An attendee at a February 24 town hall in Erie, held ten days after the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, says state representative and Second Amendment advocate Lori Saine attempted to bolster her argument that teachers should be armed by claiming that Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had supported gun control and lobbied the state legislature to make schools gun-free zones to prevent return fire during the lethal April 20, 1999, attack that took the lives of twelve students and a teacher.
The attendee's account is backed by Scott Ogle, a former TV journalist, who was also at the get-together. "I was highly weirded out by it," Ogle says. "It seems kind of strange that at a town meeting, we get to make up our own facts."
However, these assertions are strongly denied by Colorado House Minority Office Communications Director Joel Malecka, who speaks for Saine and Patrick Neville, a Columbine survivor who's now the minority leader for the state House of Representatives.
At the town hall, Malecka says, Saine talked about information she'd received years ago from pro-gun political commentator John Lott Jr., who recalled former Colorado House majority leader Doug Dean telling him about gun-control-related advocacy by Klebold's family, not the gunman, around the time of the Columbine tragedy. (In recent years, Sue Klebold, mother of Dylan, has been outspoken about access to firearms, as exemplified by the op-ed "It Was Far Too Easy for My Son to Buy Guns.") As to whether Saine had opined on the gun-control positions of the teenage murderers, he says simply: "She didn't say that."
Definitively proving otherwise is problematic, given that we've been unable to find a recording of the town hall. But the attendee provides an email exchange with Saine, in which the Weld County Republican from Dacono maintains at one point that she "found references to the gun control opinions of the Columbine killers with an internet search." Saine didn't supply links in that email, however, and neither she nor Malecka has provided them to Westword — and our own online searches have failed to turn up any information of the sort described in the email.
Last December, as you'll recall, Saine made headlines after she was arrested for taking a gun to Denver International Airport — and that she was armed hardly qualified as a surprise. After all, as we noted, she's among the state legislature's most prominent proponents for allowing guns in public places, including schools.
In January 2013, Saine spoke to Westword reporter Sam Levin about her sponsorship of a bill "that would give school boards the authority to allow employees of the district to carry a concealed handgun in the buildings and on school grounds — if the employee has a permit to carry."
"There will always be people that seek the same attention that the Aurora shooter is receiving right now," Saine said at the time. Saine also made reference to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, where twenty children and six adults had been murdered the previous month. "The timing is perfect" for putting the bill forward, she maintained: "It's time to have this conversation. It's actually past the time to have this conversation. ... It's changing the conversation about what is compassionate — protecting our children in any way that we can."
Saine also took verbal shots at efforts to restrict access to guns post-Sandy Hook. "They are trying to restrict law-abiding citizens from receiving weapons," she emphasized. "Folks who do things like shooting up a theater...do they follow laws?"
On Sunday, February 25, the day after the town hall, which was staged in conjunction with Representative Matt Gray, the aforementioned attendee sent Saine the following email: "I attended your town hall on Saturday. I am interested in your remark that the Columbine killers tried to get the state legislature to prohibit concealed carry at the school prior to their planned attack. Could you please provide your source for that?"
In response, Saine wrote: "Thanks for attending. The majority leader had informed researchers about the letters and there are many articles you can google to attest to the strong gun control views, especially of the Klebold [sic]. I think folks have just forgotten about this."
"Thank you for your reply," the attendee responded in another email. "I am unable to find anything about that in a web search. That doesn’t mean it does not exist, but not easily found.... I would like to follow up on this. Thanks again."
When Saine didn't immediately respond, the attendee surmised that when she'd mentioned "the majority leader," she actually meant Neville, who recently introduced a bill to allow concealed carry in schools. That's not true, Malecka allows: Saine was alluding to Dean, the majority leader in 1999. He stresses that her remarks "had nothing to do with current legislation."
But on Monday, February 26, the attendee contacted Neville's office anyhow and chatted with a staffer before shipping off this missive: "I’m following up on our conversation this morning. Could you please check with Rep. Neville regarding the statement made by Rep. Saine that the Columbine killers asked the state assembly to make schools a no-gun zone in an effort to be sure they met no resistance when they attacked the school? I’d like to find the source of this information. Rep. Saine seems to credit Rep Neville with that claim. This claim was used by Rep. Saine apparently to support her efforts to arm school staff. Thanks so much for your time on this."
Before long, the attendee heard from Neville himself. His email states, "Please reach out to Representative Lori Saine for further clarification."
No need. Shortly thereafter, Saine got back to the attendee with this: "I just heard from the Minority Leader's office about your email. I can't drop everything to answer emails when other, more pressing work needs to be done. Since you don't feel the need to wait for dialog with me, I will assume you are already capable of research. I found references to the gun control opinions of the Columbine killers with an internet search so I will assume you can do the same. I won't be corresponding with you further."
This last sentence didn't dissuade the attendee from making one last attempt, writing, "Sorry, I know you are busy. If you found that on an internet search, could you just forward links to me? Don't mean to be a pest."
To that, Saine wrote, "Please refer to the last email, madam."
Of course, the idea that Harris and Klebold lobbied for gun control is hardly the most startling claim to be made about the Columbine murders. The tragic episode has spawned a seemingly endless number of conspiracy theories, each more outrageous than the last.
Take the following video, which maintains that the homicidal students were actually programmed for their mission by nefarious government operatives, presumably in an effort to turn the public against guns. As evidence, one segment maintains: "The police had a number of snipers positioned on the rooftops. Bizarrely enough, one of them was a Italian guy claimed to be part of some foreign exchange program and could hardly speak any English [sic]."
Here's the video — the twelfth in a 93-part series that also encompasses JonBenét Ramsey's murder and the actions of serial killer Ted Bundy. Be warned that the final images are graphic and disturbing.
Westword has been covering the Columbine slayings since shortly after the shooting stopped, with journalist Alan Prendergast earning a well-deserved national reputation as an expert on the topic. In nearly two decades of covering the story, Prendergast says he's never seen any credible information to suggest that Harris and Klebold were pro-gun control or that they made an attempt to influence legislators in advance of their rampage.
Moreover, Prendergast points to Harris's own words, from writings Westword first published in 2001, before any other news organization, to show that he felt very differently.
The following passage is presented unedited. Note the sections in which Harris rails against "fucking laws" and states that policies shouldn't be changed "just because of us":
i want to leave a lasting impression on the world. and god damnit do not blame anyone else besides me and V for this. dont blame my family, they had no clue and there is nothing they could have done, they brought me up just fucking fine, dont blame toy stores or any other stores for selling us ammo, bomb materials or anything like that because its not their fault, i dont want no fucking laws on buying fucking PVC pipes. we are kind of a select case here so dont think this will happen again. dont blame the school, dont fucking put cops all over the place just because we went on a killing spree doesnt mean everyone else will and hardly ever do people bring bombs or guns to school anyway. the admin. is doing a fine job as it is, i dont know who will be left after we kill but damnit dont change any policies just because of us. it would be stupid and if there is any way in this fucked up universe we can come back as ghosts or what the fuck ever we will haunt the life out of anyone who blames anyone besides me and V. if by some wierd as shit luck me and V survive and escape we will move to some island somewhere or maybe mexico, new zelend or some exotic place where americans cant get us. if there isnt such place, then we will hijack a hell of a lot of bombs and crash a plane into NYC with us inside [f]iring away as we go down. just something to cause more devistation.
For his part, Malecka warns against reaching any conclusions about the town hall comments based on the fact that Saine never denies saying that Harris and Klebold lobbied the legislature before the assault in her emails. In his words, "I don't think it's fair to say that because Representative Saine didn't address the question, it confirms what the attendee is asking about. That's just not accurate."
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The attendee feels the same about Malecka's version of events: Saine "did not say the Harris or Klebold 'family' had done that. She said the Columbine killers had. She was using the point that it was their intent to make the massacre safer for them, so we should arm teachers to discourage others from shooting up schools. So were their families complicit with the murders? Were they aware of the plans and wanted their sons to be safer when they committed the murders? And where is the documentation? She should not be throwing out unsubstantiated claims at her town hall."
Onetime 9News staffer Ogle, meanwhile, has no doubt about what Saine said at the town hall — because he asked her about it afterward.
"I covered Columbine for ABC News as a cameraman," Ogle points out. "I've read most of the books on the topic, and I think my knowledge of Columbine is fairly complete. So I was surprised to hear Representative Saine say Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris contacted the legislature prior to the Columbine incident happening."
He adds, "It wasn't appropriate when she first brought it up to interrupt her. So after the meeting, I went up to her and said, 'Representative Saine, do I understand correctly that Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris contacted the legislature prior to shooting up Columbine?' And she said, 'Yes.'"