Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Columbine High School Massacre

Police Under Fire

Sheriff John Stone
Sheriff John Stone (AP)

In response to police criticisms of the Harrises and Klebolds, Randy and Judy Brown reported to a local paper and News4 that police had done nothing when the Browns had complained to police about Eric Harris the year before. The Browns told reporters that they had had many run-ins with Harris over the past two years. In March 1998, they turned to the police when Harris threatened their son's life. Then they went to the sheriff's office with copies of 15 pages they had downloaded from Harris's Internet site. The writings included plans to shoot up the school, details of experiments with pipe bombs and, more specifically, a threat to kill the Browns' 17-year-old son, Brook. When the Browns had not heard anything from police, they called the sheriff's office. They were told that there was no record of such a complaint ever being made.

Having had no success with the police, the Browns went to see  Harris's parents themselves. Judy Brown felt that both Wayne and Kathy Harris had reacted as strongly as any normal parent would and they did talk to their son, but Judy believes that Harris had succeeded in deceiving his parents about the seriousness of the situation. This belief was soon confirmed when they received an email, written by Harris, which described how he had fooled his father.

As they still hadn't received any word from police, and the email repeated Harris's threats against their son, Judy and Randy decided to make a second visit to the sheriff's office. They met with a detective who said that the Internet postings they showed him were some of the worst he had seen. When he looked up police records, he found that Harris had been arrested recently for a car break-in. Despite this, no further action was taken and officials handling Harris and Klebold's break-in charges were not informed of the Browns' report. 

A police report regarding the Browns' complaints was forwarded to Neil Gardner, the sheriff's deputy stationed at Columbine High School, but no further action was taken. According to Jefferson County Schools' spokesman, Rick Kaufmann, the report was not forwarded to the school's district office but he did not know if anyone in the school received the report.

The district attorney's office says that it never received a copy of the report. Sheriff John Stone explained that his office received many complaints, known as "suspicious incidents," in any given period. They are usually given very low priority, although he did concede that the information regarding Harris's and Klebold's pipe bomb experiments should have been followed up more thoroughly.

According to Denver lawyer Scott Robinson, who reviewed Harris's web pages, the reports of building and detonating pipe bombs could have been used as probable cause to persuade a judge to issue a search warrant for Harris's house.

The need to find someone responsible for the horrific events at Columbine has resulted in the filing of at least 18 lawsuits before the October cut-off was reached. Anyone who may have any degree of culpability in the massacre -- gun makers, Harris's and Klebold's parents, the school district and the sheriff's department – will all be required to defend their position, if and when these cases come to court. With several lawsuits being filed against them, the Klebolds have filed their own suit against the sheriff's department in an attempt to cover the possible costs incurred if the cases against them are successful. Harriet Hall, the mental health worker responsible for providing counseling to the Columbine victims, was not surprised at the dissension that occurred in the community since the massacre. "I'd be worried if there weren't disagreements... This is a natural response to what the community has been through," she said.

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