Around one P.M., word filtered out to reporters that kids were trapped in the building. The situation had escalated into a hostage standoff. Publicly, the nature of the attack changed. No telling what the assailants might try. Where were they? The captives seemed to be held in the commons, but reports conflicted. Word of the ambulance scenes and the hostage standoff traveled quickly to Leawood and the public library. Parents grew tenser, but they worked together, exchanging information and passing around cell phones. It was tough to get a signal. Cell phones were not ubiquitous in 1999, yet everyone in this affluent community seemed to have one. They pounded at them furiously, grilling neighbors, updating relatives, leaving messages for their children on every conceivable answering machine. Some would hit Redial absentmindedly as they swapped information face-to-face, buzzing their own homes, praying that the machine wouldn't pick up this time. Misty kept calling Brad. Still no word on Chris or Cassie. Then a fresh story zipped through the pack: twenty students--or thirty or forty--were still inside the school. They were not hostages; they were hiding, barricaded in the choir room with equipment piled high against the door. The parents gasped. Was that good news or bad? Dozens more students were in danger, but dozens more confirmed alive--if it was true. A lot of wild rumors had already come and gone. At least two to three hundred students were hiding in the school, in classrooms and utility closets, under tables and desks. Some had rigged up protection; others were right out in the open. Everyone was afraid to move. A great number whispered cautiously into cell phones. Many clustered around classroom TVs. They heard banging and crashing and the deafening screech of the fire alarm. CNN carried a live call between a local anchor and a student alone under a desk. What was he hearing? The same thing as you, the student said. "I've got a little TV [and I'm] watching you guys right now." For four hours rumors, confirmations, and embellishments bounced in and out. The cops were livid. Reporters had no idea hundreds of kids were trapped inside and no concept of the echo chamber in full bloom. The cops knew. The detective force was assembling teams to interview every survivor, and they knew hundreds of their best witnesses were still inside, getting compromised by the minute. But the cops had no means to stop it. This was the first major hostage standoff of the cell phone age, and they had never seen anything like it. At the moment, they were more concerned with information passing to the shooters. Sometimes the kids' revelations scared reporters. On live TV, a boy described sounds he took to be the gunmen: "I hear stuff being thrown around," he said. "I am staying underneath this desk. I don't know if they know I'm up here. I am just staying upstairs for right now, and I just hope they don't know--" The anchorwoman interrupted: "Don't tell us where you are!" The boy described more commotion. "There's a little bunch of people crying outside. I can hear them downstairs." Something crashed. "Whoa!" The anchor gasped. "What was that?!" "I don't know." The anchors had enough. Her partner told him to hang up, keep quiet, and try to reach 911. "Keep trying to call them, OK?" The cops pleaded with the TV stations to stop. Please ask the hostages to quit calling the media, they said. Tell them to turn off the televisions. The stations aired the requests and continued broadcasting the calls. "If you're watching, kids, turn the TV off," one anchor implored. "Or down, at least." ____ Much of the country was watching the standoff unfold. None of the earlier school shootings had been televised; few American tragedies had. The Columbine situation played out slowly, with the cameras rolling. Or at least it appeared that way: the cameras offered the illusion we were witnessing the event. But the cameras had arrived too late. Eric and Dylan had retreated inside after five minutes. The cameras missed the outside murders and could not follow Eric and Dylan inside. The fundamental experience for most of America was almost witnessing mass murder. It was the panic and frustration of not knowing, the mounting terror of horror withheld, just out of view. We would learn the truth about Columbine, but we would not learn it today. We saw fragments. What the cameras showed us was misleading. An army of police held at bay suggested an equivalent force inside. Hysterical witnesses corroborated that image, describing wildly different assaults. Killers seemed to be everywhere. Cell phone callers confirmed the killers remained active. They provided unimpeachable evidence of gunfire from inside the attack zone. The data was correct; the conclusions were wrong. SWAT teams were on the move. The narrative unfolding on television looked nothing like the killers' plan. It looked only moderately like what was actually occurring. It would take months for investigators to piece together what had gone on inside. Motive would take longer to unravel. It would be years before the detective team would explain why. The public couldn't wait that long. The media was not about to. They speculated.