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Expert backs sheriff's office

By Kieran Nicholson
Denver Post Staff Writer

Feb. 12, 2001 - Daniel Rohrbough most likely was shot and killed by a teen gunman at Columbine High, not a law officer as his family alleges, a pathologist who reviewed the autopsy report said.

"The autopsy seems to support (the sheriff's office) account of what went on as well as you can support it," said R.K. Wright, a member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and retired chief medical examiner of Broward County, Fla. The autopsy report was released Jan. 31, followed a week later by the autopsy summaries done on 11 other victims. The reports had been under seal at the request of the Jefferson County coroner and the victims' families, but The Denver Post sought a judicial ruling requiring their release.

The Post asked Wright to review the report after being referred to him from a national association of pathologists.

While Wright supports the sheriff's version, he says the matter would be a whole lot clearer if the fatal bullet had been found.

The autopsy reports says the bullet entered Rohrbough's chest and exited his back. But Rohrbough family lawyer Jim Rouse said authorities claim they never found the bullet.

"That is a little bit frightening," Wright said.

Rohrbough's family is suing the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office in federal court, claiming the 15year-old freshman was killed by "friendly fire" from a sheriff's deputy or police officer. Rohrbough was shot three times - in the chest, abdomen and left leg - with a 9mm gun, according to the autopsy report. The Rohrboughs' lawsuit claims that the upward trajectory of the fatal bullet to the chest, and that the bullet entered the body through the front and not from behind, proves Rohrbough was killed by a law officer.

The lawsuit says at least two witnesses support the theory that Rohrbough was shot from the bottom of a hill, while Dylan Klebold was behind him atop the hill.

The sheriff's department's Columbine report claims Rohrbough was shot in the knee, and then killed by Klebold, who fired two closerange shots as he stood over Rohrbough, who lay on the ground.

Eyewitness accounts will be key in supplementing Rohrbough's autopsy report and drawing a conclusion as to who fired the fatal shot, said Bruce Levy, the chief medical examiner in Tennessee.

"Typically, if we are dealing with a criminal matter and we are trying to make those decisions, we can say whether the findings are consistent with what the witness says or inconsistent with what the witness says," Levy said. "It can only be correlated when you have information of eyewitnesses or the set-up of the scene."

The report said the fatal bullet that hit Rohrbough in the chest traveled upward through his body.

Rouse said the bullet's upward movement through the body shows that the fatal shot was fired from downhill. But the bullet's path through the body doesn't necessarily mean that the shot came from below, Wright said. "What do you do when somebody is shooting at you?" Wright asked. "You run or you duck. And you can't run or duck unless you bend over."

Wright said if Rohrbough was running, or ducking, when he was shot, the bullet more than likely would have exited lower in the body, not higher. If Klebold was standing at Rohrbough's feet when he fired the shots, the angle of the fire with Rohrbough lying down could explain upward movement, he said. "He would have to have been lying on his back for it to happen that way" because of the entrance wound through the front.

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