Killing Time

It may take years to sort out what happened during the “missing” minutes at Columbine.

Critics of the police response suspect that there may be another reason for the gaps. They say it's too coincidental that the "missing" time corresponds to critical points of the police operation, when one would expect to glean some information about command decisions regarding whether to pursue armed suspects into the school, the subsequent SWAT entry into the school and efforts to reach wounded victims in the library and science area, including Dave Sanders, the teacher who bled to death while awaiting medical attention. As it stands, few commanders' voices can be heard anywhere on the tapes.

"I don't know if it's deliberate or not," says Randy Brown, the Columbine parent who led an unsuccessful effort to recall Jefferson County Sheriff John Stone, "but I think it's interesting that these [gaps] occur where they do."

Calls to several ranking officers in the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, which at the moment has no official spokesman, went unreturned. ("I don't talk to the media," responded Columbine chief investigator Kate Battan, the subject of numerous media interviews before the tide of litigation rolled in.) Kathi Grider, the community-relations officer who was involved in preparing the tapes for release, says the agency suppressed nothing. "Nothing was deleted that was not ordered by Judge Jackson," she says.

But Grider was at a loss to explain why there would be a thirty-minute gap between the first Channel One file and the second. "If, indeed, that's there, that's a lot of time that's elapsed," she notes. "I would like to find an explanation."

Grider agreed to look into the matter -- but called back minutes later to say that, on the advice of the county attorney, she couldn't provide any further comment on the sheriff's report or the tapes. "If we talk to you about it, we have to talk to everyone," she explained.

Attorney Rouse says he hasn't listened to the tapes himself; he doubts that the families he represents have heard more than fragments of them. Consequently, he's not prepared to bring concerns about possible non-compliance with the court's orders to the attention of Judge Jackson.

"We'll have to wait and see if we get what we want through discovery in the federal case or have to go back to court and ask for more public disclosure," he says. "Frankly, we're walking a fine line of further traumatizing the community with some of this stuff."

But with Jefferson County seeking to dismiss the claims against its police officers, Rouse doesn't expect the families' lawsuits to reach the discovery stage anytime soon. "If it goes according to the defendants' plans, it's going to be a year or a year and a half down the road before we start," he says.

Confusion over "missing" evidence isn't confined to the tapes. Judge Jackson continues to review evidence gathered by the sheriff's investigators to determine what might be released to the public. Last week he ordered the release of a pile of three-ring notebooks containing witness interviews and other documents. In court, investigator Battan and others have referred to "200 volumes" of such notebooks gathered in the Columbine probe, but Jackson now says that information is not correct. The judge says there are only forty volumes.

Until the lawsuits are resolved, it may be impossible to close the book on Columbine -- or even to know how many books there are.

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