Columbine Questions Persist

041902, story image, Columbine shooting anniversary, JM
Three years after the deadliest shooting ever at a U.S. school, the parents of Columbine High School victims say they are still trying to find out why and how it happened and especially why police failed to rush into the school to save students.

"Two little demonic, perverted boys murdered a whole bunch of people and deputy sheriffs used more chalk that day than courage, honor or duty," Dale Todd, whose son Evan was wounded, told a task force meeting about releasing more documents.

During the massacre at the Littleton, Colo., Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, shot to death 12 fellow students and one teacher before killing themselves.

Parents are furious that police did not enter the school for about three hours after the shooting began. Police have said the commotion meant they could not send SWAT teams in.

"We want to know who was in charge and who decided not to go inside the school," Bruce Beck, stepfather of slain student Lauren Townsend, said several days before the anniversary of the April 20, 1999, shooting.

The focus of much of the parents' grief has been on Jefferson County Sheriff John Stone. The sheriff has come in for some tough criticism.

"Sheriff John Stone bears the blame for many misunderstandings about Columbine: His inept management on the scene, evasive behavior and failure to level with victim families exacerbated their anguish and fueled speculation of a cover-up," The Denver Post said in an editorial.

Stone, who will not run for re-election in November, said the criticism has not been fair. "There's the wrong perception among people that SWAT teams are like roving armies. We did everything by the book, but since Columbine the book has changed; the country has changed. There is no conspiracy, and no deaths occurred after officers engaged the killers."

Parents have sued for negligence, sought a federal grand jury probe and campaigned for the release of information about what happened during the shooting. All but one federal lawsuit has been dismissed and no federal grand jury has been called.

So in the week of the anniversary of the shooting, Beck and his wife Dawn Anna spent an evening with Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar to see if more records could be inventoried and in some cases released.

And other parents were there, too. "We've worked so hard to get the truth. They thought we would quit," said Joe Kechter, whose 16-year-old son Matthew was shot to death.

Parents also want to know why police did not more fully investigate a report that Harris made a pipe bomb or why he had a hateful Web page that threatened to kill a fellow student.

They also want to know why police originally planned to execute a search warrant at the Harris home but never did.

The two teen-age killers made videotapes weeks before the attack, lashing out at everyone who had ever hurt them and showing off bomb-making equipment hidden in Harris' bedroom.

The videos, known as the "basement tapes" have been shown to the media and parents, but not to the public. Parents of victims are divided over whether the public should see the tapes, some fearing that admirers of the killers might be inspired.

But Dale Todd sees the tapes as wake-up calls. "I would like the American public to see what those boys were like. Maybe it would open up their eyes," he said.

On Wednesday a report on an independent investigation said 15-year-old Daniel Rohrbough was not killed by a Denver police officer, as the parents had alleged, but by Harris.

The parents of the boy accepted the results but the father wondered why they could not have gotten an answer earlier. "It doesn't change the inevitable. Dan's dead. But it gives me an answer that helps deal with his loss," Brian Rohrbough said.

On Thursday, state lawmakers approved a proposal for a task force to examine how police responded at the crime scene and what school officials may have known about the two killers. The bill will now go to another committee for funding.

Written By Judith Crosson