Deeper Into Columbine

The settlements. The spin. The remaining secrets.

As it turned out, both Taylor and the Jeffco investigators were wrong. Last spring, an independent probe conducted by the El Paso County Sheriff's Office concluded that Harris, not Klebold, had killed Dan in the early stages of the attack ("In Search of Lost Time," May 2). Less than a day after Rohrbough's settlement with the sheriff's office was finalized, he and Petrone filed suit against Taylor for defamation and outrageous conduct.

Rohrbough says the suit is necessary to untangle fact from fiction in Taylor's account. "We've waited for him to come and tell us why he lied to us, and he hasn't," he says. "He's caused us a tremendous amount of injury and expense. He implicated police officers in the death of my son by his statements. He implied that the timeline was a complete lie -- and he had credible information. The lawsuit has to do with accountability and an explanation for his actions.

"All the people lying to me about Columbine are police and school officials. It's like everybody had their own agenda, and I don't know what it is. If it was just sloppy police work, then they owe my family an apology."

Talking out of school: Once targeted by Eric Harris, Brooks Brown has written a book about Columbine.
John Johnston
Talking out of school: Once targeted by Eric Harris, Brooks Brown has written a book about Columbine.
Unsettled: Parent Brian Rohrbough declined to join in the settlement with the killers' parents.
John Johnston
Unsettled: Parent Brian Rohrbough declined to join in the settlement with the killers' parents.

Rohrbough expects to be thumped in the court of public opinion for filing yet another Columbine-related lawsuit; Sheriff Stone and other previous targets have claimed that the parents are simply "greedy" or looking for someone to blame. But for the families of the dead, the lawsuits have never been about money; if that were the case, they would have joined in the settlement Wahlberg negotiated with the killers' parents. Rohrbough's group refused to sign without being given an opportunity to question the parents concerning what they knew about their sons' activities. Discussions with the attorneys for the Klebold and Harris families are now at an impasse, Rohrbough says, and he expects the case to proceed to trial.

"I believe they had warning signs," he says. "I believe they rolled the dice, thinking it was close to the end of the school year and they could get their children through it, with total disregard for the other people in that school. They've chosen to lie about what they know, through third parties, and to pretend they didn't know anything."

Recently, the Klebolds went to court to oppose the release of Dylan's juvenile probation records, stemming from the teens' arrest for breaking into a van in early 1998. Harris's file has already been leaked to the Rocky Mountain News, and his parents have stated that they won't oppose public release of the records. But both couples have fought to keep their sons' writings and homemade videotapes under wraps, citing a concern that the tapes may inspire copycat killers, and they have repeatedly declined requests for media interviews or private meetings with the victims' families. Their long silence may be a result of the ongoing litigation, as Wahlberg suggests, but Rohrbough says it's also a primary reason the lawsuits continue to drag on.

"They've never had the decency to talk to the parents," he says. "The insult to injury is the premise that they're somehow in the same category as the families of the victims in terms of their right to keep things private, and they're not. They raised a murderer; none of us did. Yet we've lived our lives under a microscope, and no one even knows who they are."

The Survivor

When Brooks Brown graduated from Columbine in the terrible spring of 1999, he still owed the school ninety hours of community service for smoking on school grounds. He figures he's paid off at least part of the debt by writing a book about the massacre and its aftermath, No Easy Answers: The Truth Behind Death at Columbine, which just arrived in bookstores.

Over dinner at a Littleton sports bar, Brown is expansive, confident, somber -- a 22-year-old author who's already had more experience in the public eye than most writers will experience in a lifetime. "The worst things that happen to you build the most character," Brown says. "I slowly learned that over the past three years and wanted to put that in book form."

Brown's own struggle with the mysteries of Columbine revolves around two life-altering events. In 1998, he discovered that his classmate Eric Harris had posted violent writings on his Web site, boasting of building pipe bombs and threatening to kill people -- including Brooks Brown. Brown's parents, Randy and Judy Brown, took the Web pages to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. It was the only serious attempt by anyone to alert authorities that Harris was dangerous.

The second event came thirteen months later. Minutes before the attack began, Brown ran into Harris in the school parking lot. Harris was pulling duffel bags out of his car. "Brooks, I like you now," Harris told him. "Go home."

Brown says he suspected that a school prank was in progress. He headed down Pierce Street, debating whether to skip his next class. Then he heard gunshots, and nothing was ever the same.

In the orgy of scapegoating that followed, his bizarre encounter with Harris became a source of endless speculation and suspicion. Classmates shunned him. School administrators tried to discourage him from finishing the year with the rest of his class. Investigators grilled him and attempted to persuade his parents that he was a threat to their safety. Sheriff Stone branded him a "potential suspect" on national television.

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