Going Ballistic

Tracing the bullets at Columbine.

Other areas yielded no bullets where one would expect to find some; for example, several officers recalled firing into the teacher's lounge, but no police bullets were found there.

Despite the questions raised by so many mystery bullets, officials were quick to absolve responding officers of any possible recklessness that day. In the summer of 1999, long before ballistics testing was completed, Jefferson County District Attorney Dave Thomas commended the Denver police for "their swift and decisive action" at Columbine and concluded that all of their gunfire was "utilized as a precautionary measure for entry and security purposes."

The Denver Police Department's own Firearms Discharge Review Board agreed. Without interviewing all of the officers involved or inspecting any documents beyond the officers' own reports, the board concluded that all seven Denver officers had fired their weapons "within the policy and procedure" of the department.

And what is that policy? Asked by a Lakewood investigator if the "suppression fire" sprayed into the high school that day reflected "normal training," Denver police officer George Gray replied that such fire was called for anytime officers felt there was a possible threat from unseen shooters, a scenario SWAT teams have trained for since the "VanderJagt episode" -- a reference to the Denver officer who was ambushed and killed by a skinhead in 1997. "That's what we felt was necessary to do to safely pull the victims out of there," explained Gray, who fired 29 rounds at Columbine.

The scenario disturbs Columbine parent Randy Brown, who's spent countless hours studying the ballistics trail left behind by the killers and the police that day. "This is one of the horrible secrets of Columbine," Brown says. "Denver SWAT policy allows SWAT members to fire into a school, a business, a house or a condo to protect themselves, even if they're not being fired upon. Their safety comes before yours. It makes you rethink the idea of calling 911 in an emergency."

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