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Viewing brings pain, some answers

By Carlos Illescas
Denver Post Staff Writer

Dec. 14 - They hoped for answers.

And after viewing a 45-minute version of the Columbine High killers' suicide tapes, some victims' families found at least a few.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold "were very confused and filled with hate, no respect for anyone's life,'' said Brad Bernall, whose daughter, Cassie, was killed in the school library.

"They even joked about their own lives,'' Bernall said. "It meant nothing to them.''

Bernall was among about a dozen relatives from seven victim families who watched a condensed version of the tapes at Jefferson County sheriff's headquarters in Golden on Monday evening.

Sheriff John Stone met with the families before they viewed the tapes and apologized and admitted he made a mistake by allowing a Time magazine reporter to see them before the families had, relatives said.

Bernall said Klebold and Harris seemingly mock society in the video, leaving obvious hints of what was to come and thumbing their noses at the very people who could help them the most.

"They said how stupid these people were, not just their parents but other people that were involved, too,'' Bernall said. "There were incriminating items and evidence. Moms and dads and brothers and sisters and friends need to start taking these things seriously.''

One parent who watched the tapes believes they should be made public.

"Maybe we should go public with this,'' said Dale Todd, whose son, Evan, was shot in the back in the school library. "They were America's kids. They were the kids next door. They could be anyone's kids. Maybe we should all see what's going on in society.''

District Attorney Dave Thomas has said it's possible the tapes will be made public after the sheriff's department issues its final report on the crime, which is expected to be next month.

The tapes showed Harris and Klebold hours before they attacked their school. They were playing with their weapons and joking about how much pain they were going to inflict.

"It was all very bad,'' Bernall said. "It just further reinforced my thoughts that they were very young and very foolish and confused young men.''

Patricia Nielson, the art teacher who helped get students out of the library, also watched the tapes Monday. She returned to Columbine this fall but took a leave of absence because of the emotional burden.

Other families who wish to view the full two hours of tapes may do so at a later date.

Todd said he hopes the public takes away at least one lesson from the videos: Society needs to take a harder look at how it is raising its youth.

"My son said that kids are just a reflection of society, and we have a pretty sick society,'' he said. "Maybe we need to look deeper into the problems of our youth.''

He said the tapes make it clear that Harris and Klebold repeatedly gave hints about their potential for violence.

"Their behavior was disgusting, filthy,'' Todd said. "But these were the kids next door.''

Viewing the tape helped him deal with the tragedy in some small way, giving a little insight as to why two seemingly normal kids could do something so heinous.

"I understand what I suspected - that we have two sides to our society, a good side and a very dark side,'' Todd said.

But it may not be appropriate for everyone involved to see, he said.

"It would be good for some and not for others,'' Todd said. "It depends where they are at in the healing process and trying to understand.''

Bernall questioned the timing of the release of the tapes, less than two weeks before Christmas.

"Many people in our nation want to see this, but the timing was just awful,'' Bernall said. "There are many people directly affected by this, who are just going to cringe. (The tapes will) re-illuminate all the feelings and the pains that they've already experienced.''

Denver Post staff writer David Curtin contributed to this report.

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