Columbine High shooting | APRIL 20, 1999
April 20th, 1999
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17 school days before graduation. It was an ordinary morning of a day that would become anything but ordinary in Jefferson County for the students of Littleton's Columbine High School
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold
skipped their first class(1)
of the day: bowling, which usually ran from 6 a.m. to 7:15 a.m Their teacher Kristine Macauley said that Klebold and Harris were on a team with Chris Morris and Nate Dykeman, and also noted later in FBI document 174A-DN-57419 that despite "always" being in bowling class, Harris, Klebold, and Morris were all missing that morning. She said that Morris rarely missed the class but had been missing it more and more frequently in the weeks before the shootings. Morris later told investigators that Eric was supposed to give him a ride, but never showed up. Chris drove himself, arriving too late to bowl for a grade.
Eric Harris skipped his 3rd period class, Philosophy, too - even though there was an exam that day on Chinese philosophy that was worth nearly 1/3 of his grade. Brooks Brown
was in that class and later in his book(2)
he said Eric cut class regularly, but Brooks was surprised that Eric would miss such an important day since his parents had stressed his getting good grades recently. Brooks also shared 4th period Creative Writing class with both Eric and Dylan. Neither was in class that day.
Around 7:30 a.m. senior Sarah Leary, a senior and a friend of Eric's
, saw him at Columbine in the parking lot. He was wearing a white t-shirt, jeans, and a plaid flannel. He hugged her and asked her why she was dressed up. She had school function later that morning she had to be off campus for. She noticed he wasn't carrying the black backpack he typically had with him. They parted ways at the Art hall.
At about 11:10 a.m. Eric and Dylan - "REB" and "VoDkA" - arrived at Columbine High School. Senior Chad Laughlin
had just left the building with Jeff Marquardt on lunch break. They chatted with Tim Kastle briefly before getting into Jeff's car to leave campus. Chad ran the fantasy baseball and football leagues that both Eric and Dylan were involved in. As the teens were heading off campus, they passed Dylan driving in. Chad flipped him off as a friendly greeting then they left.
They parked their cars flanking the exits and entrances to the cafeteria: Eric parked his 1986 gray Honda Civic in a spot in the junior student parking lot
to the southeast and Dylan parked his 1982 black BMW on the other side, in the senior lot to the southwest. The positions afforded an excellent view of the front student entrance and the entrance to the cafeteria. Neither car was parked in its assigned spot.
Brooks had just stepped outside for a cigarette when he saw Eric pull up in his car. He confronted him(3)
for missing the 3rd period test. Harris laughed and told him "It doesn't matter anymore."
Then Eric said: "Brooks, I like you now. Get out of here. Go home. Now."
He went back to unloading the duffel bags he had in the trunk of his car. Brooks left him and headed across the parking lot toward Pierce Street, feeling uneasy about the unusual exchange.
Shortly after 11:14 a.m. the gunmen, dressed in black leather dusters (trench coats)
and wearing wraparound sunglasses, carried two duffle bags into the school's cafeteria, each containing a 20-pound (9 kg) propane bomb(5)
set to go off at 11:17 a.m. -- during "A" Lunch, when the cafeteria was the most crowded, according to Eric's notes
. Just moments before their entry a janitor turned off the cafeteria surveillance cameras
to rewind the tape they recorded on, missing the act of the bags being left on the floor beside two tables. They could be seen clearly on the tape when it resumed recording 11:22 a.m..
Eric and Dylan returned to their cars to wait for the explosions.(6)
Based on information in Klebold and Harris' home videos
the two intended to blow the school up and then gun down any survivors who were able to escape after the bombs went off. There were about 488 people(7)
inside the cafeteria at the time the propane bombs were set to go off. Those people would have surely been killed if the bombs had detonated as planned and the library likely would've collapsed on the lunchroom due to the structural damage. Fortunately for those inside, the bombs failed to go off.
At 11:19 a.m. the Jefferson County Dispatch Center received a 911 call from a person who reported hearing an explosion in a field on the east side of Wadsworth Boulevard(8)
(about 3 miles from Columbine High, between Ken Caryl and Chatfield Avenues). Two backpacks loaded with pipe bombs, aerosol canisters and small propane tanks had been placed in an open grassy space three miles southwest of the high school. Only the pipe bombs and one of the aerosol canisters detonated but the explosion and subsequent grass fire were enough to divert the attention of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office and the Littleton Fire Department. Police dispatch radioed the event out. This audio clip
(offsite link) is about 40 minutes long and includes 911 calls as well as police communications. It begins with the explosion in the field and continues past the library shootings.
Back at the school, Eric and Dylan got tired of waiting. After setting the car bombs(9)
they'd placed in their vehicles, they each took a duffel bag and a backpack collectively containing two sawed-off shotguns
, a 9mm semi-automatic carbine rifle and a 9mm Tec-DC9 semi-automatic pistol, they headed back to the school. They proceeded up the hill(10)
toward the top of the west entrance steps
, the highest point on the school grounds. From that position they were near the north side of the library and cafeteria, with the cafeteria entrance below them. The west entrance was to their left and the athletic fields was to the right. A witness heard one of the gunmen shout "GO! GO!"
and both Harris and Klebold pulled out their shotguns and opened fire.
Brooks Brown was quoted as saying later(4)
: "I went to go have my cigarette and heard gunshots, so I took off and started running. I went to random houses, called the cops and told them I knew who it was; it was Eric, it had to have been."
Brooks was seen by witnesses around this time heading south on Pierce Street, in the direction of his home.
and Rachel Scott
were sitting on the grassy knoll between the gunmen and the west entrance when they started shooting. (11)
Richard was hit with eight bullets but survived though he suffered critical injury to his spine that would cripple him for life. Rachel was hit four times by bullets from Eric's 9mm Hi-Point
, taking a fatal bullet to the head. Interestingly, the name 'Rachel' is mentioned on Eric and Dylan's basement tape
, in which they make fun of girls who are always talking about Jesus.
Eric Harris took off his coat at that point and dropped it near the stairs, then he reloaded his weapon.(12) Lance Kirklin
and friends Danny Rohrbough
and Sean Graves
had just left the cafeteria through the side entrance at the bottom of the stairs with plans to go to "Smokers' Pit" at Clement Park across the street so Lance could have a smoke. Lance saw Harris and Klebold standing at the top of the outdoor stairway but thought the gunmen were just playing a senior prank so the three friends headed up the stairs.(13)
Eric and Dylan targeted them next.(14)
Lance said later that he didn't remember hearing gunshots but he was hit in the leg and chest. Danny also was shot in the chest and fell back into Sean. Lance turned to run and was shot in the leg, causing him to fall to the ground. Sean ran past, taking several shots to the back and abdomen before a gunshot wound to the leg downed him just outside the door to the cafeteria.
Five students who had been sitting to the west of the stairs were shot at as they ran for cover.(15)
15-year-old Michael Johnson
was hit but he was able to reach the outdoor athletic storage shed where he hid with the other three uninjured students who had already made it there. Mark Taylor
suffered a critical hit and fell. Crippled and unable to flee with the others, he played dead.
Anne Marie Hochhalter
had been eating lunch with friends on the grassy knoll when the shooters opened fire. She got up and tried to run for the shelter of the cafeteria and was shot by Harris.(16)
Paralyzed from her injuries, she fell.
The gunmen attempted to shoot some more people who were near the soccer fields several yards away but didn't hit anyone.(17)
They also lit and threw home-made pipe bombs onto the school roof, toward the grassy hill to the right and down into the parking lot. Witnesses reported hearing one of the gunmen say: "This is what we always wanted to do. This is awesome!"
Teacher Peggy Dodd, who was in the library at the time, said she looked out the window and could see Dylan "standing on the hill, just shooting".(19)
He had been a student in her computer class the previous year and she remembered him as being a "troublemaker who hacked into computers and wore tall Nazi boots and an overcoat". Dodd said that Klebold was holding a weapon with both hands and, using a sweeping motion, was pointing it toward the south parking lot.
While the gunmen were firing on the fleeing students, Sean Graves managed to crawl to the doorway to the cafeteria but, weakened from blood loss, he couldn't make it all the way inside. He rubbed blood on his face and lay there playing dead.(20)
According to the Columbine Report
, Dylan then headed down the stairs where he shot Daniel Rohrbough at close range, killing him.(21)
However, an independent investigation led later by the El Paso County Sheriff's Department determined that Eric, not Dylan, was the one who had shot and killed Danny. Dylan shot Lance Kirklin again(22)
, this time point-blank in the face. Lance was critically injured by the shotgun blast that mangled his jaw. He lost consciousness and Dylan left him for dead, though Lance amazingly survived.(23)
From there Dylan went to the cafeteria entrance, stepping on Sean Graves when he entered the cafeteria briefly at 11:21 a.m..(24)
Dylan was, perhaps, trying to discover why the propane bombs didn't explode.
At 11:22 a.m. the school custodian set the surveillance camera
in the cafeteria to record again.(9)
On screen, students were beginning to notice what was happening outside; some went going to the big front windows to have a look. Jefferson County Sheriff's Deputy Neil Gardner, a community resource officer at Columbine High School, was sitting in his patrol car over by "Smoker's Pit" when he received a call on the school's radio from the custodian telling him that he was needed at the 'back lot' (student parking lot) of the school.
A 911 call from a student at Columbine at 11:23 a.m. reported a female fallen in the south parking lot,(25)
saying that she might be paralyzed. Deputy Paul Magor, who was en route to the diversionary explosion at Wadsworth, was advised of this by dispatch. Deputy Gardner heard the dispatched message over the Sheriff's radio as well and put his lights and sirens on as he headed to Columbine High School.
18-year old senior Nicholas "Nick" Foss
was in the cafeteria when a girl came running in from outside, screaming: "Someone's shooting! Someone's shooting!"
While other students ran away, he ran outside to see what was going on. He could see two guys on the ground, one of whom had "half his face blown off"
. He told investigators later that day that he ran over to the boy who'd fallen near the stairs (Rohrbough) and shook him but realized he was dead. Looking up, he saw the two gunmen at the top of the stairs shooting down at the people below. He recognized them from his 5th period Psychology class, though he didn't know either very well. Foss felt a shot graze his head(26)
and ducked back inside the school where he ran for the teacher's lounge. He was joined by his friend Tim Kastle, three female teachers, a female cook, and another male student. The group crowded into the private bathroom attached to the teachers' lounge where they would spend the next 45 terrifying minutes.
At 11:24 a.m. Coach William "Dave" Sanders
and school custodians Jon Curtis and Jay Gallatine entered the cafeteria to find out what was happening outside. Realizing the danger, they - with the help of a school security officer - directed students to get down, to hide under the tables and to get out of the cafeteria by leaving through the east exits.(9)
As students began to realize the situation was more serious than they initially thought, many panicked and ran, leaving behind their books, backpacks and even running out of their shoes in their haste to get to safety. Aaron Brown, younger brother of Brooks, was among the students running from the cafeteria. He made it out of the school safely and didn't stop running till he made it to his house.
At the same time the cafeteria was being evacuated, motorcycle patrolman Deputy Paul Smoker was up on West Bowles Avenue north of Columbine High School. Hearing the dispatch report about the female down in the south parking lot of the school he radioed that he was responding to the call and headed that way.
Patricia "Patti" Nielson
was on hall monitor duty when she heard the commotion outside of the school. She looked out the west entrance and saw a male student carrying what she thought was a toy gun and assumed that a school video production was being taped or that it was some sort of a prank. She didn't approve of how 'real' it looked and went out to tell them to "knock it off".
Student Brian Anderson
had been told by another teacher to get out of the school because of the explosions and commotion. Not realizing where or what the danger was, he went out through the first exit he came to: The west entrance
to the school. Going through the first set of doors, he saw Eric Harris outside the second set of double doors but he knew Eric was in film class so Brian assumed the gun that he was holding was a prop gun. Patti was right behind Brian. Turning, Eric saw the two of them heading his way and he shot at them, shattering the glass doors that separated them from him.(27)
Glass and metal fragments sprayed into the corridor, hitting Patti in the shoulder, forearm and knee and hitting Brian in the chest.
Bleeding and terrified by the realization that she'd actually been shot at, Patti turned and ran to the library(28)
while Brian Anderson stumbled his way out of the west entryway. He followed her to the library where he quickly hid in a utility closet. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold entered the school shortly after, through the same entrance Eric had just fired on(29)
but they were distracted by the arrival of law enforcement outside.
Deputy Neil Gardner was the first on the scene.(30)
He decided to park in the senior lot where he would have a good view of the school and grounds. That lot happened to be the lot closest to the west entrance where the gunmen were. As soon as Gardner got out of his car Harris fired roughly 10 shots at the deputy from the west entrance before his weapon jammed.(31)
Deputy Gardner returned fire, aiming 4 shots at Eric. Gardner thought for a moment that he had hit Harris when the gunman turned sharply to the right but Eric was only clearing the jam; seconds later he began shooting at the deputy again. Gardner's patrol car wasn't hit
but the two vehicles he parked behind both took two shots each. After the quick exchange Eric Harris retreated through the shattered west entrance into the school.
By 11:25 Patti Nielson had made it to the checkout desk in the school's library and frantically placed a 911 call
as she tried to get the students in the library to hide under the tables. The tables weren't very large and were not designed to have people under them but the students complied as best they could, though they didn't really understand what was happening. Most thought it was some sort of joke or drill and kept moving around. Patti repeated several times for them to stay down while she was on the phone with 911 dispatch describing what she experienced and could still hear.
from students and neighbors who lived near the school soon began to flood the dispatch as well as more people became aware that something was not right at Columbine. On the police band dispatch informed officers that possible shots had been fired at the high school and that one female was down.
At 11:26 a.m. Gardner radioed for backup, telling dispatch "Shots in the building. I need someone in the south lot with me."(30)
Jefferson County dispatch sent the word out that multiple shots were fired and the fire department sent a truck over to the grass fire the diversionary bomb had caused over on Wadsworth Blvd. In the library, Patti told the 911 operator that she could see smoke coming into the room. She wanted to close the doors that led to the hall where the smoke was coming from but the sounds of gunfire and pipe bombs were too frightening; she had children of her own to think about and was rightfully afraid that she would get shot if she left her hiding place.
Deputies Scott Taborsky and Paul Smoker arrived on the west side of the school. They quickly rescued two injured students who were lying on the ground near the baseball field. Down the hill, Smoker saw Gardner with his gun out; Gardner yelled to Smoker just as
Eric Harris reappeared in the west entrance. Eric exchanged more shots with Deputy Gardner, firing his rifle out one of the broken windows of the west entrance. Deputy Smoker fired three times as well and Harris retreated back inside the building where the deputy could hear more gunfire. The deputies could hear more gunfire inside the school and saw several more students flee the building.
Many students who weren't at lunch were still in classrooms and had no idea what was happening. A student in the gym hallway saw Dylan and Eric walking east down the north hallway firing weapons and laughing.(32)
Dylan fired his semi-automatic down the east hall;(33)
bullets ricocheted off lockers and lodged in walls as students fled the attack.
Students Stephanie Munson
and Melissa Walker stepped out of a tech lab classroom into the north hallway in time to see a teacher and several other students running toward the school's main entrance to the east. The teacher hollered for them to "Run! Get out of the building!"
. Dylan fired his TEC-9 at them and they ran for the east entrance as well. As they made it to the exit Stephanie was shot in the ankle(34)
but both girls were able to escape the building and to make it to safety in Leawood Park, across the street.
A student in the counseling hall saw Dylan chase a group of students(9)
east down the north hallway toward the main lobby. Eric wasn't far behind. Another student who was on one of the phones at a bank inside the lobby glanced up in time to see them coming: She saw the sleeve of Klebold's black coat and his TEC-DC9 firing toward the main entrance of the school. She had been talking to her mother but when she saw the gunman she dropped the phone and hid in a nearby restroom.(35)
Dylan stopped near that bank of phones then ran back the way he came, west along the north hallway toward the library.(36)
The frightened student crept out of the restroom and back to the phone where she whispered to her mother to come pick her up. The girl then escaped through the east exit of the school. Her mother's cell phone bill showed this call to have been made from 11:23 to 11:26 a.m.; the student estimated she'd been talking to her mother for about two minutes before she saw the shooter.
After evacuating the cafeteria, Coach Sanders headed up the stairs where he passed the library, motioning to Peggy Dodd that she and the others should stay put. Seeing Eric and Dylan ahead in the hall, Coach Dave Sanders turned and went back the way he'd come but he was shot in the neck by Eric Harris just before making it around the corner.(37)
Varsity basketball player Greg Barnes,(38)
a junior, was in a nearby science room, looking out the window when he saw Sanders go down. "I saw Coach Sanders turn around, take two shots, right in front of me. Blood went flying off him and he fell,"
he told reporters later.(39)
Sadly, Greg committed suicide May 4, 2000.(40)
Eric paused to search his duffel bag for something,(41)
possibly ammunition for a reload. Dylan fired down the north hallway again then ran to the top of the cafeteria stairs right past where Coach Sanders lay bleeding.(42)
After a moment Dylan doubled back to the library hallway and rejoined Eric.(43)
After Dylan was up the hall Coach Sanders was able crawl to the corner of the Science hallway where teacher Richard Long helped him into classroom SCI-3.(44)
A group of students, including Eagle Scouts Aaron Hancey(45)
and Kevin Starkey,(46)
attended to his injuries and administered first aid while others called 911. They were told by emergency dispatch that help was "on the way".
At 11:27 a.m. Deputy Neil Gardner radioed in a Code 33 (officer needs emergency assistance). He also requested medical assistance to the west side of the school. On Pierce Street, Deputy Magor set up a roadblock where he was immediately approached by a teacher and several students who wanted to report a person at the school with a gun.
Inside the school, Harris and Klebold paced the library hallway for nearly three minutes firing their weapons and throwing pipe bombs.(47)
They threw two pipe bombs over the stairway rail into the cafeteria the explosions of which can be seen on the cafeteria surveillance camera
. They threw two more in the library hall, damaging some lockers. They did lots of damage to the school but they didn't injure anyone during this time, though they looked in several of the science rooms where students were hiding. Smoke from the pipe bombs poured into the library from the hall and the cafeteria downstairs as well.
In the library, Patti Nielson continued her 911 call
from under the checkout desk, reporting what she could see and hear. Another teacher was on the phone with 911 at the other end of the hall at that time as well, reporting everything she heard.(48)
Patti split her attention between trying to talk to the 911 operator and ordering the kids in the room with her to stay down on the floor as she was afraid the shooters would enter the library where she, 3 staff members, and 55 students were hiding.
Student Aaron Hancey
hid with the injured Coach Sanders and a handful of other frightened students who were trying to help the injured man. When pipe they heard bombs go off near the door to the classroom the students grew scared that the window in the door would allow the shooters to see them. Not wanting to be being shot as well, the kids hid when the gunmen walked by, leaving Sanders laying on the floor where he could be seen in the hope that Klebold and Harris would think he was already dead and not bother with the room. Once the gunmen had passed the students moved back to the critically injured man's side to keep him company and show him pictures of his family to keep him talking.
Downstairs, Nick Foss, Tim Kastle, and some other students tried to climb to freedom from the bathroom through the heating duct in the ceiling but the duct broke.(26)
Nick fell 18 feet to a table below in the teachers' lounge where he got up and ran out of the school to look for help. He didn't know his twin brother Adam Foss(49)
was still trapped in the school where he barricaded himself in a narrow closet near the choir room along with several other students.(50)
Several students who were able to escape from the high school took cover behind Deputy Scott Taborsky's car(9)
and told him that two gunmen wearing black trenchcoats were in the school, armed with uzis and hand grenades. Deputy Smoker radioed in at 11:28 a.m. that the shooter was wearing a black trenchcoat, going off statements from the students who'd made it out of the school.
Eric threw a pipe bomb right outside the library where Patti Nielson was still on the phone with 911. She told the operator that the shooter (she only thought there was one at the time and she described him as "very big") was right outside the door. She lowered her voice to a whisper and spoke very little after that but the operator stayed on the line, recording what the phone could pick up.
Student Evan Todd
, in response to Patti's order to hide, had hidden himself behind a support pillar near the copy counter just before the explosion in the hall. He looked around the pillar to see what was going on and saw Eric Harris out in the hall, carrying a sawed-off shotgun in one hand and a lit pipe bomb in the other. Eric threw it and soon after Evan heard another explosion. When Evan peeked around the pillar a second time, he saw Eric standing directly in front of the library doors. Eric saw Evan as well and fired a round into the library aimed at him.(51)
Evan ducked low behind the nearby copy counter to the north of the circulation desk. Eric fired another round, splintering the wood of the counter and injuring Evan with flying debris.
At 11:29 a.m. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold entered the library, hollering for everyone in the large room to "Get up!"
-- loud enough that they could be heard over the phone Patti was holding. Witnesses hiding in the library's sub-rooms said
they heard the gunmen say things such as: "Everyone with a white cap or baseball cap, stand up!"
and "All jocks stand up! We'll get the guys in white hats!"
Wearing a white hat at Columbine was a sign of being a 'jock', of which there were several hiding in the library at that time. When no one stood up, one of the shooters was heard to say, "Fine, I'll start shooting!"
Dylan and Eric proceeded through the library toward the west windows on the opposite side of the room, past two rows of computers to their north.(52)
Klebold shot at the computer lab
while Evan Todd quickly moved to a new hiding place behind the administrator's desk. 16-year-old Kyle Velasquez
, who had suffered a stroke as an infant and was mentally retarded,(53)
was sitting at the computer table in the north row when Dylan Klebold shot him
. Kyle took a shotgun blast in the back of the head and died immediately.(54)
At 11:30 a.m. dispatch reported possible shots in the Columbine High library. Jefferson County Patrol Deputy Rick Searle had his hands full evacuating fleeing students outside who had taken cover behind Deputy Taborsky's car. In three trips he took the young refugees, including some who were injured, south to a safe place at Yukon Street and Caley Avenue that would quickly become a triage area for the injured.(55)
More students were hiding behind Taborsky's car by the time he returned. Meanwhile, Deputy Kevin Walker provided cover for the students fleeing Columbine's lower level. By that point county dispatch was swamped with 911 calls and had to go into an emergency command system to deal with the volume of reports, bringing in addtional dispatchers to deal with the overload.
The shooters set their backpacks filled with ammunition and Molotov cocktails down on the southern computer table.(56)
After reloading their weapons the gunmen moved(57)
between the north and south computer tables toward the western windows where Eric got down on one knee(58)
and began shooting out the west library windows at law enforcement officers who were evacuating students, shattering the glass between them. Klebold knelt down to the east of Harris and fired out the broken west window as well. Dylan stopped to take off his coat,(19)
dropping it before firing his shotgun at a nearby table, injuring Patrick Ireland
, Daniel Steepleton
, and Makai Hall
Outside the school, police returned fire but could not get a clear shot at either gunman. Fortunately for their intended targets, the gunmen were having no better success at hitting people outside.
Eric Harris turned away from the windows and opened fire on the nearest table to the north.(59)
His first shot killed Steve Curnow
, who was hiding under the last desk and his second shot injured Kacey Ruegsegger
Outside, deputies helped get escaping students and faculty to safety. At 11:31 a.m. Deputy Searle reported seeing smoke coming from the school. The fire alarms went off, blaring so loud some people on the phone with 911 couldn't be heard(60)
by emergency operators. On the 911 call from the library, one of the gunmen can be heard yelling "Yahoo!"(9)
and several shots are recorded. Matthew Depew - son of one of the officers later on the scene - made a 911 call from the kitchen looking for his dad.(61)
At 11:32 a.m. the Sheriff's Office fielded the first media call from reporters seeking information.(62)
Media crews in the area who were hoping for some news on the Jon Benet Ramsey case flocked to the scene in droves, totalling close to 400 before it was all over. In their desire to get as close to the scene as possible, some news vans even jumped curbs and parked in the grass. Several Denver police offers arrived on scene as well, responding to the incoming requests for more emergency backup.
Inside the library, Eric moved south and, seeing two girls hiding under the table there, he slapped the table twice. He then bent down and said "Peek-a-boo!"(63)
before he shot(64)
and killed Cassie Bernall
. The recoil from the shotgun caught him in the face, breaking his nose(65)
and making it bleed. The sight of the blood on his face disturbed several students who told reporters afterward that he looked as though he had been drinking blood.
Despite the danger still present, Pat Ireland moved out of his hiding place to administer first aid to Makai Hall.(66)
Seeing him, Dylan shot him twice in the head and once more in the foot when Pat tried to crawl back under cover. The blast knocked one of his shoes off and he fell to the floor, unconscious. Makai and Dan Steepleton played dead to avoid being shot at again as well.
Bree Pasquale was crouched down out in the open, just south of the table under which Cassie had been hiding; there was no other place for her to hide and when Eric turned her way she was completely defenseless. Gun aimed at her, Harris asked Bree: "Do you want to die?"
Bree answered: "No, please don't shoot me, I have a family and a fiancé."
He laughed at her then finally seemed to notice his nose was bleeding.(68) "Dylan, it hit my nose."
he said and, according to Bree Pasquale, he started laughing again. "Everyone's gonna die,"
he said, then added: "We're gonna blow up the school anyway."(19)
Dylan then called his attention to two boys hiding under another table and Eric, distracted, forgot about Bree and moved to joined his fellow gunman. It would be four days before she would sleep again, she was so traumatized by her encounter with Harris.
Dylan was at another set of tables east of Harris, where three friends were hiding: Matthew Kechter
(a football player), Isaiah Shoels
(an ex-football player and wrestler whose father later said had a "dispute" with the shooters(69)
) and Craig Scott
(younger brother of victim Rachel Scott
). The shooters flanked the table on the east and west sides; Isaiah was heard by witnesses to have told the shooters that he was scared and wanted to go home to see his mom.(67)
Dylan made a racial comment toward Isaiah and tried to pull him out from under the table.(70)
When that didn't work, Eric fired under the other side of the table, killing Isaiah.
Dylan followed his lead and shot under his side of the table as well, killing Matt Kechter.(71)
Craig Scott was miraculously uninjured, left to lay in his friends' spilling blood, pretending to be dead. Eric then threw a CO2 cartridge (home-made bomb the shooters called "crickets") under the table where Makai, Daniel, and Pat were. It landed on Dan's thigh but he was too afraid of being shot to move, even though he could see it was lit. Makai Hall grabbed the bomb threw it back out, further south away from the gunmen and the table.(72)
It exploded mid-air without hurting anyone.
Harris then headed over to some bookcases between the center and west sections of the library, where he jumped on the shelves, shaking them and swearing.(73)
Witnesses say he fired a shot somewhere behind the bookcases but no one could see him then.(74)
Meanwhile, Dylan crossed the room to the east side of the library where he shot out the trophy case near the door.(75)
Moving around the broken display, he shot underneath the nearest library table to the south,(76)
leaving Mark Kintgen
with bullets in his head and shoulder. Klebold then turned and shot at the students hiding under the table to his left,(77)
injuring both Lisa Kreutz
and Valeen Schnurr
with the same bullet. He then fired eight times in rapid succession,(78)
followed by a ninth shot, killing Lauren Townsend
, who had been beside Val Schnurr.
Dylan then moved to join Eric, who went over to another table where two girls were hiding. He bent down so he could look at them, then dismissed them as "Pathetic".(79)
Valeen, who had been forced out of her hiding place by the shot she'd taken cried out in panic: "Oh, my God! Help me!"
several times. One of the shooters, who was reloading his weapon at the time, asked her if she believed in God. She floundered in her answer, saying no at first and then yes, trying to get the answer 'right'. He asked her 'Why?' and she said it was because it was what her family believed. She crawled back under the table then and pretended to die.
Popular belief has it that Cassie was the individual who was asked "Do you believe in God?" but the above recount is what the witnesses in the library reported and what was entered into the Columbine Report.
Eric Harris moved to another table where he shot and injured Nicole Nowlen
and John Tomlin
. John tried to crawl out from under the table at that point and Dylan Klebold shot and killed him. Eric then walked around the table, back to the table where Lauren had been killed. Kelly Fleming
was hiding behind it; as was the case with Bree Pasquale, there wasn't room under a table for Kelly. Eric shot her in the back. She died instantly. He shot under the table once more, hitting Lauren (who was already dead) and Lisa again. He also wounded Jeanna Park
, who was hiding under the table as well.
At 11:34 a.m. the shooters moved to the center of the library where they reloaded their weapons at a table midway across the room. Eric then caught sight of a student hiding under a nearby table and, recognizing him, told him to identify himself.(80)
With Dylan aiming a gun at his head, John Savage identified himself. He was an acquaintance of Dylan's. He asked Dylan what he was doing, to which Klebold replied casually: "Oh, just killing people." John asked if they were going to kill him too and Dylan told him to get out of the library. John left immediately, escaping through the library's main entrance.
At 11:35 a.m. Eric turned and fired on the table directly north of where they'd been,(81)
shooting Daniel Mauser
in the face at close range, killing him. Both Dylan and Eric then moved south to another table where Jennifer Doyle
, Stephen "Austin" Eubanks
, and Corey DePooter
were hiding. Both gunmen opened fire on the kids hiding there. Jennifer and Austin were injured. Corey was killed.
The gunmen then headed toward the administration desk; Eric threw a Molotov cocktail toward the southwestern end of the library as he went but it didn't explode. Eric came around the east side of the counter and Dylan joined him from the west. They both converged near where Evan Todd had moved to after being injured.(82)
Dylan made fun of him and discussed killing him but didn't (see Evan's story
). Eric then suggested they go down to the school's common area. Before leaving Dylan fired a shot into the library staff break room, hitting a television.(83)
He then slammed a chair down on top of the computer terminal that was on the library counter, beneath which Patti Nielson was hiding.
The gunmen left the library at 11:36 a.m.. Patti Nielson, still on the phone with 911, whispered to the operator that she had to go and then took opportunity to duck into the library's break room to hide in a cupboard. Library technician Carole Weld and assistant Lois Kean hid in the television studio while teacher Peggy Dodd hid in the periodicals room, where all four remained hidden until the Denver SWAT
team came to evacuate them at 3:30 PM.
At the same time the shooters were leaving the library, Deputy Searle reported a man on the roof wearing a red, white and blue striped shirt. The man was thought to be a possible third shooter at the time but he was later identified as an air conditioning repairman out on a service call to fix a leak above the girls' locker room.(84)
The repairman was on the roof when the first shots were fired. He used a pair of vice grips to clamp shut the roof's access hatch so no one could come up onto the roof. He then tried to hide himself so he wouldn't be shot. At the same time Jeffco SWAT team commander Manwaring arrived at Pierce and Leawood and declared that to be the SWAT staging area. The Littleton Fire Department was positioned at Pierce and Weaver streets.
Silence fell over the library for those left in it. Though the injured were moaning and everyone's ears were ringing from the explosions and the fire alarms were blaring the survivors later described the room as eerily quiet.(85)
The gunfire had stopped.
For the longest time no one moved, no one looked at each other, no one spoke. Slowly, those left alive crept out of the library through the northern emergency exit that led out to the sidewalk were the massacre began. Individually and in groups of two and three they escaped, fearful that the shooters would come back and finish what they started. Jeanna Parks and Kacey Ruegsegger made it to safety behind the shelter of Deputy Taborsky's patrol car where they hid till help could come for them. Val Schnurr and others fled for the safety of the patrol cars as well, telling officers that the shooters had left the library. Patrick Ireland, unconscious, and Lisa Kreutz, mostly paralyzed, were left behind.
In just over 7 minutes, 10 people were killed and 12 more wounded. There were a total of 56 people in the library; 34 escaped injury. The shooters had more than enough ammo to kill everyone but for whatever reason... they hadn't.
From the library Dylan and Eric made their way back down the hall to the science area. They looked in through the door windows of some of the locked classrooms and even made eye contact with several students but they didn't actually try to break into the rooms. Witnesses said that Eric and Dylan didn't appear to be overly intent on gaining access to any of the rooms. They easily could have shot the locks on the doors or through the windows into the classrooms but they didn't. Their behavior was rather directionless at this point.
At 11:38 a.m. they threw several more pipe bombs down to the cafeteria below. They threw an explosive into a storage room in passing but no one was in it. A teacher saw the gunmen at approximately 11:40 a.m. in the science hallway in front of the chemical storage room just east of Science Room 3 where she was hiding. Several students saw Dylan and Eric shoot into empty rooms after they taped a Molotov cocktail to the storage room door next to the area where Coach Sanders and several students were hiding. The explosive caused a small fire in the storage room when it went off. A teacher put out the fire a short while later, once the gunmen had left the area.
Dylan and Eric headed down to the cafeteria at 11:44 a.m..
Eric stopped on the stairs
and knelt down to fire several shots with his carbine at a duffel bag containing one of the 20-lb propane bombs.(86)
Despite the room being littered with hundreds of backpacks and bags, he knew exactly which one to shoot at. It didn't work.
Dylan walked over to the same bomb after Eric's failed attempts to detonate it and tampered with something on the floor but again nothing happened. A witness hiding in the cafeteria heard one of the gunmen say: "Today the world's going to come to an end. Today's the day we die." (9)
The boys drank from some of the water bottles the other students left behind. The cafeteria surveillance tape showed Klebold light something (possibly a CO2 cartridge or pipe bomb) and throw it at the bomb. Smaller containers of flammable liquids were attached to the bomb and these were ignited by whatever it was Dylan threw, causing a fire as the shooters went back upstairs at 11:46 a.m..(87)
If you watch this surveillance tape clip
, you can see it go off about halfway through. The explosion is in the upper right-hand corner; it's hard to miss, being about 4 tables across in blast radius. The explosion blew out the windows of the cafeteria and the fire activated 5 sprinklers in the area. The actual 20-lb propane bomb and the second complete bomb/duffel bag beside a nearby table didn't explode. If they had, investigators believe it would have been enough to bring the whole library down on the cafeteria.
At 11:49 a.m. the shooters headed to the main office area where unarmed security guard and a secretary were hiding, on lengthy calls to 911. Outside, the Denver SWAT team arrived on the east side of Columbine. 3 minutes later Jefferson County Undersheriff John Dunaway arrived at the command post that the police had set up and authorized the SWAT team to enter the school.
At 11:53 a.m. Eric and Dylan moved from the offices to the art hall, firing their weapons into the ceiling as they went. They went back down to the cafeteria again at 11:56 a.m., looking defeated in posture on the security tapes. The bombs hadn't exploded and the sprinkler system had put out the fire they'd managed to start. At that time the first reports of two gunmen at Columbine High School were beginning to air on television. The shooters went into the kitchen very briefly then headed back upstairs once more, at 12:00 PM precisely. Outside, an armored vehicle arrived because the area was deemed unsafe for medical. Uninterrupted broadcasts on television were now airing on television stations nationwide, stunning the people of the United States.
From 12:02 to 12:05 PM the gunmen were back in the library, firing out the broken west windows at emergency workers and law enforcement who were trying to get people to safety and assist the wounded who were able to get out of the school. The Denver SWAT team finally started an approach to the school, under the cover of a commandeered fire truck.
At 12:04 paramedics were able to rescue Sean Graves, and Anne Marie Hochhalter from where they lay on the ground outside the school near the cafeteria. Both would later need wheelchairs. Lance Kirklin was rescued as well and transported to a makeshift triage area a few blocks away; Dan Rohrbough was deemed dead and left behind. Police had to provide cover for paramedics when they're shot at from the broken windows of the second floor library above the cafeteria.(88)
Officers returned fire to provide cover for the folks executing rescue maneuvers while SWAT members watched the scene unfold from nearby roofs of houses. Once the ambulances left with the three injured students the gunfire from the library ceased. At that point the only people left alive in the library were Patrick Ireland, Lisa Kreutz and the four faculty hiding in the break and video rooms, including Patti Nielson. Because of the noise of cover fire from law enforcement outside, none of them were able to say later when exactly Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot themselves but after 12:05 no shots attributed to the killers were fired.(89)
Investigators believe they committed suicide shortly after opening fire on the rescue workers below.
Escaping students were "leap-frogged" down a line of police cars positioned to provide cover for them outside the school. A news helicopter began circling the school at that time, providing aerial coverage of the event. At 12:06, the first SWAT team arrived at the school's east entrance. Jefferson County SWAT Deputy Allen Simmons' team of five men entered the building through the south-east entrance.
A smoke alarm on the ceiling went off in the library at 12:08 PM, above where the shooters' bodies were later found. A small Molotov cocktail had been placed on a nearby table by one of the gunmen. The lit 'fuse' of the thing was hot enough to break the glass of the bottle, allowing the flammable liquid inside to spill out and make a small fire that set off the alarm but it didn't cause an explosion. Arson investigators determined the small fire occurred after the shooters killed themselves.
The heating and air conditioning repairman was removed from the roof of Columbine at 12:11 PM. At 12:21 PM, Lance Kirklin was taken from the official triage area southwest of the school at the south entrance to Clement Park and transported to Denver Health Medical. At 12:25 PM paramedics rescued Mark Taylor from where he lay bleeding nearby. Deputy Searle and other officials made it to the injured students hiding behind Deputy Taborsky's vehicle (including Jeanna and Kacey) and got them transported to medical facilities at around 12:27 PM.
At about 12:30 Jefferson County SWAT commander Lieutenant Terry Manwaring's SWAT team
reached the west side's back entrance. Believing the situation to be
one of hostage-negotiation, they sent in a team of 5 people through the upper level who stopped at the closed doors in the halls that seperated them from the science rooms, choir room and library (where the majority of the students are hiding/wounded/dead) afraid of encountering booby traps. About 20 students were freed.
Val Schnurr was taken from triage to the hospital at 12:31 PM. At 12:35 two members of the Denver SWAT team - Captain DiManna and Lieutenant Pat Phelan, rescued Richard Castaldo from the grassy knoll, laying him on the front bumper of the fire truck they were using for cover. Manwaring's team went in next to try to rescue Rachel Scott. The SWAT team brought her back to the fire truck where they realized she was dead. They put her down on the ground beside the fire truck and went back for Dan Rohrbough. On reaching him they found he too was dead and left him there. When he was told the other victims were dead, Deputy Scott Taborsky put Richard Castaldo in his patrol car and rushed him to triage. A half hour later Richard was on his way to the Swedish Medical Center.
Lt. Manwaring's team noticed an undetonated explosive in front of the west doors where they had rescued Richard from. Because of it, Manwaring decided to try to use the fire truck to ram the doors, which would provide the team entry into Columbine. His plan was short-lived: Due to the recent wet weather, the ground was very soft and the fire truck got stuck in the mud.
At 12:50 PM Sergeant Barry Williams, commander of the Jefferson County SWAT team, commandeered a front-end loader from a nearby construction site and used it as a shield to move into a position close to the east side of the school. At 1:09 PM his team smashed a window and entered the teacher's lounge. They secured the small lounge and looked into the cafeteria, which was destroyed and soaked in 3-4 inch deep water from the sprinkler system which was still spraying the bomb-blasted room. Melted chairs, dangling ceiling tiles, exposed wire and abandoned backpacks everywhere.
Part of Sgt. Williams' team was left at the cafeteria entrance to secure it and cover those who delved into the warzone. The SWAT who went in found students hiding in kitchen storage rooms terrified and up to their ankles in water. The SWAT team's black uniforms and weapons made the traumatized survivors slow to respond; many saw the black uniforms the team were wearing and feared they were the shooters. 20 to 30 students were evacuated from the kitchen and storage rooms. They even found two males shivering and half-frozen in the freezer area.
Most of the evacuees were sent out of the school through the staff lounge window the SWAT had used to enter the building. This sight is what many who saw Columbine on the news remember seeing first: Kids being led out the broken window with their hands atop their heads like they were being taken prisoner. The SWAT thought the shooters might try to escape by changing their clothes and blending in with the other students so they checked everyone who left the building for weapons as well as injuries.
By 1:30 PM more students were freed from the downstairs areas where the shooters hadn't been. The SWAT kept getting conflicting reports about where the gunmen were so they checked places like the auditorium where they forced open locked storage room doors and choir robe closets. They found about 60 students hiding in the closet of the Music room. The kids were so frightened that they refused to respond to the SWAT when called to initially and wouldn't leave the closet. Many had seen the black combat fatigues and boots the shooters wore, which were similar to what the SWAT team was wearing. Confused and scared, they thought the SWAT were the people who'd been shooting up the school.
Once the officers were able to get the terrified survivors out, they were all searched and then evacuated in groups of 10. Despite having been searched and cleared, the victims were told to keep their hands on their heads as they were hustled out of the damaged school. The news footage of the sight of kids being herded like prisoners out a broken window and past the bodies of Rachel and Danny was the first scene many would see of the shootings at Columbine High as news crews were live and rolling by that time.
By that time the other team had cleared the southeast section of Columbine. Williams' group moved from the Cafeteria to the second level of the of the school.
Not far from where they were student Deidra Kucera posted a sign in the window: "1 BLEEDING TO DEATH" in an attempt to get some kind of help to Coach Sanders. The SWAT team was told of the sign and that the room they needed to go to would have a bloody rag tied to the handle. But seeing pipe bomb fragments, the SWAT team decided to proceed with caution. It took them until 2:30 PM to reach the room. Despite the combined efforts of the students to save him, Dave Sanders died on the floor from blood loss nearly three hours after he was shot. A student who was with him when he died said Coach Sanders' last words were: "Tell my family I love them."
At 2:30 two SWAT teams enter the teachers' lounge next to the kitchen and began securing lower the lower level and freed the people hiding in the kitchen and bathrooms.(90)
Casualties began arriving at two local hospitals. Five people suffering from serious gunshot wounds were taken to the Swedish Medical Centre in Denver.
At 2:38 PM the SWAT moved in to rescue Patrick Ireland
who had regained consciousness and had, in a desperate attempt to stay alive, hauled himself to the second floor window of the library. Slipping in and out of consciousness, he pushed himself up using his good leg and rolled himself out onto the ledge where he dangled, with nothing to land on below but concrete. With news cameras capturing everything, the SWAT had to move in under the cover of an armored unit to rescue him before he fell.
Around that time, the students with Coach Sanders had given up waiting and snapped the legs off a table to make a gurney for him. At 2:42 PM, Williams' SWAT team finally made it to where Dave Sanders lay bleeding on the floor of the science lab. They radioed in for medical assistance to be sent in for a "teacher with multiple gunshot wounds". They wouldn't let the students use their gurney to move Sanders in -- they said they wanted to get the healthy people out first then they would move him out. At 2:47 that team moved roughly 60 students from the science area, freeing them from the building while two team members remained with the still-living Sanders.
It wasn't until 3:25 PM that the SWAT team finally made it into the library. The four officials who entered had to step over numerous bombs trying to get to each of the victims. They found Lisa Kreutz badly injured but still alive and, seeing her wounds, called for paramedics. Lisa was placed on a backboard and transported to the hospital at 3:37 PM, the last surviving victim to be removed from the school.
At 4:38 PM Dr. Christopher Colwell was called from the Denver Health Medical Center to search for signs of life among those left at the scene. Outside, he pronounced Rachel Scott and Dan Rohrbough dead. At 4:45 PM he was taken to the library where he pronounced 10 more students dead. He was then escorted to the science area, where he found and pronounced Dave Sanders dead. He bled to death while waiting for medical assistance to arrive.
Around 4:00 PM the sheriff made an initial estimate of 25 dead students and teachers - 10 over the actual count. Littleton police entered the library where they found Eric and Dylan dead from self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the head. The shooters lay close together in bloody heaps; Dylan was found laying on the floor with the TEC-DC9 and Eric had his sawed-off shotgun between his legs, slumped against a shelf of books. Both boys were still armed with several unused weapons
(Investigation later confirmed the boys were both dead by 12:30 PM, three hours before their bodies were found, even though the officials knew for hours the shooters had been in the library thanks to the 911 call Patti Nielson made. See the autopsies.
). Officials searched Dylan and Eric's bodies at that time to be sure there were no booby traps. Around 3:30 PM the bomb squad had also been called in to go over the area. These events took place before any forensics teams were allowed in to take pictures, so the bodies were not in their original positions when the infamous photos were taken of the gunmen dead in the library.
At 4:30 PM Columbine was officially declared safe but more officers were called in at 5:30 PM when explosives were found in the parking lots. At 6:15 PM the bomb squad found a live bomb in Dylan's car
, so the sheriff declared the whole school a crime scene, cordoning it off with police tape -- with all the dead bodies still inside. The dead couldn't be moved till a full investigation was done. At 10:45 PM, the car bomb went off when an official tried to defuse it, damaging the BMW without injuring anyone.
The day after the shootings, thousands of people came and went, leaving flowers and other memorials
for those who died. It was sunny that afternoon but as soon as the bodies of the shooters were removed from the school, an unseasonable blizzard began.
- Columbine Report pgs. 10101-10200
- No Easy Answers: The Truth Behind Death at Columbine book by Brooks Brown
- Fatal Friendship by Lynn Bartels and Carla Crowder, Denver Rocky Mountain News
- Shooter told friend: 'Get out of here' by Mark Eddy, Denver Post
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- Teen shot five times reports he feels 'great' by Rebecca Jones, Denver Rocky Mountain News
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- 5 years after Columbine ripples of heartbreak, hope for survivors Associated Press, USA Today
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- Paralyzed shooting victim released from hospital CNN, August 13 1999
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- Parents link suicide to massacreby Neil H. Devlin, Denver Post - May 19 2000
- The Big Hero of Littleton by Rick Reilly, Sports Illustrated - May 4 1999
- The 14th Columbine Victim by Tim Barnes, Go Inside - May 21 2000
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- Twins helped others in crisis by Kevin Vaughan, Denver Rocky Mountain News
- In a Violent Instant, Routine Gives Way to Panic by James Barron and Mindy Sink, New York Times - April 21 1999
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