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TRAGEDY IN COLORADO

2 Gunmen Had Help, Police Fear

Massacre: Propane bomb found at site may indicate conspiracy to blow up school. Investigation also reveals video of teens acting out rampage.

April 23, 1999|RICHARD A. SERRANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LITTLETON, Colo. — Police on Thursday found a large propane tank bomb in the kitchen area of Columbine High School and said it now appears "the chances are very, very great" that others may have helped two teenage students carry out the rampage that left 13 innocent people here dead.

Authorities said the discovery of the 20-pound tank containing gas and rigged with duct tape, wires and a mechanical timer suggests that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had wanted to do more than just shoot fellow students and teachers: They may have hoped to destroy the school.

Police also revealed that the two gunmen--who killed themselves during the Tuesday siege--left a note that apparently discusses their thoughts going into the worst high school shooting in U.S. history.

In addition, juvenile court reports show that authorities just two months ago considered Harris "a bright young man who is likely to succeed in life," and thought Klebold "intelligent enough to make any dream a reality."

Police also recovered a videotape made by the shooters in which they eerily acted out their rampage, and officials said they believe Harris and Klebold may have been inspired by a movie called "The Basketball Diaries," in which a youth in a long black trench coat shoots up a classroom. The pair chose the same garb for Tuesday's massacre.

The propane tank bomb was hidden inside a duffel bag and appeared to be wired to explode, authorities said, but it was unclear how long it had been there and who had placed it.

Said Jefferson County Sheriff John Stone: "I don't know how just two people could have brought this in here. And any involvement in planning this thing, in helping assist this thing, is considered first-degree murder."

Sgt. Jim Parr, a sheriff's spokesman, said the explosive was the size of a propane tank normally used for a home barbecue grill. Had it blown, he said, "it would have been devastating."

The bomb was described as very crudely made. Also inside the duffel bag were model rocket engines and firecrackers, officials said.

'It's Possible They Had Confederates'

Parr added that because of the size of the tank and the other components, "it's possible they had confederates and it's possible they made two trips into the school. So we're not ruling out there were other people. That's a distinct possibility."

Added Deputy Steve Davis: "We certainly think there's a very good chance we have more than two people [involved]."

He stressed, however, that "we don't have a third shooter yet," and that authorities are re-interviewing about 100 students to determine how far the gunmen may have reached in drawing others into their plot.

Harris and Klebold were members of the so-called Trench Coat Mafia at Columbine, a small group who wore dark clothing and were fascinated with violent video games. Viewed as outcasts, they often openly expressed jealousy toward popular student athletes, their classmates said.

The pair clearly were determined to spread havoc at the school, shooting four firearms and tossing more than 30 smaller pipe bombs and other explosive devices throughout the two-story building. Only three of the bombs exploded. They were fashioned with nails and BBs that, upon explosion, sent shrapnel flying.

Twelve students and a teacher were killed; 23 other students were injured. Police said Harris and Klebold finally turned their guns on themselves.

Despite heavy snow Thursday, dozens of people left flowers, stuffed animals and cards at a makeshift memorial in a park near the school. The mementos were piled 2 feet high.

Officials Thursday defended law enforcement and rescue workers against criticism that it had taken them two days to discover the propane tank bomb, saying that searching the campus has been a slow and careful process.

The numerous small explosive devices had to be isolated and defused by bomb experts. There also are hundreds of backpacks that were dropped by students fleeing the school that now must be carefully opened and inspected for potential evidence. All of those backpacks, boxes and briefcases must be X-rayed first for possible bombs, bomb components or other weapons.

"We will literally have thousands and thousands of pieces of evidence and it will take days" to categorize it and then review the material, Davis said. "Every time you talk to one person, they'll tell you two or three more names, so it branches out from there."

Authorities declined to discuss specifics of the note found at Harris' home. But they did say it includes language that may shed light on the mind set of Harris, 18, and his 17-year-old friend, Klebold.

"I don't know if it's a suicide note or what it is," Davis said.

The juvenile court records, dated Feb. 3, suggest that local court officials evaluated the duo and determined them to be fairly well adjusted.

Pair Were Arrested for Theft in 1998

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