More Columbine carnage

Drugs are suspected in the latest round of killings in Littleton -- this time at a sandwich shop.

Published February 15, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Investigators refused to speculate about a motive in the murder of two Columbine High School sophomores killed late Sunday night in a local Subway sandwich shop. But some community leaders noted that the store had been a magnet for drug users, and worried that drugs may have been involved.

The bodies of Nicholas Kunselman, 15, and his girlfriend Stephanie Hart, 16, were discovered behind the counter of the Subway shop about 12:45 a.m. Kunselman worked at the shop, and Hart apparently arrived sometime after closing. Investigators said the two suffered "apparent gunshot wounds," but would not confirm the cause of death. They ruled out murder-suicide, and a recent employee of the store said robbery was an unlikely motive. The store is well known among students as a hangout for skateboarders, or "skate rats."

The Subway shop is about two blocks from Columbine High School, where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and one teacher before taking their own lives April 20. It is also just a few hundred yards from Trinity Christian Center, the evangelical church where several of the nationally televised funerals were held.

"There seems to be strong suspicion that [drug involvement] was the case," said the Rev. Gino Geraci, pastor of Calvary Chapel, which is just a few hundred feet from the Subway. Some students told Geraci, who acted as a Columbine chaplain during the turmoil in April, that the store was a place to hook up with sellers of methamphetamine.

Nathan Grill, 15, a close friend of Kunselman's, and one of the last people to see him alive, told Salon News that investigators asked him repeatedly about drugs during two interrogations Monday, but he downplayed that as a potential factor. "I don't think there's really a lot of drugs [at the store]," he said. "Once in awhile you see a couple kids smoking pot there, but not every day. I know Nick's not into drugs."

Grill had quit his job at the store about a month ago. He said he had worked there about eight months, and had closed the store many times. He said employees deposited most of the cash into the safe hourly, and would have had at most $200 on hand before closing -- and even that much cash would have typically been locked away by 10:15.

Grill said he and a few friends hung with Kunselman at the store from about 8:30 until just before closing. They left at about 9:55, and Hart had not yet arrived. He said business had been very slow, but Kunselman was serving a rare late customer when they left. No one else was in the store.

Kunselman would have typically locked the door at 10, and wrapped up work by about 10:15, Grill said. However, he said it was then fairly common for closing employees to hang out for awhile. "If I didn't have class the next day I'd putz around, wouldn't get out of there till late -- like 12 o'clock," he said. Typically, one or two friends would hang out with him during that period, he said.

He speculated that Hart probably arrived shortly after he left, and that it would have been very common for the pair to hang out together in the store for the next hour or two. Geraci said he had learned that other friends were expecting Kunselman and Hart later that evening, and grew concerned when they did not arrive.

Investigators were examining the contents of a security camera installed inside the store, but would not disclose whether it had been running during the evening. Grill said it was rarely in operation during his tenure at the store. "I'm pretty sure it's never on. It was on like once every three months."

Grill said investigators also focused on whether anyone in the group was mad at each other. He said investigators also asked: "Who was in the store? Were they acting normal? Was anybody mad at anybody?" He said he knew of no significant disputes, but that "Nick was kind of whining because his 4-to-8er didn't do his shift right."

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Davis said police were searching for a white man in his early 20s wearing a red jacket and flared pants who was seen leaving the sandwich shop. He said it was unknown whether the man might turn out to be a suspect or a witness. Grill said he was wearing both a red jacket and flared pants Sunday night, but "I know I'm innocent. I'm not worried."

The murders were the latest in a seemingly endless string of tragedies in the community. Most recently, an 11-year-old boy was found dead in a trash bin just a few blocks from the school Feb. 1. No arrests have been made in that case.

School spokesman Rick Kaufman said his first reaction to the news Monday morning was "Not again! You seem to go along a period of normalcy if you will -- although Columbine has a new 'normal' -- but every two steps you take forward, events like this push you four steps back. And it's very difficult to continue along that path of recovery and healing. With Columbine it seems like it's even more magnified. That's a lot to ask for [teenagers]. They've been through a tremendous amount."

Officials decided early Monday morning to keep the school open, after police assured them there was no immediate or long-term threat to the school.

"Mental health workers found [school] is the best place for kids in a crisis," Kaufman said. "To be where they can talk with their friends, and their peers and those they can trust, as well as have professional counselors available."

Twenty-five additional counselors were brought in, and they were kept busy all day, Director of Health Services Betty Fitzpatrick said.

Attendance was already down Monday because it was one of several senior ditch days, and students were given the option of leaving with parents' permission. By the end of the day seniors Nick Romanyshyn and Nathan Vanderau reported only two to three students in their classes. "I'd say half, close to half the school is gone," Romanyshyn said.

Geraci said he had several conversations with Columbine students in his congregation Monday morning, and found they're showing increasing signs of emotional wear. "They're horrified. They're terrified. When will it end? Why us? What is happening in our community?"

Grill, who was closer to Kunselman than any victims of the massacre last year, said, "This is worse than Columbine" -- a term he used to describe the tragedy, rather than the school.

"Two weeks ago they found the kid in the Dumpster, now ... I kind of want to move."

By Dave Cullen

Dave Cullen is a Denver writer working on a memoir, "In a Boy's Dream."

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