The Jefferson County Special Weapons and Tactics
(SWAT) team is a group of highly trained, specially equipped deputies from the
Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and the Arvada and Golden Police
Departments. The team is utilized
in high-risk incidents where disciplined teamwork, specialized weapons and
tactical skills are required.
The SWAT team that first gathered at Columbine High
School on April 20 was an ad hoc team of 12 SWAT officers from three different
agencies who were the first to respond, individually, to the high school scene.
Many had never met before they entered the school together shortly after
noon. Most did not have their tactical gear and equipment with them.
Ad Hoc SWAT Team
Lt. Terry Manwaring, SWAT commander for the Jefferson
County Sheriff’s Office, had been patrolling in the Tiny Town area in the
foothills 13 miles to the west of Columbine. On hearing reports of shots fired at Columbine High School,
he immediately headed to the school, calling for the Jefferson County SWAT team
and the command staff to be paged.
Arriving on Pierce Street, the street that runs in front of the high school, he noticed teenagers gathering in groups along the curbside. Some of them, recalled Manwaring, were hysterical. Several appeared to be in a daze. Others were trying to comfort their friends.
Also parked on Pierce Street north of the school was
Jefferson County Sergeant Phil Hy. Hy
was attempting to coordinate on scene and arriving units from both law
enforcement and fire and emergency agencies.
The sergeant was also trying to listen and make sense of the radio
traffic exploding on the airwaves. He
briefed the SWAT commander on what he was hearing as well as giving him an
assessment of perimeter security and the shooting and suspect information
Emerging, and often conflicting, information was
being reported to the Jefferson County Dispatch Center. There were
shooters in the cafeteria, in the library, in the science room.
There were six to eight heavily armed gunmen in body armor.
The gunmen were mobile and active. There
were 17 hostages being held in the auditorium.
There were snipers. There
were shooters outside the building.
Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Lt. David Walcher
arrived on scene followed by Undersheriff John Dunaway.
The Undersheriff, as chief operations officer, named Walcher the incident
commander and authorized the emergency ad hoc SWAT team to immediately enter the
As Manwaring was gathering his tactical gear, Deputies Del Kleinschmidt, a Jefferson County K-9 team member, and Allen Simmons of the Jefferson County SWAT team arrived. Manwaring told Simmons to locate as many SWAT officers as he could find because SWAT was to make an entry into the school as quickly as possible. Two more SWAT officers from the Littleton Police Department had now responded to Jefferson County’s call for mutual aid and they would accompany Manwaring in the first approach.
Manwaring’s knowledge of the school’s layout was
based on the original floor plan when the cafeteria was on the east side of the
school. He did not know that a major remodel four years before had relocated the
cafeteria, and the school library, to the far west side.
Manwaring noticed several boys standing around and
asked them to sketch a floor plan of the school. “Something quick so that I
could see what this school looked like on the inside.”
At about this time, information was aired regarding a
person on the roof of the school and a warning that this person was a possible
SWAT’s task seemed difficult before this announcement, it was even more
Capt. Vincent DiManna, SWAT commander for the Denver
Police Department, also arrived at the school in response to the call for
assistance. DiManna had four other Denver SWAT officers with him.
While preparing to accompany Manwaring’s first group of SWAT toward the
school, DiManna also had a more personal concern weighing heavily on him.
His son was among the 1,945 students at Columbine High School and
possibly could still be inside the school.
Despite the fact that the first makeshift team was
not fully equipped with their usual SWAT gear – several were lacking vests and
weapons and there were only two protective shields among them – at
approximately 12 noon Manwaring and his hastily assembled team of Jefferson
County, Denver and Littleton SWAT moved forward. With a hurriedly-drawn map and conflicting information,
Manwaring led the first contingent of SWAT officers to Columbine High School to
search for unknown gunmen among nearly 2,000 students, faculty and staff.
Nearby, parked on Pierce Street, was a Littleton fire
truck. The SWAT team used the truck
as cover as they approached the school. Kleinschmidt volunteered to drive and
gave his tactical ballistic vest to Deputy Simmons, whose SWAT gear was back at
headquarters. Simmons would be
leading the first SWAT group into the building. Kleinschmidt, driving the fire truck, relied only on his
regular duty vest for protection.
The SWAT officers, now numbering 12, moved alongside the fire truck southbound in the middle of Pierce Street, heading for the school.
Manwaring split the group into two teams and assigned
Simmons as one team leader. Simmons
was directed to take his team of six into the school on the east side, into what
Manwaring still thought was the cafeteria area.
Kleinschmidt pulled the fire truck as close to the
school’s front doors as possible and Simmons, with SWAT members from Littleton
and Denver police departments, entered the school through a door just south of
the main entrance. They were immediately met by the deafening sound of Klaxon
horns and the flashing lights of the fire alarm system. Smoke and fumes posed another potential hazard for the team.
Manwaring’s team was providing cover as Simmon’s
team entered, watching the windows, doors and the “high ground” of the
rooftops. Manwaring realized that
if there were snipers on the roof, his team following the fire truck was fully
exposed. But he also knew they
needed to make their way to the west side of the school where reports of wounded
students and continuing gunfire urgently pressed upon them.
As the fire truck approached the main east entrance doors, a person in the school’s office area placed his hands against the
window. The team could see the pair of hands come up to the window, then
disappear again. The potential for
a hostage situation now existed.
Moments later, a student came out of the main doors
with his hands held above his head. He ran to Manwaring, was quickly checked for
weapons and injuries, then put on the floor in the back end of the truck’s
cab. (There was no other cover for
the boy’s protection or any means of removing him from the scene at this
point). The boy reported that no
other people were in the office area.
Simmons’ team now inside the school immediately
began searching and clearing classrooms. Hallways
led to the west and to the south from their point of entry.
In order to expedite the search of the school, the six-man team split
into two smaller teams. It was
immediately apparent that additional officers were needed to effectively clear
such a large number of classrooms.
Locked doors were an obstacle the team constantly
encountered and delayed the pace of the search. Each lock had to be forcibly opened, every locked door had to
be entered and each room searched before the team could move on to another
classroom. Behind every closed door
were potential victims, suspects or hostages and, therefore, no room could be
overlooked or passed by.
Simmons provided cover for several officers as they
moved down the east hallway entering and searching each classroom.
The other “mini-team” moved down the south hallway, eventually
turning down another hallway and proceeding west.
Because of the extremely high volume of noise being
made by the fire alarm klaxons, the officers had to communicate with hand
signals. With their sense of
hearing taken away, they could not hear any sounds of movement or aggression.
They had to operate under the premise that around every corner, and
inside every classroom, there was the distinct possibility of confronting armed
DEMONSTRATION: of Strobe and horn similar to those activated in the school
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At this point, several more Denver SWAT officers
appeared at the outside entry door and Simmons motioned them inside.
With additional supporting officers providing cover, Simmons’ mini-team
evacuated a teacher from one of the classrooms.
They then moved to the north and entered the large open area of the
school’s main entrance. The
interior doors and windows were riddled with bullet holes.
As they approached the administration offices on the north side of the
main entrance, they observed a bullet hole in a television set mounted from the
ceiling, and bullet holes in a window frame and window.
A computer monitor had a bullet hole through the screen and racks of
shelves had been knocked over. Searching
the offices, Simmons’ team found two adult female staff members and evacuated
them out the east side, believed to be the safest evacuation route.
On the outside of the school, Manwaring’s team
continued toward the northwest corner of the building. Aerial television
footage, shot live as the event was unfolding, captured the images of the lime
green fire truck and its band of SWAT members making their way around the north
perimeter of the school to the west side.
Kleinschmidt drove the fire truck to the school’s west side where the team saw two victims laying outside near the west, upper level doors. The young man was waving one of his arms in the air.
Using the truck as a shield, the group inched forward
but could only get the truck to the sidewalk and no closer.
Two Denver SWAT members, Capt. DiManna and Lt. Pat Phelan, rescued
student Richard Castaldo as other SWAT officers and deputies provided them with
cover. Richard was carried to the front of the fire truck and placed on the
front bumper out of the line of any fire. Unconscious
and with shallow breathing, the student appeared to have bullet wounds to the
Jefferson County Deputy Scott Taborsky was
maintaining a perimeter cover position from behind his patrol car in the grass
field directly behind the SWAT team’s location. He already had transported several wounded students out of
the area to triage locations. Taborsky
drove up close to the fire truck and SWAT officers put Richard in the back seat
of his patrol car.
Manwaring’s SWAT team made another approach to the
upper level west doors to rescue the female victim. Rachel Scott was brought
back to the fire truck by the team, but they realized the girl was deceased.
They laid her on the ground near the fire truck.
The team went a third time, protected by cover fire,
this time in an attempt to rescue a boy lying motionless at the bottom of the
concrete stairs leading to the south parking lot. They returned without him, advising the rest of the officers
that Daniel Rohrbrough was deceased.
Taborsky, advised that the other victims were
deceased, raced Richard Castaldo out of the area to medical assistance.
Manwaring’s team observed an undetonated explosive
device lying in front of the same west doors where they had just rescued Richard
and retrieved Rachel’s body. Because of the bomb, the SWAT commander decided
to use the fire truck to ram the west doors, providing the team entry into the
“If the bombs goes off,” Manwaring thought,
“maybe the truck can take the brunt of the bomb blast since it’s carrying
about 1,000 gallons of water.”
The pursuit of this short-lived plan ended when the
fire truck became stuck in the mud. With
the early spring weather, much of the ground was extremely soft, saturated with
spring rains and snow. The fire
truck was buried in the muck and the more the driver tried to maneuver it, the
deeper its tires sank.
- SWAT TEAM MOVEMENT DIAGRAMS
Jefferson County SWAT team, led by Sgt. Barry Williams, arrived at the command
post at Leawood Avenue and Pierce Street about 12:30 p.m.
Williams knew that Manwaring was on the west side of
the high school and Simmons and other SWAT officers had entered the building on
the east side. Any other
information he could gather was sketchy. Reports
being relayed to the command post included possible multiple shooters, a hostage
situation, and gunfire and explosions in nearly every wing of the school
building. Students on cell phones
inside the school were calling out – to 911, their parents, and several times
to local television stations. Because
of the noise, smoke and panic inside, many of the students calling from within
reported hearing shots close to their own location – whether in the gymnasium,
the auditorium, the business wing, the music rooms, the science areas and the
12:50 p.m., Williams’ team utilized a front-end loader owned by a private
construction firm working in the area and used it to approach the school on the
west side. Two SWAT marksmen were
deployed to high ground positions on rooftops of houses on West Polk Avenue, the
first neighborhood street just south of the school. From their vantage point,
these SWAT members had a clear view of the south parking lot, the library
windows and the cafeteria area.
rest of the team, using the front-end loader as cover, moved into position on
the northwest corner of the school, opposite from where the first ad hoc SWAT
team had entered. Williams and his
group were briefed by members of Manwaring’s team who advised them that
students had been shot, numerous bombs had exploded and the number of suspects,
still in the building, was unknown. They
explained that Simmons’ team had entered on the east side but no one had yet
entered on the west.
SWAT members also confirmed that activity had been reported in both the
cafeteria and the library. Because a “live” bomb blocked the outside west
doors leading into the upper level hallway and entrance to the library, the
closest point of entry was into the cafeteria, one of the “hot zones,”
directly beneath the library. A
window, which actually went into the teachers’ lounge next to the cafeteria,
provided Williams' SWAT team entry into the building.
Williams’ team smashed the window glass and entered
the teachers’ lounge at about 1:09 p.m.
They were met with the deafening noise of fire alarms and the sight of
flashing strobe lights, hanging ceiling tiles and three inches of water coming
in under the closed door to the cafeteria.
The alarms and the sprinkler system had been set off by the explosions
and the cafeteria area and adjacent rooms were flooding, either from the
sprinkler system or from broken water pipes as well.
Another concern was “a hissing sound and the sound of something
spraying.” It was feared that the sound might be from a broken natural
The team secured the small lounge and then opened the
door into the cafeteria. Williams
described the sight that met them as surrealistic—tiles and wires broken and
hanging at odd angles from a ceiling blackened by explosions and fire, water
three to four inches deep and rising, and several hundred backpacks and food
trays, left behind as terrified students had fled the lunchroom.
One part of Williams’ team stayed at the cafeteria
entrances to protect against any suspects escaping or ambushing the other SWAT
members who moved to the school’s kitchen area and food storage rooms to the
left. Just as Simmons’ team had
encountered on the east side, Williams’ team found every door locked.
Again, each door had to be breached and searched before the team could
To their surprise, the SWAT officers started finding
groups of frightened students, hiding in ankle deep water in the kitchen storage
rooms. The students were slow to
respond to directions from the SWAT team; it was difficult for the men to
convince them that it was safe to leave their hiding places and follow these
people, dressed in black, to the outside. SWAT members were stationed in
positions to get the students out of the building and to safety.
A line of officers provided protection and direction
all along the evacuation route, covering each person being evacuated in case the
shooting started again. The procedure was to send each group being evacuated out
of the building from the same place, if possible, so that the officers receiving
them on the outside were not unduly surprised by someone coming out from another
Approximately 20 to 30 students were evacuated from
the kitchen area. From the kitchen and storage rooms, the team moved to the
freezers where they found two adult males – shivering from the extreme cold
and barely able to move their arms.
Evacuating the kitchen area was fairly simple,
Williams said, because the students and adults were directed the short distance
through the cafeteria to the teacher’s lounge and out the window to waiting
officers outside. Evacuation became more difficult the further the SWAT team
moved into the building because more and more officers were required to provide
protection to those being evacuated. Denver
SWAT assisted by stationing an increasing number of its officers in place behind
the Jefferson County team.
Most of the people were evacuated through the
teachers’ lounge window (and later the cafeteria side door) and up the outside
concrete stairs to the protection of waiting officers and patrol cars.
The team knew that students would be running by at least two bodies of
the children who had been killed outside. Officers
instructed each student to follow the person directly in front of him or her,
not to look at anything else and follow the line of officers to safety.
SWAT had been advised that the suspects
might be trying to escape the building by changing their clothes and blending in
with those being evacuated. For the
safety of everyone, all students were checked for weapons as well as for
injuries before they were transported from the scene.
After clearing the kitchen area, Williams’ SWAT
team now entered into the main cafeteria area and was told by dispatch that
there might be bombs hidden in backpacks inside the school. The team was looking
at 400 backpacks, some of them floating in the water flooding the
cafeteria. The reports also
cautioned that since the diversionary bombs on Wadsworth had been equipped with
timing and motion-activated devices, some of the bombs at the school also could
be assembled with such devices, complicating the situation. Coupled with the
possibility of a break in the natural gas lines, the team was forced to proceed
with extreme caution.
The team finished clearing the cafeteria and moved
out into the hallway. At this point
the water was estimated by some of the members to be at least four inches deep.
The auditorium and a long hallway extended to the east.
At 1:37 p.m., the same SWAT team received information
that the suspects might be in the business offices on the lower level.
A subsequent report advised that gunmen might be in the band room or
hiding in the catwalk above the auditorium.
Still another report surfaced of a wounded teacher
“in the science area.” Yet another report advised him of a party giving CPR
to a wounded individual “in the library.”
But Williams had difficulty getting directions to the science area or
library, and he was not clear on which level of the school the wounded were
located. The SWAT leader had
sufficient radio communication inside the school with both Simmons’ team
sweeping the upper level from the east side and with the second group of his own
team. He was able to keep abreast
of where everyone was in the building and what they were doing.
However, his communication with the command post was limited because of
the amount of radio traffic and the deafening noise inside the school.
At this point, the Jefferson County team split into
two, one five-man group went to the lower level of the auditorium, directly
off the cafeteria, and held that position while the second group cleared the
business and computer wing.
The first group, made up of four Jefferson County
deputies and two Denver officers, found an elderly adult, possibly a substitute
teacher, and a student hiding together under a desk in one of the last rooms of
the wing. Both were evacuated out a
south side door to the Lakewood SWAT team waiting on the outside.
The second part of the Jefferson County team
continued to search the lower level of the auditorium. The team forcibly opened
locked dressing rooms, checked the areas above suspicious broken ceiling tiles,
and cleared storage areas. While
they were clearing the auditorium, more Denver SWAT officers arrived to assist.
They held two lower rooms off the auditorium as the Jefferson County SWAT
group cleared the control room and a closet containing choir robes.
No one on the lower level of the auditorium was
found. During the auditorium
search, however, the team received word that 60 students were hiding in the
music room closet on the upper level outside the auditorium. Because they had found the choir robes, the team felt they
must be close to the music room where the students were reported to be hiding.
They made their way to the second level and into the music
continuing to search and secure all areas along the way.
Once in the music room, the team found a locked storage closet. They saw movement through a window into the room and what appeared to be a hand, but no one would respond as SWAT called out to them. True to the report they had received, the team discovered nearly 60 students inside the closet. The students were so terrified that they initially refused to leave, possibly confusing the SWAT officers with the suspects.
The SWAT team checked to make sure no suspects were
among them and then devised a plan to remove them from the closet in groups of
10. Each group of students had a
point man, wingman and a rear guard so that they could be evacuated safely by
SWAT to the west side through the auditorium and kitchen, which were still being
held by Denver SWAT officers. They
were told to keep their hands on top of their heads.
After those 60 students were moved out of the school
to safety, the team moved into an area across the hallway and adjacent to the
music room where more movement had been observed in yet another room. An
additional 60 students were found in two rooms in that area and moved out of the
Meanwhile, Simmons’ SWAT team had cleared rooms in
the southeast section of the school and cleared the main administrative offices
on the east side of the building where they located two adult females.
The team then moved north and searched the band room, ceramic and wood
shop rooms, and then west down the main hallway to the weight room and
During the search, Simmons maintained radio contact
with Williams, providing him with information on Simmons’ team location and
the progress being made. He also
relayed information to the Denver and Littleton SWAT officers with Simmons so
that all SWAT personnel in the building were aware of each team’s location and
activities. Knowing the location of
each team, as well as having direct radio communication, reduced the danger of
creating a crossfire situation and enabled the teams to coordinate their search
Williams’ group made their way up the stairway from
the cafeteria area to the second or main level. Immediately, they started to see
remnants of pipe bombs. They also
realized that the stairway leading to the second floor was glass, wide open and
provided no protection from any shooter as the team moved forward.
Reports from the marksmen positioned on rooftops
outside were of a sign in one of the school’s
windows. It read “1
bleeding to death.” Williams
reasoned that the person bleeding to death must be somewhere on the upper level
since SWAT had just finished clearing the lower floor.
However, they still did not know in what room the wounded person was
located. A further message from
dispatch said that there possibly was a rag or a T-shirt tied on the door handle
to mark the room where the wounded teacher lay bleeding.
The SWAT team proceeded cautiously around bomb
materials lying on the floor as they worked their way to the second or main
floor of the school. At about 2:30
p.m., the team cleared the stairs to the upper level. Once on the upper level, they could see Simmons’ team
working down the hallway, clearing the school to the east of where he stood.
They could also see a rag, tied as reported onto the
handle of a classroom door. Painted
on the wall alongside were the words, “Science Rooms.” The team faced several obstacles to reach the classroom door
and make entry. The top of the
stairs opened into an intersection of two hallways, one leading to the library
on the west and one to the science and foreign language areas straight ahead and
to the east. A pipe bomb had exploded and singed the carpet in front of them.
Glass had shattered everywhere. There was blood in a large area on the
carpet in front of them, on one of the windows, and blood made a trail into one
of the other science rooms. Live
ammunition rounds and spent casings were lying on the floor.
Around 2:40 p.m., the SWAT team entered Room UA-24
first, then proceeded to adjoining classrooms where they found about 30 students
hiding behind tables they had set on end as barricades.
Two of the students were helping a teacher who had been shot and was
bleeding. Realizing the severity of the man’s wounds, the SWAT team
immediately called for a paramedic.
Two Littleton paramedics, with medical equipment and
a gurney, were staged and waiting for the signal to enter the school at the east
doors. Because the hallway and
classrooms leading to the science area had not been secured and it was
considered too dangerous to send the paramedics in from that entrance,
Williams continued to ask for a paramedic on the west side. The
route on the west side through the cafeteria and up the stairs had been cleared and remained
protected by Denver SWAT.
The students and teachers in the science rooms with
Sanders were evacuated. Two Eagle
Scouts, Aaron Hancey and Kevin Starkey, had administered first aid to Sanders
and were reluctant to leave the teacher behind. While one SWAT officer led the evacuation, a second stayed
with Sanders, never leaving his side, talking with him and applying pressure
bandages to his wounds until the other officer came back.
The people evacuated from the science rooms were
first sent down the stairway to the landing, where they were grouped together on
the landing until SWAT could confirm the safety of the evacuation route.
The students and staff were then moved from the landing through the cafeteria
and out the side door. Throughout
this process, the location of the gunmen was unknown.
While the world cheered as they watched television
images of children escaping unharmed from the school, the two SWAT deputies with
Sanders decided to move him closer to an exit route.
After waiting for what they estimated to be 20 to 30 minutes, they
decided a paramedic was not coming or could not get in, and that they would need
to evacuate the wounded teacher themselves or at least move him closer to an
Their plan was to take him out a door over to the
staircase, down the stairs through the cafeteria and out the side door,
basically following the same route as the students just evacuated. They put
Sanders on a chair so that they could move him easier and pushed him through the
back doors of the science rooms into a storage area.
Before they could move him from the storage room, a Denver paramedic
arrived in the room. He had entered
through the west side of the school and past SWAT where he was directed to
Sanders. He advised the deputies that there was no pulse and, therefore, nothing
more they could do. Dave Sanders
The deputies left Sanders with the paramedic to join
the rest of their SWAT team continuing to search the other science room areas.
They found an additional 50 to 60 students and two teachers hiding in
other darkened rooms to the east of Sanders’ location.
Again, SWAT protection was set up for the evacuation of those students
and teachers and they were evacuated, this time out the east side of the school.
Once the science rooms were cleared and secured, Williams’ team of Jefferson County and Denver SWAT officers made its way toward the library, the last area to be checked. Along the way, the team reported seeing gunshot holes in the windows, bomb fragments and shrapnel on the floor, more broken glass, and a pipe bomb embedded in the wall just outside the library door. The glass cases holding the school’s trophy displays just outside the library door and the windows into the library were shattered. To the left through the shattered windows, the team could see bodies on the library floor.
Four members of the Jefferson County SWAT team and
one Denver officer entered the school library at 3:22 p.m.
As soon as they stepped through the doors, they caught movement to the
left. Student Lisa Kreutz, among
three victims lying on the floor under desks, was moving slightly.
She had been shot several times, but she was alive. SWAT team members
reassured her that she would be okay and called for the paramedics.
While the Denver officer held the entrance, the four
Jefferson County members spread out and worked their way through the library
among bombs and bodies. They
stepped over numerous bombs trying to get to each one of the children.
As they worked their way through the library, several
SWAT members saw two males on the floor in the southwest portion.
Their bodies were next to one another and both had gunshot wounds to the
head. The wounds appeared to be
self-inflicted. Guns and numerous explosive devices lay on the floor next to
them. The command post was advised
that the two males matched the description of the suspects.
Williams’ SWAT team was still searching the library
when a female employee came out from her hiding place in a back office of the
library. The SWAT leader took her
by the arm and told her to put her hand on the back of one of the SWAT officers,
look only at his back and follow him out of the library.
She was quickly passed off to another officer and evacuated to safety.
The SWAT officers inside the library worked their way
to the back emergency door that led to the outside upper level near the west
entrance. Several bombs were laying
inside the doorway, but the first priority was to get a team of paramedics into
the library to attend to Lisa Kreutz. Two paramedics with a backboard entered
the library through the back door, put the wounded student on it and quickly got
her out of the library and to medical triage.
The other SWAT teams, searching in other parts of the
school building, heard over the radio that William’s group had made it to the
library and had found a female still alive. They worked their way towards the
A second female teacher, hiding under a desk in a
west room of the library, was found by SWAT.
She was badly traumatized and had suffered a shoulder injury. Two other
employees had moved to the back rooms of the library and hid in cupboards and
behind furniture until they were rescued by SWAT.
reported that SWAT had found at least 10 other bodies in the library. The
command post quickly added the 12 reported dead in the library to the two and
possibly three fatalities discovered on the outside of the school. Six victims already had been sent to area hospitals with
life-threatening wounds, some of whom were referred to as probably deceased.
SWAT had also reported a teacher with massive wounds had died in the
science area. Adding the number of
dead found in the library to the other known dead and adding the critically
injured transported to hospitals, the incident commander told the Sheriff that
fatalities could be as many as 25. “Up
to 25 dead” was the number reluctantly passed on to the media as Sheriff Stone
and Public Information Officer Steve Davis held a 4 p.m. news briefing.
Due to the number of explosive devices
and weapons on the library floor, Williams’ team ordered everyone else out of
the library and
requested the Jefferson County bomb squad respond to the scene.
Jefferson County and Denver SWAT were posted at the front and back doors
for scene protection and safety.
Dr. Christopher Colwell, attending emergency room
physician at Denver Health Medical Center, and a second paramedic were escorted
through the library at 4:30 p.m. to check for any signs of life. The doctor and
paramedic made a second sweep through the library and pronounced each of the 10
victims and two suspects deceased at 4:45 p.m.
Colwell was also escorted to the science area where he pronounced Dave
The library scene was turned over to the bomb squad
officers and the Jefferson County SWAT team went to the east side of the school
to meet with Manwaring, then to Leawood Elementary School for a debriefing.
Other SWAT teams were relieved of their duties and went first to the
command post and then to their own headquarters for debriefings.
The SWAT teams had just finished a very grueling
physical and emotional search of Columbine High School. Fresh SWAT teams, each
accompanied by a member of the bomb team, would conduct another sweep of the
school later that night for any other explosive devices and for victims or
suspects. The bodies of Harris and Klebold had been found but reports of
additional gunmen continued. The
question became whether additional gunmen could still be hiding inside the
school or had someone else escaped.
Tactical Command Post Moves Forward
After the Jefferson County SWAT team arrived with
adequate personnel and equipment to relieve Manwaring’s emergency team and to
take over the engagement and the interior search of the school, Manwaring and
the Denver SWAT officers regrouped. Williams, inside the school with both the
Jefferson County and Denver SWAT, was finding and evacuating large groups of
students hidden throughout the building.
Manwaring, accompanied by Lt. Phelan, Capt. DiManna
and Lt. Frank Vessa of the Denver Police Department, left the school’s west
side and went back to the incident command center on Pierce Street.
Manwaring was unprepared for what he encountered as
he approached the east side of the school and Pierce Street two hours after he
had led his team to the west side. The
street was jammed with emergency, fire and law enforcement vehicles with media
cars and satellite trucks filling up the rest of the spaces.
Parents, students, the media, victim advocates, mental health
professionals, curious neighbors and a portion of the nearly 1,000 first
responders were gathered there.
The SWAT commanders collectively made the decision to
establish a forward tactical command post away from the incident command post
and the activity surrounding it. They
obtained floor plans of the school and met with other commanders and school
personnel to determine the current status of the incident and future tactical
Representatives of Jefferson County, Arapahoe County,
Lakewood, Littleton, Englewood and Denver Police Departments, and the FBI
organized their information, command and areas of responsibility.
Based on the information provided by each department’s SWAT commander,
Manwaring crossed off areas of the school that had been searched, determined the
current location of each team, and how they were progressing through the
interior of the school.
The commanders told their teams to hold their
positions until they could meet with their team leaders at the school’s east
doors to reorganize and reassign areas of responsibility for a second sweep of
the school interior. They
wanted to make absolutely sure there were no more victims or suspects either
injured or deliberately hiding in the building, that there were no more
fatalities who had not been discovered and that all explosive devices, exploded
or undetonated, had been located.
Almost as soon as the school was considered clear at
4:30 p.m., the sound of shots came once again from inside the building.
One of the SWAT teams, while searching the cafeteria and then the kitchen
areas, breached two locked doors by firing several rounds into the lock
mechanisms. Unfortunately, because
they were working on their own radio frequency and not able to communicate with
other teams, they could not ask for permission to fire and were not able to tell
anyone they were going to fire. Both rooms were unoccupied.
After the second sweeps were completed, the SWAT
commanders from the Jefferson and Arapahoe County Sheriff’s offices, and
Denver, Lakewood and Littleton Police Departments entered the school building to
assess the scene. FBI SWAT
initially maintained the exterior crime scene, Denver held the interior and the
scene was relinquished to the Jefferson County Bomb Squad because of the
The initial SWAT teams were directed to Leawood
Elementary School to meet with the Jefferson County Critical Incident Team
investigators. The Critical
Incident Team, also known as the “shoot team,” conducts its own complete
investigation in incidents where an officer or deputy fires his or her weapon.
Members of the team meet with each officer to determine how many shots
were fired, at what target and if the action was justified.
A psychiatric team, on contract with the Jefferson
County Sheriff’s Office, also met briefly with the teams before they were
relieved of their duties.
SWAT Teams Provide Valuable Assistance
Several members of other SWAT teams in the area
responded to Jefferson County’s call for mutual aid. The first of several Littleton
Police Department SWAT team members became part of the first team to enter
the school on the east side. Once
inside, they worked for 45 minutes to clear the immediate area.
The rest of the Littleton SWAT team arrived and was briefed an hour
later. The entire team formed the
second wave to enter the school on the east side and assisted in searching the
science, math and finance rooms on the second level.
put out a call to respond to Columbine about 11:30 a.m. and members of its team also went with the first ad hoc SWAT group advancing on the school.
Many of its members, armed with AR-15 rifles, provided suppression fire
during attempts to rescue down and wounded students outside or assisted in the
rescues themselves. Many also
helped evacuate students from different areas of the school, assisting in
establishing security protection for the evacuees, helped search and secure
classrooms; provided cover as other SWAT team members freed them from the
building, and assisted in clearing the roof of the school.
Department’s first assignment was to check the roof. A sniper had been reported on the roof, and later discovered
to be an air conditioning employee who barricaded himself on the roof and waited
for someone to rescue him.
A second assignment was to search the school’s
parking lots and identify Harris and Klebold’s cars, because the command post
had received reports that there might be bombs in them.
Lakewood’s job was to locate the cars and then make sure no one got in
them and drove away. In the south parking lot the team located a black two-door
Honda with a “RAMSTEIN” sticker on the back windshield. Inside the vehicle in the back seat was a spherical propane
While searching the south lot, the team also reported
seeing a sign in a second floor window of the school that said, “1 bleeding to
death.” The Lakewood team relayed
this information to the command post.
A dramatic episode for Lakewood SWAT occurred in the
mid-afternoon. Patrick Ireland, with bullet wounds to
the head and slipping in and out of consciousness, had slowly made his way to
the library’s west window. Sheriff’s
deputies, holding their perimeter positions in the south parking lot, first saw
the injured male figure at the window and realized the young man was determined
to come out the second-story window. There was nothing but a concrete sidewalk below to break his
The deputies could see members of the
Lakewood SWAT with an armored truck in the south parking lot.
Frantically waving and yelling, they got SWAT’s attention.
The image of the rescue of Patrick Ireland by the Lakewood SWAT has come
to epitomize the Columbine tragedy. Using
the roof of the
armored car so they could reach him, SWAT caught the young man as he fell out
the window at 2:38 p.m.
The Special Response Unit of the Arapahoe
County Sheriff’s Office responded to Columbine High School between 12 and
12:30 p.m. Officers assisted in
securing and holding the northeast hallways and helped to evacuate students and
faculty out of the school’s east side. The
unit also was assigned to provide security for paramedics responding to the
library and to escort fire personnel searching for the fire alarm panel in the
cafeteria area. The unit was
relieved at 5 p.m.
SWAT officers from the Englewood Department of Safety Services responded by 1:45 p.m. and
were assigned to assist in the rescue/evacuation of students who had been able
to escape on the northwest side of building.
Officers also helped maintain the perimeter on the west side of the
school until it was determined that the suspects had been located and there was
no longer a threat.
County Sheriff’s Department SWAT team is made up of Sheriff’s deputies
and police officers from the Lafayette and Erie Police Departments and volunteer
paramedics. That team was paged for
a full SWAT response to Columbine High School at 4 p.m. in order to assist with
a second full search of the school.
Also paged was the SWAT team from the Boulder
Police Department. Both teams
arrived at the scene around 5:30 p.m. and staged on the northwest side of
school. Because of the explosive devices in and around the outside of
the school, the second group of SWAT teams did not make entry until later that
evening. Both Boulder units
searched the cafeteria or commons areas, the kitchen and auditorium, and an
adjacent block of classrooms. Also
assigned to their team was a bomb expert and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
personnel to operate an infrared device. As
the tactical team cleared hallways and rooms, the DEA infrared team would
follow, checking the walls and ceiling for an indication of anyone hiding.
As the team would clear the rooms, a team leader would note the date,
time and the team that had cleared the area.
Also assisting in the secondary sweep of the school were 22 SWAT officers
from the Northglenn and Thornton
Police Departments. According
to their reports, they were instructed to conduct “a slow and very methodical
search in hopes of finding any possible survivors, to address any casualty first
aid needs, to record the location of any fatalities encountered, to record the
location of all unexploded bombs and exploded bombs not previously tagged and
finally to report and engage any hostiles they may encounter.”
They were advised that two suspects might still be in the school.
SWAT moved to an entrance on the school’s east side around 2 p.m. where a
paramedic ambulance was stationed. Jefferson
County SWAT escorted students and teachers from the interior of the school to
the FBI SWAT team, who formed a protective corridor to uniformed police officers
located on Pierce Street. Those uniformed police officers then searched and evacuated
the students through neighborhood yards to waiting school buses. The FBI SWAT
also helped clear the math and computer classrooms beginning around 3 p.m. and
then relieved Jefferson County SWAT officers on the perimeter around the crime
scene. The FBI
SWAT remained on the crime scene perimeter until relieved by tactical
members from Colorado State Patrol (SORT) around 7 p.m.
Additional SWAT teams assisting in the secondary
sweep of portions of the school were 12 members from Adams County Sheriff’s Office and 12 members from the
Commerce City Police Department.