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."


War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.


It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

The Only Good Thing That Happened at Today’s Soul-Crushing U.N. Climate Talks

  News & Politics
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 4:45 PM Why Is Autumn the Only Season With Two Names?
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.