Jock culture called a 'myth'

Denver Post / August 25, 2000
By Howard Pankratz

Columbine High School principal Frank DeAngelis told a state panel Thursday that it is a "myth" that a so-called jock culture prone to bullying may have prompted the deadly rampage by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold last year.

DeAngelis, speaking before the Governor's Columbine Review Commission, said that there was really no "Trench Coat Mafia" and that Klebold and Harris didn't associate with the people who wore such clothing.

He strongly suggested that the commission review all the videotapes made by Harris and Klebold and draw its own conclusions.

"I really feel they may provide some insight to what happened that particular day," DeAngelis said. "Columbine High school was a good school and will continue to be a good school."

DeAngelis said that at no time did teachers, counselors or school administrators detect bullying at Columbine. And none, he said, had any forewarning that Harris or Klebold was planning an attack.

DeAngelis, other school district officials and law enforcement agencies have been sued by the families of slain and injured students. The families allege authorities should have heeded warning signs the two students were going to take action and that they mishandled the rescue.

Columbine will never return to "normal" in the aftermath of the April 20, 1999, massacre that left 15 dead at the school, DeAngelis said. But he said he doubts few communities have coped as well as the Columbine community when confronted with a similar tragedy.

"I truly believe that it was the response of our students, administrators, teachers, counselors, secretaries, resource officers, campus supervisors, our custodians - it was their response that saved so many lives of the students that day because of the way they handled the pressure," DeAngelis said.

"There were many heroes, many who were willing to risk their lives," he said.

DeAngelis told the commission he thought he was going to die when he came face-to-face with one of the killers.

Shortly after 11 a.m., a call to his office from a teacher alerted DeAngelis and his secretary that there was gunfire outside the school. Immediately they contacted by walkie-talkie Neil Gardner, a deputy sheriff assigned to the school, and campus supervisor Andy Marton, who drove to the area of the shooting and confronted one of the killers, exchanging shots with him, DeAngelis said.

In the meantime, DeAngelis said, he was told there was gunfire on the floor below him. He decided to walk down the stairs.

"My initial response was that this can't be happening - I can't believe this is happening," DeAngelis said. "So I walked down to the area and I realized my worst nightmare come true. I encountered one of the gunmen who was entering through the northwest corridor."

The gunman was dressed in a white T-shirt, a black vest and a baseball cap turned backward. He and DeAngelis approached each other.

"What I saw was a shotgun and bullets spraying glass," DeAngelis said. "The only thing I could think was what it was going to be like to be shot. He was coming (toward me) and I kept hearing the shotgun going off and behind me I heard glass exploding."

But DeAngelis said he heard the laughing of some female students in the corridor leading to the gym. He said he turned down the corridor, gathered the girls together, unlocked the gym doors, got them inside and closed the doors behind him. He said he told them to get into a gym storage area. The girls were rescued by DeAngelis and four other teachers a short time later.

DeAngelis said that throughout the school there were large groups of trapped students and faculty - in some areas numbering up to 60. He said he was able to talk to many of the trapped because the school had a phone in every room and many had walkie-talkies. It was this communications system that enabled him to brief SWAT teams on where they should "attack" the school in an attempt to rescue the students.

He said teachers and students were trapped in the English and foreign language departments, the vocal music department and the science wing. But he said that the SWAT teams had no blueprints of Columbine and it fell upon him to try to remember the precise layout of the school, including pinpointing the rooms where the trapped were hiding. He said that was difficult and frustrating.

Compounding the problem, he said, was the ear-splitting noise of the alarms, flashing strobe lights and the fact that about every student who escaped had a different description of the killers.

"As each kid came out, they gave a different account. And it made it very difficult to realize what was accurate and what was not accurate," DeAngelis said.

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