Searching For Answers

Columbine high and nearby Chatfield High used to be bitter rivals. But this week Chatfield will open its doors to the traumatized students of Columbine, and everyone is doing what he can to make the cross-town kids feel at home. Last week Chatfield students built a "healing tree" out of construction paper and posted it just outside the school cafeteria. "I've learned that hate is destructive," said one "leaf" on the tree. Lining the halls and the lunch room itself were more signs: "It's not home, but make yourself at home." Chatfield student leaders gave tours of the school and were struck by some of the questions they were asked. Columbine's shaken parents weren't so interested in food or lockers. They wanted to know how many exits there were, and where.

Most of the questions being asked in Littleton, Colo., last week were harder to answer. "Now the healing begins," declared the pastor at the last funeral, for 18-year-old Isaiah Shoels--but two weeks after the guns fell silent in the worst school shooting in American history, investigators were still struggling to figure out how it happened. The Jefferson County sheriff, John Stone, seemed to be continually misspeaking about the investigation. First he said three students detained during the shooting were suspects; then they weren't. He said officers had apparently sealed off an escape route for the two gunmen, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, before they killed themselves; turns out there is no reason to think so. And there were new and compelling allegations that the sheriff's office had failed to act decisively on explicit threats made by Harris that foreshadowed the massacre, in which 12 other students and a teacher died.

Investigators continue to sift through the mountains of forensic evidence, chasing down some 1,100 leads and examining 10,000 pieces of evidence. They now say they doubt there was a third gunman in the school, but cops were still talking with lawyers for at least two people who may have known about Harris and Klebold's twisted plot, and could even have helped carry it out. The only arrest in the case so far is a hardware-store employee who claimed he sold Harris and Klebold bomb-making materials and duplicated school keys for them. Police now say the clerk was lying.

One question investigators seemed close to answering is where the boys got the four guns used in the siege. Three were apparently sold at a Denver gun show last year to Klebold's prom date, Robyn Anderson, whom he met in advanced-placement calculus. But Anderson's friend Tiffany Burk, 18, insists Anderson had no idea what the guns were for. Anderson was in the school parking lot when the shooting started and squatted under the steering column of her car the entire time. "She's very, very nonviolent," Burk says. "There's absolutely no way I'd believe she had anything to do with it, or knew what was going to happen." Police apparently agree; for now they're treating Anderson as a witness.

Investigators believe Harris acquired the other gun, a TEC-DC9 assault weapon, through a contact he made at nearby Blackjack Pizza, where he and Klebold spun pizzas. Police were negotiating with a lawyer for the possible seller of that gun last week. Chris Lau, who took over the pizza place just six weeks before the shooting, said he'd never heard any talk of guns. "They appeared to be normal high-school students with normal camaraderie," Lau recalls.

Did their parents have any idea? Last Friday night Tom and Sue Klebold, Dylan's parents, met with sheriff's detectives for a formal interview. Sgt. Randy West described them as "very cooperative," adding: "They were devastated about their loss and everybody's loss." Friends said the Klebolds were shocked when police arrived at their home in the hours after the shootings. Police made the confused parents leave their house, but they didn't know for sure that Dylan was the gunman until, standing on their driveway, they heard from a friend that his name had been on television.

The attorneys for Harris's parents, meanwhile, have received informal advice from an attorney who worked for John and Patsy Ramsey. It was suggested that they not do any media interviews, especially before talking to the cops. But the parents have refused to talk to police until they get a promise of immunity. "It would be foolish for the Harrises not to talk to us," an investigator told NEWSWEEK, adding that the parents need the opportunity to set the record straight. But with some officials saying that the Harrises could face charges, and with civil suits likely, the parents want to know they won't be punished for telling their story. Sources tell NEWSWEEK the family has also hired a private investigator.

Although the Harrises have been criticized for being out of touch--police believe the boys made bombs in their garage, and a sawed-off shotgun and an incriminating diary were found in Eric's room--there is mounting evidence that they may have known their son was in trouble. The Marine Corps confirmed a New York Times report that Harris had recently tried to enlist but was rejected after his parents told a recruiter at their home that he was taking the antidepressant Luvox, commonly prescribed for obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Others should have known Harris was dangerous--including the cops. They were alerted after Harris, writing on his Web site, threatened to kill a schoolmate, Brooks Brown, and many others. "I don't care if I live or die in the shootout, all I want to do is kill and injure as many of you pricks as I can," Harris wrote in his profane, rambling prose. In an eerie passage, Harris wrote: "god damnit, DEAD PEOPLE DONT ARGUE! God DAMNIT I AM PISSED!!" Brown's parents brought the writings to police and filed complaints, saying Harris boasted of making bombs. They even warned the neighbors to watch out for Harris and Klebold. The Browns say they spoke to Harris's mother (who cried). But Harris convinced his father, a retired Air Force officer, that he didn't mean what he'd written.

Just weeks before Harris was to be sentenced for stealing from a van with Klebold, the Browns say, they spoke with a sheriff's investigator and a bomb-squad specialist. "The investigator had Eric's file in one hand, and our Web stuff in the other hand, and he never took both of them to the judge," recalls Randy Brown. "They could've stopped it right there." Instead, both Klebold and Harris were put into a "diversion program" and given kudos by their program officers. On the day of the killings, according to Brooks Brown, Harris passed him on the way into school and told him: "I like you now. Get out of here, and go home." He did. After the shootings one of the victims, Brown's friend Lance Kirklin, woke up in his hospital bed and immediately scrawled a note to Brooks that read: "We're going to have to get on that detective for not taking us seriously."

In response to the Browns' allegations, the sheriff's department says there was little it could do because the Browns refused to swear out a complaint with their names, fearing for their son's life. "Without the ability to speak to a victim or positively identify a suspect, elements of a crime could not be established," a sheriff's spokesman says. The sheriff asked the deputy assigned to the high school to keep an eye on Harris, but the student's behavior never raised any red flags.

For Littleton, the second-guessing comes too late. Last week's funerals drew thousands of mourners. (A handful attended services for the killers.) Scores of people vented their grief in front of 13 wooden crosses erected on a hill near the school. In a gesture of forgiveness, someone put up two more crosses for the killers. Then a woman scrawled "Evil Bastard" on Harris's memorial, and a scuffle broke out. Later, a victim's father removed the two crosses altogether. The children had all been buried, but it was hard to find peace in Littleton.