Student overcame suspicion, aided probe
Denver Post Staff Writer
Nov. 26, 2000 - He'd walked the school halls in a trench coat and had worked at a pizza parlor alongside Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.
Like a handful of other students, 17-year-old Chris Morris felt the glare of suspicion - and unwelcome notoriety - in the hours after the Columbine massacre.
Documents unsealed earlier last week show how Morris, at one point led away for questioning in handcuffs, was pressed to account for his every step on the day of the shooting, hid out from the media and ultimately assisted the investigation.
"This whole thing sucks," Morris said in a phone conversation with a friend recorded four days after the attack.
Already, television footage had shown him in police custody outside the school. Authorities asked to search his room, examine his computer, even analyze the clothes he wore the day of the shootings.
Some other kids, asked to speculate on who else might have been involved in the shooting, mentioned him. Some noted that he'd disappeared with Harris and Klebold at the school's after-prom party the previous weekend, and that he'd left school less than an hour before the shooting started. Others alluded to a penchant for violence.
And in a chilling videotape before the suicidal rampage, Harris "willed" everything in his bedroom to Morris and another friend.
Although authorities ultimately would dismiss the idea of other accomplices, suspicion by association hung over Morris and several others in the immediate aftermath of the April 20, 1999, tragedy.
But interviews indicate that Morris, once he learned of the massacre while skipping class to play video games at a friend's house, realized who the shooters might be and contacted police. The information is part of 11,000 pages of Columbine materials released Tuesday by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office.
Morris told investigators that he dialed 911 in an attempt to reach a detective but got disconnected. Then, answering a page from his mother, who works for the Cherry Hills Police Department, he talked to a detective there.
Afterward, Morris said, he finally reached the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. An investigator confirmed Morris' story.
He then went to Clement Park, where authorities cuffed him and led him away for questioning. Morris gave a detailed account of his movements that day, starting about 5:50 a.m., when the friend who was supposed to pick him up and drive him to an early bowling class never showed.
The ride: Eric Harris.
"Morris said during class he never saw Harris or Klebold and assumed they weren't coming to school," the investigator wrote.
Morris, driving his 1985 red Dodge Lancer that was prone to overheat, left the bowling alley and stopped at McDonald's, then headed toward school. He attended his second-period science class and then a government/economics class.
But around 10:15 a.m., when he should have been heading to Acting, Morris decided to skip because he "had not attended for several days/weeks, as he knew he was going to fail the class anyway." He stopped at a nearby Cub Foods, bought a Mountain Dew and headed to friend Cory Friesen's house, where the two boys were playing computer games when Cory's mom called to tell them about the Columbine rampage.
"As the facts of the shooting began coming over the television, Morris began to suspect that Harris, Klebold and possible others were involved," said an FBI report.
Morris claimed to be a founding member of a coalition of undersized kids who got picked on at school, and the first Columbine student to start wearing a black trench coat that would come to define the group.
But he said he quit wearing the coat as the fashion trend caught on with others "because it was no longer a statement of his individuality." The moniker "Trench Coat Mafia" wasn't coined until after he'd quit wearing his coat, he added.
Morris literally outgrew the group as a growth spurt - and his admitted bad temper - made him a less inviting target for abuse.
But Harris, he told investigators, grew "depressed about his size and getting picked on." And Morris, who worked at Blackjack pizza with both Harris and Klebold, said Harris seemed to become more aggressive in the weeks prior to the rampage.
"This made Morris very angry because it appeared to Morris that Harris kept expecting Morris to bail him out of these fights," said one report.
Around Christmas 1998, Morris said, Harris seemed to become even more depressed. About two months before the shooting, he "drifted away" from Harris - largely because Morris now had a girlfriend.
He also described the escalation in the violent interests of both Harris and Klebold. They brought homemade explosives to work at Blackjack, and Harris even suggested using a CO2 "trip bomb" to foil people who continually broke through a fence behind the restaurant.
Morris said he found that "a little extreme for people crawling through the fence." And then there was the talk of guns.
Morris told authorities that he recalled another Blackjack employee, Phil Duran, had taken Harris and Klebold shooting and believed they'd gone to gun shows together. Later, Morris heard that the two had purchased a gun - an AK-47 or a "Tech" - from either Duran or a friend of his.
"Morris stated at the time he did not know what a Tech was, and in fact at first thought they were talking about a computer," according to a report.
Morris stressed that he was not involved in the massacre - and, as proof, offered that he would never have let his girlfriend, her little brother and his best friend's dad, a Columbine science teacher, remain at school if he'd known what was about to happen.
He told authorities he was "more than willing" to help the investigation.
They took him up on the offer.
Four days after the massacre, Morris phoned Duran - from the Denver office of the FBI, with tape rolling.
In a 14-minute conversation, he pumped Duran for information about how Harris and Klebold got the guns, and about a videotape Duran had helped make during a target shooting trip.
On the tape, Morris talked about how "it's real psycho right now. . . . I've been hidin' out at different people's houses and things." He complained about the media frenzy and told Duran he was just trying to figure out how Harris and Klebold got their guns.
"I have no clue, dude," Duran replied repeatedly.
Duran said he turned down Harris and Klebold's request to buy guns for them.
"All I can say is I'm glad I didn't, dude," Duran told Morris. Later in the conversation, Duran noted that his girlfriend hates guns and, "Now I'm kinda startin' to hate guns, too."
Eventually, though, Duran would plead guilty to weapons charges and be sentenced to 4_ years in prison for his role in introducing the shooters to middleman Mark Manes.
When Duran asked Morris if he planned to attend a memorial service the next day, Morris again expressed reluctance to insert himself in the media maelstrom around him.
"I may try," Morris said. "It's just, you know, my face is kinda famous."
Copyright 2000 The Denver Post. All rights reserved.