For one survivor, still no place to hide

Aftermath: Lisa Cosgrove survived unspeakable bloodshed. Certain moments stand out in crystalline detail, others are a merciful blur

Colorado School Shooting

April 23, 1999|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

LITTLETON, Col. -- That first night, after surviving the bloody four-hour siege of her school, Lisa Cosgrove took refuge in the place a frightened child instinctively turns to -- mom's bed.

But there was no haven, not that night or perhaps ever.

"I need to find a safe place to go!" her mother said she screamed during one of the nightmares that jolted the 16-year-old upright, eyes wide open but still in a dream state. "I need to get away from the windows!"

For Lisa and about 60 fellow students, the second-floor classroom at Columbine High had become a glass prison Tuesday afternoon.

The room, like much of the school, is lined with windows, one set facing the hallway and another looking outside to the breathtaking mountains -- purple and majestic as the anthem promises -- that cradle this small city outside Denver.

But those windows offered both danger and hope during those hours. The danger was that the two trench-coat-clad and armed students who were stalking the hallways would see the others and come in firing. The hope was that the SWAT teams and other police whom they could see outside the school would find a way to rescue them.

Lisa couldn't see him, but her father, Denver Police Sgt. Jim Cosgrove, was out there. He served 12 years on the department's SWAT team, but now works in internal affairs. When he learned of the shootings at his daughter's high school, however, he knew he had to be there, even if all he could do was wait anxiously and helplessly at the command post.

"I was there as a parent first," he said, "and a police officer second."

Police didn't storm the school immediately, fearing that would trigger more shootings and bomb detonations by the gunmen, Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17. Instead, police hovered nearby, on the ground and in the air.

Inside, the students tried to communicate across the glass window. Someone wrote a sign -- "Help us" -- and held it up to a window. One of the police helicopters, suspended in the sky near the classroom, blinked its lights in silent response.

Yet it would be many hours, many tears, unspeakable bloodshed and countless prayers later before the trapped students and teachers would be rescued.

Overwhelming emotions

L isa is but one of nearly 2,000 students reeling from the continuing horror of Tuesday's massacre. Her story, though, no doubt is a microcosm of the larger story: that of an entire high school terrorized by two of their own, and of kids whose comfortable, middle-class world has been shattered as completely as their school's windows.

When speaking about the still-surreal event, Lisa went from detached clarity to wordless, head-buried sobbing. Certain moments stand out in crystalline detail, others are a total blur, memories of bloody devastation that perhaps are mercifully submerged for now. She is angry -- she wishes eternal hell for Harris and Klebold -- and yet she is also stunned, grateful and almost beatific at how the students and teachers in her classroom faced death and helped one another survive.

"We held each other," she said, "and we prayed."

Lisa's class had just settled down to begin a biology test when the chaos erupted. Screams were heard outside, another student burst into the classroom, shouting, "Mr. Sanders has been shot."

"I said, `No, that's my basketball coach,' " Lisa recalled. She didn't -- couldn't -- believe it, but then, a moment later, William D. Sanders, bleeding profusely, fell into the room. He had been shot downstairs, apparently as he tried to protect students from gunfire, and then stumbled upstairs to escape.

Hidden as parents arrive

Lisa, at 6 feet 2 inches tall, with long, straight blond hair and beautifully clear skin, is exactly the kind of student Harris and Klebold were said to have hated and even targeted: the popular, athletic kids who, as in most schools, were at the top of the pecking order. In her two years at Columbine, she had made many friends -- as a freshman, five or six boys asked her to the prom -- and had grown close to Sanders, a father of four and grandfather of 10.

"I talked to him every day," she said. "I would talk to him about anything."

As students trained in first aid tried to help Sanders, Lisa huddled under a table, paralyzed with fear and dread.

"I never got up to look around. I just stayed where I was. I didn't want to do anything wrong," she said. "It would go through my head, `I could die.' Then it would go through my head, `Everything is going to be all right.' "

The students, who were in two classes in adjoining rooms, clustered together against a wall, the only place in the window-lined rooms where they were out of the line of vision from the hallway.

She could hear Sanders pleading for help and gasping for breath.

The gunfire went on seemingly forever, as the two youths reached their final destination, just across the hallway from Lisa's classroom, the library. It was like some twisted game of Clue: The murderers were in the library, with guns and pipe bombs.

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