- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 22, 2002

LITTLETON, Colo. One family's accusations have reopened the scars left by the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, renewing calls for a comprehensive investigation and exposing a community's frustration with questions still unanswered nearly three years later.

The parents of Daniel Rohrbough, a 15-year-old killed in the shooting, are trying to persuade a federal judge to reinstate their wrongful-death lawsuit by insisting their son was shot by a Denver police officer, not the two teen shooters. The rampage left 15 persons dead including the two killers, who committed suicide.

The charge isn't new: Daniel Rohrbough's parents, Brian Rohrbough and Sue Petrone, first said that their son was killed by friendly fire in their lawsuit nearly two years ago. This time, however, they have a name Denver Sgt. Dan O'Shea and they say they have a witness.

In their Dec. 26 filing, the Rohrboughs also resurrect accusations that the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office tried to cover up its mishandling of the shooting, listing 29 instances that show a "pattern of obstruction and falsification."

The most vocal of the Columbine victims' parents, Mr. Rohrbough has seen his complaints dismissed as borne of grief or anger. This time, however, state leaders share his desire for answers about what really happened before, during and after the April 20, 1999 shooting.

"We don't think of it as dredging up the past we think of it as searching for the truth," said Barry Arrington, attorney for the Rohrbough parents. "People who say that never had a child killed. If you had, you would want to know how they were killed."

Earlier this month, Gov. Bill Owens called on Jefferson County District Attorney Dave Thomas to conduct a grand jury investigation into the Rohrbough accusations. State Rep. Don Lee, whose son was in the cafeteria during the shooting, said he would propose that the legislature convene an investigative panel with subpoena power.

U.S. Attorney John Suthers is considering a request to conduct a federal grand jury. On Thursday, Jefferson County Coroner Carl Blesch rejected a request for a coroner's inquest, although he left open the possibility of conducting one.

The coroner and others are waiting for the results of the one probe now in effect, an independent probe by El Paso County (Colo.) Sheriff John Anderson into who killed Daniel Rohrbough. The results of his inquiry, requested by Jefferson County Sheriff John Stone, are expected within the next few weeks.

"I talked to the governor yesterday and he's very receptive to waiting for that report," said Mr. Thomas on Friday. "We don't want to have people tripping over each other."

The Jefferson County sheriff's Columbine report from May 2000 concluded that Daniel Rohrbough was shot at very close range by Dylan Klebold, 17, who terrorized the school with another gunman, 18-year-old Eric Harris. Daniel's body was found lying face-down on a walkway outside the school.

Daniel was shot three times, but two bullets passed through his body and were never recovered. Fragments from the third bullet could not be positively identified, although they were found to be "consistent" with Harris's carbine rifle, not Klebold's TEC-9. What's more, there was no gunpowder on Rohrbough's clothing, indicating he was actually shot at a distance.

The angle of the bullet was also wrong for a victim who was reportedly fleeing from his attacker, Mr. Arrington said. "The bullet went up the front and out the back at an upward trajectory," he said. "Dylan Klebold would have had to turn Daniel around, shoot him, then turn him over. It just didn't happen."

The parents also had a smoking gun: a taped conversation with an Arapahoe County officer who said he saw their son shot by friendly fire. Confronted with the tape, however, the officer denied having seen him shot and was fired Jan. 9 for lying to the family.

Sgt. O'Shea, the Denver SWAT officer, has denied shooting Daniel, although the family says bullet casings from his gun were found closest to the boy's body.

Last year, the governor impaneled a commission to conduct hearings. But Sheriff Stone, beset by lawsuits, refused to testify, and the commission, with no subpoena power, issued a report that contained more questions than answers.

After nearly three years, however, the public's desire to move on may finally have been overcome by one family's need to know. "This is very difficult on a lot of people in the community," Mr. Thomas said. "Most people would like to get beyond this, and so would I.

"But there are questions that need to be addressed, and I hope they can be resolved," he said.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide