There Ought to Be a Law

Ten questions for the legislature's Columbine committee.

His case against O'Shea may be highly circumstantial, Rohrbough says, but the official version makes no sense. If the detectives truly believed their story, why did they fight him so long before releasing Dan's clothes? Why did they dawdle for more than a year over releasing detailed ballistics data, even after a judge ordered it released?

"I believe they're still hiding information," he says, "and trying to make the evidence fit their story."

Rohrbough doesn't expect the review of the evidence now being conducted by the El Paso County Sheriff's Office to resolve the issue. No one from that office has bothered to contact him, he says, to find out what evidence he might have about his son's death.


6. HOW ACCURATE IS THE OFFICIAL TIMELINE?

Investigators promised that the sheriff's report would provide a detailed, "minute-by-minute" account of what happened at Columbine. The report's timeline was dutifully accepted by media outlets as an unimpeachable chronology of events. Yet a review of the source materials upon which the timeline is based, including dispatch and 911 calls and video surveillance tapes, suggests otherwise.

A case can be made that Stone's office fudged its timeline to make it appear that Jeff-co deputies took swifter action to try to engage the gunmen than they actually did ("More Whoppers From Jeffco," October 25, 2001). But the report's minute-by-minute tracking of the killers' movements during their 47-minute rampage is suspect, too.

Consider, for example, an episode the sheriff's report never mentions: the arrival of two Denver police officers on the west side, early enough to engage a suspect at the west entrance. The two had spotted a gun barrel, presumably Harris's carbine, sticking out of the doorway and fired at it; the suspect retreated.

When did this happen? Jeffco's timeline states that Harris was at the west doors, trading bullets with deputies Neil Gardner and Paul Smoker, at 11:26 a.m., well before any Denver officers were on scene. Harris never returned to the west doors, according to the timeline.

Could he have come back after the library massacre, which ended at 11:36? The timeline says the two gunmen were in the science area at that point, on the opposite side of the building. How about after their three-minute appearance on the surveillance video, trying to set off the bombs in the cafeteria? Possibly, but the timeline has them heading for the office area, a long way from the west doors. Then they're back in the cafeteria at 11:57 before heading upstairs to the library to commit suicide.

The official account of what Harris and Klebold were doing whenever they weren't actually captured on audio or videotape is hazy, at best. Many aspects of their plan of attack remain a mystery. Investigators do know that their cafeteria bombs were set to go off at 11:17; when the bombs failed to explode, the sheriff's report says, the gunmen's actions became increasingly "random" and inexplicable, right up to their suicides.

But maybe it wasn't quite as random as the report would have us believe. The report offers no explanation for the library massacre, why the pair decided to return to the library, or why they chose that particular moment to kill themselves. Yet Harris's journal writings, first published by Westwordlast December, show that he had planned from the beginning to go into the school to "pick off" victims at will. And the pair may have had a special reason for returning to the library before their deaths: A photo of the timing device taken from one of the bombs police found in their cars shows the alarm set for noon.

The library is an excellent location for viewing a fireball in the parking lot. Perhaps they hoped to see their cars explode, killing rescue workers and police.

When that didn't happen, maybe they decided it was time to go.


7. WHY DID INVESTIGATORS PROVIDE MISLEADING AND FALSE INFORMATION TO VICTIMS' FAMILIES?

They told grieving families that their children's bodies were boobytrapped and couldn't be moved. They told the parents of one boy that their son never knew what hit him. They told the parents of another that their wounded son fell to the sidewalk and waited there for one to two minutes, until Klebold came up and shot him again. And they didn't bother to correct the rumor about which girl said "yes" when the killers asked if she believed in God, not even as the story spiraled into a media legend about martyrdom.

None of it was true. Years later, some Columbine parents are still seething over the bad information they received from the police and how it poisoned their relationship with the investigation.

"The boobytrap story was, for me, the most difficult thing to bear," says Ann Kechter, mother of slain student Matt Kechter. "I cannot to this day understand why they would say something like that."

Some early gaffes, such as the boobytrap reports, may have been a simple misunderstanding. When investigators first tried to move Klebold's body in the library, unexploded "cricket" bombs began to tumble out of his pockets, prompting the rest of the crime-scene processing to be conducted with a high degree of caution. But other bits of misinformation have persisted for years. The Kechters have been waiting patiently for months for the results of sophisticated tests that would explain the burns on their son's body; they recently learned that investigators aren't sure those tests were ever conducted.

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