Stonewalled

A year after the Columbine murders, agonizing questions remain about the attack, the police response, and a sheriff under siege.

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.

"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.

Total recall: Judy and Randy Brown complained to the sheriff's office about Eric Harris a year before the shootings. Now they want the sheriff gone.
Total recall: Judy and Randy Brown complained to the sheriff's office about Eric Harris a year before the shootings. Now they want the sheriff gone.
Total recall: Judy and Randy Brown complained to the sheriff's office about Eric Harris a year before the shootings. Now they want the sheriff gone.
David Rehor
Total recall: Judy and Randy Brown complained to the sheriff's office about Eric Harris a year before the shootings. Now they want the sheriff gone.

Details

The Columbine Reader: Selections from Westword's reporting on the murders.

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 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."

Find selected readings from Westword's Columbine coverage, including Alan Prendergast's "Doom Rules," from the August 5, 1999 issue, at www.westword.com/columbine -- where you can also discuss this story.

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