Phase 2 -- Making the Scene Safe,

Addressing the Impact to the Community  

    By 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.

    However, 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.

Bomb Technicians Find More Explosives

    The 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 cafeteria.

    Within 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).

    Several 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 also exploded.

Neighborhood Evacuated

    The 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.

Fresh SWAT Teams Make Second Sweep

    Secondary 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 included:






    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.  

First 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 duties.

County, 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.

Victims’ Families

    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 became available.

National teams of crisis counselors, offered by President Clinton, remained on standby.

Community Support

    While 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.

    Throughout 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 responders.

    An 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 center.

    Help also 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 phones.

    Local hotels offered rooms for residents evacuated from their neighborhood as well as victims' relatives and friends arriving from out of town.

    In the 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.