Parents suing each other, school district over shootings
Tuesday, October 19th 1999, 12:00 am
News On 6
LITTLETON, Colo. (AP) -- The same intense emotions that brought
people together in a sea of silver and blue to mourn Columbine High
School's dead are now tearing them apart.
At least 18 lawsuits are in the works as a result of the April
20 bloodbath, with just about everyone a potential defendant -- gun
makers, the gunmen's parents, the school district and the sheriff's
Even the parents of one of the killers, Dylan Klebold, have
filed a notice of intent to sue Sheriff John Stone. The Klebolds
say Stone failed to inform them about the violent tendencies of the
other gunman, Eric Harris.
Investigators were aware that Harris had made threats and
maintained a hate-filled Web site, and the Klebolds claim they
would have made sure their son stayed away from Harris if they had
The Klebolds' lawyer, Gary Lozow, said Thomas and Susan Klebold
want to protect themselves from lawsuits filed by victims and will
not seek more money that what other people are seeking from them.
Harris and Klebold stormed their high school just after
lunchtime, scattering gunfire and bombs. They killed 12 students
and a teacher and wounded at least 23 others before committing
suicide in the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
In the days after the massacre, Littleton came together, putting
up silver-and-blue Columbine ribbons in windows and on fences and
wearing lapel pins. They turned out for funeral services, organized
campaigns to raise money, and made dinners and did other chores for
Harriet Hall, the mental health worker in charge of providing
counseling to the Columbine victims, said she is not surprised how
much the community has clashed since then.
"I'd be worried if there weren't disagreements. I think it is
possible to have nobility, anger and grief at the same time, if you
recognize your grief, but it is rare indeed," Ms. Hall said.
"This is a natural response to what the community has been
The parents of Isaiah Shoels, the only black student killed in
the massacre, are suing the Harrises and the Klebolds, in addition
to two men charged with helping the teens get the guns used in the
attack. The lawsuit alleges the parents failed to take action when
their sons stockpiled guns and bombs, and gave them "extraordinary
privileges" despite their run-ins with the law.
They do agree with the Klebolds on one thing -- they also have
filed notice of intent to sue the sheriff's department.
Sam Riddle, a spokesman for the Shoels family, said "the
Shoelses caught all kinds of hell when they filed their lawsuit,"
yet "now these other families are following" them.
Colorado law requires anyone who wants to sue a government
agency to file notice of intent to do so within six months of an
incident. In this case, that deadline expired this week.
Under Colorado law, the families cannot collect more than
$600,000 in a lawsuit against a government agency.
Several parents who filed notice said they are not motivated by
money and will decide whether to pursue their lawsuits after the
official investigation is complete. They said they want to know
whether the massacre could have been prevented.
One likely case would come against school officials. Some
parents claim school officials ignored how certain cliques at
Columbine hassled less popular students like Harris and Klebold.
Other cases might claim that school security was inadequate or that
administrators didn't do enough to prevent the shootings.
"I hope the lawyers who have filed these notices review the
cases and realize that there is no legal liability on behalf of the
county, sheriff or any other county employees that have been
named," said Bill Tuthill, an attorney for Jefferson County.
There is support for the Klebolds' case, even in some unlikely
corners. Brian Rohrbaugh, whose son, Dan, was among the slain
students, said he could understand why the Klebolds sued.
"Clearly, if the sheriff's department had done what would have been expected of them," Rohrbaugh said, "I think everything that
happened April 20 would have been avoided."