The Lost Command

Sheriff Stone's report says his officers did everything right at Columbine. The evidence tells a different story.

Just what was known by the officers who went into the school remains in dispute. For months, several SWAT members have insisted that they didn't have critical information that their commanders clearly did have: reports of multiple victims in the library, reports of a badly wounded teacher in the science area. The "communication problems" have been blamed on the incompatible radio frequencies used by different agencies, but the report acknowledges that the inside teams had ongoing, if limited, communication with the command. The degree to which the front-line troops may have been misled, in every sense of the word, can be gauged in Arapahoe County SWAT officer Bruce Williamson's testimony before the review commission last month.

Williamson, who arrived at the scene around one o'clock, was under the impression that "the initial team went in at the last place they knew these guys were." Although his unit assisted in clearing the science area, he was not one of the officers who went into the room where Sanders was, he said, and didn't know he was there. As he remembered it, the search of the library came somewhere in the middle, rather than the end, of the operation.

Williamson's version is strongly at odds with the report. But then, the report's version is at odds with the evidence on several points. "There was no one injured in the cafeteria as a direct result of Harris and Klebold's actions," declare the findings of the investigative team assigned to that area. Yet the commons video shows a teacher running in the foreground as an explosion goes off at 11:27. The teacher first clutches his leg, then is bowled over by the blast. A limping, similarly dressed figure, identified by two sources as the same teacher, can be seen exiting the school in footage of the evacuation effort shot by a news helicopter that afternoon.

Waiting for the facts: Brian Rohrbough and other Columbine parents sued for access to 911 tapes, ballistics data and other evidence gathered in the police investigation.
David Rehor
Waiting for the facts: Brian Rohrbough and other Columbine parents sued for access to 911 tapes, ballistics data and other evidence gathered in the police investigation.
For more Westword coverage of the shootings, go to the Columbine Reader.

The teacher's name doesn't appear on the official list of the wounded. According to the sheriff's report, the injury never happened.

The key Columbine questions can't be answered by the sheriff's slickly packaged and deeply flawed report, or even by well-meaning line officers like Lieutenant Williamson -- who, after answering the commission's questions, stayed behind to field a few more from reporters while his colleagues hurried to their cars. Uncomfortable in the spotlight, Williamson displayed a brief flash of emotion after the cameras were turned off.

"We did everything we could," he said, memories of April 20 tugging at his voice. "I went home and hugged my kids."

Williamson didn't pretend to have the answers. The men with the answers weren't at the commission meeting that day. They were not standing in front of cameras. They were not in the line of fire at all.

They were taking cover, waiting for the enemy to give up.

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