By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
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 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.
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 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.