Columbine: Eight Years Later, Many Answers Are Out of Reach

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LITTLETON, Colorado (AP) Relatives of those killed in a shocking school shooting in the Denver suburb of Littleton eight years ago are questioning a judge's decision to seal information about the Columbine High School killers, saying that opening the files might help avoid such future tragedies as this week's carnage in Virginia.

Federal judge Lewis Babcock decided earlier this month to seal for 20 years testimony by the parents of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before turning the gun on themselves on April 20, 1999. The extent of the violence shocked the country.

The judge cited concerns that releasing testimony about the home lives of the two teens could encourage copycat killers. But his decision stunned and infuriated Columbine families and victims who say the depositions contain valuable information.

``Are the people of Virginia going to wait 20 years?'' said Dawn Anna, whose 18-year-old daughter, Lauren, was slain at Columbine.

The Virginia killer, Cho Seung-Hui, called Harris and Klebold ``martyrs'' in a tape he mailed to NBC that was broadcast Wednesday, two days after he killed 32 people at Virginia Tech university and committed suicide in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

``I felt like I was looking at Lauren's murderer. It's as if someone has been cruelly replaying April 20,'' Anna said.

Anna and the parents of other students slain at Columbine met this week to deal with the shock of the Virginia killings. The judge's decision dominated their conversation ahead of Friday's painful anniversary.

``I don't think you can stop every crazy person. But some of the things Babcock locked up show what these crazy kids did,'' said Don Fleming, who lost a 16-year-old daughter, Kelly. ``It's no use to anybody if it is locked up.''

``If society knew, it could possibly prevent future shootings,'' Fleming said. ``We're finding out that everything that the latest killer did is similar to what Klebold and Harris did.''

The Harries and Klebolds will only speak through their lawyers. Michael Montgomery, an attorney who represented the Harris family, said that the judge ``made an absolutely appropriate decision.''

In his ruling, Babcock said: ``I am mindful that there is a legitimate public interest in these materials so that similar tragedies may hopefully be prevented in the future. I conclude, however, that the balance of interests still strikes in favor of maintaining strict confidentiality.'' He also said he feared the information could lead to copycat attacks.

Babcock declined comment Thursday.

Much information about the Columbine killers is available on the Internet, including video clips of the two practicing their marksmanship, the diaries of Eric Harris, and Web sites dedicated to both killers.

Authorities did learn that Harris and Dylan Klebold played violent games, made violent videos at school, and were the victims of bullying.

Researchers into school-related violence support the Columbine victims' stand, noting the relative frequency of violent campus incidents. The Centers for Disease Control reported in 2002 that there had been 220 school-related shootings from 1994 to 1999, resulting in 253 deaths.

``The judge said the tapes were incendiary. We have plenty of things already that stimulate violence,'' said sociologist Ralph Larkin, author of a recent book on the Littleton slayings, ``Comprehending Columbine.''

Katherine S. Newman, a professor at Princeton and author on shooting rampages, said the information should be released.

``A 20-year lag deprives the rest of the country of what might be valuable insight. Indeed, having done a lot of research with the families of victims, they are left with a big hole in the middle not only by the loss of their children but by the unanswered 'why' questions,'' Newman said.

Columbine High will be closed Friday, as it has come every April 20.

Speaking on the eighth anniversary of the Columbine shooting, Ritter said that Colorado has ``walked the walk'' and emerged in a better place following the 1999 school shooting. Because of the love and support offered to Coloradans after Columbine, he says the state has arrived at a place of healing and hope.

Ritter made his remarks before a moment of silence to remember the 32 people killed at Virginia Tech. Then the bells of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in downtown Denver rang for a minute, part of a nationwide remembrance for those killed.

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