Columbine panel faults authorities for failing to act before massacre
DENVER (AP) – Authorities failed to recognize and act on numerous signs that two teens were planning the deadly attack on Columbine High School, the head of a gubernatorial task force said Thursday.
”There were a number of red flags,” said William Erickson, a former state Supreme Court justice and chairman of the Columbine Review Commission.
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold told fellow students that something would happen, recorded video tapes outlining their plan and showing off their weaponry, and Harris posted threats on a Web site that had been reported to the sheriff’s department, Erickson said.
Jefferson County Sheriff John Stone, who oversaw law enforcement’s response to the 1999 attack, declined immediate comment. But Undersheriff John Dunaway said the department disagrees with at least some of the report.
”We may not agree with all the conclusions or every point made in the report, but we support the spirit in which the commission fulfilled its task,” he said.
The report details events before and after the attack in which Harris and Klebold killed 12 students and a teacher before committing suicide.
It recommends various steps schools and law enforcement agencies should take to prevent other incidents, including threat assessment teams in every Colorado high school and middle school. It says all threats should be taken seriously and calls for increased emphasis on law-enforcement training in preparation for big emergencies.
”Like any tragedy, there may be questions that are never answered and for which there are no answers because the killers themselves killed themselves at 12:08 that day,” Gov. Bill Owens said. ”I’m not sure what else we need to know. We know the sheriff dropped the ball in the pre-tragedy investigation.”
Erickson said sheriff’s deputies had prepared a search warrant for Harris’ home after receiving reports of threats and bomb-making activity.
”If the search warrant that was originally proposed had been issued, this probably wouldn’t have occurred,” Erickson said. ”As a result, we had one of the greatest school shooting tragedies, we’ve had copycat incidents since then.”
The search warrant was proposed about a year before the attack. Stone became sheriff in January 1999.
Randy and Judy Brown, who tried to warn authorities about Harris and Klebold after their son Brooks received threats, said they were angered by the report.
”We thought there would be a little more,” Judy Brown said. ”When is the police department going to investigate? They are not investigating over there, they are simply regurgitating the facts. It’s disgusting.”
Brian Rohrbough, whose 15-year-old son, Daniel, was shot outside the school, said: ”The commission was set up under a bad premise, which was not to point fingers.”
Owens formed the 15-member commission in January 2000. It heard from law enforcement officers, medical professionals, school officials, FBI agents and victims’ relatives.
The commission did not have subpoena power. Stone declined to speak to the panel, citing the investigation and pending litigation.
Victims’ families have filed nine lawsuits claiming the sheriff’s office botched the response to the attack and didn’t follow through on reports beforehand that Harris made threats over the Internet and was making pipe bombs.
”With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that the police response needs improvement,” Owens said. ”It’s really going to be up to the schools and the law enforcement authorities in terms of how quickly they choose to address these recommendations.”
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