Lights, Camera...No Comment

Two years after the shootings, 60 Minutes brings Columbine back to prime time -- and local officials get camera-shy.

In other words, the report's timeline for the two gun battles is at least ten minutes out of whack, and the report's claim that the deputies twice tried to stop Harris before the library massacre is problematic, at best. Instead, it appears that after Gardner's brief exchange of shots, the Jefferson County officers busied themselves setting up a perimeter while ten people were being murdered inside. And when Harris did reappear at the west doors, there were far more cops on the scene -- including, as noted earlier, some well-armed Denver officers -- than the public has been led to believe.

The account of the gunfights is just one of several claims in the sheriff's report that don't match up with the evidence. How many of these glaring contradictions find their way into the final cut of the CBS documentary is anybody's guess. (Tune in to KCNC/Channel 4 on Tuesday, April 17, to find out.) Television requires not only images but a kind of emotional certainty that mere documents can't provide. Ultimately, it depends on people to tell the story, and many of the people who know the secrets of Columbine aren't talking.

Yet their silence gains them nothing. In a way, it only confirms what Gelber suspected all along, that the Columbine story is far from over. Much of the media attention has dwelled on the violent netherworld of teenagers, their capacity for rage and access to firepower, and their clueless parents. But it is also a story about the failure of public institutions to take responsibility for their own mistakes and indifference.

Jay Vollmar
Sitdowns: Victims' families had plenty to tell Ed Bradley; police sources were another matter.
photo courtesy of CBS News
Sitdowns: Victims' families had plenty to tell Ed Bradley; police sources were another matter.

One of the most disturbing aspects of my 60 Minutes experience was the discovery of how little attention the authorities have devoted to investigating themselves. Despite the intensive self-examination and breast-beating the Columbine community has gone through over the past two years, fundamental questions were never asked by the people in the best position to get the answers. The costly, year-long police investigation focused primarily on dispelling the rumor of a third gunman; motives, causes and lessons to be learned were all given short shrift. Police and school officials seem to have a feebler grasp of the details of what happened than reporters who've spent months poring over their statements.

Perhaps what 60 Minutes learned will compel the keepers of the secrets to hold an open house. Until that day, spring is still a long way off, in the commune or anywhere else.

What couldn't happen here did. As long as officials continue to say, "There is no problem, and we have solved it," there is no reason to believe it won't happen again.

For more Westword coverage of Columbine, click here

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help