DENVER – Much of the Columbine Review Commission's criticism of law enforcement's response to the nation's worst school shooting is unfounded, Jefferson County Sheriff John Stone said Friday.
In his first public statement since the report was released last week, Stone said officers from several agencies did the best they could when they responded to Columbine High School and rescued teachers and children during the April 20, 1999, shooting attack by student gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.
The report "makes obvious criticism of individuals who made split-second decisions during what the commission acknowledged as an event 'unlike any other natural or human-generated tragedy they had ever experienced,"' Stone said.
"One thing is certain, the sheriff's officers came when called and although there was, unfortunately, loss of life, many children and faculty are alive today who, without the efforts of those officers, would almost certainly have died at the hands of Klebold and Harris," he said.
Sheriff's Sgt. Mike Julian said Stone would not comment beyond his written statement.
Commission Chairman William Erickson defended the commission's work.
"We had testimony from every source that was available to us," he said. "We didn't just accept the statement of any one person, we tried to verify everything we could as many ways as possible."
The commission was created by Gov. Bill Owens in the months following the massacre to examine police response and learn what it could about preventing future tragedies.
In the report released last week, the commission concluded that authorities failed to recognize and act on numerous advance signs that the two student gunmen were planning the deadly attack. In all, 12 students and a teacher were killed before the gunmen committed suicide.
Stone did not respond to the report's criticism that his department failed to act on advance warnings, such as violent threats posted on Harris' Web site that had been reported to deputies.
Stone said his agency's investigation included more than 5,000 interviews conducted during a 10-month period.
"Individual interviews, although an important part of the investigation as a whole, were weighed along with other interviews and physical evidence whenever possible and were not allowed to stand alone as absolute truth," he said.
Stone also said while he regrets the response to the massacre was not perfect, all the law enforcement agencies involved have begun to make procedural changes in line with many of the commission's recommendations.