapes, 
addressed to his own parents: "I'm sorry I have so much rage, but you put it in me." 
What the hell is he talking about? 


232 


SWAT Leader's Defense of 
Columbine Response: Too Little, 
Much Too Late 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / JUNE 22, 2016 / 11:06AM 


At several points in his memoir Bullet Riddled , Grant Whitus declares that 
members of the pain-in-the-ass general public — or worse, the pantywaist liberal 
media — are in no position to second-guess the life-and-death decisions he had to 
make in the course of his eventful career as a SWAT team leader for the Jefferson 
County Sheriff's Office. 


It's a standard cop refrain: You haven't been where I've been, so shut your piehole. 


"I want to say to the critics: Okay, if you think it's so damn easy, then you go patrol 
a beat,” reads one passage. "I bet you wouldn't make one day with me before you 


pissed yourself." 


If that sounds not only pissy but a mite defensive, there's a reason. Whitus was a 
key responder in several violent tragedies that attracted intense media scrutiny, 
including Albert Petrosky's 1995 rampage through an Albertson's parking lot, 
Marvin Heemeyer's 2004 attack on Granby with a bulldozer converted into a tank, 
and the 2006 Platte Canyon High School hostage crisis. But the episode for which 
he's best known — and one that plays a central role in his book — is the SWAT 
response to the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School, a grand display of 
impotence that exposed the inadequacy of then-prevailing tactics and changed the 


rules of engagement. 


The subtitle of Bullet Riddled claims that it's the story of "The First SWAT Officer 
Inside Columbine." But that isn't strictly true, as Whitus himself admits in his 
account. The first team to enter the school did so on the east side shortly after noon 


on April 20, 1999 — more than 45 minutes after the attack began and right around 


233 


the same time that the two teen gunmen committed suicide in the library. Whitus's 
team entered on the west side through a teacher's lounge an hour later, then began 
an agonizingly slow room-to-room search, evacuating hundreds of students. That 
team didn't reach wounded teacher Dave Sanders, who was in a science room with 
a sign proclaiming "1 BLEEDING TO DEATH" prominently displayed to the 
outside world, until ninety minutes into its search. Sanders died shortly before a 
medic arrived. The library, where most of the killing took place, was the last room 
reached by the team, which discovered the bodies of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris 
— much to Whitus's frustration. ("I wanted so badly to be the one to kill those 
two.") 

In 2002, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office settled a lawsuit filed by the Sanders 
family over his death for $1.5 million. Now here's Whitus, more than a decade 
later, still insisting his guys did nothing wrong. (Well, almost nothing wrong; he 
upbraids his own gunner for ducking a possible firefight.) Any suggestions to the 


woe 


contrary are just "bullshit," "Monday-morning quarterbacking," "a game of casting 
stones by a bunch of assholes talking about something they had no insight on or 


understanding of." 


To give Whitus his due, his team was working on a lot of bad information as they 
tried to find the wounded teacher and clear the school. It's also true that, except for 
what happened to Sanders, the SWAT response was largely irrelevant at 
Columbine; most of the damage was done (and the shooters neutralized by their 
own hand) before the teams could deploy, which is why law enforcement agencies 
now train first responders to aggressively pursue an active shooter rather than set 
up a perimeter and wait for SWAT while precious minutes tick by and unarmed 


civilians die. 


Still, it's strange that Whitus is so incurious about what happened to the east-side 
team, and that he doesn't mention at all the communication breakdowns within the 
Jeffco command center, which had access to much better information than the 


teams inside the building. 


234 


A Westword review of 911 calls and dispatch traffic in 2000-2001 uncovered many 
contradictions, distortions and misleading statements in the "official" version of the 
police response contained in the sheriff's report, and it's unsettling to find Whitus 
relying on the same tired excuses for why Sanders wasn't found sooner or why the 
library was the last place entered. Every cop shop in the country seems to have 
learned the bitter lessons of Columbine — except for the folks who were there. 
Many of those folks, Whitus included, would have charged into the school without 
hesitation and put their lives on the line to take out the gunmen if they'd had the 
opportunity. Although Whitus isn't above questioning the courage of some 
teammates who act like "pussies" or need to "fuckin' man up," his own ballsiness is 
beyond reproach. He's at the front of the line for one grim, intense situation after 
another in Bullet Riddled, and after a while you begin to savor the savage tone of 
contempt he displays for bureaucrats and liberals; it's the contempt that a man 
who's been through hell reserves for lesser beings who haven't been there. 

He describes former Jefferson County District Attorney Scott Storey as "so damn 
scared that he was shaking" as he apologizes to Whitus's team for 
mischaracterizing the Platte Canyon operation, in which one hostage and the 
gunman died, as a "bad shoot." He even manages to misspell Storey's name in the 


bargain. 


Still, a little more reflection about the toll that SWAT operations take on a person, 


even a person like Whitus, would have been welcome. 


There are passing references in Bullet Riddled to heavy drinking, depression, a 
divorce and traumatic memories, but to delve into that kind of stuff in any kind of 
thoughtful way would, I suppose, risk being called a pussy. Any concerns about the 
increasing militarization of police are dismissed as liberal cant; we need heavier 
firepower because bad guys like Marvin "Killdozer" Heemeyer have it, too, Whitus 
argues: "After events like Ferguson and Baltimore, some cops are not as aggressive 
as they should be.... But like it or not, we are going to have to be trusted with 


weapons and equipment that are off-limits to civilians." 


235 


That's just fine with Whitus. Anybody who doesn't like it, well, they can just go 


piss themselves. 


Video: Did Police Investigation Miss 
Key Moment in Columbine Attack’? 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / JULY 8, 2016 / 9:49AM 


Seventeen years after the attack on Columbine High School, amateur sleuths have 
posted a video that calls into question — again — the official version of events, 
and their sequence, surrounding the most infamous school shooting in American 
history. The video features brief, grainy images that appear to show the killers 
placing bombs in the school cafeteria shortly before eleven in the morning on April 
20, 1999 — an event that law enforcement officials have claimed wasn't captured 


on camera and occurred a full quarter-hour later. 


The discrepancy is significant for several reasons. The official timeline for the 
attack, though repeatedly challenged by some victims' families and contradicted 

by evidence found in 911 calls and dispatch traffic, has been relied on as gospel by 
numerous journalists, authors and violence-prevention experts seeking to extract 
the "lessons" of Columbine. The video analysis, if correct, indicates that basic 
assumptions behind many of those accounts and studies are wrong. It also suggests 
that the killers' propane bombs, concealed in large duffel bags, sat undetected under 
tables for much longer than previously believed, while the cafeteria filled with 
students grabbing lunch. 

The full video, released on YouTube by the Crime Video Archives (previously 
known as the Columbine Video Archives), shows a figure dressed similar to Eric 
Harris hauling bags into the cafeteria at 10:58 a.m., headed toward the tables where 
the bombs (which failed to explode) were later found. The closed-circuit camera 


system, which switches among four different camera angles every few seconds, 


236 


catches the same individual leaving empty-handed. A few seconds after that, the 
same angle shows a taller individual, whose long, loping stride closely resembles 
that of Dylan Klebold, carrying another heavy bag into the Columbine 

"commons." 

The official timeline prepared by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office states that 
Harris and Klebold brought the bags into the cafeteria at 11:14 a.m. The event 
supposedly wasn't captured on video because, by an unfortunate coincidence, a 
custodian was in the process of changing tapes for the surveillance equipment at 
the time. But that timing always seemed strange to some observers, cutting things a 
bit close, since the "plan" had called for the bombs to explode at 11:17 a.m., and 


the pair had to get back to their cars to set car bombs as well. 


JCSO spokesman Mark Techmeyer declined to comment on the video. "This is a 
closed investigation, and we no longer have anything of evidentiary value to 


evaluate," he said. 


The Columbine investigation involved many months of police work by 
representatives of more than a dozen law enforcement agencies and included 
extensive review of the surveillance footage from the cafeteria. But if the 
investigation somehow missed the arrival of the killers with their bombs, it 


wouldn't be the only error in the official timeline. 


Faced with lawsuits and widespread criticism of the police response to the attack, 
investigators were under some pressure to present findings in a light favorable to 
law enforcement. A Westword analysis of 911 and dispatch calls, released many 
months after the attack, showed that the sheriff's report incorrectly claimed 

that officers were on scene earlier than they actually arrived. One gun battle 
between Harris and officers on the school's west side apparently occurred more 
than ten minutes later than the report claims it did. And, of course, officials worked 


earnestly for two years to conceal a draft affidavit for a warrant to search Eric 


237 


Harris's house, prepared a year before the attack in response to complaints that he 


was building pipe bombs and threatening other students. 


Columbine Survivors Talk About the 
Wounds That Won't Heal 


ALAN PRENDERGAST / MARCH 19, 2019 / 8:13AM 


Time is the school in which we learn, 

Time is the fire in which we burn. 

—Delmore Schwartz, “Calmly We Walk Through This April’s Day” 

After all these years, it’s still there, in the back of her mind, lurking. No matter how 
good things are going, it never quite goes away, this feeling that she should have 
died that day. And her brush with death is the first thing that strangers tend to 
notice about her, like a limp or a disfigurement. Once they find out where she went 
to high school, that’s all they want to talk about. 


Were you there? Did you see what happened? 
Yes, she was there. 


Sometimes it feels like it happened yesterday. Other times it’s as if it happened to 
someone else. She has told the story of that day so many times now that it doesn’t 
even feel like it’s her story anymore. It’s just something she knows, something she 
might have picked up anywhere, a scrap of ancient history or pop trivia. Pl take 


American Mass Shootings for a thousand, Alex. 


Were you there? Did you see them? 

Hundreds of students weren’t on campus that day. It was a warm, sunny morning, a 
respite between spring snowstorms and 4/20 to boot, a day made for ditching 
school. Amanda Stair, a fifteen-year-old sophomore at Columbine High School, 
was tempted to skip class that morning, too. But she had an appointment with a 


school counselor and didn’t want to be rude. 


238 


c 


She put on a T-shirt from Hot Topic emblazoned with “Can’t sleep, clowns will eat 
me” and walked to school. She bought doughnuts from a vending machine, took a 
test in her biology class, worked on a project in art class, sat in on her Spanish 
class. At loose ends, she decided to go to the school library while waiting for her 
meeting with the counselor. She sat at a table in the back, near the windows and a 
glorious view of the mountains, and started reading the Rocky Mountain News. 


It was a quarter past eleven in the morning on April 20, 1999. 


She had been there only a few minutes when she heard popping noises outside. She 
thought it was firecrackers, a senior prank. Seconds later, art teacher Patricia 
Nielson ran into the library and announced that there was someone with a gun in 
the school. Nielson, who’d already been grazed by a bullet fired from the west 


entrance, yelled for everyone to take cover. 


“Under the table, kids!” she screamed, while on the phone with a 911 dispatcher. 
“Heads under the table!” 


Stair ducked under her table. But she felt too exposed there, so she quickly crawled 
to a larger computer table with more side panels. She slipped into a cubbyhole and 


made herself as small as she could, pulling her knees up to her chest. 


Then Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold burst into the library, armed with shotguns, a 
carbine, a semi-automatic pistol, knives and pipe bombs. “Everyone get up right 


now,” one of them barked, “or we’re going to blow your fucking heads off!” 
No one stood up. 


Harris and Klebold had already killed two people outside the school and badly 
wounded several others, including teacher Dave Sanders, who died from his 
injuries hours later while awaiting police aid. In the library, over the course of eight 
minutes, the gunmen killed ten more students. They taunted and mocked their 
victims, quizzed them about whether they believed in God, shot kids at point-blank 
range and then told them to quit their bitching. Then they seemed to lose interest 


and left — only to return to the library 23 minutes later to take their own lives. 


239 


At the time, the attack on Columbine was the deadliest high school shooting in 
American history. Several subsequent mass shootings — Las Vegas, Pulse, 
Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Parkland, just to name a few — have produced higher 
body counts. But Columbine, with its infamy-seeking teen killers, elaborate 
planning and impotent police response, remains the singular tragedy that every new 
eruption of mass murder is measured against. 


“People tell me, “It’s been all these years, just get over it.’ But it’s not something that you just 
get over.” 


Sadly, Columbine has also become a case study in the long-range trauma inflicted 
by such an event. In the months after the shootings, reporters wrote frequently 
about the challenges faced by the most seriously injured Columbine students, a 
wealth of inspiring stories about healing and recovery. But there’s been 
surprisingly little written about the less obvious wounds some survivors still 
grapple with to this day, including panic disorders and PTSD, depression and 


substance abuse. 


Before the killers entered the library, two other students took cover under the same 
table where Amanda Stair was hiding. One of them was killed. The other barely 
survived, her shoulder shattered by a shotgun blast. No bullets struck Stair, but 


that’s not to say she emerged unscathed. 


“Only half of the kids in the library were shot,” she says. “But the others saw and 
heard things that nobody should see or hear, at any age. I’ve had people tell me, 
‘It’s been all these years, just get over it.’ But it’s not something that you just get 


over.” 


The rate of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms among combat veterans is 
estimated to be between 10 and 20 percent. Some researchers suspect it’s much 
higher among survivors of school shootings — not just among those directly 
terrorized by the shooters, but also across a spectrum of impressionable young 
people who’ve just lost friends and seen their world turned upside down. But back 
in 1999, school and local health officials had little notion of what sort of hurdles 
the survivors of such an unprecedented event might face, and few resources were 


240 


available beyond the teams of grief counselors who were summoned in the 
immediate wake of the shootings. 

“The students after Columbine were just wandering around, screaming their stories 
at cameras,” says Reta Wallis, a researcher at Utah State University who has 
interviewed Stair and several other Columbine survivors as part of her graduate 
work into the long-term effects of PTSD. “People still aren’t being taken care of 


psychologically. In some cases, their physical health is suffering.” 


Through her research, Wallis has learned about the “adapted coping behaviors” 
some survivors have developed on their own to try to combat the trauma they’ve 
experienced. She’s seen how news about other mass shootings can trigger bad 
memories and fresh anguish among the former Columbine kids, now in their late 
thirties. At the same time, some have found solace in connecting with survivors of 
those shootings and adding their voices to the grassroots campaigns for school 
safety that have arisen out of the Parkland and Sandy Hook killings. And from 
listening to those who were there on April 20, Wallis has gathered some ideas 
about what can be done to better address the mental health needs of school shooting 
survivors and possibly prevent future tragedies. (The statements below in italics are 
excerpts from Wallis’s interviews; other quoted remarks by Columbine grads are 
from interviews conducted by Westword.) 

Some of the Columbine survivors are dreading the upcoming twentieth 
“anniversary” of the shootings and all that entails. But they also know that the class 
of ’99 has a message for the survivors of Parkland, Sandy Hook, Santa Fe High and 


others: It doesn’t always get easier over time. In some cases, it just gets worse. 


“I’m 37 years old now,” says Alisha Basore, who fled her high school as a senior 
two decades ago when the shooting began and now works as a salon stylist. “It’s 
been longer now since it happened than the age I was when it happened. I’ve 
moved on. But there’s still this deep, dark hole I can crawl back into when asked to 
go there. I don’t sit at home and dwell on it. But when my clients find out I went to 


Columbine, it’s the same questions: ‘Were you there?’ ‘What did you see?’” 


241 





a T Pw 
2 i Fi — 
Amanda Stair says the Columbine library survivors "saw and heard things that nobody should see or hear." 
Anthony Camera 


I could only see them from the waist down, but I saw that one of them had a gun 
strapped to his leg. I was absolutely terrified... They just kept walking around and 
shooting for what felt like forever. I heard an explosion directly to my right, where 
I knew that another girl was hiding. My ears started ringing, and I knew that I was 
next, I had to be. I put my arms over my head with my elbows facing forward. I 
squeezed into a ball as tightly as I could. I held my breath and closed my eyes. I 
waited for a gunshot to rip through my ribs, but it never came... 

Eric and Dylan sounded like they were having the time of their lives, making 
comments about blowing up the library and commenting on the kids they had shot. 
I heard one of them say, ‘Don’t worry about it, you’re all going to be dead in a few 
minutes.’ I believed what they said. Why shouldn’t I? For all I knew everyone in 
the library was dead.— Amanda Stair 

People who know Stair only from her YouTube videos are surprised to discover her 
age. They don’t see the 35-year-old woman who’s fluent in Japanese and has a 


master’s degree in teaching English to speakers of other languages; they associate 


242 


her with the reticent, struggling adolescent she describes in a series of recordings 
she’s made about being a Columbine kid. 
“I still act like I’m frozen at that age, I guess,” she says, sitting in her living room, 


flanked by shelves of anime DVDs and a display case full of action figures. 


In her videos, Stair is remarkably candid about the troubles she was facing in the 
spring of 1999. Her father was gravely ill, her family was reeling from the loss of 
another relative to cancer, and Stair was thinking about suicide and what it would 
be like to cut herself. She’d sought out a school counselor for help, which was what 


brought her to school on April 20 — and to the carnage in the library. 


Over the several minutes she was trapped there, Stair discovered what it was like to 
brace for death. She also found out she didn’t want to die after all. “Emotionally, I 
shut down,” she says. “I went numb. I learned that when something is really serious 


and going down, I can become coldly logical.” 


Between thunderous explosions of gunfire, the killers called out to one another, 
their voices raspy with gunsmoke. At one point one of them was standing over her 
table. He even put down his gun for a moment; she could hear it scraping on the 
tabletop. Then they were gone. When she figured it was safe to speak, she 
whispered to the girl hiding under her table, asking if she was okay. The girl, a 
junior named Kacey Ruegsegger, said she’d been shot in the arm. Stair tried to 
reassure her that they were going to make it out alive. Then a boy in a red shirt, 
Craig Scott, crawled over to check on them. Stair and Scott helped Ruegsegger to a 
door that led outside. Other survivors began rushing past them. A police car was 
right outside, the officers waiting for SWAT to arrive before attempting to enter the 
school — a procedure that was soon abandoned nationwide as a result of 
Columbine. 

Days of shock and confusion followed. Stair had never met Klebold and Harris. 
But her older brother Joe knew them, and some people suspected Joe was involved, 
too. Joe had been one of the founders of the so-called Trench Coat Mafia, a loose- 


knit group of outsiders, during his sophomore year. Harris and Klebold had never 


243 


been members of TCM, but the fact that they wore trench coats on the day of the 
attack and that Joe Stair was tall and gangly, similar in appearance to Klebold, 
helped fuel the rumors about a third gunman. Actually, Joe knew the killers only in 
passing and hadn’t spoken to them in months; he first learned of the attack when 
Amanda called home after fleeing the library. But that didn’t stop reporters from 
descending on the Stair home and calling constantly, until the family learned to 
leave the phone off the hook. 

Stair says her brother soon began to receive death threats. “People were latching on 
to the first thing they heard and wanted to be the first to report it, whether it was 


true or not,” she says. 


Their entire school sealed off as a crime scene, the Columbine kids finished the 
year at Chatfield High. Most were just going through the motions, too consumed 
with grief and anger to pay much attention. For Stair, the most bizarre moment 
came when police investigators asked her to return to the Columbine library and 
identify where she’d been during the attack. She walked past boarded-up windows, 
on carpets scorched from pipe bombs and stained with blood, maneuvering around 
yellow evidence markers. The newspaper she’d been reading was still on the table, 
untouched. The air was stale. It was like walking onto a movie set; nothing seemed 


real. 


It wasn’t until that day that she realized, from the bloodstains and markers, that a 
third person had taken cover under the table with her and Ruegsegger. Steven 
Curnow, a fourteen-year-old freshman, had been killed a few feet from where Stair 


crouched, deafened by the shooting and waiting for the bullet that never came. 
"If I'm having a panic attack, nobody knows why I'm suddenly bursting into tears and need to be 
alone." 


She went to visit relatives in Alaska that summer. Fourth of July fireworks 
triggered her first panic attack. She had many more of them in years to come, 
precipitated by loud noises or shouting or sometimes by nothing at all. They began 


with a tightness in the chest and trouble breathing, followed by a sensation of heat 


244 


and heaviness that she just had to ride out until it ended, five minutes or a half-hour 


later, leaving her feeling drained. 


Going back to Columbine in the fall helped. The school had brought in extra 
counselors; Stair, like many of her peers, wasn’t inclined to admit she was having 
problems, but just being around other survivors was a comfort. “The first couple of 
years were probably the easiest,” she says. “We were still around people who were 
there that day. But once you graduate, you’re surrounded by strangers. If I’m 
having a panic attack, nobody knows why I’m suddenly bursting into tears and 


need to be alone.” 


Stair’s panic episodes increased in frequency after she graduated from Columbine, 
and 2007 was a particularly bad year. Her brother Joe took his own life, an event 
that Stair believes has nothing to do with the shootings; her brother had been 
battling depression even before the attacks, she says, and had been struggling with 
personal problems. That same year, the shootings at Virginia Tech, by a gunman 
obsessed with Eric Harris, sent her “back to where I was right after Columbine — I 
didn’t want people to talk to me or see me.” 

Two years later she attended the ten-year anniversary ceremony in Clement Park. 
The event’s emphasis on commemorating the wounded and the dead only made her 
feel more isolated. “Even though I was in the middle of this big crowd, I felt very 


alone,” she recalls. “Unless you were shot or something, you didn’t exist.” 


As part of her graduate work, she decided to conduct a survey of Columbine 
survivors, trying to gauge the long-term impact of the shootings on their mental 
health. “It was depressing to find out so many people were still reporting issues, 
even fifteen years after the fact,” she says. “One woman told me she doesn’t go 
anywhere in high heels, in case she has to run. Another person reported that he 


became an alcoholic and only recently got clean.” 


Her own experience of the aftershocks was one of the reasons she began making 
videos five years ago and posting them on YouTube. She wanted to clear up 


misunderstandings, dispense with the conspiracy theories that maligned her 


245 


brother, try to explain what she was going through. The response has been 
overwhelmingly positive, with viewers praising her honesty and courage. Telling 
her story her own way, without having to respond to the usual barrage of media 


questions, has been “kind of cathartic,” she says. 


Stair’s panic episodes have decreased in recent years. She’s had to contend with a 
series of physical ailments, including fibromyalgia, which she suspects are stress- 
related. But she says she’s also gained perspective on what matters in life. She’s 

worked retail jobs while completing her studies, and her bitter knowledge of what 
constitutes a true disaster comes in handy when dealing with customer complaints 


and disgruntled co-workers. 


“Sometimes I think, ‘Isn’t that nice, if that’s the biggest problem you have?’ I don’t 


say anything, but I’m almost jealous that that’s all they have to worry about,” she 
says. “I want to say, ‘Look, this is not that big a deal.’” 


246 


™ 
o : 


Energy medicine practitioner Chad Laughl 





in is writing 





a book about his own journey to healing. 
Courtesy of Chad Laughlin 





247 


I had a bit of therapy in the beginning, but I didn’t feel like there was really 
anyone that could handle it. I think that the whole community is traumatized, and I 
don’t think that anyone is fully healed... 

Like everyone else, I also had survivor’s guilt. Our circle of friends does, the 
people who knew them. I don’t think it will ever go away. It comes up every day in 
our thought processes. I might go the whole day without thinking about it, and then 
I will drive by a “Respect Life” license plate, and I'll snap right back into it.— 
Chad Laughlin 

On April 20, 1999, Chad Laughlin was driving out of the Columbine parking lot, 
headed for lunch with a friend, when he almost collided with Dylan Klebold, 
barreling into the lot in his BMW. Laughlin backed up to let him pass and offered 


his childhood friend a friendly one-finger salute. 


Klebold was wearing his black duster and a baseball cap turned backwards. He 
didn’t wave back. 

It was a quarter past eleven; the attack began three minutes later. Laughlin heard 
about it when his mother paged him that afternoon, telling him about the news 


reports of a shooting at Columbine, multiple deaths. 


Laughlin couldn’t believe it. When he learned the identities of the killers, he was 
even more bewildered. How could you know someone as well as he knew Klebold, 


yet not know him at all? 


Klebold and Laughlin had been best buds in elementary school, back in the 
Challenging High Intellectual Potential Students (CHIPS) program for gifted 
children, a couple of chess-playing nerds. Then Laughlin went off to private school 
for three years. When he reconnected with Klebold in their sophomore year at 
Columbine, he found his friend more reserved, with an increasingly darker outlook 


on life — especially after he began spending more time with Eric Harris. 


248 





In his sophomore year, Chad Laughlin reconnected with Dylan Klebold, whom he'd known in elementary school; he 
last saw Klebold only minutes before the attack on Columbine. 
Courtesy Chad Laughlin 


Laughlin managed a fantasy baseball league online; Klebold was a regular 


participant. Laughlin talked to him just about every day and even introduced Harris 


249 


to a few girls. (A note from Harris in Laughlin’s junior yearbook derided one 
fizzled relationship and asked Laughlin to “get me some chics this summer k?”’) 
But he could also see the bond between Klebold and Harris tightening, to the 
exclusion of everyone else. He never saw them outside of school, and the two often 


sat by themselves at lunch. 


Yet Laughlin never regarded the pair as outcasts. During their junior year he’d seen 
them bullied on occasion, but they also had a social network, one that seemed to be 
expanding as they became seniors. “They weren’t born to do this,” he says now. 


“The bullying was a factor, but by no means the only reason.” 
"We were handed a grief handbook, and that was it." 


Like others who considered the pair to be their friends, Laughlin wondered if he 

couldn’t have done something to prevent the shootings. If he’d reached out more, 
maybe, or picked up on warning signs and clues — like the time Klebold asked a 
friend to buy eighty bucks’ worth of fireworks for him on a run that Laughlin and 
that friend made to Wyoming. Klebold was using his friends to get bomb-making 
materials, at a time when Klebold himself couldn’t leave the state because he and 
Harris were on probation for breaking into a van. But what seemed so obvious in 


hindsight hadn’t occurred to Laughlin back then. 


For several years, Laughlin pushed the what-if questions out of his mind, the way 
others pushed away memories of the attack itself. “It was too much to process,” he 
says. “We didn’t have any sort of cohesive healing experience that I know of. We 


were handed a grief handbook, and that was it.” 


Laughlin says he “numbed himself” through his college years with drinking and 
partying. Afflicted with allergies and severe asthma, in 2003 he landed in the 
hospital, having so much trouble breathing that he was placed on a ventilator in an 
induced coma for several days. The experience prompted him to make dramatic 
changes in his lifestyle. He began studying Eastern medicine and philosophy in 
California; he now has a doctorate in medical gigong, a discipline that explores 


mind-body-spirit connections, and is completing a degree in acupuncture. 


250 


He also began to research what happened at Columbine and examine his own 
feelings of culpability. He says he’s learned to forgive himself, and even the two 
deeply disturbed teens he once thought he knew, as a vital step in his journey to 
healing; he’s working on a book about the process. At the same time, he believes 
Harris and Klebold were ambivalent about what they were doing right up until the 


last few weeks. 


“I think one or two nudges in a different direction, a path of healing, could have 


prevented it,” he says. “Dylan was more set up for college than I was.” 


Laughlin notes that Klebold had tried to treat his depression with an herbal remedy, 
St. John’s wort. He figures his old friend would approve of what he’s doing now. 

As a healer and practitioner of “energy medicine,” he can acknowledge the evil that 
descended on his school without being overwhelmed by it. As he sees it, Harris and 


Klebold “had to armor their hearts every day until they lost their way.” 


“We all have our own paths to get back to the heart,” he says. “But my generation 


really got steered out of the heart.” 





251 


Alisha Basore lost her best friend, Rachel Scott, at Columbine — and bottled up her grief for years. 
Anthony Camera 


I wanted to be popular, like all teenagers do, so I tried to hang out with the 
popular kids. As a freshman I was an overweight, 200-pound kid with a unibrow, 
braces and no boyfriend. But I was friends with everyone; I attended sporting 
events, dances and pep rallies. If you weren’t popular at Columbine, you weren’t 
really anything, but again, I feel like that’s every high school. I really disagree with 
anyone who says that our school was worse when it came to bullying, and I say 
that as an unpopular kid. Some days I ate lunch alone in the bathroom because a 
group of girls decided one day not to like me. 

— Alisha Basore 

Alisha Basore had her first up-close-and-personal encounter with gun violence four 
months before the attack on Columbine. She was in her car in the Southwest Plaza 
parking lot, putting on lip balm before heading into the mall with some friends to 
do some Christmas shopping. She didn’t know that one of her passengers had 
brought along a .22 handgun. He was fooling around with it in the back seat when 


it went off. 


The bullet went through Basore’s lower back and lodged in her thigh. At first she 
thought the noise was a tire exploding. Then her legs went numb while a fiery pain 
shot through her back. She leaned on her horn until people started coming out of 
the mall to find out what was going on. She went to the emergency room. The teen 


with the gun went to jail for assault. 


Basore was in her painting class on April 20 when the shooting began, on the other 
side of the building from the library. She’d just settled in at her station when she 
saw a girl running out the east door, shrieking. A few seconds later a fire alarm 
went off. Then a dean came in and announced that someone was shooting in the 
school. Everyone got up and headed into a hallway filling with smoke, then out of 
the building. Basore moved as quickly as she could, but she couldn’t run; she was 


still recovering from the surgery she’d undergone in December. 


252 


Basore wasn’t injured that day. Her escape wasn’t nearly as harrowing as some. 
Yet the experience tore into her; emotionally, it was far worse than being 
accidentally shot in her own car. When she exited the school she headed north, 
through groups of students milling around Clement Park, some of them crying and 
hysterical. Basore didn’t linger; she had to get to a safe place. She knocked on 
doors in the neighborhood until she found someone who would let her use their 
phone to call her father. Once she was home, the first thing she did was call her 
friend, Rachel Scott, to make sure she was okay. 

But Scott wasn’t home. She was the first one killed that day, shot multiple times as 


she was having lunch outside the school. 


In the hagiography of Columbine, Scott’s story looms large, her journals and 
drawings forming the basis of several inspirational Christian books published by 
her parents. Basore knew her in a different context entirely, as a giggly, exuberant 
seventeen-year-old who made friends across Columbine’s elaborate social strata 
and did a pee-your-pants-funny skit involving various characters from Titanic. “I 
knew who she really was,” Basore says, “because she was my best friend.” 

Scott and Basore knew many of the same people from working at Subway, dished 
about boys, went shopping together. Over spring break they’d gone on a road trip 
to Albuquerque in a purple Hyundai. They had talked about getting an apartment 
together after the semester ended, even though Scott was only a junior. None of 
that was going to happen now. Basore wouldn’t even get to groan again as Scott 
made her listen to Sarah McLachlan’s “In the Arms of an Angel” for the umpteenth 
time. 

“Tve moved on. But there’s still this deep, dark hole I can crawl back into when asked to go there.” 
For many of the young survivors, Columbine was their first experience with losing 
someone close to them. But on top of the grief was a sense of derailment, a 
dawning realization that the lives they thought they were going to have had been 
snatched from them, diverted, ruined. Basore felt that intensely. Seniors like her 
weren’t going to return to Columbine to “take back the school” — except for one 


brief day when everyone was supposed to pick up their backpacks, which had been 


253 


inspected by police for bombs and placed in the gym. Basore went through a war 
zone of busted glass and evidence markers, a mess that scarcely resembled the 


school she knew; she wanted to go back to the art room, but it wasn’t allowed. 


“I wanted to stay and look around, but they wouldn’t let me,” she says. “Not 
getting to go back to the school was a big disconnect for the seniors. For me, it was 
a really big problem. We went to Chatfield for two weeks, we graduated, and that 


was it.” 


At Chatfield, there were platoons of grief counselors offering their services. 
“Everywhere you looked, someone was saying, ‘If you want to talk, call me,’” she 
recalls. “I should have done it. But I’m stubborn as hell. I think I can get through 
anything by myself and I’Il be fine. If I could go back, I’d tell my seventeen-year- 
old self to take your ass to therapy.” 


For years she had persistent, recurrent nightmares about shootings and explosions. 
Her reluctance to go to sleep led to chronic insomnia. She developed an eating 


disorder — and began to suspect it had something to do with Columbine. 


Respite came unexpectedly during the tenth-anniversary ceremonies. A silent 
remembrance in the Commons was followed by longtime teacher and coach Ivory 


Moore leading an emotional chant of “We are Columbine!” 


“We were just bawling,” Basore says. “At the end of that, they let us go walk 
around the school. For a brief moment, it felt like I was back — everyone walking 
the halls, passing each other and saying hi. I got to go back to the painting room. It 
was quiet. It was dark. I remember calling my brother and just crying. I got to go 


back. I haven’t had a single nightmare since.” 


Basore says other symptoms have eased in recent years, as she’s mourned her 
losses and focused on the future. At times she still struggles with anxiety and 
sudden surges of fear; a car pulling up next to her at a stoplight can trigger alarm 
bells, an uneasy, this-is-crazy-but-what-if-it-isn’t feeling that someone is going to 


start shooting at her. She wishes that the mental health resources offered when she 


254 


was a headstrong teen would have still been available when she was 25 or even 
today. (“I am now far more willing to go, but therapy is very expensive,” she 
notes.) And she worries about what sort of help will be available down the line for 
the survivors of Aurora, Parkland and other mass shootings. But like Stair, she also 


believes her experiences have given her insights into how to move forward. 


“I drive every day, and I look at the mountains, and I feel lucky to see them,” she 
says. “I look at my job, my friends, and I am so appreciative of waking up every 
morning and breathing. I look at life very differently because I know how quickly 
your life can go upside down, how quickly everything you know can change 
dramatically for the worse. There isn’t much that bothers me or gets to me, because 


I know that a lot of people have it worse than me.” 


255 








Sam Granillo leaves artwork by his alter ego, the PonderMonster, in public places to be found by strangers. 
Courtesy Sam Granillo 


A lot of work has been done since the Parkland shooting. Something feels different 
this time...We were kids when we went through it, and we just figured that the 
adults would take care of us and that they would do something about it. But we 
know now that adults are just big kids, and these [Parkland] kids are pissed and 
want change. On the day of the tragedy they were mourning, but they went right 
into action. 


— Sam Granillo 


256 


On the morning of April 20, the weather was so balmy that Sam Granillo made 
plans to eat lunch outside with his friend Rachel Scott. But then the wind picked 
up, and Granillo told Scott he didn’t want his papers blowing around; he’d catch 


her another time. 


He thought about going to the library to study for a test during his lunch period, but 
the staff didn’t allow food in the library. Instead he went to the cafeteria, also 
known as the Commons. He’d just started on his sandwich when Mr. Sanders ran 
through the Commons, telling everyone to get down, somebody had a gun. A few 


seconds later Sanders was back, urging everyone to evacuate. 


Kids scattered in all directions, knocking over chairs and each other; smoke started 
billowing down from a pipe-bomb explosion on the upper floor. Granillo ended up 
scrambling into a storage room where seventeen people, including one of the lunch 


ladies, were already hiding. The door had no lock. 


They heard explosions, gunfire, the fire alarm. Then the door handle started 
turning. The killers were on the other side, trying to push their way in. Granillo 


braced his legs against the door. Other students leaned in as well. 











A screen capture from a 2014 Dateline episode shows Sam Granillo in his high school years; on April 20 he helped 
keep the killers from forcing their way into a storage room where 18 people were hiding. 
NBC News 


257 


The struggle went on for what seemed like a long time. Nobody said a word. At 
some point Granillo could hear the people on the other side talking to each other, in 
a calm, ordinary tone of voice. He couldn’t make out the words, and he had no clue 


that one of them was Klebold, whom he’d known since he was ten years old. 


The intruders went away. The SWAT team reached the storage room hours later, 
lined the students up and led them out. The Commons was a wreckage of broken 
glass and pools of water. Outside, the evacuees were hustled past two lifeless 
bodies to take cover behind a fire truck. One of them was a girl lying on her back. 


It was Scott, but Granillo didn’t recognize her. 


It took days to sort out who was gone, who was in the hospital. Making sense of it 
took a lot longer. Granillo’s mother took him to a therapist, but he felt that he was 
just saying the things he was supposed to say; how could this person possibly know 


what he was going through? 


Granillo skirted therapy over the next few years, even though he began to have 
panic attacks and chronic nightmares involving violent chases. After he got news of 
the Virginia Tech shootings, Granillo left his class at the University of Colorado, 
sat under a tree...and cried. He began to realize that what he’d been pushing away 
wasn’t just a painful memory but something ongoing, something he had to 


confront. 


After college he worked as a camera operator and production assistant on 
commercials and TV shows. On his own time, he began filming interviews with 
other Columbine kids, hoping to put together a documentary about the long-term 
impact of the shootings. Before long, he was talking to survivors of other mass 
shootings, too. 

“I set out to make a documentary because I didn’t know what else to do,” Granillo 
says now. “But it evolved into something bigger than I hoped it would be. It helped 


me connect with other people, start some conversations.” 


In 2014, NBC’s Dateline followed Granillo as he had some of those conversations 


with teachers and former students at schools that had experienced similar traumas 


258 


across the country. The odyssey turned intensely emotional when Granillo 
encountered a psychologist who’d lost a daughter at the 2008 Valentine’s Day 
shooting at Northern Illinois University. 

“I finally talked to someone who was a psychologist and knew what I was talking 
about,” he recalls. “It wasn’t just someone who knew the textbook answers. It 
threw me off guard, and I broke down crying. It was nice just to be understood. It 
was something I’d been looking for since day one.” 

“I feel like I’m putting more love back in the universe than was taken from me that day.” 
Shortly after the program aired, Granillo was approached in the lobby of a Las 
Vegas casino by soldiers from Fort Hood. They told him they’d seen him on TV, 
and the program had started a conversation in their platoon about the shooting 
spree there in 2009 — “things they never would have discussed otherwise,” 


Granillo says. 


It’s much more common now than it was twenty years ago to see trauma victims 
reaching out to others with similar experiences. After the 2012 Aurora theater 
shooting, two members of Columbine’s class of °99 decided to start a support 
group for survivors. The Rebels Project, the nonprofit that evolved out of that 
proposal, now has 970 members drawn from 56 survivor communities, including 
incidents in Australia, Canada and Europe. 

“We wanted to provide a system of support we didn’t have access to in 1999,” says 
Heather Martin, co-founder and executive director of the Rebels Project. “It was 


time for us to do something.” 


The group has made presentations at mental health symposia and offers referrals to 
qualified therapists who are willing to donate their time. But its most valuable 
service may be its annual get-togethers of survivors from all over, in an 
environment where they don’t have to tell their stories (“Were you there? What did 
you see?’’) or be told how to grieve. “The peer support is enough for some people,” 
Martin says. “We’re not therapists, but just connecting with other survivors can 


help with the isolation and embarrassment that many people feel over being visibly 


259 


impacted or traumatized. You learn there is no time limit, no timeline that works 


for everyone.” 


The Rebels Project has helped pave the way for other outreach efforts. After 
Parkland, one of the student leaders at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School 
organized a pen-pal program with people from Columbine; Granillo signed up to be 
paired with a student in Florida and quickly knew he’d done the right thing. “It has 
been so overwhelmingly therapeutic for both of us,” he reports. “I feel like Pm 
talking to my past and helping myself out by trying to walk someone else through 
this.” 


At the same time, commiserating with other trauma victims has its own triggers and 
hazards. Granillo has found that he’s had to step back at times from his outreach 
and recognize his limits. “It’s been painful, reliving that so many times,” he says. 
“Fortunately, it’s not all I think about anymore. I’ve finally gotten to the point 


where I’m more known for my artwork than my tragedy, which is really cool.” 


With the aid of Facebook and Instagram, Granillo has fashioned an alter ego known 
as the PonderMonster, who leaves colorful, psychedelic, blissed-out paintings in 
public places for people to stumble upon or seek out in an organized treasure hunt. 
A handwritten note asks the finder to send him a pic of the artwork in its new home 
so he can post it; the response rate is around 95 percent. 

“This is the direction I like better,” he says. “I feel like I’m putting more love back 


in the universe than was taken from me that day.” 


The equation is an important one. In their basement tapes, the Columbine killers 
talked about the kind of lasting harm they hoped to inflict on the survivors; they 
would haunt their dreams, Harris boasted, and “create flashbacks from what we do 
and drive them insane.” PonderMonster, the Rebels Project and other survivor 
efforts to create something meaningful out of the worst experience of their lives 
denies the killers their posthumous victory. 


"You learn there is no time limit, no timeline that works for everyone." 
o 


260 


Nationally, the response to mass traumas from the mental health community is 
much less haphazard than it was after Columbine, when a come-one-come-all 
summons went out to grief counselors and therapists. Today responders are more 
likely to be versed in psychological first aid, a flexible form of emotional triage 
performed in the immediate aftermath of a shooting or natural disaster, and more 
long-term rebuilding and outreach efforts — approaches advocated by the National 
Center for Child Traumatic Stress, among others. 

Wallis, the Utah State researcher, also endorses psychological first-aid training for 
teachers and other school employees, saying that it helps promote “resiliency” in 
teens. At the same time, she’d like to see dedicated teams of counselors and others 
who have developed programs for intervention after a traumatic event. She points 
out that the same skills that help to identify teens who are isolating themselves or 
thinking about suicide as a result of trauma could also help head off future 


tragedies. 


“I believe if you train teachers in psychological first aid, they will also know the 
warning signs to look for,” she says. “These programs could ideally prevent a 


school shooting, but if it did happen, then the district would be ready.” 


Her own interviews with Columbine survivors have introduced Wallis to “adults 
who had to find healing themselves, and it’s taken twenty years,” she says. “We 


don’t have to have that same result twenty years from now.” 


Granillo’s advice to other survivors, the advice he wishes he could have given to 
himself as a grieving teen, is to “heavily rely on your friends and family and reach 
out to those who may not appear to be reaching out on their own. You don’t have to 


talk about it. Just be around people who are going through the same thing.” 


It’s advice he’s taken to heart. A few years ago he married Sarah Bay, a Columbine 
classmate. “It’s been helpful to have someone in my life who’s directly connected,” 
he says. “I think you’ ll find there are a lot of people from Columbine who have 


ended up getting married to each other.” 


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