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Victims' families feel victimized again by release, excuses

By Kevin Simpson
Denver Post Staff Writer

Dec. 14 - Any way she looks at it, Connie Michalik doesn't like what she sees.

With the disclosure of pre-rampage videotapes made by killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the mother of Columbine survivor Richard Castaldo caught a glimpse into the minds of the two teens who did the shooting.

And now, troubled by the release of the information to Time magazine before victim families could see the tapes, she sees the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department dodging accountability by claiming the magazine had agreed not to print what it saw.

"You don't leak things like that to the media and expect it not to go anyplace,'' Michalik said Monday. "I guess I'm not buying their story, unless they're incredible idiots. Aren't these guys supposed to be detectives?''

Like Michalik, many family members and survivors expressed dismay at the handling by sheriff's officials of videotapes in which Harris and Klebold detailed the motivation and months-long planning behind their April 20 atrocity that killed 13 and wounded 23 others.

"It's already put another knife in our hearts,'' said Rich Petrone, stepfather of slain student Daniel Rohrbough.

Though upset that, for the second time, key video footage was made public before families could be privately informed about it, some felt the combination of the content and timing proved particularly hurtful.

"This doesn't help me,'' said Beth Nimmo, whose daughter, Rachel Scott, was killed while lunching on the school lawn. "Rachel didn't get to leave a goodbye tape to me. These boys got to set it up the way they wanted to and act out on it. Everyone else was a victim of what they predetermined to do.

"It's very disturbing, very hurtful, at a time when Christmas is hard to deal with anyway. Everywhere you look, you don't see the faces of those who are gone, but the faces of the killers, and you see them portrayed as some kind of cause.''

Authorities had earlier vowed they would not release the tapes in their entirety because they did not want Harris and Klebold to be cast as heroes or martyrs. Some brief excerpts surfaced during last month's sentencing hearing for Mark Manes, who provided one of the guns used in the massacre.

Just two months ago, sheriff's officials came under fire for allowing excerpts from the video camera in the Columbine cafeteria to fall into the hands of news reporters. The excerpts ultimately were shown on "CBS Evening News.''

In the wake of the Time disclosure, and the backlash that fol lowed, victim assistance workers contacted families and survivors and offered them a chance to see portions of the tapes. Several viewed the tapes Monday evening, and others will see them at another time.

For some, the gesture came a little late.

"I think they should've shown them to the people who were affected before the people who weren't,'' said Lance Kirklin, who suffered multiple gunshot wounds in the attack, including a shotgun blast to the face.

Kirklin, 16, said accounts of the videotape confirmed his suspicions about the mindset of the teens who shot him. "I assumed that's what they'd be like,'' he said. "It answers a lot of questions.''

Both Harris and Klebold apparently rambled at length on the targets of their hatred and even vowed to return as ghosts to haunt the survivors with flashbacks and drive them insane.

"First they terrorize everyone and then they come back as ghosts,'' Michalik said. "You wonder what kind of hearts these kids had. Maybe no hearts at all.''

Michalik said she isn't sure if she wants to view the tapes. But Richard Castaldo, paralyzed below the chest from his wounds, said he would probably want to see them.

"I'm a little bit curious about their motivations,'' he said, "although I have some kind of an idea.''

Michael and Vonda Shoels, whose son, Isaiah, was one of 10 students killed in the school library, were invited to Monday's 4 p.m. viewing of the videos but couldn't make it because they're in Dallas putting the final touches on a CD Michael is producing.

Family spokesman Sam Riddle said they plan to watch the videos. "The manner in which this was handled showed complete lack of sensitivity, didn't take into account the best interest of the families,'' Riddle said. "At the same time, it's important for people to understand that the need of the public to know outweighs any privacy concerns.''

Riddle also blasted sheriff's officials for blaming the incident on Time magazine and some supposed agreement that the information on the tapes was for background only.

"If you're talking to a reporter, it's always on the record,'' Riddle said. "They insult our intelligence for the sheriff's department to say that.''

Rick Castaldo, father of injured student Richard Castaldo, said he hasn't been surprised by what he has heard so far about the tapes. But he would still like to see them - and any other previously unre leased evidence.

"I'd prefer to see the stuff firsthand. I don't need to have this filtered through the media.''

Mark Taylor, 16, wants to view tapes. He was struck by several bullets outside the school building and continues to suffer complications from his injuries. The information he gleaned from news reports supported his belief that Harris and Klebold were incredibly twisted - particularly their assertion that they'd return as ghosts to haunt the survivors.

"When I heard about that, I had no doubt these kids were sick in the head,'' said Taylor.

His mother, Donna Taylor, worries that this latest spike in publicity about the killers might encourage others to follow their example.

"I think what bothers me is more of these kids getting riled up and doing the same thing, that they might think it's really cool to start doing it again,'' she said. "They wanted to be so famous, and I'm sure other kids feel they could be famous doing this kind of thing.''

Denver Post staff writer Peter G. Chronis contributed to this report.

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