Special Weapons and Tactics

    The Jefferson County Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team is a group of highly trained, specially equipped deputies from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and the Arvada and Golden Police Departments.  The team is utilized in high-risk incidents where disciplined teamwork, specialized weapons and tactical skills are required. 

    The SWAT team that first gathered at Columbine High School on April 20 was an ad hoc team of 12 SWAT officers from three different agencies who were the first to respond, individually, to the high school scene.  Many had never met before they entered the school together shortly after noon. Most did not have their tactical gear and equipment with them.

Ad Hoc SWAT Team formed

    Lt. Terry Manwaring, SWAT commander for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, had been patrolling in the Tiny Town area in the foothills 13 miles to the west of Columbine.  On hearing reports of shots fired at Columbine High School, he immediately headed to the school, calling for the Jefferson County SWAT team and the command staff to be paged. 

    Arriving on Pierce Street, the street that runs in front of the high school, he noticed teenagers gathering in groups along the curbside.  Some of them, recalled Manwaring, were hysterical. Several appeared to be in a daze.  Others were trying to comfort their friends. 

    Also parked on Pierce Street north of the school was Jefferson County Sergeant Phil Hy.  Hy was attempting to coordinate on scene and arriving units from both law enforcement and fire and emergency agencies.  The sergeant was also trying to listen and make sense of the radio traffic exploding on the airwaves.  He briefed the SWAT commander on what he was hearing as well as giving him an assessment of perimeter security and the shooting and suspect information currently available.

    Emerging, and often conflicting, information was being reported to the Jefferson County Dispatch Center. There were shooters in the cafeteria, in the library, in the science room.  There were six to eight heavily armed gunmen in body armor.  The gunmen were mobile and active.  There were 17 hostages being held in the auditorium.  There were snipers.  There were shooters outside the building.

    Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Lt. David Walcher arrived on scene followed by Undersheriff John Dunaway.  The Undersheriff, as chief operations officer, named Walcher the incident commander and authorized the emergency ad hoc SWAT team to immediately enter the school.

    As Manwaring was gathering his tactical gear, Deputies Del Kleinschmidt, a Jefferson County K-9 team member, and Allen Simmons of the Jefferson County SWAT team arrived. Manwaring told Simmons to locate as many SWAT officers as he could find because SWAT was to make an entry into the school as quickly as possible. Two more SWAT officers from the Littleton Police Department had now responded to Jefferson County’s call for mutual aid and they would accompany Manwaring in the first approach.

    Manwaring’s knowledge of the school’s layout was based on the original floor plan when the cafeteria was on the east side of the school. He did not know that a major remodel four years before had relocated the cafeteria, and the school library, to the far west side.

    Manwaring noticed several boys standing around and asked them to sketch a floor plan of the school. “Something quick so that I could see what this school looked like on the inside.”

    At about this time, information was aired regarding a person on the roof of the school and a warning that this person was a possible sniper.  If  SWAT’s task seemed difficult before this announcement, it was even more so now.

    Capt. Vincent DiManna, SWAT commander for the Denver Police Department, also arrived at the school in response to the call for assistance. DiManna had four other Denver SWAT officers with him.  While preparing to accompany Manwaring’s first group of SWAT toward the school, DiManna also had a more personal concern weighing heavily on him.  His son was among the 1,945 students at Columbine High School and possibly could still be inside the school.

    Despite the fact that the first makeshift team was not fully equipped with their usual SWAT gear – several were lacking vests and weapons and there were only two protective shields among them – at approximately 12 noon Manwaring and his hastily assembled team of Jefferson County, Denver and Littleton SWAT moved forward.  With a hurriedly-drawn map and conflicting information, Manwaring led the first contingent of SWAT officers to Columbine High School to search for unknown gunmen among nearly 2,000 students, faculty and staff.

    Nearby, parked on Pierce Street, was a Littleton fire truck.  The SWAT team used the truck as cover as they approached the school. Kleinschmidt volunteered to drive and gave his tactical ballistic vest to Deputy Simmons, whose SWAT gear was back at headquarters.  Simmons would be leading the first SWAT group into the building.  Kleinschmidt, driving the fire truck, relied only on his regular duty vest for protection.

Search For Shooter

    The SWAT officers, now numbering 12, moved alongside the fire truck southbound in the middle of Pierce Street, heading for the school.

    Manwaring split the group into two teams and assigned Simmons as one team leader.  Simmons was directed to take his team of six into the school on the east side, into what Manwaring still thought was the cafeteria area. 

    Kleinschmidt pulled the fire truck as close to the school’s front doors as possible and Simmons, with SWAT members from Littleton and Denver police departments, entered the school through a door just south of the main entrance. They were immediately met by the deafening sound of Klaxon horns and the flashing lights of the fire alarm system.  Smoke and fumes posed another potential hazard for the team.

    Manwaring’s team was providing cover as Simmon’s team entered, watching the windows, doors and the “high ground” of the rooftops.  Manwaring realized that if there were snipers on the roof, his team following the fire truck was fully exposed.  But he also knew they needed to make their way to the west side of the school where reports of wounded students and continuing gunfire urgently pressed upon them.

    As the fire truck approached the main east entrance doors, a person in the school’s office area placed his hands against the window. The team could see the pair of hands come up to the window, then disappear again.  The potential for a hostage situation now existed.

    Moments later, a student came out of the main doors with his hands held above his head. He ran to Manwaring, was quickly checked for weapons and injuries, then put on the floor in the back end of the truck’s cab.  (There was no other cover for the boy’s protection or any means of removing him from the scene at this point).  The boy reported that no other people were in the office area.

    Simmons’ team now inside the school immediately began searching and clearing classrooms.  Hallways led to the west and to the south from their point of entry.  In order to expedite the search of the school, the six-man team split into two smaller teams.  It was immediately apparent that additional officers were needed to effectively clear such a large number of classrooms.

    Locked doors were an obstacle the team constantly encountered and delayed the pace of the search.  Each lock had to be forcibly opened, every locked door had to be entered and each room searched before the team could move on to another classroom.  Behind every closed door were potential victims, suspects or hostages and, therefore, no room could be overlooked or passed by.

    Simmons provided cover for several officers as they moved down the east hallway entering and searching each classroom.  The other “mini-team” moved down the south hallway, eventually turning down another hallway and proceeding west.

    Because of the extremely high volume of noise being made by the fire alarm klaxons, the officers had to communicate with hand signals.  With their sense of hearing taken away, they could not hear any sounds of movement or aggression.  They had to operate under the premise that around every corner, and inside every classroom, there was the distinct possibility of confronting armed suspects.  


DEMONSTRATION:   of Strobe and horn similar to those activated in the school




    At this point, several more Denver SWAT officers appeared at the outside entry door and Simmons motioned them inside.  With additional supporting officers providing cover, Simmons’ mini-team evacuated a teacher from one of the classrooms.  They then moved to the north and entered the large open area of the school’s main entrance.  The interior doors and windows were riddled with bullet holes.  As they approached the administration offices on the north side of the main entrance, they observed a bullet hole in a television set mounted from the ceiling, and bullet holes in a window frame and window.  A computer monitor had a bullet hole through the screen and racks of shelves had been knocked over.   Searching the offices, Simmons’ team found two adult female staff members and evacuated them out the east side, believed to be the safest evacuation route.

Medical Evacuation

    On the outside of the school, Manwaring’s team continued toward the northwest corner of the building. Aerial television footage, shot live as the event was unfolding, captured the images of the lime green fire truck and its band of SWAT members making their way around the north perimeter of the school to the west side.

    Kleinschmidt drove the fire truck to the school’s west side where the team saw two victims laying outside near the west, upper level doors.  The young man was waving one of his arms in the air.

    Using the truck as a shield, the group inched forward but could only get the truck to the sidewalk and no closer.  Two Denver SWAT members, Capt. DiManna and Lt. Pat Phelan, rescued student Richard Castaldo as other SWAT officers and deputies provided them with cover. Richard was carried to the front of the fire truck and placed on the front bumper out of the line of any fire.  Unconscious and with shallow breathing, the student appeared to have bullet wounds to the chest.  

    Jefferson County Deputy Scott Taborsky was maintaining a perimeter cover position from behind his patrol car in the grass field directly behind the SWAT team’s location.  He already had transported several wounded students out of the area to triage locations.  Taborsky drove up close to the fire truck and SWAT officers put Richard in the back seat of his patrol car.

    Manwaring’s SWAT team made another approach to the upper level west doors to rescue the female victim. Rachel Scott was brought back to the fire truck by the team, but they realized the girl was deceased.  They laid her on the ground near the fire truck. 

    The team went a third time, protected by cover fire, this time in an attempt to rescue a boy lying motionless at the bottom of the concrete stairs leading to the south parking lot.  They returned without him, advising the rest of the officers that Daniel Rohrbrough was deceased.

    Taborsky, advised that the other victims were deceased, raced Richard Castaldo out of the area to medical assistance. 


    Manwaring’s team observed an undetonated explosive device lying in front of the same west doors where they had just rescued Richard and retrieved Rachel’s body. Because of the bomb, the SWAT commander decided to use the fire truck to ram the west doors, providing the team entry into the school. 

“If the bombs goes off,” Manwaring thought, “maybe the truck can take the brunt of the bomb blast since it’s carrying about 1,000 gallons of water.”

    The pursuit of this short-lived plan ended when the fire truck became stuck in the mud.  With the early spring weather, much of the ground was extremely soft, saturated with spring rains and snow.  The fire truck was buried in the muck and the more the driver tried to maneuver it, the deeper its tires sank.


    The Jefferson County SWAT team, led by Sgt. Barry Williams, arrived at the command post at Leawood Avenue and Pierce Street about 12:30 p.m.

    Williams knew that Manwaring was on the west side of the high school and Simmons and other SWAT officers had entered the building on the east side.  Any other information he could gather was sketchy.  Reports being relayed to the command post included possible multiple shooters, a hostage situation, and gunfire and explosions in nearly every wing of the school building.  Students on cell phones inside the school were calling out – to 911, their parents, and several times to local television stations.  Because of the noise, smoke and panic inside, many of the students calling from within reported hearing shots close to their own location – whether in the gymnasium, the auditorium, the business wing, the music rooms, the science areas and the business offices.

    At 12:50 p.m., Williams’ team utilized a front-end loader owned by a private construction firm working in the area and used it to approach the school on the west side.  Two SWAT marksmen were deployed to high ground positions on rooftops of houses on West Polk Avenue, the first neighborhood street just south of the school. From their vantage point, these SWAT members had a clear view of the south parking lot, the library windows and the cafeteria area.

    The rest of the team, using the front-end loader as cover, moved into position on the northwest corner of the school, opposite from where the first ad hoc SWAT team had entered.  Williams and his group were briefed by members of Manwaring’s team who advised them that students had been shot, numerous bombs had exploded and the number of suspects, still in the building, was unknown.  They explained that Simmons’ team had entered on the east side but no one had yet entered on the west. 

    The SWAT members also confirmed that activity had been reported in both the cafeteria and the library. Because a “live” bomb blocked the outside west doors leading into the upper level hallway and entrance to the library, the closest point of entry was into the cafeteria, one of the “hot zones,” directly beneath the library.  A window, which actually went into the teachers’ lounge next to the cafeteria, provided Williams' SWAT team entry into the building.

Entry Into Lower Level

    Williams’ team smashed the window glass and entered the teachers’ lounge at about 1:09 p.m. They were met with the deafening noise of fire alarms and the sight of flashing strobe lights, hanging ceiling tiles and three inches of water coming in under the closed door to the cafeteria.  The alarms and the sprinkler system had been set off by the explosions and the cafeteria area and adjacent rooms were flooding, either from the sprinkler system or from broken water pipes as well.  Another concern was “a hissing sound and the sound of something spraying.”  It was feared that the sound might be from a broken natural gas line.

    The team secured the small lounge and then opened the door into the cafeteria.  Williams described the sight that met them as surrealistic—tiles and wires broken and hanging at odd angles from a ceiling blackened by explosions and fire, water three to four inches deep and rising, and several hundred backpacks and food trays, left behind as terrified students had fled the lunchroom.  

Rescue and Evacuation

    One part of Williams’ team stayed at the cafeteria entrances to protect against any suspects escaping or ambushing the other SWAT members who moved to the school’s kitchen area and food storage rooms to the left.  Just as Simmons’ team had encountered on the east side, Williams’ team found every door locked.  Again, each door had to be breached and searched before the team could proceed further.

    To their surprise, the SWAT officers started finding groups of frightened students, hiding in ankle deep water in the kitchen storage rooms.  The students were slow to respond to directions from the SWAT team; it was difficult for the men to convince them that it was safe to leave their hiding places and follow these people, dressed in black, to the outside. SWAT members were stationed in positions to get the students out of the building and to safety. 

    A line of officers provided protection and direction all along the evacuation route, covering each person being evacuated in case the shooting started again. The procedure was to send each group being evacuated out of the building from the same place, if possible, so that the officers receiving them on the outside were not unduly surprised by someone coming out from another direction.

    Approximately 20 to 30 students were evacuated from the kitchen area. From the kitchen and storage rooms, the team moved to the freezers where they found two adult males – shivering from the extreme cold and barely able to move their arms.

    Evacuating the kitchen area was fairly simple, Williams said, because the students and adults were directed the short distance through the cafeteria to the teacher’s lounge and out the window to waiting officers outside. Evacuation became more difficult the further the SWAT team moved into the building because more and more officers were required to provide protection to those being evacuated.  Denver SWAT assisted by stationing an increasing number of its officers in place behind the Jefferson County team.

    Most of the people were evacuated through the teachers’ lounge window (and later the cafeteria side door) and up the outside concrete stairs to the protection of waiting officers and patrol cars.  The team knew that students would be running by at least two bodies of the children who had been killed outside.  Officers instructed each student to follow the person directly in front of him or her, not to look at anything else and follow the line of officers to safety.

    SWAT had been advised that the suspects might be trying to escape the building by changing their clothes and blending in with those being evacuated.  For the safety of everyone, all students were checked for weapons as well as for injuries before they were transported from the scene.

Conflicting Reports

    After clearing the kitchen area, Williams’ SWAT team now entered into the main cafeteria area and was told by dispatch that there might be bombs hidden in backpacks inside the school. The team was looking at 400 backpacks, some of them floating in the water flooding the cafeteria.  The reports also cautioned that since the diversionary bombs on Wadsworth had been equipped with timing and motion-activated devices, some of the bombs at the school also could be assembled with such devices, complicating the situation. Coupled with the possibility of a break in the natural gas lines, the team was forced to proceed with extreme caution.

    The team finished clearing the cafeteria and moved out into the hallway.  At this point the water was estimated by some of the members to be at least four inches deep.  The auditorium and a long hallway extended to the east.

    At 1:37 p.m., the same SWAT team received information that the suspects might be in the business offices on the lower level.  A subsequent report advised that gunmen might be in the band room or hiding in the catwalk above the auditorium.

    Still another report surfaced of a wounded teacher “in the science area.” Yet another report advised him of a party giving CPR to a wounded individual “in the library.”  But Williams had difficulty getting directions to the science area or library, and he was not clear on which level of the school the wounded were located.   The SWAT leader had sufficient radio communication inside the school with both Simmons’ team sweeping the upper level from the east side and with the second group of his own team.  He was able to keep abreast of where everyone was in the building and what they were doing.  However, his communication with the command post was limited because of the amount of radio traffic and the deafening noise inside the school.

Internal Deployment

    At this point, the Jefferson County team split into two, one five-man group went to the lower level of the auditorium, directly off the cafeteria, and held that position while the second group cleared the business and computer wing.

    The first group, made up of four Jefferson County deputies and two Denver officers, found an elderly adult, possibly a substitute teacher, and a student hiding together under a desk in one of the last rooms of the wing.  Both were evacuated out a south side door to the Lakewood SWAT team waiting on the outside.

    The second part of the Jefferson County team continued to search the lower level of the auditorium. The team forcibly opened locked dressing rooms, checked the areas above suspicious broken ceiling tiles, and cleared storage areas.   While they were clearing the auditorium, more Denver SWAT officers arrived to assist.  They held two lower rooms off the auditorium as the Jefferson County SWAT group cleared the control room and a closet containing choir robes.

    No one on the lower level of the auditorium was found.  During the auditorium search, however, the team received word that 60 students were hiding in the music room closet on the upper level outside the auditorium.  Because they had found the choir robes, the team felt they must be close to the music room where the students were reported to be hiding.  They made their way to the second level and into the music room, continuing to search and secure all areas along the way.

    Once in the music room, the team found a locked storage closet.  They saw movement through a window into the room and what appeared to be a hand, but no one would respond as SWAT called out to them.  True to the report they had received, the team discovered nearly 60 students inside the closet.  The students were so terrified that they initially refused to leave, possibly confusing the SWAT officers with the suspects.

    The SWAT team checked to make sure no suspects were among them and then devised a plan to remove them from the closet in groups of 10.  Each group of students had a point man, wingman and a rear guard so that they could be evacuated safely by SWAT to the west side through the auditorium and kitchen, which were still being held by Denver SWAT officers.  They were told to keep their hands on top of their heads.

    After those 60 students were moved out of the school to safety, the team moved into an area across the hallway and adjacent to the music room where more movement had been observed in yet another room. An additional 60 students were found in two rooms in that area and moved out of the building.

    Meanwhile, Simmons’ SWAT team had cleared rooms in the southeast section of the school and cleared the main administrative offices on the east side of the building where they located two adult females.  The team then moved north and searched the band room, ceramic and wood shop rooms, and then west down the main hallway to the weight room and gymnasium.

    During the search, Simmons maintained radio contact with Williams, providing him with information on Simmons’ team location and the progress being made.  He also relayed information to the Denver and Littleton SWAT officers with Simmons so that all SWAT personnel in the building were aware of each team’s location and activities.  Knowing the location of each team, as well as having direct radio communication, reduced the danger of creating a crossfire situation and enabled the teams to coordinate their search efforts.

    Williams’ group made their way up the stairway from the cafeteria area to the second or main level. Immediately, they started to see remnants of pipe bombs.  They also realized that the stairway leading to the second floor was glass, wide open and provided no protection from any shooter as the team moved forward.

    Reports from the marksmen positioned on rooftops outside were of a sign in one of the school’s  windows.  It read “1 bleeding to death.”  Williams reasoned that the person bleeding to death must be somewhere on the upper level since SWAT had just finished clearing the lower floor.  However, they still did not know in what room the wounded person was located.  A further message from dispatch said that there possibly was a rag or a T-shirt tied on the door handle to mark the room where the wounded teacher lay bleeding. 

    The SWAT team proceeded cautiously around bomb materials lying on the floor as they worked their way to the second or main floor of the school.  At about 2:30 p.m., the team cleared the stairs to the upper level.  Once on the upper level, they could see Simmons’ team working down the hallway, clearing the school to the east of where he stood. 

    They could also see a rag, tied as reported onto the handle of a classroom door.  Painted on the wall alongside were the words, “Science Rooms.”  The team faced several obstacles to reach the classroom door and make entry.  The top of the stairs opened into an intersection of two hallways, one leading to the library on the west and one to the science and foreign language areas straight ahead and to the east. A pipe bomb had exploded and singed the carpet in front of them.  Glass had shattered everywhere. There was blood in a large area on the carpet in front of them, on one of the windows, and blood made a trail into one of the other science rooms.  Live ammunition rounds and spent casings were lying on the floor.

Teacher Dave Sanders 

    Around 2:40 p.m., the SWAT team entered Room UA-24 first, then proceeded to adjoining classrooms where they found about 30 students hiding behind tables they had set on end as barricades.   Two of the students were helping a teacher who had been shot and was bleeding. Realizing the severity of the man’s wounds, the SWAT team immediately called for a paramedic.

    Two Littleton paramedics, with medical equipment and a gurney, were staged and waiting for the signal to enter the school at the east doors.  Because the hallway and classrooms leading to the science area had not been secured and it was considered too dangerous to send the paramedics in from that entrance,  Williams continued to ask for a paramedic on the west side.  The route on the west side through the cafeteria and up the stairs had been cleared and remained protected by Denver SWAT.

    The students and teachers in the science rooms with Sanders were evacuated.  Two Eagle Scouts, Aaron Hancey and Kevin Starkey, had administered first aid to Sanders and were reluctant to leave the teacher behind.  While one SWAT officer led the evacuation, a second stayed with Sanders, never leaving his side, talking with him and applying pressure bandages to his wounds until the other officer came back.

    The people evacuated from the science rooms were first sent down the stairway to the landing, where they were grouped together on the landing until SWAT could confirm the safety of the evacuation route.  The students and staff were then moved from the landing through the cafeteria and out the side door.  Throughout this process, the location of the gunmen was unknown.

    While the world cheered as they watched television images of children escaping unharmed from the school, the two SWAT deputies with Sanders decided to move him closer to an exit route.  After waiting for what they estimated to be 20 to 30 minutes, they decided a paramedic was not coming or could not get in, and that they would need to evacuate the wounded teacher themselves or at least move him closer to an exit. 

    Their plan was to take him out a door over to the staircase, down the stairs through the cafeteria and out the side door, basically following the same route as the students just evacuated. They put Sanders on a chair so that they could move him easier and pushed him through the back doors of the science rooms into a storage area.  Before they could move him from the storage room, a Denver paramedic arrived in the room.  He had entered through the west side of the school and past SWAT where he was directed to Sanders. He advised the deputies that there was no pulse and, therefore, nothing more they could do.  Dave Sanders had died.

    The deputies left Sanders with the paramedic to join the rest of their SWAT team continuing to search the other science room areas.  They found an additional 50 to 60 students and two teachers hiding in other darkened rooms to the east of Sanders’ location.  Again, SWAT protection was set up for the evacuation of those students and teachers and they were evacuated, this time out the east side of the school.

The Library

    Once the science rooms were cleared and secured, Williams’ team of Jefferson County and Denver SWAT officers made its way toward the library, the last area to be checked.  Along the way, the team reported seeing gunshot holes in the windows, bomb fragments and shrapnel on the floor, more broken glass, and a pipe bomb embedded in the wall just outside the library door. The glass cases holding the school’s trophy displays just outside the library door and the windows into the library were shattered. To the left through the shattered windows, the team could see bodies on the library floor.

    Four members of the Jefferson County SWAT team and one Denver officer entered the school library at 3:22 p.m.  As soon as they stepped through the doors, they caught movement to the left.  Student Lisa Kreutz, among three victims lying on the floor under desks, was moving slightly.  She had been shot several times, but she was alive. SWAT team members reassured her that she would be okay and called for the paramedics.

    While the Denver officer held the entrance, the four Jefferson County members spread out and worked their way through the library among bombs and bodies.  They stepped over numerous bombs trying to get to each one of the children.

    As they worked their way through the library, several SWAT members saw two males on the floor in the southwest portion.  Their bodies were next to one another and both had gunshot wounds to the head.  The wounds appeared to be self-inflicted.  Guns and numerous explosive devices lay on the floor next to them.  The command post was advised that the two males matched the description of the suspects.

The Deceased and the Injured

    Williams’ SWAT team was still searching the library when a female employee came out from her hiding place in a back office of the library.  The SWAT leader took her by the arm and told her to put her hand on the back of one of the SWAT officers, look only at his back and follow him out of the library.  She was quickly passed off to another officer and evacuated to safety.

    The SWAT officers inside the library worked their way to the back emergency door that led to the outside upper level near the west entrance.  Several bombs were laying inside the doorway, but the first priority was to get a team of paramedics into the library to attend to Lisa Kreutz. Two paramedics with a backboard entered the library through the back door, put the wounded student on it and quickly got her out of the library and to medical triage.

    The other SWAT teams, searching in other parts of the school building, heard over the radio that William’s group had made it to the library and had found a female still alive. They worked their way towards the library. 

    A second female teacher, hiding under a desk in a west room of the library, was found by SWAT.  She was badly traumatized and had suffered a shoulder injury. Two other employees had moved to the back rooms of the library and hid in cupboards and behind furniture until they were rescued by SWAT.

    Williams reported that SWAT had found at least 10 other bodies in the library. The command post quickly added the 12 reported dead in the library to the two and possibly three fatalities discovered on the outside of the school.  Six victims already had been sent to area hospitals with life-threatening wounds, some of whom were referred to as probably deceased.  SWAT had also reported a teacher with massive wounds had died in the science area.  Adding the number of dead found in the library to the other known dead and adding the critically injured transported to hospitals, the incident commander told the Sheriff that fatalities could be as many as 25.  “Up to 25 dead” was the number reluctantly passed on to the media as Sheriff Stone and Public Information Officer Steve Davis held a 4 p.m. news briefing.

    Due to the number of explosive devices and weapons on the library floor, Williams’ team ordered everyone else out of the library and requested the Jefferson County bomb squad respond to the scene.  Jefferson County and Denver SWAT were posted at the front and back doors for scene protection and safety.

    Dr. Christopher Colwell, attending emergency room physician at Denver Health Medical Center, and a second paramedic were escorted through the library at 4:30 p.m. to check for any signs of life. The doctor and paramedic made a second sweep through the library and pronounced each of the 10 victims and two suspects deceased at 4:45 p.m.  Colwell was also escorted to the science area where he pronounced Dave Sanders dead.

    The library scene was turned over to the bomb squad officers and the Jefferson County SWAT team went to the east side of the school to meet with Manwaring, then to Leawood Elementary School for a debriefing.  Other SWAT teams were relieved of their duties and went first to the command post and then to their own headquarters for debriefings.

    The SWAT teams had just finished a very grueling physical and emotional search of Columbine High School. Fresh SWAT teams, each accompanied by a member of the bomb team, would conduct another sweep of the school later that night for any other explosive devices and for victims or suspects. The bodies of Harris and Klebold had been found but reports of additional gunmen continued.  The question became whether additional gunmen could still be hiding inside the school or had someone else escaped.

SWAT’s Tactical Command Post Moves Forward

    After the Jefferson County SWAT team arrived with adequate personnel and equipment to relieve Manwaring’s emergency team and to take over the engagement and the interior search of the school, Manwaring and the Denver SWAT officers regrouped. Williams, inside the school with both the Jefferson County and Denver SWAT, was finding and evacuating large groups of students hidden throughout the building.

    Manwaring, accompanied by Lt. Phelan, Capt. DiManna and Lt. Frank Vessa of the Denver Police Department, left the school’s west side and went back to the incident command center on Pierce Street.

    Manwaring was unprepared for what he encountered as he approached the east side of the school and Pierce Street two hours after he had led his team to the west side.  The street was jammed with emergency, fire and law enforcement vehicles with media cars and satellite trucks filling up the rest of the spaces.  Parents, students, the media, victim advocates, mental health professionals, curious neighbors and a portion of the nearly 1,000 first responders were gathered there.

    The SWAT commanders collectively made the decision to establish a forward tactical command post away from the incident command post and the activity surrounding it.  They obtained floor plans of the school and met with other commanders and school personnel to determine the current status of the incident and future tactical planning.

    Representatives of Jefferson County, Arapahoe County, Lakewood, Littleton, Englewood and Denver Police Departments, and the FBI organized their information, command and areas of responsibility.  Based on the information provided by each department’s SWAT commander, Manwaring crossed off areas of the school that had been searched, determined the current location of each team, and how they were progressing through the interior of the school.

    The commanders told their teams to hold their positions until they could meet with their team leaders at the school’s east doors to reorganize and reassign areas of responsibility for a second sweep of the school interior.   They wanted to make absolutely sure there were no more victims or suspects either injured or deliberately hiding in the building, that there were no more fatalities who had not been discovered and that all explosive devices, exploded or undetonated, had been located.


    Almost as soon as the school was considered clear at 4:30 p.m., the sound of shots came once again from inside the building.  One of the SWAT teams, while searching the cafeteria and then the kitchen areas, breached two locked doors by firing several rounds into the lock mechanisms.  Unfortunately, because they were working on their own radio frequency and not able to communicate with other teams, they could not ask for permission to fire and were not able to tell anyone they were going to fire. Both rooms were unoccupied.

    After the second sweeps were completed, the SWAT commanders from the Jefferson and Arapahoe County Sheriff’s offices, and Denver, Lakewood and Littleton Police Departments entered the school building to assess the scene.  FBI SWAT initially maintained the exterior crime scene, Denver held the interior and the scene was relinquished to the Jefferson County Bomb Squad because of the explosive devices.

    The initial SWAT teams were directed to Leawood Elementary School to meet with the Jefferson County Critical Incident Team investigators.  The Critical Incident Team, also known as the “shoot team,” conducts its own complete investigation in incidents where an officer or deputy fires his or her weapon.  Members of the team meet with each officer to determine how many shots were fired, at what target and if the action was justified. 

    A psychiatric team, on contract with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, also met briefly with the teams before they were relieved of their duties.

Supporting SWAT Teams Provide Valuable Assistance

    Several members of other SWAT teams in the area responded to Jefferson County’s call for mutual aid.  The first of several Littleton Police Department SWAT team members became part of the first team to enter the school on the east side.  Once inside, they worked for 45 minutes to clear the immediate area.  The rest of the Littleton SWAT team arrived and was briefed an hour later.  The entire team formed the second wave to enter the school on the east side and assisted in searching the science, math and finance rooms on the second level.

    Denver Police Department put out a call to respond to Columbine about 11:30 a.m. and members of its team also went with the first ad hoc SWAT group advancing on the school.  Many of its members, armed with AR-15 rifles, provided suppression fire during attempts to rescue down and wounded students outside or assisted in the rescues themselves.  Many also helped evacuate students from different areas of the school, assisting in establishing security protection for the evacuees, helped search and secure classrooms; provided cover as other SWAT team members freed them from the building, and assisted in clearing the roof of the school.

    Lakewood Police Department’s first assignment was to check the roof.  A sniper had been reported on the roof, and later discovered to be an air conditioning employee who barricaded himself on the roof and waited for someone to rescue him.

    A second assignment was to search the school’s parking lots and identify Harris and Klebold’s cars, because the command post had received reports that there might be bombs in them.  Lakewood’s job was to locate the cars and then make sure no one got in them and drove away.  In the south parking lot the team located a black two-door Honda with a “RAMSTEIN” sticker on the back windshield.  Inside the vehicle in the back seat was a spherical propane tank.

    While searching the south lot, the team also reported seeing a sign in a second floor window of the school that said, “1 bleeding to death.”  The Lakewood team relayed this information to the command post.

    A dramatic episode for Lakewood SWAT occurred in the mid-afternoon. Patrick Ireland, with bullet wounds to the head and slipping in and out of consciousness, had slowly made his way to the library’s west window.  Sheriff’s deputies, holding their perimeter positions in the south parking lot, first saw the injured male figure at the window and realized the young man was determined to come out the second-story window.  There was nothing but a concrete sidewalk below to break his fall.  

    The deputies could see members of the Lakewood SWAT with an armored truck in the south parking lot.  Frantically waving and yelling, they got SWAT’s attention.  The image of the rescue of Patrick Ireland by the Lakewood SWAT has come to epitomize the Columbine tragedy.  Using the roof of the armored car so they could reach him, SWAT caught the young man as he fell out the window at 2:38 p.m.

    The Special Response Unit of the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office responded to Columbine High School between 12 and 12:30 p.m.  Officers assisted in securing and holding the northeast hallways and helped to evacuate students and faculty out of the school’s east side.  The unit also was assigned to provide security for paramedics responding to the library and to escort fire personnel searching for the fire alarm panel in the cafeteria area.  The unit was relieved at 5 p.m.

    SWAT officers from the Englewood Department of Safety Services responded by 1:45 p.m. and were assigned to assist in the rescue/evacuation of students who had been able to escape on the northwest side of building.  Officers also helped maintain the perimeter on the west side of the school until it was determined that the suspects had been located and there was no longer a threat.

    The Boulder County Sheriff’s Department SWAT team is made up of Sheriff’s deputies and police officers from the Lafayette and Erie Police Departments and volunteer paramedics.  That team was paged for a full SWAT response to Columbine High School at 4 p.m. in order to assist with a second full search of the school.

    Also paged was the SWAT team from the Boulder Police Department.  Both teams arrived at the scene around 5:30 p.m. and staged on the northwest side of school.  Because of the explosive devices in and around the outside of the school, the second group of SWAT teams did not make entry until later that evening.  Both Boulder units searched the cafeteria or commons areas, the kitchen and auditorium, and an adjacent block of classrooms.  Also assigned to their team was a bomb expert and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) personnel to operate an infrared device.  As the tactical team cleared hallways and rooms, the DEA infrared team would follow, checking the walls and ceiling for an indication of anyone hiding.  As the team would clear the rooms, a team leader would note the date, time and the team that had cleared the area.

    Also assisting in the secondary sweep of the school were 22 SWAT officers from the Northglenn and Thornton Police Departments.  According to their reports, they were instructed to conduct “a slow and very methodical search in hopes of finding any possible survivors, to address any casualty first aid needs, to record the location of any fatalities encountered, to record the location of all unexploded bombs and exploded bombs not previously tagged and finally to report and engage any hostiles they may encounter.”  They were advised that two suspects might still be in the school. 

    The FBI’s SWAT moved to an entrance on the school’s east side around 2 p.m. where a paramedic ambulance was stationed.  Jefferson County SWAT escorted students and teachers from the interior of the school to the FBI SWAT team, who formed a protective corridor to uniformed police officers located on Pierce Street.  Those uniformed police officers then searched and evacuated the students through neighborhood yards to waiting school buses. The FBI SWAT also helped clear the math and computer classrooms beginning around 3 p.m. and then relieved Jefferson County SWAT officers on the perimeter around the crime scene.  The FBI  SWAT remained on the crime scene perimeter until relieved by tactical members from Colorado State Patrol (SORT) around 7 p.m.

    Additional SWAT teams assisting in the secondary sweep of portions of the school were 12 members from Adams County Sheriff’s Office and 12 members from the Commerce City Police Department.