Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Columbine High School Massacre

State of Emergency

All of the six district hospitals had been put on alert as soon as news of the shooting had been reported by the school's security guard at 11:35. They had swung automatically into emergency procedures. By 12:00 p.m., when the first of the victims began to arrive, they were ready for anything. Twenty- five people were admitted for treatment. Twenty-three had bullet wounds. Three were in a critical condition.

Woman embraces her daughter
Woman embraces her daughter (AP)

Terrified parents flocked to the school, watching helplessly as students ran from the building, hoping to catch a glimpse of their sons and daughters. In the midst of the chaos, someone began to organize a list of all known survivors. Parents read through the lists, searching for the names of their children. Many would have to wait a long and agonizing time before word of their children would bring relief. For others, the relief would never come.

When the sun set that night, it was on a different Littleton. Everyone in the town was to be affected by the tragic and frightening events of Tuesday, April 20, 1999. They were no longer innocents. No longer could they live secure in the knowledge that such things could never happen to them. It had happened. The next few months would bring the painful grief, self-recrimination and blame that is a natural process of coming to terms with such a violent and tragic event.

 A memorial candlelight vigil (AP)
A memorial candlelight vigil (AP)

Over the next few days, as citizens of Littleton erected memorials and held services for the fallen, police and SWAT teams cordoned off the school, which was considered a major crime scene. The bodies of the dead lay where they fell until nightfall on Wednesday, April 21. Families whose children were still unaccounted for waited nearby for the final identification of the victims. Unable to face the worst, they desperately held to any other possible explanation for why their children had not yet been found, hope not leaving them until the last, when they heard their children's names called from the list of the dead.

Schools in the district were closed on Wednesday as students and parents alike came to terms with the horror. Columbine would close for the rest of the school year. Many students would express their reluctance to ever return. Mourners from all over the district met at Clement Park, not far from the school, attempting to gain some solace in the other mourners around them. Flowers, candles, and posters were laid at makeshift memorials, as much for the living as the dead.

Columbine High School (AP)
Columbine High School (AP)

Wayne and Kathy Harris and Sue and Tom Klebold, the parents of the two teenage shooters, sat stunned in their homes as police searched for bombs, weapons and other material that might help them to understand what had occurred on Tuesday morning. Filled not only with grief for the death of their own children, they bore the weight of responsibility for the deaths of the people their sons had murdered. They were overwhelmed by disbelief. That their sons could have behaved in the way described by police and witnesses was beyond their comprehension. 

It would take many months of intense investigation, in what has been described as the state's most complex police investigation, before anyone would come close to some of the answers. The answers they found led to more questions, many of which may never be fathomed.

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