Columbine's unanswered questions

The father of one of the students killed at Columbine blasts the sheriff's department's new report on the incident.

Published May 17, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

Twenty four hours after the Jefferson County (Colo.) Sheriff's Department answered
critics with a mountain of megabytes, victims' families denounced the
Columbine report not just for what was in it, but for what was missing. The
Department released its massive report into last year's Columbine High
School massacre on CD-ROM Monday.

"It's missing a great deal," said Brian Rohrbough, whose son Dan was killed in the attack. By late Tuesday he had only read 20 percent of the report thoroughly, but had skipped around enough to observe an appalling "imbalance." Rohrbough has filed a lawsuit charging that authorities could have prevented the attack, and that his son was killed inadvertently by a law enforcement officer, not Harris or Klebold.

The bulk of the report is built around a detailed timeline beginning at 11:10 a.m., nine minutes before the first shot was fired. The introduction states: "This report explains how the crime was planned and committed." However, the planning is largely relegated to portions of a seven-page section titled "Glimpses of Klebold and Harris." Some related material appears in "Trench Coat Mafia and Associates," another six pages out of the several hundred in the report.

"The crime started over a year before April 20th, and yet the official report basically pretends that that had no basis on anything, and has no reason to be included in there," Rohrbough said. "That, in itself, shows the police department clearly withholding information from the public."

Fifteen families filed lawsuits against the sheriff last month, and many of
them charge that the massacre could have been prevented. The suits contend
that Randy and Judy Brown repeatedly warned authorities about Eric Harris's
Web site, and death threats against their son, Brooks.
The report devotes just three paragraphs to the controversial events.

"On March 18, 1998, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office took a 'suspicious incident' report from Randy Brown, stating that his son, Brooks, had received death threats from Harris. These threats were reported to have been contained in Harris' Web pages. On his Web pages, Harris also allegedly wrote about making and detonating pipe bombs and using them against people. Brown requested that he and his family remain anonymous in making the report for fear of retribution, particularly to his son.

"The information was reviewed by sheriff's investigators; however, Harris' Web site could not be accessed nor could reports of pipe bomb detonations be substantiated. Because of Brown's request to remain anonymous, Klebold and Harris were not contacted. Further investigation was initiated but no additional information was developed.

"Because of the routine nature of the report and investigation, the former Jefferson County sheriff, Ronald Beckham, was not informed of the report at the time. The district attorney, subsequent to April 20, was provided with information from Harris' Web pages. After reviewing the report, the DA offered the opinion that, based upon the information in the report to law enforcement, there would have been insufficient basis to legally support a request to obtain search or arrest warrants."

No explanation is given as to why the site could not be accessed. The lawsuits contend that the Browns provided printouts of the site and followed up with authorities several times. One of the suits also contends that a search warrant was actually issued at one point, and a friend of Wayne Harris within the department squelched it.

Rohrbough says the treatment of this issue in the report is scandalous. "How could this be accurate when they never even interviewed the Browns?" The Browns made the same charge Monday afternoon, again calling on investigators to interview them to get the rest of the story they say they are eager to provide.

Rohrbough was similarly disgusted by the dearth of quotes used to outline the mind-set of Harris and Klebold. He said the limited number of quotes presented a narrow and often misleading portrait of the killers, tailored specifically to support the police's position. In particular, he cites the one of the few passages included from Harris' diary, written in 1998: "It's my fault! Not my parents, not my brothers, not my friends, not my favorite bands, not computer games, not the media, it's mine."

That quote gives a very misleading picture of Harris, said Rohrbough. "If you're really trying to understand what's going through the mind, then you see the videos and they're making it pretty obvious they hate their brother, they hate their parents -- 'You should have never put us in daycare!' So what [sheriff's officials] have done is put in the stuff they felt worked best. Of course you can't blame the police. If you can't blame the parents [for not seeing the danger], you can't blame the police."

Most of the contents of both killers' diaries and the rest of the information on them should be released, he said. "There's probably things that shouldn't be released, but the judge seems to be showing pretty good thoughtfulness to that."

He predicted that most or all of the material would eventually surface anyway, and releasing it all at once was greatly preferable to watching it dribble out as it has over the past year. "By withholding information that they had from the families, they caused a tremendous amount of additional suffering," he said. "They are going to continue to leak information as they have."

He also scoffed at the report's contention that his son was killed by either Harris or Klebold rather than a law enforcement officer, as claimed in his lawsuit. "Even though the sheriff's department says what I'm saying can't be true, and they can prove it wrong, the reality is, if they could have, they would have done it on the front page of the newspaper."

By Dave Cullen

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

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