Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Columbine High School Massacre

The Finger of Blame

Memorial service
Memorial service (AP)

As the initial shock waves from the massacre rippled through the community, citizens were drawn together in their grief. Thousands attended memorial services for the slain, offering and receiving comfort as mourners attempted to come to terms with the tragedy that had befallen them. A spirit of forgiveness was even displayed toward the two teenage perpetrators in the form of two crosses placed alongside those of their 13 victims. Within days however, the mood began to change as grief turned to anger and all that were touched by the tragedy looked desperately for someone or something to blame. Before six months had passed, the need to hold someone accountable had turned the small community upon itself.

William Dave Sanders
William "Dave"
Sanders (AP)

Blame was first pointed at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department. Many believed that it had taken police too long to secure the building, leading to many unnecessary deaths. Teacher and coach Dave Sanders was wounded minutes after the shooting began but died just moments after paramedics reached him four and a half hours later. Police officials quickly defended their actions, explaining that due to the number of undetonated bombs in the building, it had been necessary to go through each room, 250 in total, one by one. Even if they had been told that Sanders was injured somewhere, they would not have been able to get to him any sooner. When asked why police didn't storm the building and confront the shooters, a commander of one of the SWAT teams, Denver police Lieutenant Frank Vessa answered "We're not the military. We can't have collateral damage. Our job was to save the lives of as many innocent as we could."

With the investigation in full swing, the blame began to shift in a new direction. When it was reported that bombs, a shotgun barrel, a journal and several hand written notes had been found in clear view in Eric Harris's bedroom, the parents of the two teenage shooters took the brunt of the community's anger. The Harrises and Klebolds were accused of being negligent parents who had ignored their sons' violent tendencies. The anger of some was so great that the Klebolds began to receive death threats. This was in stark contrast to the placard, conveying the love and support of friends and neighbors, left on their front lawn immediately after the massacre.

Friends and neighbors of the two families quickly jumped to their defense, claiming that they were good parents who had been completely unaware of their sons' disturbing behavior. A fellow student who had known Harris well believes that Harris had always hidden his anti-social behavior from his parents, the only reason he would have left things in the open that day was because he knew he wasn't coming back. According to close friends, the parents were as distressed and mystified by the boys' actions as everyone else in the community was. At no time had the school informed them of the dark poetry, anti-social behavior or the video they had made. Nor were they informed of several complaints about Harris, which were made to police by parents of another Columbine student.

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