Report Clears Police Officer in Columbine High Shooting
GOLDEN, Colo - After reviewing the findings of an independent investigation, parents of a student killed at Columbine High School in 1999 said today that they were satisfied with the conclusion that their son had been killed by a student gunman, not a police officer.
Brian A. Rohrbough and Susan E. Petrone, the parents of Daniel Rohrbough, had said they believed that their 15-year-old son was shot by a Denver police sergeant, Daniel P. O'Shea, because of discrepancies in an earlier report and conflicting witness accounts. The report released today concluded that Sergeant O'Shea could not have killed the boy.
"The murder of Daniel Rohrbough at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, was undeniably caused by gunman Eric Harris beyond any reasonable doubt," the report said.
In the 1999 incident, 12 students and a teacher were killed and dozens more were injured by two students, Mr. Harris and Dylan Klebold, who then killed themselves.
The shootings were in Jefferson County, and the county sheriff's office issued its own report in May 2000, but many people in the community criticized it as containing errors and omissions.
The report released today was prepared by the El Paso County sheriff's office at Jefferson County's request.
Today, the Colorado attorney general, Ken Salazar, and officials with the El Paso County sheriff's office and the Jefferson County district attorney's office explained their findings in a three-hour presentation to the Rohrbough family.
The full 3,200-page report, which focused solely on Daniel's death, will be released next week, but a 32-page summary and an audio-visual demonstration was made public today.
"I believe for the first time in three years, I have the first plausible explanation for what happened to my son," Mr. Rohrbough said. "It's been good to hear and hard to hear."
Daniel's parents had long been frustrated with the conflicting information from the Jefferson County authorities when they heard through a friend that a police officer had said he might have shot a student at the school. That officer was Sergeant O'Shea.
Mr. Rohrbough said he wanted to review the entire report before deciding how he might proceed with any lawsuits. Mrs. Petrone and Mr. Rohrbough said they would like to speak to Sergeant O'Shea, and they said they had previously been denied access to some documents in the El Paso County report.
The presentation today was a haunting reminder of the horror that occurred at the high school.
The investigation involved interviews with 144 witnesses, including fellow students who were wounded, along with 911 calls.
The Jefferson County report had originally concluded that both gunmen shot at Daniel and that Mr. Klebold shot him at close range. But as Cmdr. Joe Breister of El Paso County went over the report today, he said ballistics reports conducted by a Maryland laboratory had identified a bullet from Daniel's body as a "textbook match" to a semiautomatic rifle linked to Mr. Harris.
There were also many witness accounts of Daniel falling to the ground within the first minutes of the shooting - nearly 30 minutes before Sergeant O'Shea arrived. The trajectory of the bullet had been a crucial issue for Daniel's family, as the bullet had entered at a lower point than it exited. The report concluded that Daniel was already leaning or falling as the fatal bullets entered his left side.
The Jefferson County district attorney, Dave Thomas, described the evidence in the report as "overwhelming and compelling."
Sergeant O'Shea would not comment today, but the Denver Police Department released a statement saying it was pleased with the report's findings.
A Jefferson County sheriff's spokeswoman, Jacki Tallman, said her office had corrected its initial report in May 2001 to state that Mr. Harris had shot Daniel. Ms. Tallman said she did not think there were significant differences between the two reports, and did not know why the Rohrboughs were not satisfied with the Jefferson County findings. "I think they have every right to question all aspects of the death of their son, and I hope this provides some help to them."
Many questions remain for some parents of Columbine students.
Some have questioned why certain steps were not followed that might have prevented the shootings.
Joe Kechter, whose son Matt was killed in the school library, said he came today for more answers.
"There are a lot of questions," Mr. Kechter said, "and this is just one."