Ribbons of yellow police tape marked the perimeter. No one was getting out of there; the issue became getting in. Onlookers, journalists, and parents were appearing as fast as policemen. They presented little threat to the deputies but significant danger to themselves. Misty Bernall was one of the early arrivals. She did not know that her daughter was in the library, or what that might portend. She only knew Cassie was missing, along with her freshman son, Chris. Misty's yard backed right up to the soccer field where Eric had fired on students, but she had arrived by a much more circuitous route. Misty was a working mom, so she was not present to hear Eric fire toward her house. But her husband, Brad, was. He had come home sick, heard a couple of pops, but thought nothing of them. Firecrackers, maybe some pranksters. He lived beside a high school. He was used to commotion. He didn't even put his shoes on to have a look. Half an hour later, Misty sat down to lunch with a coworker and got a disturbing call. It was probably nothing, but she called Brad to check. He put on his shoes. Brad went out back and peered over the fence. Bedlam. The schoolyard was swarming with cops. Misty Bernall was a tall, attractive woman in her mid-forties with a loud voice and a commanding presence. She had full features and the same curly blond hair as Cassie, worn in a similar style, though shorter, just past her shoulders. She could be mistaken for a much older sister. Brad was taller, with dark hair, and handsome--a big guy with a soft voice and a humble demeanor. They shared an intense faith in the Lord, and they began begging Him to save their kids. They could cover more ground apart. Misty headed for the high school. Brad hung by the phone. At the perimeter, officers struggled to hold back the parental onslaught. TV anchors broadcast their entreaties: "As difficult as it may be, please stay away." But fresh waves of moms and dads kept swarming over the hill. Misty gave up. Two rendezvous points had been set up. Misty chose the public library on the other side of Clement Park. She found very few students. Where were they? When they poured out of the high school, students had seen two main options: a subdivision across Pierce Street, or the wide-open fields of Clement Park. Hardly anyone chose the park. They crouched behind houses, worked themselves under shrubbery, rolled under cars. Any semblance of protection. Some pounded frantically on front doors, but most of the houses were locked. Stay-at-home moms started waving strangers in off the street. "Kids were piling into houses," one student said. "There must have been a hundred fifty or two hundred kids piled into this house." The second rendezvous point, Leawood Elementary, sat in the heart of that neighborhood, so most of the survivors gravitated there. Parents were sent to the auditorium, where kids were paraded across the stage. Moms shrieked, hugs abounded, unclaimed kids sobbed quietly backstage. Because the kids were hard to keep in one place, sign-in sheets were posted on the walls, so parents could see evidence in their child's own hand. There was no parade of survivors at the public library. Misty was conflicted. Leaving for Leawood was risky: the roads had been closed, so everything was by foot now. She could easily miss her kids in transit. A local minister got up on a chair and shouted: "Please stay here!" The fax would arrive any minute, he assured them. They would be much better off waiting. The fax was a copy of the sign-in sheets from Leawood. Misty waited impatiently for its arrival. The mood stayed tense but restrained. Commotion erupted in little bursts. "Paul's OK!" a woman screamed. She held up her cell phone. "He's at Leawood!" Her husband rushed over. They hugged, they wept. Tears were rare. It was too scary to cry in fear; only reunion allowed release. A clump of students would appear now and then over the hill. If they weren't claimed immediately, a pack of moms would descend to interrogate them. Always the same question: "How did you get out?!" They needed reassurance there was a way out. "I didn't know what to do," a young girl said. "We heard guns and I was standing there and the teacher was crying and pointing to the auditorium and everybody was running and screaming and we heard an explosion--I guess that was a bomb or something. I didn't see this but we were trying to find out and I guess they shot again and everyone started running and I was like, What is going on! They started shooting again and there was complete panic. People were shoving, they were going into the elevators and people would like push people off and we were all just running..." Most of the stories sputtered out like that: disjointed flurries of re-created mayhem. The words ran together until the witness ran out of breath. A winsome freshman was different. She was still in her Columbine gym uniform, and recounted her escape dispassionately. She had faced the gunmen in the hall. She was pretty sure one had run right past her, shooting. But there was so much smoke and confusion, she wasn't sure what was happening or where or anything. Bullets ricocheted down the corridor. Glass shattered, metal clattered, chunks of plaster crashed down on the floor. Moms gasped. Someone asked if she'd feared for her life. "Not really," she said. "Because the principal was with us." She said it matter-of-factly, with earnest conviction. It was just the tone a younger girl might have used to explain that she felt safe with her daddy. The stories were harrowing, but they reassured the moms. Every escape was different, but they ended the same: the kids escaped. The accumulation was soothing. Misty questioned every kid. "Cassie!" she shouted. "Chris!" She worked her way across the crowd and back again. Nothing. ____ Command had fallen to the newly elected Jeffco sheriff, John Stone. He had not yet faced a murder case in office. The metro cops were horrified to discover that the county was in charge. Many were open with their disgust. City and even suburban officers thought of sheriff's deputies as security guards. These were the guys who shuttled defendants to court from the jail. They stood guard while the real cops testified about the crimes they had responded to and investigated. The grousing increased when they learned who was heading the command. John Stone looked the part of an Old West sheriff: a big, burly guy with a large potbelly and a thick gray mustache, weathered skin, and craggy eyes. He wore the uniform, the badge, and the pistol, but he was a politician. He had been a county supervisor for twelve years. He'd run for sheriff last November and had taken the oath in January. He'd appointed John Dunaway as his undersheriff. Another bureaucrat. The sheriff and his team defended the perimeter. Gun blasts came and went. The SWAT teams seethed. When was somebody going to allow them to advance? Dunaway named Lieutenant David Walcher incident commander. Operations would now be directed by a man who did police work for a living, with oversight from Dunaway and Sheriff Stone. The three set up a command post in a trailer stationed in Clement Park, half a mile north of the school. Just after noon, a SWAT team made its first approach on the school. The officers commandeered a fire truck for cover. One man drove the truck slowly toward the building, while a dozen more moved alongside. Near the entrance, they split in half: six and six. Lieutenant Terry Manwaring's team held back to lay down suppressive fire and later work its way to another entrance. At approximately 12:06, the other six charged inside. Additional SWAT team members arrived moments later and followed them. The team thought they were in striking distance of the cafeteria. They were on the opposite end of the building. Lieutenant Manwaring had been inside Columbine many times, but he was unaware it had been remodeled and the cafeteria moved. He was perplexed. The fire alarm had not been silenced. The men used hand signals. Every cupboard or broom closet had to be treated as a hot zone. Many doors were locked, so they blasted them open with rifle fire. Kids trapped in classrooms heard gunfire steadily approaching. Death appeared imminent. Parents, reporters, and even cops outside heard the shots and came to similar conclusions. One room at a time, the team worked methodically toward the killers. It would take three hours to reach their bodies. On the west side, where the killers were active, a fire department team staged a riskier operation. Half a dozen bodies remained on or near the lawn outside the cafeteria. Several showed signs of life. Anne Marie, Lance, and Sean had been bleeding for forty minutes. Deputies along the perimeter moved in closer to provide cover while three paramedics and an EMT rushed in. Eric appeared in the second-floor library window and fired on them. Two deputies shot back. Others laid down suppressive fire. The paramedics got three students out. Danny was pronounced dead and left behind. Eric disappeared. Lieutenant Manwaring's half of the SWAT team had inched around outside the building using the fire truck for cover. They arrived at the opposite side half an hour later. They rescued Richard Castaldo from the lawn around 12:35, an hour and a quarter after he was shot. They made another approach to retrieve Rachel Scott. They brought her back as far as the fire truck. Then they determined she was dead, and aborted. They laid her there on the ground. Finally, they went for Danny Rohrbough, unaware of the prior finding. They left him on the sidewalk. At 1:15, a second SWAT team charged the building from the senior lot, smashed a window in the teachers' lounge, and vaulted in. The officers quickly entered the adjacent cafeteria but found it nearly deserted. Food was left half-eaten on the tables. Books, backpacks, and assorted garbage floated about the room, which had been flooded by the sprinkler system. Water was three to four inches high and rising. A fire had blackened ceiling tiles and melted down some chairs. They did not notice the duffel bags, held down by the weight of the bombs. One bag had burned away. The propane tank sat exposed, mostly above water, but it blended into the debris. Signs of panic were everywhere, but no injuries, no bodies, no blood. There were lots of healthy people. The team was shocked to discover dozens of terrified students and staff. They were crouched in storage closets, up above the ceiling tiles, or plainly visible under cafeteria tables. One teacher had climbed into the ceiling and tried to crawl clear through the ductwork out to safety to warn police, but had fallen through and required medical care. Two men were shivering in the freezer, so cold they could barely lift their arms. The SWAT team searched them and shuttled them out the window they came in. At first that was easy, but the farther they moved, the more officers they had to leave behind to secure the route. They brought in more manpower to assist. Overhead, circling steadily, chopper blades beat out a steady thuch-thuch-thuch thuch-thuch-thuch. Robyn Anderson watched it all from the parking lot. She had headed to Dairy Queen with her friends, zipped through the drive-thru, and circled back to school. There were a whole lot of cops when they got back. Officers were assembling the perimeter, but the entrance to the senior lot was still open. Robyn pulled into her space. A cop strode up with his gun drawn. Stay where you are, he warned. It was already too late to back out. Robyn and her friends would wait in her car for two and a half hours. Robyn ducked when she saw Eric appear in the library window. She couldn't tell it was him; she was too far back. All she could make out was a guy in a white T-shirt firing a rifle in her general direction. Who would do something like this? Robyn asked her girlfriends. Who would be this retarded? Robyn looked over to her friends' spaces. Eric, Dylan, and Zack had assigned spots, three in a row. Zack's car was there. Eric's and Dylan's were missing. ____ Nate Dykeman was terrified of who might be responsible. He had called most of his close friends but had held off on Eric and Dylan. He had been hoping to hear from them. Hoping, but not really expecting. Dylan would break his heart. They had been tight for years. Nate spent a lot of time at his house, and Tom and Sue Klebold had looked after him. Nate had a lot of trouble at home, and the Klebolds had been like a second mom and dad. Dylan did not call. Around noon, Nate dialed his house. Tom Klebold would be home--he worked from there. Hopefully Dylan was with him. Tom picked up. No, Dylan was not there. He's in school, Tom said. Actually, no, he isn't, Nate said. Dylan had not been in class. And Nate didn't want to worry Tom, but there had been a shooting. There had been descriptions. The gunmen were in trench coats. Nate knew several kids with trench coats--he was trying to account for all of them. He hated breaking the news, but he had to say it. He thought Dylan was involved. Tom went up to Dylan's room, checked his closet for the coat. "Oh my God," he said. "It's not here." Tom was shocked, Nate said later. "I thought he was going to, like, drop the phone. He just could not believe that this could possibly be happening, and his son was involved." "Please keep me informed," Tom told him. "Whatever you hear." Tom got off the phone. He turned on the TV. It was everywhere. He called Sue. She came home. Tom called their older son. He and Sue had kicked Byron out for using drugs--they would not tolerate that behavior--but this was too important. Tom apparently withheld his fears about Dylan. Byron told coworkers he was terrified his brother was trapped. He was also worried about younger friends still in school. "I've got to see if everybody's OK," he said. Lots of Byron's workmates were connected to the school. They all headed home. Tom Klebold called 911 to warn them his son might be involved. He also called a lawyer. ____ The televised version of the disaster was running thirty minutes to an hour behind the cops' view. Anchors dutifully repeated the perimeter concept. The cops had "sealed off the perimeter." But what were all those troops doing, exactly? There were hundreds out there; everyone seemed to be milling about. Anchors started wondering aloud. Luckily, no one seemed to be seriously injured. Around 12:30, the story took its first grisly turn. Local TV reporters gained access to the triage areas. It was awful. So much blood, it was hard to identify the injuries. Lots of kids had been loaded into ambulances; area hospitals were all on alert. Half a dozen news choppers circled, but they withheld most of their footage. For a few minutes, stations had broadcast live from the air, but the sheriff's team had demanded they stop. Every room in Columbine was equipped with a television. The gunmen might well be watching. Cameras would home in on the very images most useful to the killers: SWAT maneuvers and wounded kids awaiting rescue. TV stations also held back news of fatalities. Their chopper crews had seen paramedics examine Danny and leave him behind. The public remained unaware. The stations also caught glimpses of a disturbing scene playing out in a second-story classroom in another wing of the building, far from the library, in Science Room 3. It was hard to make out exactly what was going on in there, but there was a lot of activity, and one disturbing clue. Someone had dragged a large white marker board to the window, with a message in huge block letters. The first character looked a lot like a capital I but turned out to be a numeral: "1 BLEEDING TO DEATH."