Phase 2 -- Making the Scene Safe,
Addressing the Impact to the Community
4:45, the SWAT teams finished the initial search of Columbine High School,
clearing the 250,000 square-foot
two-story building. The deceased, including two suspects, had been checked and
pronounced dead by Dr. Colwell of the Denver Health Medical Center.
The deadly shootings and massacre at Columbine was over.
there were still concerns that, because of the size and expanse of Columbine
High School, it was possible the first teams could have overlooked some area in
the school where other students or suspects might still be hiding. Investigators
had reported that a number of students and staff interviewed after escaping from
the school had thought there had been more than two gunmen. A second sweep of the building and the grounds was ordered to
ensure there were no more victims or suspects to be found.
Technicians Find More Explosives
location of unexploded bombs, some equipped with timers and possible booby
traps, became a primary concern. The
initial SWAT teams had discovered bombs throughout the building, outside on the
school grounds and in certain vehicles in the student parking lots. While
fresh SWAT teams were being briefed in preparation for a second sweep, bomb
squad officers went inside the school looking for explosives, removing the
unexploded and flagging the exploded bombs.
They also used the mechanical robot to remove a device from the
the first hour of the bomb squad beginning its search, Jefferson County Dispatch advised that a timed-explosive device
had been recovered from a car in the high school parking lot. The priority for
the bomb squad shifted from searching inside the school to the parking lots.
Still more devices were removed from both Harris and Klebold’s cars using a
robot, and the cars then sealed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).
bomb dogs also were brought in to assist in sweeping the exterior of the school,
checking parking lots and the school grounds for explosive devices.
At 10:40 p.m., a pipe bomb accidentally detonated as a bomb technician
lowered it into the bomb trailer. The
pipe bomb had a striking match attached to it and the match ignited when it
brushed against the trailer wall. The
technician saw the spark, dropped the bomb into the trailer and fell backward to
avoid the explosion. Other devices
that were being lowered into the trailer in the basket along with the pipe bomb
command post was concerned about public safety. Because of the bombs discovered
around the perimeter of the school and in the parking lots, the Sheriff's Office
ordered residents to evacuate the neighborhoods south of the school. Dispatchers
notified the residents, who were asked to go to a nearby shopping center, where
deputies and victim advocates greeted them. They remained at the mall until
their neighborhood was declared safe later that evening.
SWAT Teams Make Second Sweep
SWAT teams, paged by Jefferson County to do a fresh search of the school, were
staged and waiting to enter the building. Additional information given to them
The earlier SWAT teams had successfully evacuated numerous students, faculty and staff from classrooms and hiding places in the building and cleared the school.
The second SWAT sweep was needed in conjunction with the bomb squads to thoroughly clear the interior of the building, including rafters, catwalks, and closets of the large school.
Thirty explosive devices and one car bomb in the southeast parking lot had been found by 10 p.m. Because of the number of explosives, the secondary SWAT teams were not expected to make entry until later that evening.
The Colorado State Patrol SORT team and Jefferson County reserve deputies were holding the inner perimeter.
Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office crime scene technicians would begin processing the scene once the secondary sweep was completed and the school building and grounds declared clear and safe of unexploded devices.
Threats had been received toward other schools in the area for the next day.
Around 10:30 p.m., fresh SWAT teams, with
the assistance of bomb technicians, entered the school to conduct a
comprehensive second search of the school. SWAT teams providing that second
sweep were teams from the Thornton/Northglenn Police Departments, Adams County
Sheriff’s Office, Boulder County Sheriff’s Office, Boulder Police Department
and Commerce City Police Department.
SWAT Teams Debrief, Meet With Critical Incident Team
The initial SWAT teams were directed to Leawood
Elementary School to meet with the Jefferson County Critical Incident Response
Team investigators. The Critical
Incident Response team, also known as the “shoot team,” is called when an
officer fires his or her weapon during an incident. The team conducts its own investigation when a shooting
occurs. Members meet with each
officer and ask for an account of his or her involvement in the incident, how
many shots were fired and at what target.
A psychiatric team, on contract with the Sheriff’s
Office, also met briefly with the teams before they were relieved of their
School and Sheriff’s Office Plan Next Steps for Community/Media Response
In Golden at the dispatch center, plans
were underway for the next day’s support response. Representatives from the
school district, the county and the Sheriff’s Office met to coordinate the
response to the media and to the community, both locally and worldwide, as the
impact of the day’s tragedy began to sink in. Collectively, the group decided
to set up a communication center at Columbine Public Library,
close to Columbine High School and Clement Park, but far enough away to reduce
the impact at the school and the crime scene.
At 6 p.m., the Columbine Public Library was closed as
a secondary meeting point for students and parents, and the victim services
efforts shifted to Leawood Elementary.
At this point, authorities knew there were fatalities
but, until additional sweeps were made, the actual number of fatalities had not
been confirmed. Families remaining at Leawood who had not found their child were
asked to fill out information sheets. Those
information sheets were passed on to the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office.
At least two victim advocates were assigned to each
family with a missing child/spouse. Advocates were also sent to the hospitals to
support the families of the injured. The
advocates stayed with the families for as long as they were needed, then
continued to be accessible 24 hours a day by pager. All advocates left Leawood
Elementary at 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, but by 4 a.m. many were called back to
be with the families “who just couldn’t stay at home.”
The advocates also maintained an information feed from the coroner's office so that information could be communicated to the parents as soon as it
National teams of crisis counselors,
offered by President Clinton, remained on standby.
secondary sweeps of the school and the grounds were being conducted and the
crime scene secured, street barricades and security personnel kept a curious
public at a safe distance.
that first night, the Salvation Army fed 350 to 400 people from its canteen and
then served hot breakfast for 200 the next morning. The nonprofit organization
also provided blankets, dry socks and clothing for those on scene.
As April 20
wore on, weather conditions worsened, and snow was in the forecast for the next
few days. The National Guard provided tents and heaters for the first
overwhelming surge of phone calls had tested the communication system to the
maximum. US West erected temporary towers, commonly known as COWS (Central
Office on Wheels), which expanded the capability for more phone lines. US West
erected the first tower in Clement Park on Tuesday to aid in the emergency
response communications. A second
COW was constructed the next day outside the public library communication
arrived from Air Touch on Wednesday morning.
Through its emergency program, Air Touch delivered 200 digital cell
phones to the personnel at the school site as well as at the communications
center. The digital system provided up to 10 times the capacity of the analog
offered rooms for residents evacuated from their neighborhood as well as
victims' relatives and friends arriving from out of town.
initial hours of the crisis, the school district had given dispatchers a rough
floor plan of the school. By late evening, reporters wanted copies as well, and
the county’s Geographic Information Services (GIS) Department obtained plans
of the upper and lower levels of the school and delivered copies to Public
Information Officer Steve Davis for him to distribute to the media.