Students in hiding

parents in anguish

Teens sought safety, called on cell phones, escaped to the buses Shots ricocheting off lockers

Colorado School Shooting

April 21, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

When he heard the noise in the hall, Adam Foss leaned out of the choir room, the room where the confident singers of Columbine High School outside Littleton, Colo., rehearse the kinds of songs that student choruses have sung for generations.

Hours later, he remembered seeing the barrel of a shotgun. He remembered seeing a flash of fire. He remembered seeing a teacher go down.

Foss, 18, said he scrambled back into the choir room and herded the other students into a closet, an 8-foot-by-8-foot room where sheet music is stored. Not knowing whether the gunman had pushed into the choir room and was poised to blast the closet or had gone away, Foss and his friends barricaded the door with a filing cabinet and waited.

The boys peeled off their shirts -- the closet was hot and stuffy, and they dared not open the door. They lifted one or two classmates who had trouble breathing toward the ceiling, where the ventilation seemed to be better. Together, they waited as the minutes ticked by on the tensest afternoon of their lives, until the police swept through the school and shouted that it was safe to come out.

In that moment early in the afternoon, the everyday routine of high school had given way to uncertainty, and then to panic. Two young men had invaded a suburban high school southwest of Denver at lunchtime, killing as many as 23 people and wounding at least 20 more, authorities said.

Some students froze where they were -- by their lockers, in the cafeteria, at their desks. Others tried to make a quick getaway, hoping not to catch the attention of the attackers. "Me and my friends got to my car and drove off," said a student whom the Associated Press identified only as Janine.

Still others tried unsuccessfully to sneak out of the school. Foss' twin brother, Nick, had been in a bathroom when the shooting started and was grazed on the head by a bullet. He tried to pull himself to freedom through a crawl space in the ceiling, but the ceiling gave way under his weight and he tumbled to the floor in a classroom.

In the halls, shots ricocheted off lockers as the gunmen in trench coats and combat boots opened fire with what students said were automatic weapons.

"He saw us and then he started shooting at us," another student, Jake Apoeaca, told the AP.

Some students with cellular telephones called relatives to say that they had not been hit. Kendra Curry called her grandmother and said that she was huddled with Adam Foss and the others in the choir room. Curry's mother, Lorie, said that the grandmother then let the rest of the family know that Kendra was safe.

Outside Columbine, hundreds of police officers from the Denver area were preparing to retake the school, room by room. Frantic parents were sent to an elementary school less than a mile away, where they waited for word of their children. From times to time, teachers at the elementary school would tell parents milling about on the sidewalk to come in, that children had been brought there and were inside on the stage.

Some parents at the elementary school could not find their children. One woman was talking on a cell phone, crying and saying: "Her name is not on any list. They don't know where she is."

At the high school, students were running to freedom. They boarded buses in groups of 40 or so -- school buses and city buses that had been waiting to carry them to the nearby elementary school. First one bus, then five to 10 minutes later, another one.

As the buses lumbered into the driveway at the elementary school, red, tear-stained faces could be seen looking out the windows, looking for parents and friends -- who were, of course, straining to see who was aboard.

As the buses came to a stop, the parents cried out their childrens' names: "Ashley," "Jody," "Mickey."

Sometimes they replied.

Scott Carlon, a 16-year-old sophomore, was standing in front of the elementary school. As he started to talk about what he had seen at the high school, a girl named Jane ran up and said, "Call your mom. Is your sister OK?"

He did not know.

One mother and daughter saw each other and embraced, crying and trembling as their anxiety turned to relief. The mother, Isabel Naslund, said that she had scrambled over fences and past roadblocks to reach the elementary school.

Her daughter Julie, a 15-year-old freshman, described an attack that had surprised and, at first, confused students and teachers alike.

"Everybody thought it was a joke, a senior prank," she said. Students had been expecting an onslaught of balloons filled with shaving cream a few days ago, she said, but that did not happen. So when the popping started, she said, many students believed it was just the seniors acting up.

Pub Date: 04/21/99

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