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Unhappy Returns

Understating the obvious about Columbine.

Judging from the Denver dailies, the Governor's Columbine Review Commission completed a masterful bit of finger-pointing last week. Following the long-awaited release of the commission's final report at a Statehouse press conference on May 17, both newspapers featured front-page photos of Governor Bill Owens stabbing a forefinger at the cameras -- as if to emphasize that the august panel was finally ready to find fault and assign accountability for the worst school massacre in our nation's history.

Joined at the wallet and in lockstep, the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post heralded the report as a blame-heaping effort that "blisters" and "rips" the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office for failing to properly investigate prior complaints about gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold and failing to do more to rescue wounded victims once the attack began. Reporters scribbled furiously as commission chair William Erickson, a former chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court, blasted Sheriff John Stone for refusing to cooperate with the panel; much to the quote-mongers' delight, he even used the word "stonewalled" -- the sheriff's media nickname.

The feisty Erickson unleashed the most pungent criticism of the police role in Columbine hurled by any public official to date. But the overall impression may have been as misleading as the photos of the governor's thrusting digit, which was being used simply to take questions from the assembled press. Although Erickson has always stressed that his group was charged to come up with policy recommendations rather than investigate the shootings, several of the families who lost children at Columbine believe the commission didn't go far enough.

In many ways, the panel's report is much blander than its chairman's off-the-cuff remarks. It acknowledges some of the glaring contradictions between the official version of the Columbine rescue effort and the available evidence but stops short of exposing the sheriff's version as grossly distorted and self-serving. It skirts the issue of Stone's office having concealed or destroyed vital documents in the Columbine investigation despite court orders to produce it ("Lights, Camera...No Comment," April 12); last week, neither Owens nor Erickson was willing to offer an opinion about whether a grand jury should investigate police misconduct in the case, a move Jeffco District Attorney Dave Thomas has been pondering for weeks.

And, for all its roasting of Stone, the report is downright demure in its treatment of other key figures, including school officials, the killers' parents -- even Harris and Klebold. The report describes the pair as "disgruntled seniors," a peculiar euphemism for sociopathic, homicidal maniacs. ("We are but we aren't psycho," Harris explains in one of the videotapes they left behind.)

Perhaps the report's greatest understatement is its assertion that the killers' parents "must have had inklings that disturbing things were going on" in their kids' heads and in their homes. Besieged by lawsuits, the Harrises and Klebolds have issued only brief statements expressing their sorrow and bewilderment at the tragedy.

But that they had more than "inklings" about "disturbing" developments is amply suggested by the evidence. In one of the basement tapes, Klebold and Harris talk about how Harris's parents found one of his bombs and took it away from him; Nate Dykeman, a friend of the pair, told police that Harris once showed him a confiscated pipe bomb stored in his parents' bedroom closet.

Recently, as part of the ongoing public-records battle over Columbine police records, the sheriff's office was compelled to release nearly a thousand pages of evidence logs and reports. The release presents the most detailed picture to date of items seized in police searches of the Klebold and Harris homes, many of which had been only vaguely referenced or heavily redacted from other released documents. Unfortunately, the information arrived too late to be digested by the governor's commission. But in the spirit of aiding the panel's effort to identify "red flags" that might prevent future school shootings, here's a partial list:

Items Seized From Harris Home and Returned:

BBs and Pellets

1 KMFDM Poster

1 "Danger" sign

1 Columbine senior class group photo

1 spent fireworks tube

1 BB rifle barrel

1 sawed-off BB gun

1 black potato gun

2 pieces of PVC pipe

5 "Doom" books

"Anarchist Cookbook" documents

Graduation announcements

Address labels for graduation announcements (5 pages)

1 Gateway computer CPU

1 "Demon Knight" video game

2 containers of lighter fluid

1 black T-shirt & black pants

1 voodoo doll

1 Marine enlistment packet

1 cigar box

1 Sony microcassette recorder (tape removed)

Items Seized From Harris Home and Not Returned:

1 microcassette recording (removed from Sony recorder) of

Eric Harris: "People will die because of me...It will be a day that will be remembered forever."

Shotgun shells (found in cigar box)

Clock parts and other bomb materials in toolbox

Miscellaneous 9-millimeter bullets

Handwritten notes on dayplanner paper

1 Green Mountain Guns receipt for nine 9-millimeter magazines

Metal pieces (shrapnel)

1 "Shit List" (two-page list of enemies of Eric Harris)

Canvas bag with shot

Schematic and note

Fireworks, fuses, ball bearings, nails, fuse cord

2 essays: "Guns in Schools" and "You Know What I Hate"

2 CO2 bombs

1 bottle of Jack Daniels

1 sawed-off shotgun barrel (found in spent fireworks tube) and gun stock

3 video tapes featuring Harris and Klebold showing off weapons and explaining their plans for "our little judgment day"

Items Seized From Klebold Home and Returned:

1 BB pistol and BBs

2 Powerline BB rifles

1 Coke can w/BB holes

1 pink box with paintballs and BBs

1 inert grenade

1 bottle St. John's Wort

1 expandable baton

1 clock part

3 computer CPUs

2 black T-shirts

1 wall decoration (KMFDM)

1 Marilyn Manson CD

1 container lighter fluid

Items Seized From Klebold Home and Not Returned:

1 homemade brass knuckles

Pieces of shotgun wadding

Partially assembled explosive devices

4 9-millimeter cartridge boxes (found in trash can)

1 sawed-off shotgun barrel

1 pipe with end caps

1 pipe bomb labeled "Vengeance"

1 pipe bomb labeled "Atlanta"

1 "Shit List" (enemies of Dylan Klebold)

More Westword coverage of the Columbine school shootings

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