Jeff Kass Interview
(Columbine: A True Crime Story)
We’re now a decade past the school shootings at Columbine.
Do we really know what happened there on April 20th, 1999?
Who’s at fault?
Is there an explanation?
One man who would know, who should know is Jeff Kass.
Jeff is the author of the book Columbine: A True Crime Story.
Q – Jeff I would say you probably had a hometown advantage because you were working for a newspaper not far from where Columbine was located. So, you had the time to maybe dig a little deeper than most of your fellow journalists?
A – That’s a good question. I think I needed to be here in Denver to write the book, but there could have been a disadvantage to being in the hometown and that is I think in reporting the story day in and day out for the Rocky Mountain News you can also make enemies more easily. If you’re always there in the mix everyday, the chance of people getting angry with you for something is increased also.
Q – Who would you be talking about here? Public officials? School officials? Families of victims or everybody?
A – Anybody. It could be a government official. It could be a family member. A victim’s family. A family member of the perpetrators. I think it helped in the end. But, I do think there’s a possibility of being in the hometown offers you more chances for people to get angry at you.
Q – So, how long did it take you to put this book on Columbine together?
A – Ten years. It came out just before the 10 year anniversary and I covered the story from Day One.
Q – How far is Littleton from Denver?
A – I think its maybe 10 miles, southwest of Denver.
Q – Did you speak to any of the teachers at Columbine? Did they talk?
A – Yeah. A couple of them did. I believe I am the only journalist who the Dean of Students at the time the killers went to the school, has spoken to. He’d disciplined Eric and Dylan for various things at the school. He had a rapport with them. I did speak with other teachers. I have spoken with the Principal, Frank De Angelis. So, I’ve interviewed a wide cross-section.
Q – Did you ever get to speak to the jocks at Columbine and ask them what was so funny about throwing garbage at Eric and Dylan when they were trying to eat lunch in the cafeteria?
A – I did not talk to any jocks that were alleged to have done the bullying. I, in part depended on Brooks Brown’s account of bullying in his book, ‘No Easy Answers’. I must say the Brown family has been very helpful. A lot of people have criticized the Browns, but, their accounts have always shown to be true. Whatever they said had happened, sometimes documents were not immediately available, but, they were always proven right by the documents.
Q – When is the last time you spoke to Brooks?
A – Probably 2006 or 2007. He was engaged I think. He hadn’t gotten married yet.
Q – Brooks has said that Eric and Dylan were bullied. But, then he has also said you didn’t want to mess with Eric. O.k. so which was it? Were they bullied or were they bullying others?
A – That’s a good point. Are you sure that Brooks said you didn’t want t o mess with Eric or Dylan? Dylan was the one who was taller. Dylan had told his father, according to one account that he didn’t get picked on so much because he was tall. I think he was 6’, 6’1, so he was the one that was more imposing in that sense. One of the things about Columbine is that you can be bullied as Brooks has recounted but, it doesn’t mean that you can’t go ahead and bully other people too. So, I think both are possible. I’m pretty sure it’s Dylan in his diary writings who says, ‘I need to stop bullying’. But, I don’t think that means that Dylan wasn’t bullied himself. I don’t see why you can’t have both. Certain kids bully Eric and Dylan and they turn around and bully other kids.
Q – I’ve never understood why teachers who served as cafeteria monitors would tolerate the behaviour from jocks in that cafeteria throwing garbage at Eric and Dylan. In fact, I’ve never seen a teacher go on camera and offer an explanation, have you?
A – Well, there was an account actually from the Principal himself, maybe a year after Columbine. I’m not sure of the exact date. Frank De Angelis testified before the Governor’s Columbine Review Commission and he said he did not see the bullying that was alleged. I forget the exact number, but, a number of teachers, maybe two dozen or three dozen signed a petition also saying they did not see the bullying. So, there is that out there from school officials.
Q – You’d have to question that. What are they going to say? If they said they saw bullying and did nothing about it, people would ask why?
A – Of course.
Q – They would have to get behind their principal. I’ve heard some remarkable statistic that 60% of the teachers that were at Columbine on April 20th, 1999, transferred out.
A – They may have transferred out or quit teaching, left the teaching profession. There are a couple cases of other students who had problems. One is Steven Greene. He is Jewish. He said he was subjected to a lot of anti-Semitic remarks. At least one boy who made one of those remarks was disciplined as I recall. And that’s been written about. It may not be overwhelming from what we have, but to say, for what it’s worth, there’s nothing out there…..there are some instances of bullying being discussed. On the one hand De Angelis and the teachers have denied it happened and on the other hand there is this case of Steven Greene and discipline, although his father did not think it was adequate.
Q – Do you know how many kids were absent from school at Columbine, the day of the shooting?
A – I think it has been mentioned. I don’t recall the number off hand.
Q – It was reported very early on that there was a 3rd gunman on the roof of Columbine. Dozens of witnesses reported seeing that gunman.
A – I don’t know if it’s dozens but some number of eyewitnesses did think they saw a 3rd gunman. I don’t think there was. You have to understand the two shooters took off some of their clothes like their trench coats. Eyewitness accounts have a tradition of being unreliable actually. Police had to change one of the killers who killed one of the kids because eyewitness accounts were so poor. People are traumatized in a situation like this. Things happen quickly. It’s hard to be clear. I don’t think there’s a conspiracy, I think people gave conflicting accounts or thought they saw three gunmen and I think they were simply mistaken, honestly mistaken.
Q – If it were just a couple of people who saw a 3rd gunman that explanation would be considered reasonable. But, according to this report done by the American Patriot Friends Network (website:www.apn.org) there were dozens of witnesses, and you just have to wonder.
A – Do they list the names of dozens?
Q – They do not list all the names. However, student Chris Wisher told Investigator John Quinn he personally saw a 3rd gunman on the scene. Have you heard of that?
A – I’ve heard many people saying they thought there were three gunmen, but I think they were honest mistakes. I don’t know that there were dozens, but, even if you have many reports of a 3rd gunman, there were almost 2,000 people in the school that day, so amid the chaos, of course you’re going to have different accounts, especially considering that eyewitness accounts can be unreliable. So, to me it’s not a surprise that you may have a few or even more saying there were 3 gunmen, because compared to 2,000 total eyewitnesses; it may not be a huge number overall.
Q – A CNN article from April 20th, 1999, a male student who was 100 yards away from the shooters said there were 3 of them, including one fellow student and another boy dressed in white throwing bombs on top of the school – some kind of grenade or something. Another student went on t.v. and said the same thing.
A – When I hear that, I say, they saw a student throwing something. It wasn’t a grenade. It was one of the pipe bombs that Eric and Dylan made. To me, it’s just calling a pipe bomb a grenade. You might not really know from where you are. You assume it’s a grenade ‘cause that’s sort of the common thing you might go to, but, it was probably a pipe bomb.
Q – The Denver Post, “There were reports of anywhere from 2 to 6 gunman on the roof in the cafeteria, the main hallway, hiding above a room where ceiling tiles had been removed. SWAT officers were told the shooters may be changing clothes and mingling with other students, a report that forced them to treat every student as a suspect”.
A – I think that’s a good point because the killers did change clothes. Eric and Dylan did shed their trench coats. They did change clothes which may have confused people, ‘cause now you have two people in trench coats with guns and you have two people in t-shirts with guns. That’s four right there. That could be confusing. Talking about climbing on the roof, there was a boy who I recall who climbed into the roof in the cafeteria to escape the shootings. It sounds like he could’ve been mistaken as a shooter. Students see other students doing other things and right away assumed they were a shooter. Somebody on the roof you might have a full view of them.
Q – Sheriff John Stone told APB News on June 19th, 1999, “I’ve said all along there were more people involved and nothing has changed my thinking”. Have you talked to Sheriff Stone”?
A – I’ve spoken to him about other things, but the Sheriff’s investigation was notoriously error filled and contained cover-ups, so, I would hardly take Sheriff John Stone’s word on anything.
Q – He told the Associated Press on July 29th, 1999, “I’ve never thought it was just two suspects because of the amount of stuff that was brought in. But, we don’t have enough to charge anyone”. He’s saying what? There was a conspiracy?
A – I wouldn’t call it a conspiracy. He said there were more people. To me it’s not a conspiracy, it’s just more. But, nobody has ever been arrested. I think there were some kids arrested that day they thought might be accomplices. Then they released them. No one has ever been charged. Short of doing that I think it’s unfair to name names unless you’ve got something further aside from some eyewitness accounts saying yeah, there were more. It seems irresponsible to start naming people.
Q – No one names anybody. They’re just saying they believe others were involved. Eric and Dylan were dead in the library at 12:05p.m.?
A – It’s something like that. Its 12:05 or 12:06 or 12:07 or 12:08. I forget the exact time.
Q – It was reported that shortly before 1 p.m. a second volley of gun shots rang out. If Eric and Dylan were dead at 12:05p.m who were the police shooting at?
A – I think at that point it was police gunfire that somebody has mistaken for suspect gunfire. That could be it.
Q – On May 7th, 1999, the word was that 60 bombs were found in and around Columbine. Then that figure went to 67, and climbed as high as 90. Do you know how many bombs were found inside Columbine?
A – I don’t remember the exact number that I had is, off-hand.
Q – On April 23rd of 1999, Governor Bill Owens told Channel 9 News, “There are backpacks with bombs in there everywhere. The officers in there are convinced there had to be more people involved”.
A – I’ve never heard of backpacks with other bombs. That might’ve been something where the Governor was misquoted, or the assumption by police that you had to assume every backpack had a bomb for purposes of safety and clearing out the school. I don’t think they know that. I’ve never heard that, that there were many backpacks full of bombs. They assumed that when they cleared out the school.
Q – An Associated Press article from April 22nd 1999, states that two 35 pound bombs were found in the school cafeteria by investigators. I’ve heard other reports stating that bombs were found under stairwells. When did these 2 guys have the time to plant all these bombs?
A – You may be thinking of bombs. I guess I’m not sure what you’re thinking of. You probably shouldn’t be thinking of traditional bombs. If you think of pipe bombs, they could be an inch long, a few inches long. They also have crickets which are these hollowed out CO2 canisters that they put gun powder and a fuse on. You could hold a bunch of them in your hand. They weren’t traditional, heavy bombs that you might find on a ship or a cannon ball, an artillery cannon. People might call them bombs, but they’re pretty small and light. That’s how you can carry so many of them around.
Q – So, what you’re saying is, the day of the shooting, Eric and Dylan each carried in 30 bombs a piece on their backpacks?
A – Oh, yeah. And they put ‘em in their jacket pockets, their pants pockets. We’re not talking heavy bombs here.
Q – Would they have planted some of these bombs in advance of the shooting or was it done the same day?
A – The police say it was done the same day.
Q – Do you believe that?
A – They would’ve had to do a pretty quick job to do it. I have no evidence to the contrary. All I can say is, it seems like a lot of work. They were 20 pound bombs. That was the biggest one. It takes some effort and pretty good timing to bring that stuff in, but, I have no evidence to the contrary that anything was brought in before that.
Q – I know that Oprah Winfrey has a standing invitation for the parents of Harris and Klebold to come on her show. To date, they have not accepted. In fact, they have not spoken with anyone in the press have they?
A – No, they have. The Klebolds granted an interview to David Brooks, The New York Times political columnist which sounds odd. I don’t know why they spoke with him, but, they did grant him an interview that he wrote about in one column. So, there is that from the Klebolds.
Q – What year would that have been?
A - 2004, 2005. Something around there.
Q – Is it true that the Harris family moved out of Littleton?
A – I’ve heard that, but, I don’t have any independent confirmation of that. I know they moved out of their home they were living in when the shootings occurred, but, at that point they had just moved to another home in the area. I haven’t checked in the past year or so, where they are, so I can’t tell you where they are. For what it’s worth, I think they were still in the Littleton home when the Bill Kurtis documentary aired. The first time they moved it wasn’t that far away.
Q – The Jefferson County Sheriffs Department were not cooperative with the Columbine investigation were they?
A – No.
Q – The reason being what? They’re afraid of being blamed or partially blamed for what happened?
A – I think so. I think that’s part of it, yeah. They wanted to avoid liability, perceived liability.
Q – From your own research, did you find anyone who could have stepped in and prevented this tragedy?
A – Look, they were in a juvenile diversion program. They had a counsellor. They were seeing a counsellor who monitored them for a year, including psychological in-take forms they had to fill out.
Q – I heard the tape of their appearance before a judge. They did a good job of fooling him. They were good actors.
A – They were. An interesting point. They were able to fool adults really well. It’s actually the kids they didn’t fool in the sense of that’s why I think they were outcasts. Kids could tell there was something weird about them and didn’t like them. It’s the adults they were able to fool more. But, they came in contact with police, with a juvenile diversion program, with school officials. They were disciplined through school. Anyone of these people could have done more but I don’t know that any one incident indicated they were mass murderers. Although Eric’s juvenile in-take forms show that he was homicidal and suicidal.
Q – Their plan was originally to blow up the school and run to Mexico?
A – They had a lot of different plans. If you read through their diaries they said different things. Mexico I think that is right. They planned to go to Mexico. They talked about hijacking a plane and crashing it into New York City, believe it or not. And, they talked about suicide. So, they said different things.
Q – According to Beth Nimmo, the mother of Columbine victim Rachel Scott, a big part of the Columbine story that was really never reported was Eric and Dylan’s hatred of anyone who believed in Jesus. Did you find that to be the case?
A – I believe they made fun of people who were into Christianity, but, they made fun of everybody. They made fun of CNN. They made fun of Cable T.V. They made fun of the O.J. Simpson trial. They didn’t like the jocks. They didn’t like anyone. To say it was one thing is just not true. Their hatred was all consuming.
Q – They were equal opportunity haters.
A – I would agree with that.
Q – We’ve never seen a movie produced on the shootings at Columbine, probably because of the fear that someone would engage in a copy cat crime.
A – I would think it’s probably of fear I would guess. There was the movie ‘Elephant’ which was based on Columbine. It’s a pretty well-known movie. It came out a few years ago. That was about a school shooting. There’s also the movie ‘April Showers’ that came out last year (2009). I think it’s about a school shooting, but, based on Columbine. That movie is pretty popular. I think at one point was the most downloaded movie on I-Tunes.
Q – It didn’t go into wide-release in theatres then?
A – No. I don’t think it was wide-release, but, it was out.
Q – You’ve seen both movies?
A – I haven’t seen ‘April Showers’. I’ve seen ‘Elephant’.
Official website: jeffkassauthor.com
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