Killers had help, police believe

Scheme elaborate, long in the planning, authorities say

Colo. school booby-trapped

Death toll includes 12 students, teacher and 2 assailants

Colorado School Shooting

April 22, 1999|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

LITTLETON, Colo. -- As police began yesterday to remove the bodies of the victims of Tuesday's deadly rampage at Columbine High School, a picture began to emerge of a chillingly calculated killing spree by two heavily armed teen-agers.

Police said the scheme was so elaborate that they suspect the killers -- identified as Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17 -- had accomplices in carrying out their apparent "suicide mission."

When the shooting and bombing were over Tuesday, 14 students, including the two killers, and one teacher were dead -- a total 10 lower than initial police estimates.

Twenty-eight people were taken to hospitals.

"This is not something they did overnight. They did a lot of planning," said Jefferson County Sheriff John Stone.

About 30 explosive devices have been found in and around the school, leading investigators to suspect that more youths may have been involved, possibly helping to carry the bombs.

Ammunition clips suggest nearly 100 rounds were fired by the killers.

"I have concerns about whether two people could carry all that stuff in there," Stone said.

Dave Thomas, Jefferson County's district attorney, said investigators are pursuing leads about other students who might have had advance knowledge of the shootings.

Two students dressed in paramilitary garb at the school were detained for questioning but released. No arrests had been made as of last night.

Students, parents and area residents made pilgrimages yesterday to Columbine High School, a modern, light building set in a residential neighborhood.

Some visitors wore blue and white lapel ribbons -- the color of the Columbine Rebels athletic teams. Many brought flowers, which they piled up against yellow police tape that marked the perimeter, beyond which only authorities where allowed.

Family `devastated'

Harris' family released a statement "expressing our heartfelt sympathy to all the victims and to the community. The Harris family is devastated by the tragedy and is mourning the loss of their son."

Klebold's family had not been heard from.

Police said evidence they uncovered at the scene and in searches of the suspects' homes reveals a careful plan involving homemade bombs and semiautomatic weapons, designed to kill not only classmates but also possibly rescue workers responding to the scene.

Harris and Klebold were part of a clique of computer-savvy students known as the "Trench Coat Mafia," readily identifiable by their preference for dark clothing, black nail polish and long duster trench coats.

A number of Web pages and Internet chat rooms have been discovered, police said, some of which reportedly made reference to something that would occur Tuesday.

The two were arrested early last year for breaking into a car. They successfully completed a juvenile intervention program for wayward youths in February.

School officials say Columbine High, which suffered significant damage from the explosions and gunfire, probably won't be opened again this school year. Arrangements will be made for the students to complete the semester elsewhere.

Meanwhile, outside Columbine High, visitors were creating a shrine.

While authorities were carrying out bodies, Missy Michalek, 17, led a delegation of friends from nearby Chatfield Senior High School. Though they couldn't get close to the scene, they came to leave notes and flowers.

Construction worker Ray Rauh came with his daughter, Jessica, a Columbine student. She was heading outside with her gym class Tuesday and saw the gunmen heading in.

Her teacher first corralled the students back in the gym, then told them to run to safety.

Jessica Watson, a 16-year-old sophomore at Columbine, was in a math class when the shooting began and managed to escape to a nearby home. "It's going to be hard for anyone to go back in that school," she said.

Ben Martin, a youth pastor at the nearby Colorado Community Church, said teen-agers can have an especially hard time healing from such tragedies.

"It steals their innocence. A lot of adults have seen stuff. They have seen the damage from when people do selfish things. Now you have freshmen who have seen things that many adults never will see," said Martin, who runs a youth group whose members include two Columbine survivors.

"A kid who has held another kid who has been shot will never forget that."

Meeting and vigil

More than 1,000 people came to a meeting for parents and students yesterday morning at a neighborhood church. Grief counselors were on hand. A community vigil was held last night in a Denver park. Lines stretched for blocks around blood banks.

Littleton is an upscale suburb southwest of Denver that has experienced rapid growth in recent years. It is on the leading edge of the city's sprawl, and small farms can be seen along the road, boxed in by strip malls.

Columbine High, which draws its 1,800 students from throughout the county, ranks among the state's most academically advanced.

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