The Columbine Tapes

In five secret videos they recorded before the massacre, the killers reveal their hatreds--and their lust for fame

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Dec. 20, 1999 TIME Cover: The Columbine Tapes

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At about noon Harris and Klebold returned to the library. All but two wounded kids and four teachers had managed to get out while they were gone. The gunmen fired a few more rounds out the window at cops and medics below. Then Klebold placed one final Molotov cocktail, made from a Frappuccino bottle, on a table. As it sizzled and smoked, Harris shot himself, falling to the floor. When Klebold fired seconds later, his Boston Red Sox cap landed on Harris' leg. They were dead by 12:05 p.m., when the sprinkler turned on, extinguishing what was supposed to be their last bomb.

But the police didn't know any of this. They were still searching, slowly, along corridors and in classrooms. They found two janitors hiding in the meat freezer. Students and teachers had barricaded themselves and refused to open doors, worried that the shooters might be posing as cops.

Upstairs in a science classroom, student Kevin Starkey called 911. Teacher Dave Sanders had been shot running in the upstairs hallway, trying to warn people; he was bleeding badly and needed help fast. But by this time the 911 lines were so flooded with calls that the phone company started disconnecting people--including Starkey. Finally the 911 dispatcher used his personal cell phone and kept a line open to the classroom so he could help guide police there.

Listening to another dispatcher in his earpiece, Sergeant Barry Williams, who was leading a second SWAT team inside, tried to track Sanders down--but he says no one could tell him where the science rooms were. Still, he and his team searched on, looking for a rag that kids said they had tied on the doorknob as a signal.

The team finally found Sanders in a room with 50 or 60 kids. A paramedic went to work, trying to stop the bleeding and get him out to an ambulance. But it had all taken too long. Though Harris and Klebold had killed themselves three hours earlier, the SWAT team hadn't reached Sanders until close to 3 p.m.

Sanders' daughter Angela often talks to the students who tried to save her dad. "How many of those kids could have lived if they had moved more quickly?" she asks. "This is what I do every day. I sit and ponder, 'What if?'"

The SWAT team members wonder too. By the time they got to the library, they found that the assault on the school was all over. Scattered around the library was "a sea of bombs" that had not exploded. Trying not to kick anything, the SWAT team members looked for survivors. And then they found the killers, already dead. "We'll never know why they stopped when they did," says Battan.

Given how long the cops took and how much ammunition the killers had, the death toll could have been far worse. But some parents still think it didn't need to have been as high as it was. They pressed Colorado Governor Bill Owens, who has appointed a commission to review Columbine and possibly update SWAT tactics for assailants who are moving and shooting. "There may be times when you just walk through until you find the killers," Owens says. "This is the first time this has happened." The local lawmen "didn't know what they were dealing with."

THE PARENTS

Before the SWAT teams ever found the gunmen's bodies, investigators had already left to search the boys' homes: the kids who had managed to flee had told them whom they should be hunting.

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