Columbine bullying no myth, panel told
Denver Post Legal Affairs Writer
Oct. 3, 2000 - Before two teens launched their deadly attack on Columbine High, bullying was rampant, the Trench Coat Mafia was menacing and the killers gave off repeated warning signs of their intentions, victims' parents and a former staff member charged Monday.
Often in tears, parents and special-education teacher Patti Stevens testified before the Governor's Columbine Review Commission meeting in Golden that everything principal Frank DeAngelis told the panel seven weeks ago was untrue.
Dale Todd said his wounded son, Evan, escaped from the school library and ran outside where other students were begging a deputy to go in and rescue injured students. Todd said the officer refused.
"They are soldiers. Soldiers die. I hate to be cruel - soldiers die. Law enforcement is not just an adventure with a 401(k). You can't hide behind cars when kids are being slaughtered and massacred," Todd said.
The emotional testimony came as the commission, for the first time since it began meeting in December, invited comment from the public, including relatives of the three dozen people killed and wounded by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.
DeAngelis told the commission Aug. 24 that stories of a Columbine jock culture prone to bullying kids like Harris and Klebold was a myth, that there was no Trench Coat Mafia and that staff members didn't detect bullying or have any warning of what was to happen.
"If there were no red flags, then why is my daughter in the ground?" said Dawn Anna, mother of slain student Lauren Townsend. "Why are there 12 children and Dave (Sanders) dead?"
Many of the 11 witnesses who testified Monday said bullying was a daily phenomenon and that school administrators, including DeAngelis, ignored it. Those allegations also are contained in the lawsuits now pending against the school district, sheriff's office and the parents of Harris and Klebold.
Among the accusations: That student Daniel Rohrbough was killed by an errant law-enforcement bullet, not Harris or Klebold. Authorities deny it.
"I know my son was killed by a law enforcement officer," Daniel's mother, Sue Petrone, told the commission.
Stevens, who was in the cafeteria with her special-education students, described rampant bullying at Columbine in the two years before the April 20, 1999, attack. She said one of the school's "jocks" singled out her kids for especially cruel treatment.
"I saw how afraid and scared my special education kids were," she said. "I mentioned it at staff meetings. I didn't get any response. They kind of blew me off.
"I had conversations with DeAngelis and he'd never listen to me," Stevens added.
Stevens also said members of the Trench Coat Mafia often hung out at the Southwest Plaza Mall, about a mile west of the school, and bullied people inside the shopping center, she said. Harris and Klebold were always there with their friends, she said.
Betty Shoels, the aunt of slain student Isaiah Shoels, said the Trench Coat Mafia harassed Isaiah daily but didn't solely target Isaiah, one of a few black students at Columbine and the only one killed.
The Trench Coat Mafia "was a group of kids who harassed kids. They'd go down the halls harassing kids, making racial slurs, not just racial slurs, harassing people they didn't like," Shoels told the commission.
Shoels added that Isaiah had gone to DeAngelis shortly before the rampage and told him of the harassment, but the principal told him, "- "We don't have those problems here,'- " Shoels said.
Only 72 hours before he was killed in the library, Shoels said she was with Isaiah and his parents. Out of the blue, Isaiah asked, "- "What would you do if I was gunned down?'- " She said she encouraged Isaiah to stay at Columbine, something she now regrets.
Shari Schnurr, mother of critically wounded student Val Schnurr, said her daughter told her there was bullying at Columbine. Val, now in college, was a peer counselor there.
"It was across-the-board intolerance," Schnurr said.
Students were bullied because of their race and religion, Schnurr said.
She said that among the religious slurs were "dumb Christian girls." When her daughter was shot in the stomach, Schnurr said, Val grabbed her stomach and said, "Oh, my God, oh, my God!" At that point, Klebold asked her, "Do you believe in God?" and she replied "Yes," Schnurr said. Schnurr said many students remain "very fearful" because they believe other students were involved with Harris and Klebold and remain at Columbine today.
Stevens testified that her special-education students are convinced there was a third shooter. Stevens even provided the commission with a name.
Randy and Judy Brown described how Harris specifically threatened their son, Brooks, on his vitriolic Web site and wrote that he and Klebold were planning a mass murder. The Browns said the information was passed on to Jefferson County investigators three times, but no action ever taken.
Commission chairman William Erickson said the panel is scheduled to meet again Oct. 27 and possibly Oct. 28. After a couple of additional sessions, the commission will begin writing its report. The report must be on the governor's desk by May 15.
Copyright 2000 The Denver Post. All rights reserved.