Columbine knew of Harris probe
But school didn't want to interfere
By Howard Pankratz
Denver Post Legal Affairs Writer
Friday, April 13, 2001 - Months before the Columbine shootings, authorities alerted the school district that Eric Harris was being investigated for making pipe bombs but told educators to take no action.
Howard Cornell, former Jefferson County schools security official, discusses Columbine in a TV image from a "60 Minutes II" interview. "The deans (at Columbine) were told that there was an investigation underway," Sally Blanchard, the school district's Columbine-area administrator, says in a CBS News interview scheduled to air Tuesday night on "60 Minutes II."
But the notice was informational only, "that they weren't to do anything," Blanchard said. "So they actually took no action because certainly they wouldn't have wanted to interfere with an ongoing investigation."
School district spokesman Rick Kaufman said Thursday that the school resource officer assigned to Columbine, Neil Gardner, had told school officials only about an investigation into an unnamed student believed to be downloading bomb-making information from the Internet.
The school also was not told that the parent of another student had filed a complaint with the sheriff's office, Kaufman said. The complaint alleged Harris had created a Web site boasting of his bomb-making skills and threatening mass destruction, including killing fellow student Brooks Brown.
Investigators also were trying to link Harris to a pipe bomb found in a field in February 1998, more than a year before the April 1999 Columbine massacre.
"We were not told about Eric Harris' Web site at the time," Kaufman said. "We were not told anything about anyone filing a complaint."
CBS News has been in the Denver area for months working on the "60 Minutes II" edition timed to coincide with the second anniversary of the killings.
Last week, CBS and several victims' families won a court order releasing a draft search-warrant affidavit showing that detectives were trying to tie Harris' Web site threats to the pipe bomb found in the field.
But a search of Harris' house was never conducted. Brown's parents and families of those killed and wounded at Columbine say a search might have prevented the massacre by uncovering Harris' plans and any bomb-making materials.
Sheriff John Stone told "60 Minutes II" in a letter his department never advised the school district to take no action once alerted to the Harris investigation.
But former district security officials Howard Cornell and Joe Schallmoser told the program their security plan, devised eight months before the shootings, could have prevented the tragedy but was never adopted by Columbine.
The plan outlined how school officials should call together parents, police and counselors as soon as they detected signs that a student might become violent.
Kaufman said Columbine did have a crisis-management plan in place. The plan was included in the district's employee directory for the 1998-99 school year.
For the past two years, it has been unclear whether sheriff's officials investigating the threats made by Harris on his Web site in early 1998 were also aware Harris and fellow gunman Dylan Klebold had been arrested weeks earlier for breaking into a van and stealing tools and other items.
But Brooks Brown's parents, Randy and Judy Brown, say on the "60 Minutes II" program that when they met with an investigator at the sheriff's department in late March 1998, the investigator was aware Harris had already been in trouble.
The Browns showed the investigator printouts of the Harris Web site. "We showed them what we had and he (the investigator) said, "I know this name, just a minute.' And he left and came back with a file on an Eric Harris," said Randy Brown.
"He had our report in one hand - of the death threats - and he had the van break-in in the other hand," Judy Brown said.
Nate Dykeman, an acquaintance of the two killers, told the program that Harris once showed him one of the pipe bombs. Dykeman said he was surprised.
"I was kind of taken aback. Things were starting to get out of hand," Dykeman said. "Making little fireworks is one thing but when you make things that can blow half your body apart ... "
Dykeman also said Harris kept a hit list.
"It was a little ... paper that he kept in his wallet. It was just a list of names that he would update every day if someone shoved him or someone called him something - he'd write their name down on it."
Devon Adams, a Klebold friend, discovered her name on a "hit list" on the Harris Web site and said she went to an assistant Columbine principal in December 1998 to express her fears.
"I told her Eric was intimidating, that he was threatening, that other students were feeling threatened by him," Adams recalled of the meeting. "They did not feel safe in the school around him, that it was not a safe environment when he was around.
"I wanted her to call Eric in, maybe call his parents, just to talk to them. And I don't think it ever happened," Adams said.
According to the program, the assistant principal said the meeting never took place.
But school official Blanchard said there were no outward signs of problems with Harris and Klebold.
"What people saw in the school were that these two were going to the classes every day," she said. "They had friends, they were turning in assignments, they were working toward higher grades in their classes, they were planning their future in going to college or the military.
"There was no one in that school who had any indication that these two boys would become mass murderers," Blanchard said.
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