Quagmire Without End, Amen

Truth is the first casualty of war -- and Columbine.

• Mike Guerra, a bomb-squad member who drafted a search warrant for Harris’s house in 1998 that was never executed, says the web pages he received from another investigator were “sterilized,” with no header information on them; he couldn’t even be sure they were ever posted on the Internet. He says he left his investigative file on Eric Harris in his desk when he moved to another post in July 1999 -- three months after Columbine -- and doesn’t know what happened to the file.

• John Healy, an investigator who worked with Guerra trying to build a case against Harris in 1998, also prepared the case filing for another incident earlier that year, when Harris and Klebold were arrested for breaking into a van and placed on probation. But Healy apparently never made any connection between the two cases.

• John Hicks, the investigator to whom Burgess forwarded the 1997 report, may have simply stuck it into a file as an “intel” item. He doesn’t recall the report and never made the connection when he met with the Browns a few months later in response to another complaint about Harris’s website. He says he turned over the case to Guerra, even though Randy and Judy Brown say they were under the impression that Hicks was handling the matter.

A still photo of Eric Harris from the video he and Dylan 
Klebold made just weeks before the rampage at 
Columbine.
A still photo of Eric Harris from the video he and Dylan Klebold made just weeks before the rampage at Columbine.
A still photo of Eric Harris from the video he and Dylan Klebold made just weeks before the rampage at Columbine.
A still photo of Eric Harris from the video he and Dylan Klebold made just weeks before the rampage at Columbine.

• Mark Miller, a deputy who took a report from the Browns about death threats Harris had made against their son in the spring of 1998, was also involved in investigating the van break-in. But he never dealt directly with Harris and never realized he was the same individual the Browns had been talking about.

• In the spring of 1997, Deputy Tim Walsh had several contacts by phone or in person with Randy Brown and Eric’s father, Wayne Harris, as a result of Eric’s suspected vandalism. But Walsh doesn’t recall anything about the case, and thus didn’t connect to it to the youths he arrested several months later for the van break-in.

• Hicks, who left the department four years ago and has never spoken publicly about Columbine, says that Guerra told him “someone” removed his Harris file from his desk after the massacre and then returned it. Guerra doesn’t recall the incident.

• Contrary to what Westword reported a few months ago, the state investigators concluded that the 1997 file wasn’t commingled with later Brown complaints. It sat in Hicks’s “intel” file and was turned over to Healy when Hicks left the squad. But Healy didn’t discover it until three years later.

And so it goes. All of these sheriff’s deputies shuffling paperwork on Harris but failing to connect the dots -- maybe they should have formed their own Scrabble tournament. (How many points for NOT MY JOB?)

In the interviews conducted by Salazar’s team, most of the finger-pointing is directed at Lieutenant John Kiekbusch, who is no longer with the sheriff’s office. Another bomb technician who met with the Browns told the investigators that he was present when Kiekbusch nixed Guerra’s search-warrant request, saying he needed more evidence. Guerra doesn’t recall the conversation.

Hicks says that after the shootings, he “became concerned” that the information Kiekbusch was peddling to reporters about the prior Harris complaints was way off base. Although Undersheriff John Dunaway told him to “talk to the press,” he says, he “knew he would not be allowed to tell the truth, so he refused.”

Kiekbusch was the man in charge of the Columbine investigation at the outset, the fellow who stood up before the cameras ten days after the massacre to pooh-pooh the Browns’ claims that they’d tried repeatedly to get the cops interested in Eric Harris before the tragedy (“Chronology of a Big Fat Lie,” April 19, 2001).

Kiekbusch told the national media that day that his officers had minimal contact with the Browns. He said that Harris’s web rants about building pipe bombs didn’t match up with any actual pipe bombs found in the county. None of that was true, according to Guerra’s draft affidavit -- but then, the search warrant didn’t surface until two years later, after CBS News was able to establish that it existed and a judge ordered the sheriff’s office to release it.

But Kiekbusch works in private security back East now, and his interview with Salazar’s people -- conducted only days before the report was released -- hasn’t been made available yet. Salazar, in any case, wasn’t offering scapegoats, not even for the inexcusable whoppers the sheriff’s office was telling the parents of dead children for months and years after the shootings. No amount of demonstrable lies would induce him to label the actions of the sheriff’s office as a cover-up.

“I don’t know that today,” he said. Instead, he spoke quietly about how there would be supplemental reports and additional inquiries, then took no further questions.

Salazar stated his hope that opening more files would produce “lessons learned” that “can be valuable to parents, teachers, administrators, law enforcement, government and the public at large.” But some of the most explosive information concerning what school officials and cops knew about the killers, before and after the massacre, is still being kept under wraps by judges and others, who aren’t terribly keen on the public knowing what they know.

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