There Ought to Be a Law

Ten questions for the legislature's Columbine committee.

Phyllis Velasquez says detectives told her that her son was sitting at a library computer, ignoring the commotion around him, when Klebold walked up and shot him in the back of the head. She has since studied crime-scene sketches, listened to the 911 tapes and learned the truth: Kyle was crouching under the table, hiding like all the others, when he was shot. He was not so oblivious to his surroundings that he escaped the terror that swept through the room.

It's important to know such things, Velasquez says, no matter how painful.

"My son was murdered," she says. "Nothing worse than that could ever happen to me. It's downhill from there, you know? So the truth is not going to hurt you. But being told one thing and finding out the truth later, that hurts a lot. You end up reliving the whole thing, falling apart all over again. How unfair is that, to put a parent through that twice?

Michael Hogue
State representative Don Lee says his proposed investigation would seek to resolve the unanswered questions about Columbine.
State representative Don Lee says his proposed investigation would seek to resolve the unanswered questions about Columbine.

"I feel like they made a decision to tell us something else, for whatever reason -- to cover something up, to spare people's feelings, whatever. But that's not their decision to make. You should be told the truth. I don't understand why they did it this way."

After the Velasquezes joined other families in calling for a legislative committee to investigate Columbine, Phyllis received a phone call from Kate Battan, who headed up Jeffco's probe of the shootings. The two had not spoken much since the families filed their lawsuits against the sheriff's office, but Battan was now offering to answer any questions Velasquez might have about her son's death.

"I told her I did have a lot of questions, and I wanted to see all of the crime-scene photos that involve Kyle," Velasquez says. "There was this long pause, and she said, 'I don't know if I can do that. I'll have to check.' And I told her I would be bringing my attorney. There was this really long pause, and she said, 'I'll have to check and get back to you.' I haven't heard back from her, and I really don't expect to."

"I work for the victims," Battan told a reporter from Time magazine two years ago. "When they don't have any more questions, then I feel I've done my job."


Missing interviews. A shredded timeline. Untested bullets. Missing tapes.

The Columbine open-records battle has yielded documents that investigators never anticipated would be made public. It's also shown that the county has been less than an ideal custodian of the records comprising the largest criminal investigation in Colorado history.

Some of the materials that Jefferson County has been unable to produce -- because they can't be located or were never prepared in the first place -- are of minor significance. But others could resolve major questions about Columbine, and their absence has only generated more suspicion about the thoroughness and integrity of the sheriff's investigation.

For example, a key interview with Sergeant O'Shea, now at the heart of the Rohrbough controversy, was not taped, contrary to standard "shoot review team" policy. The brief summary of the interview provided -- by an investigator from the Jefferson County District Attorney's office -- doesn't begin to account for the sixty rounds he fired that day.

The county has produced no follow-up interviews with its own crucial witnesses, including Deputy Gardner, even though it's clear that investigators questioned him on more than one occasion. Jeffco apparently never bothered to collect hundreds of pages of witness interviews and reports that have since surfaced in the files of other police agencies. And other vital records the county didn't collect, such as the Arapahoe County dispatch tapes or tapes of Denver's SWAT channel, have apparently been destroyed.

"There's no unknown bullets from an unknown gun," Kate Battan told the Denver Post eleven months after the shootings. But the ballistics record is riddled with examples of unaccounted-for police gunfire and bullets of questionable origin. One police weapon fired that day was kept in the officer's patrol car for more than a year before it was finally submitted for ballistics tests.

Last month, Jeffco finally got around to having a bullet found in the backpack of Corey DePooter, the last victim to be killed in the library, tested against the gunmen's weapons. The bullet had previously been tested against four police weapons, none of which had been used to fire into the library. The bullet came from Harris's carbine. When asked why it had taken so long to have the bullet fully tested, a Jeffco spokesman said that Battan had only discovered the "oversight" a few weeks earlier.

Actually, Jeffco had been notified of the problem with the DePooter bullet eight months before the testing, in a letter from Westword to Sheriff Stone. According to a department spokeswoman, the letter was passed on to Battan for response. When the response finally arrived, four months later -- from the county attorney's office, not Stone or Battan -- the questions about the DePooter bullet were simply ignored. So were the DePooters' questions about the bullet, as raised in a subsequent Westword article ("Back to School," October 25, 2001). It was only when the family stood on the steps of the Capitol last month, requesting lawmakers' help, that Jefferson County finally decided it would be a good idea to run ballistics on a bullet found two and a half years earlier in the backpack of a murder victim.

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