School Climate & Safety

Columbine Report Underscores Need To Share Data With Police

By Jessica Portner — May 24, 2000 3 min read
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The exhaustive report released last week by the Jefferson County, Colo., sheriff’s office on the Columbine shootings was a sharp reminder to school officials across the nation of the need to share detailed information about their facilities with local police—from building plans to light switches.

Several relatives of the victims of the massacre, in which two teenage gunmen shot and killed 12 students and a teacher before turning the weapons on themselves, have expressed concern about the lack of information that officers in the suburban Denver community had about the school building and whether that hampered their ability to save lives.

“This is practical stuff,” said Dick Van Der Laan, a spokesman for the Long Beach, Calif., schools, which enroll 92,000 students. California recently mandated that schools share detailed maps of their facilities with the police. “It’s like an earthquake drill,” he added. “It’s rare, but when they occur, you better know what to do.”

Minute by Minute

Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency this month reminded school administrators that they have resources available to help them respond to school shootings.

The lengthy sheriff’s department report, which gives a minute-by-minute account of the April 20, 1999, rampage, shows that all 13 murder victims were gunned down within 16 minutes as police were still arriving on the scene. Gleaned from 4,500 interviews with witnesses, and drawn from more than 10,000 pieces of evidence, the report does not attempt to explain the motives of the two shooters, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris.

The chronology of events outlined in the report shows that the teenagers arrived at the school parking lot about 11:17 a.m. Wearing black trenchcoats to conceal the weapons they were carrying, the pair stashed duffel bags containing bombs in the school cafeteria.

The report says that analysis of those bombs, which were never detonated, showed they were powerful enough to kill all the students who would soon be flowing into the cafeteria for lunch.

Mr. Klebold and Mr. Harris returned to their cars to wait for the bombs they had planted to go off.

At 11:19 a.m., the police received an emergency call about a bomb that went off in a field near Columbine High School. The report suggests this bomb was planted to divert attention from the school.

About the same time, the two students started their shooting spree. On the steps of the school, they shot one student and wounded another. Eight more students were injured and another was shot and killed within the next few seconds, the report says.

Four minutes later, at 11:23 a.m., the first sheriff’s officers arrived on the scene. A Jefferson County deputy exchanged fire when Mr. Harris spotted him and began shooting. The teenager, unhit, then darted into the school.

Then, the report says, “students in the cafeteria realized this was more serious than a senior prank,” and began “a mass exodus” from the school.

‘The World Is Going To Die’

Meanwhile, the gunmen walked through a hallway “firing weapons and laughing,” the report says. They shot Dave Sanders, a teacher, who was directing students out of the building.

Mr. Klebold and Mr. Harris moved to the library at approximately 11:35 a.m. where they killed 10 students.

All this carnage occurred as law-enforcement officials were still tending to wounded students outside the school, the report notes. At 11:44 a.m., one witness reported that one of the two gunmen said, “Today, the world is going to die. Today’s the day we die.” Everyone, including the gunmen, was dead before any officer went in.

Just after noon, Mr. Harris and Mr. Klebold returned to the library and shot themselves in the head. Just after the suicides, the first group of officers entered the building, at about 12:06 p.m.

The officers, who had been told there were bombs in the building, then began to comb the school for explosives. The report shows that it was more than two hours before a rescue unit reached the wounded Mr. Sanders, at 2:42 p.m. He died later in the day.

The report, using ballistics and other evidence, does dispel the theory posed by some parents that a stray police bullet killed one of the students.

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A version of this article appeared in the May 24, 2000 edition of Education Week as Columbine Report Underscores Need To Share Data With Police

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