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Slain Student's Family Sues Parents of Colorado Killers

May 28, 1999|JULIE CART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DENVER — Stressing "it's not about money," an attorney for the family of a slain Columbine High School student filed a $250-million wrongful death lawsuit Thursday against the parents of gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. It was the first in what is expected to be several civil suits targeting school administrators, law enforcement officials and gun manufacturers for liability in the rampage that took 15 lives and injured dozens others.

Attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who is representing the family of Isaiah Shoels, said no rational person could believe that the teenage gunmen constructed pipe bombs and "amassed an arsenal" of guns without their parents' knowledge. Fieger, who recently won $25 million in a wrongful death suit against television personality Jenny Jones, said the parents should be held liable for their sons' actions.

"This lawsuit is about duty, this lawsuit is about accountability and this lawsuit is about responsibility," the Michigan-based attorney said at a news conference here, which was attended by Vonda and Michael Shoels, the parents of the 18-year-old who was apparently singled out for killing because he was black.

Fieger said his investigators had an advantage over authorities because of the subpoena power afforded in a civil case. Susan and Thomas Klebold have been questioned by authorities, but Katherine and Wayne Harris have refused to talk unless they are granted immunity. The Harrises could be compelled to testify in a civil case. Their sons took their own lives after killing 13 people in the April massacre.

The parents "had a duty to not act negligently and to not expose others to the unreasonable risk of harm by such negligence," the lawsuit says.

Colorado law limits the amount of damages in a wrongful death suit to $250,000. To receive a higher award, Fieger must prove that the two gunmen's parents had prior knowledge of the attack and acted negligently.

The suit was filed in district court in Denver, where the Shoels family recently moved from Littleton. Michael Shoels said he moved because his family had been subjected to harassment and his home had been broken into, as recently as several weeks ago. He said he has twice reported incidents to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department.

"Everyone is talking about money," Shoels said. "This is about change. No money, no anything can ever bring my son back. This money, I promise you, will be used properly, for my son."

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