As the Columbine assault raged, students barricaded a classroom and fought to keep a wounded teacher alive.

The history behind current events.
April 16 2009 6:59 AM

Inside Columbine

As the assault raged, students fought to keep a wounded teacher alive.

This is the second of two excerpts from Dave Cullen's Columbine, published this week. Click here  to read the other excerpt, about Eric Harris' planning for the Columbine attack, and here  to read Cullen's essay about how Columbine changed America. You can watch video of attackers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and you can read Cullen's seminal 2004 Slate essay about Harris and Klebold: "At Last We Know Why the Columbine Killers Did It."

This takes place on April 20, 1999, seven minutes after the shooting started.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold during the Columbine attack, captured by surveillance camera. Click image to expand.
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold during the Columbine attack, captured by surveillance camera

Dave Sanders was just a few feet from safety when the first shot hit him. He saw the killers, spun around, and ran for the corner, trying to save a few more students on the way there. One bullet got him in the back. It tore through his rib cage and exited through his chest. The other bullet entered through the side of his neck and came out his mouth, lacerating his tongue and shattering several teeth. The neck wound opened up one of his carotid arteries, the major blood routes to the brain. The shot to his back clipped his subclavian vein, a major vessel back to the heart. There was a lot of blood.


Dave crashed into the lockers, then collapsed on the carpet. Fellow teacher Rich Long and most of the students dove for the floor. Now Dave was really desperate.

"He was on his elbows trying to direct kids," one senior said.

Eric and Dylan were both firing. They were lobbing pipe bombs down the length of the hall.

"Dave, you've got to get up!" Rich yelled. "We've got to get out of here."

Dave pulled himself up, staggered a few feet round the corner. Rich hurried over. As soon as he was out of the line of fire, he ducked his shoulder under Dave's arm. Another teacher got Dave from the other side, and they dragged him to the science wing, just a dozen feet away.

They moved past the first and second classrooms, then entered Science Room 3. The room was full of students. Dave collapsed again, face-first, in the front of the room. "He left a couple of teeth where he landed," a freshman girl said.

They got Dave into a chair. "Rich, I'm not doing so well," he said.

Kent Friesen, another teacher with Dave, went for immediate assistance. He ran into a nearby lab, where more students were huddled. "Who knows first aid?" he asked.

Aaron Hancey, a junior and an Eagle Scout, stepped up.

"Come with me," Friesen said. Then all hell seemed to break loose out in the hallway.

"I could feel it through the walls," Aaron said. "With each [blast], I could feel the walls move." He was scared to go out there. But Friesen checked for shooters, bolted down the corridor, and Aaron followed.

Aaron ran through a rapid inspection of Dave's condition: breathing steady, airway clear, skin warm, shoulder broken, gaping wounds, heavy blood loss. Aaron stripped off his own white Adidas T-shirt to stanch the flow. Other boys volunteered their shirts. He tore several into bandage strips, and improvised a few tourniquets. He bundled others together into a pillow.

"'I've got to go, I've got to go," Dave said. He tried to stand, but failed.

Teachers attended to the students. They flipped over tables to barricade the door. They opened a partition in back to an adjoining science lab, and several kids rushed to the center, furthest from either door. The gunfire and explosions continued. A fire erupted in a nearby room and a teacher grabbed a fire extinguisher to put it out. Screams filtered down the hall from the library. It was nothing like screams Marjorie Lindholm had heard before—screams like "when people are being tortured," she said.

"It was like they were carrying out executions," another boy in the room said. "You would hear a shot. Then there would be quiet. Then another shot. Bam. Bam. Bam."


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