Tape Suggests Alternate Columbine Scenario

ByABC News via via logo

Jan. 3, 2002 -- The father of a teen killed during the massacre at Columbine High School is going public with a tape he claims suggests a police cover-up in the death of his son.

On the tape, played in part this morning on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America, an Arapahoe County, Colo., sheriff's deputy seems to give an account of 15-year-old Daniel Rohrbough's death that is at odds with the long-standing official police version and a new police statement released Monday.

Arapahoe County Sheriff Patrick J. Sullivan Jr. — whose department was one of several that responded to the April 20, 1999, shootings at the high school in Littleton in Jefferson County — denied knowing of any cover-up. He said he has placed Deputy Jim Taylor on administrative leave while he investigates the differences between the comments on the tape and a statement Taylor gave to investigators.

"I firmly believe there is no cover-up in the Columbine investigation," Sullivan said today. "I am deeply troubled by the comments of Jim Taylor that could have misled the Rohrboughs, and we're investigating the contents of the tape and Taylor's role at Columbine."

‘I See Him Just Fall Down’

The official version of events found that Daniel Rohrbough died after being shot by one of the two student gunmen. Ballistic reports were inconclusive.

On the tape, a speaker — who Daniel's father, Brian Rohrbough, claims is Taylor — said he saw Daniel Rohrbough "drop" on a sidewalk while fleeing the shooting spree inside the school.

"When I come around … kids were still running out of the building," the voice on the tape said. "And you could hear glass breaking and you could see kids running everywhere and that's when I see the boy coming down the sidewalk, you know, and I see him just fall down."

On another part of the tape, the speaker said he learned from a newspaper photograph the following day that the boy he saw fall was Rohrbough.

However, in a four-page statement to police last week, Taylor said: "During my assignment, I didn't hear or see any gunfire or see Daniel Rohrbough get shot."

Sullivan said he released an official police statement Monday outlining Taylor's denial that he witnessed the death of Rohrbough. Sullivan said the statement was released before he knew about the existence of a tape.

Brian Rohrbough said the tape was secretly recorded by his ex-wife, Sue Petrone, who is Daniel's mother, during a dinner with Taylor and his wife 11 months after Columbine. He said the comments on the tape echoed comments Taylor made to him and his ex-wife immediately after the shooting.

"Jim Taylor sat as a family friend and told us this story one day after the shooting," Brian Rohrbough said. "We waited for five months to hear Jefferson County's version. And their version didn't work. They couldn't explain some of the issues of the position they said Dan was in, and the lack of recovering the bullet."

Brian Rohrbough has said he believes his son was shot accidentally by a Denver police officer, not by Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold, the two student gunmen blamed for the 1999 shooting spree. A witness claimed in a federal court deposition that, soon after the incident, an officer told her he feared he might have killed a student at Columbine.

Rohrbough and the parents of three other students said Wednesday they wanted a federal investigation into the Columbine incident — in which 12 students, a teacher, Harris and Klebold died. Several parents have asked a district judge to reinstate a lawsuit, dismissed in November, that alleges local law enforcement mishandled its response to the shootings and therefore bears some responsibility.

A legal analyst said on Good Morning America the tape appears to expose deception by the police.

"This latest lie — and you can't call it anything but a lie — raises all sorts of questions," said Craig Silverman, a former Denver prosecutor. "People lie for a reason. If we can get to the reason, then perhaps we'll know more about the truth of what happened at Columbine."

ABCNEWS' Michael S. James contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events