There Ought to Be a Law

Ten questions for the legislature's Columbine committee.

One item that Davis and Kiekbusch neglected to mention was a search-warrant affidavit drafted by bomb investigator Mike Guerra in response to the Brown complaint; if they had, it would have blown their whole story. Guerra stated that he had matched Harris's description of his pipe bombs to an exploded device found in the county. Coupled with the death threats, the matter had sufficient "elements of a crime," in his view, to justify a search warrant. If executed, the search warrant could well have uncovered Harris's detailed plan to attack Columbine, which was already nestled in his computer in late April 1998 ("I'm Full of Hate and I Love It," December 6, 2001). Guerra's affidavit also put the lie to official denials that the Browns had ever met in person with the lead investigator on the case.

Kiekbusch's dismissal of the Brown complaint as a non-story was a remarkable performance, particularly since the Guerra affidavit had already been brought to the attention of Columbine investigators. Shortly before the press conference, Sheriff Stone had shown it to Jefferson County District Attorney Dave Thomas, who told him he wouldn't have okayed the warrant without more evidence. But neither Thomas, who was also at the press conference, nor the sheriff's mouthpieces saw fit to mention the document.

Despite numerous public-records requests by families and reporters for any additional records pertaining to the Brown complaint, the Guerra affidavit remained buried for two years -- until CBS News went to court to pry it loose last spring ("Chronology of a Big Fat Lie," April 19, 2001). The sheriff's office responded with the preposterous assertion that the affidavit's existence had been disclosed shortly after the shootings.

The killers' videotapes and writings, crime-scene photos and other evidence -- such as this photo of a timing device -- have been leaked to the media and continue to raise questions about the Columbine investigation.
The killers' videotapes and writings, crime-scene photos and other evidence -- such as this photo of a timing device -- have been leaked to the media and continue to raise questions about the Columbine investigation.
One of Klebold's inscribed pipe bombs.
One of Klebold's inscribed pipe bombs.

Given that Jeffco's investigation of Eric Harris went further than county officials said it did, what stopped it? Who made the decision not to take Guerra's search-warrant request to the district attorney? Could it be, as some Columbine families' attorneys have speculated, that the Harris family had some kind of "juice" with the sheriff's office? If not, if some other factor tipped the scales, why did Stone's people go to such pains to try to minimize the issue, discredit the Browns and conceal the existence of the affidavit?

Three months ago, in a private meeting with victims' families, Dave Thomas pledged that he would try to answer those questions by making inquiries among the officers who were directly involved in handling the complaint. "He promised that the investigation would be concluded by the end of January," says Randy Brown. "It never happened."

Pam Russell, spokeswoman for Thomas's office, says the inquiry is "on hold" pending the resolution of other matters, including the special probe into Dan Rohrbough's death by El Paso County Sheriff John Anderson at the start of the year; Thomas's office expects those results in a few weeks.

No Jeffco official has received the slightest reprimand for playing hide-and-seek with the Guerra affidavit for two years. County Attorney Bill Tuthill has said that because the document wasn't specifically requested until CBS asked for it in court, the county wasn't hiding it at all.


School officials have acknowledged that they were notified of the Brown complaint, but only to the extent that Eric Harris "may be messing around with pipe bombs." They took no action, they say, because they were told that the sheriff's office was handling the investigation.

But communication between the school and law enforcement wasn't everything it could be. Several Columbine administrators knew about the 1998 arrest of Harris and Klebold for burglarizing a van -- Harris even wrote about the experience for one class assignment -- but it doesn't appear that they passed on to police any of the complaints they received about the pair. Their disciplinary records, which include a suspension for hacking into the school computer system and reports about possible vandalism and intimidation of other students, remain sealed because of school privacy laws, as do the violence-laced videos they made as class assignments.

Hours after the killings, Jeffco deputy and school resource officer Neil Gardner told investigators he "had never dealt with Eric Harris." Ten days later, his memory had been refreshed to the point that the sheriff's office acknowledged that Gardner had briefed a dean about the Brown complaint and had subsequently "kept an eye" on Harris and Klebold, occasionally engaging them in "light conversation."

It remains unclear whether all this eyeballing led to any coordinated effort to assess the potential threat Klebold and Harris posed to their fellow students. One teacher read Klebold's graphic essay about a trenchcoated assassin and reported it to his parents and a counselor. A student claims to have met with a vice principal to express her concerns that Harris was dangerous; a parent claims to have gone to yet another administrator to report Klebold for harassing her son. The video-class instructor may have seen the tape the gunmen made of themselves firing sawed-off shotguns in the mountains, which they edited in the video lab. But none of this information went to a central source with responsibility for followup, such as principal Frank DeAngelis.

School officials aren't talking about this breakdown in their security procedures, and that frustrates Phyllis Velasquez. Her son Kyle had been at Columbine only four months, enrolled in a special-education program, when he was murdered by Klebold and Harris.

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