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Columbine

Inside the Columbine investigation:
  • Part one
  • Part two
  • Part three

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    Science teacher died a hero

    Instructor who helped evacuate cafeteria was shot on way to library

    By Lou Kilzer
    and Gary Massaro
    Denver Rocky Mountain News Staff Writers


    Dave Sanders may have died because he cared too much.

    The popular Columbine High School science teacher not only helped guide students from the cafeteria as Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris approached but also warned students in the library to take cover.

    The second action cost him his life.

    The new details on Sanders' heroism were in the Jefferson County sheriff's report on Columbine issued Monday.

    At 11:24 p.m. on April 20, 1999, Sanders and custodians Jon Curtis and Jay Gallatine went to the cafeteria and warned students to take cover because someone was shooting outside.

    As gunshots got closer, the report said, Sanders helped lead students to a stairway, telling them to run down the hallway to exits on the school's east side.

    But he didn't follow his own advice.

    Until Monday's report, prevailing accounts indicated that Sanders was shot as he brought up the rear of the column from the cafeteria.

    Instead, Sanders broke from that group and headed toward the library.

    Teacher Peggy Dodd told investigators that she saw Sanders "running down the hallway to the north in front of the library. He motioned with his hands that they should stay in the library. Sanders, at that time, did not appear wounded."

    At 11:26 a.m., one of the gunmen turned into the hallway leading to the library and opened fire.

    Severely wounded, Sanders staggered into a science classroom, where about 30 students had fled. Students tried to stop the bleeding and at 2:15 p.m. put a sign on the window reading "1 bleeding to death."

    By now, Klebold and Harris had been dead for more than two hours. But no one knew.

    A police dispatcher told SWAT teams making their way through the school to look for a rag or T-shirt on a door. This would be the door leading to "where the wounded teacher lay bleeding."

    It took another 15 minutes before the police squad spotted the rag and another 10 minutes before they actually entered room UA-24. There lay Sanders, still alive and talking, the sheriff's report said.

    The SWAT officers called for paramedics and told students to evacuate down a route they had cleared. Eagle Scouts Aaron Hancey and Kevin Starkey had been caring for Sanders and "were reluctant to leave the teacher behind," the report said.

    Then the picture darkens. Instead of taking Sanders with the students, one SWAT team member remained with the teacher and waited for paramedics. The other led the students to safety before returning.

    The officers "continued to ask for a medic on the west side."

    The SWAT officer who stayed with Sanders "never left his (Sanders') side, talking with him and applying pressure bandages to his wounds."

    After waiting "20 to 30 minutes," the SWAT officers "decided a paramedic was not coming, or could not get in, and (they) would need to evacuate the wounded teacher themselves or at least move him closer to an exit."

    They put Sanders into a chair to push him through the back doors into a storage area. But before they got him to the storage area, a Denver paramedic arrived. Sanders had no pulse.

    "Dave Sanders had died," the report said.

    The new details about Sanders' heroism came as no surprise to his widow, Linda Sanders.

    She said her husband was always a hero.

    "Today is so hard because now everybody else knows," she said. "David was worth every tear that falls from my eyes."

    May 16, 2000

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