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Broader look at Columbine

By Stacie Oulton and Kevin Simpson
Denver Post Staff Writer

Nov. 21, 2000 - Eyewitness accounts of the Columbine shootings and police statements will be among 11,000 pages of Jefferson County sheriff's documents released this morning, giving the public a first-hand view of the tragedy.

"This is a good chunk of the raw evidence," said Jim Rouse, a lawyer representing two victims' families who filed a Public Records Act lawsuit for access to the documents.

"My clients have been looking for information for a year and a half, and they are finally getting information straight from the source," Rouse said. "It's the best in formation." The documents come from the 40 volumes of investigative records upon which the sheriff's department based its official Columbine Report, released May 15.

The families fought for the first-hand documents because, Rouse said, they will provide a more accurate account of what happened April 20, 1999, than what's contained in the sanitized Columbine Report.

But in ordering the documents released, Jefferson County District Judge Brooke Jackson is withholding from public disclosure crime-scene photos, medical records and autopsy reports.

Names of targeted students, some witness names and how the killers' bombs were made and their effectiveness also will be blacked out.

Material recovered from the two killers' homes also will not be released because Rouse's clients, the parents of slain students Daniel Rohrbough and Kelly Fleming, did not request it, said Bill Tuthill, assistant county attorney.

Still, the release will be difficult for victims' families.

"The holidays are going to be hard for a very, very long time, and it's going to take more than a year and a half for people not to be reminded constantly that they don't have someone with them," said Beth Nimmo, mother of slain student Rachel Scott. "It does seem like a raw thing again." But she understands the families have no control over the timing.

Rouse said today's release is both dreaded and satisfying for his clients.

"We finally get to find out, but do we want to know what's in there?" Rouse asked.

He'll be looking for anything supporting the contention that Daniel Rohrbough was killed by a law-enforcement bullet, not by Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold. Sheriff's officials deny the allegation, contained in a separate wrongful-death lawsuit by Rohrbough's family against the sheriff's office.

Rouse said he has a teacher and police officer supporting the claim but is unsure if those witnesses were interviewed by authorities or if their statements will be among the 11,000 pages of documents. He has declined to name them.

Rouse reviewed a smattering of the documents Friday and believes the killers were targeting students.

"My sense was they were targeting kids. There were a lot of Christian kids killed in there," he said.

He also said there are witness statements quoting the killers going after a student with "dorky glasses" and a black student.

Harris and Klebold killed 12 students and a teacher and wounded two dozen other people before committing suicide.

Rouse's clients filed their Public Records Act lawsuit in early April seeking access to key materials before a one-year statute of limitations on submitting wrongful-death and negligence lawsuits expired. Nine such lawsuits have been filed on behalf of about 20 victims and their families. They are pending in federal court.

Since April, Jackson has ordered the release of the final Columbine Report, ballistics reports, 911 tapes, police car-to-car transmission tapes, school cafeteria surveillance tapes and a Littleton Fire Department training video.

County officials continue to fight media efforts to obtain homemade videos made by Harris and Klebold before the shootings.

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