Victims' families outraged by release of Columbine tape
LITTLETON, Colo. (AP) - An open book with tattered, charred pages sits on a desk. A calculator and pencil lie near a pockmark in the desktop. Pools of blood have seeped across the library's beige carpet and folded yellow cards show where students were wounded - or died.
For $25, anyone can buy a video showing an empty, bullet-riddled Columbine High School after the massacre a year ago. The footage comes with a pop music soundtrack.
Despite outrage from victims' families, Jefferson County authorities on Wednesday released the video of scenes inside the school at least a day after the rampage left 15 dead, including the two student gunmen. The tape is nearly three hours long and is primarily aerial footage from the day of the attack, April 20, showing the wounded and the bodies of two slain students.
Jefferson County Attorney Frank Hutfless said the tape was distributed to victims' families under a court order and offered to the public "to avoid additional lawsuits by the public or news media."
County officials have not said what the fee will be used for.
The tape opens with the humming sound of helicopters as rescue personnel, police and firefighters take up positions outside the school on the day of the killings. They move students who either were killed or critically wounded.
The graphic images were a sharp blow to families of the victims, coming less than a week after the first anniversary of the attack.
"For the first time today, I saw my daughter being dragged over to the fire engine. I don't need to see that and nobody else needs to see that," said a tearful Beth Nimmo, whose daughter, Rachel Scott, was killed.
"It hurts," said Connie Michalik, whose son, Richard Castaldo, was paralyzed in the attack. "These are our children they have on video being hurt and shot and killed."
Inside the school, the camera captures a Columbine that is at once both real and surreal.
Trophy showcases line hallways. Classroom desks and chairs are in neat rows in some rooms and an electronic sign in the cafeteria blinks the message: "Good Luck Spring Sports."
There are no students. A coat is draped across the seat of a chair in one room. Backpacks are scattered about. Floors, ceilings and walls are scarred and scorched from gunfire and bombs.
As Sarah McLachlan's "I Will Remember You" plays in the background, the library's open doors appear and the aftermath of the violence soon becomes apparent. Books lie on the floor. Chairs are scattered as if pushed aside hurriedly. Bullets have shattered windows and punctured walls.
A window blind is jumbled, apparently from a student's hurried escape. A computer monitor is blown to bits and the skeleton of a lamp stands alone, no shade, no bulb.
Large pools of blood appear still shiny wet in the camera's eye. Folded yellow cards placed next to the stains show names of victims. Numbered cards mark pieces of evidence.
The tape was put together by a Littleton firefighter on his own time for use in seminars to help law enforcement officials prepare for shooting attacks and other emergencies. It has been shown in 82 seminars in the United States and Canada.
Littleton firefighters objected to the release of the video, saying it was "not suitable for public viewing." Littleton fire officials did not return calls for comment about why the firefighter added music.
Gov. Bill Owens criticized the release and sale of the tape.
"I'm very disturbed by it," Owens said. "I think it's a poor decision, and had it been up to me we wouldn't be selling them, we wouldn't be releasing them."
Six victims' relatives sued to gain access to the tapes to try and prove authorities mishandled the rescue and failed to heed warnings of the rampage. Authorities have denied those allegations.
Attorney James Rouse, who represents several victims' families, said the footage is helpful because it provides a first look at the crime scene. He declined to specify any shots that could support their claims.
Rouse said some families turned down the audio as they watched.
"I don't know why you'd call it a training video," he said. "It's more of a documentary with a musical background."
A handful of people showed up at the county attorney's office to get copies of the tape Wednesday. Among them was Robin Brandfas, who said she wanted it to teach her two young sons "what can happen."
"I feel really bad for the parents and everyone involved," Brandfas said. "I just want to see for myself. You hope it never happens to your kids."
In addition to McLachlan's tune, the unnamed firefighter used "Columbine, Friend of Mine," a song written by two Columbine students, and "If It Were Up To Me," by Cheryl Wheeler.
Her lyrics include: "Maybe it's the movies, maybe it's the books, maybe it's the bullets, maybe it's the real crooks, maybe it's the drugs, maybe it's the parents." It concludes: "Maybe it's the end, but I know one thing. If it were up to me, I'd take away the guns."
The music companies that hold the rights to the songs by McLachlan and Wheeler, Arista Records and Amachrist Music and Penrod and Higgins Music, said their use violated copyright laws. They demanded that authorities remove the music or stop distributing the tape.