Autopsy ruling upsets Columbine families
Some parents object to judge's decision to release findings
By Jeff Kass, News Staff Writer
They fought the release in court. Now they will face the decision.
Columbine family members were disappointed Tuesday after a judge ruled that parts of the victims' autopsy reports should be made public.
"Think about your niece or nephew, reading the newspaper, coming across their cousin's autopsy," said Don Fleming, whose daughter, Kelly, was killed at Columbine.
"They might not want to see it," Fleming said, but it's splashed across the papers.
One complete autopsy, that of Daniel Rohrbough, is to be released.
Daniel's mother, Sue Petrone, said she expected the autopsy to be made public in a courtroom, given her lawsuit over the shooting. But she believed that the courtroom would provide the proper context for the release.
"In court, it's a controlled environment," she said. "Now, it's a free-for-all with my son's life."
While Jefferson County District Judge Brooke Jackson will only unseal a part of most of the autopsies, that was little comfort to victims' families.
"I think it's safe to say they're disappointed anything is being released," said attorney James Rouse, who represents the families of six slain students.
Rouse said no decision had been made on whether to appeal the ruling, but added, "We're going to take a long, hard look at our options."
The family of shooter Dylan Klebold also asked the judge to stop the release of their son's autopsy.
"The autopsies themselves are quite troubling to any parent, including the Klebolds," said Klebold attorney Frank Patterson, who added that the Klebolds did not want the community to be retraumatized.
The judge ruled that the Klebold autopsy will also be subject to partial release. Patterson did not expect to appeal. He said the ruling "helps the healing process move forward."
But some victims' families were bothered that the full Klebold autopsy would not be released. Fleming said that if there was anything to be learned from the tragedy, it was what made the shooters tick.
"I don't think it's fair that Klebold should have the same partial sanctuary we're getting. . .," he added.
Petrone was also bothered by the partial release of Klebold's autopsy.
"I know the Klebold family is probably hurting, but I don't know why they withhold part of a murderer's autopsy," she said, "and they're going to release autopsies of innocent victims, and the full autopsy of my son."
Patterson declined to respond to those comments.
But he said of the judge's decision: "The Klebolds want to acknowledge and recognize the suffering of all the victims' families, but they're pleased the judge recognized they suffered a loss as well."
Contact Jeff Kass at (303) 892-2406 or kassj@RockyMountainNews.com.
January 31, 2001