Family of Colo. shooting victim sues gunmen's parents

They seek $250 million in high school attack

May 28, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

DENVER -- The family of one of the 12 students killed in the Columbine High School shootings in nearby Littleton last month filed a $250 million lawsuit here Thursday against the parents of the two young gunmen.

Michael and Vonda Shoels, the parents of Isaiah Shoels, an 18-year-old senior who was killed in the shootings on April 20, announced the lawsuit at a news conference here. They said they were suing to hold the parents accountable for their children's actions and to help make sure other parents were more responsible.

"It's not about the money, it's about change," Shoels said. "No money, no nothing, can ever bring my son back."

Although witnesses said Isaiah was sought out by the gunmen, both of them Columbine students, because he was African-American, and Shoels said his family had been harassed before the shootings, racial intimidation was not cited in the lawsuit.

The Shoelses and their daughter have since moved to Denver from Littleton to live, they said, in a more ethnically diverse area.

The lawsuit, filed in District Court, accuses the parents of the gunmen, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, of being "negligent in the duties and responsibilities of parental supervision" and contends that "by omission and inaction," they "facilitated the actions" of their sons.

The accusations include letting their sons build bombs in their homes and accumulate a cache of weapons; letting their sons associate with each other, even though they had previously been charged as juveniles in the break-in of a van, and letting them "author hateful extremist writings."

Shortly after the attack, Sheriff John Stone wondered how the young men's activities could have gone unnoticed and said: "I think parents should be accountable for their kids' actions."

Dylan's parents, Susan and Thomas Klebold, have already met with the authorities, but Eric's parents, Wayne and Kathy Harris, have refused unless they are granted immunity. Lawyers for the Harrises did not return phone calls yesterday, and lawyers for the Klebolds said they would have no comment.

Scott Robinson, a criminal defense lawyer here, said he thought it would be difficult to prove parental responsibility.

"Eric Harris was an adult at the time of the shooting," Robinson said in reference to the 18-year old gunman. Dylan Klebold was 17.

Robinson added that "the parents would have had to have actual knowledge that made it reasonably foreseeable that what would happen, happened."

He also said a flurry of similar lawsuits would create "a spectacle of injured people's families fighting over crumbs."

Many of the families of the 36 people who were injured or killed in the shootings publicly complained last week that they had not received any of the millions of dollars donated to them from people around the country.

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