Columbine Library Audio (partially lost 911 call of Colorado school shooting; 1999)

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Patti Nielson speaks at a Capitol Hill news conference on gun control.

Status: Partially Lost

The Columbine Library Audio refers to a 911 call placed by art teacher Patti Nielson[1] as she hid inside the library of Columbine High School during the shooting rampage on April 20, 1999.

While the first five and half minutes of the call have been released to the public, the rest of the audio is "available" in the form a transcript.[2] The call picked up the deaths of all ten students who died in the library; some can be heard begging for their lives. Since the shooting, families of the injured and deceased have strongly protested the release of the entire 911 call, fearing that it would inspire future copycats.

Background[edit | edit source]

On April 20, 1999, seniors Eric Harris (18) and Dylan Klebold (17) launched an attack on Columbine High School, located near the suburbs of Littleton, Colorado.[3] The duo placed two homemade propane tank bombs inside of the school's cafeteria in an attempt to create mass casualties. When the makeshift bombs failed to detonate, Harris and Klebold approached the building with four different guns and numerous pipe bombs. The first shots rang out at 11:08 a.m.

Patti Nielson was injured when Eric Harris shot through the doors

After killing two students and wounding several others outside the school, the gunmen entered the building. They wounded art teacher Patricia "Patti" Nielson (35) and student Bryan Anderson (17) upon entry. Nielson and Anderson fled to library, where several students had assumed that the sound of gunfire was some sort of senior prank. Less than a minute after she entered the room, Nielson called 911 as she shouted for everyone in the room to seek refuge underneath their tables.

The call was placed at 11:25 a.m.[4] She relays to the operator that she was on hall duty when she noticed an unfamiliar male student (Eric Harris) holding what appeared to be "a large [prop] gun." Thinking that the student was filming a video for class, Nielson began to walk towards the entrance in order to confront him. As she got closer, Nielson realized that the gun was real and was going to threaten Harris with campus security. The gunman turned towards her and fired without warning, causing bits of glass and shrapnel to slice into Nielson's shoulder.

During the panic, Nielson tells the operator that she's took scared to get up and barricade the library doors because she's unaware of how close the shooter is. At around four minutes and twenty seconds into the call, a large explosion erupts from Nielson's end of the line. As she tells the operator her name, Harris and Klebold enter the library and begin to execute their classmates.

Content of 911 call[edit | edit source]

Upon entering the library, Harris shouts, "Get up!" A few seconds later, Klebold is heard screaming for everyone to stand. (These instances are audible in the original release of the 911 call.)

The gunfire is consistent throughout the next seven minutes. Both Harris and Klebold use their shotguns, as well the latter unleashing carnage with his TEC-9 semi-automatic. Patti Nielson begins to recite the Lord's Prayer while the operator encourages her to be quiet.

At one point during the rampage, Klebold uses racial slurs against one victim (Isaiah Shoels, 18) before Harris executes them. An injured student (John Tomlin, 16) asks the shooters, "Haven't you done enough?" before he is fatally shot. Val Schnurr (18) is heard pleading for her life as Klebold taunts her with, "Do you believe in God?" Towards the 12-minute mark, a loud crashing noise is heard near the phone's receiver; Klebold was using a chair to smash a computer that was above Nielson's hiding place. When the gunmen leave, survivors are heard fleeing. A few moments later, Nielson retreats to a back storage area in the library and her voice is no longer heard during the call.

The entrance to the Columbine library, sealed off by police

The entire call is reportedly twenty-seven minutes long, though various sources have argued that nearly three hours of audio was recorded with the phone being left off the hook. It's been disputed over the years as to whether or not the suicides of Harris and Klebold were picked up in the recording; if the audio does, in fact, last less than thirty minutes, the deaths of the gunmen would not have been heard. (They committed suicide around 12:08 p.m. and the operator had allegedly ended the call fifteen minutes earlier.)

Viewings and alleged leaks[edit | edit source]

The families of the deceased were given an opportunity to listen to the recording; some of them declined.

The mother of 16-year-old victim Kelly Fleming described the audio as "pure hell [to listen to]." Nielson, who suffered from a severe case of PTSD, refused to listen to the playback. A friend of the gunmen, Brooks Brown, also heard the recording (as investigators needed him and several others to confirm the shooters's voices).

In the documentary Zero Hour: Massacre at Columbine High, Brown is quoted as saying:

"During the shooting, you can hear [Klebold] saying all kinds of things to people before he kills them. But [Harris] doesn't. There's a very distinct difference between how the two handled [the massacre] that day. It's incredibly difficult to listen to, even if you don't know the people they're killing or who's shooting who."[5]

In 2011, a Youtuber posted "leaked audio" of Lauren Townsend (18) being killed with Klebold's TEC-9 as Val Schnurr screams, "Oh God! Help me! Help me!"[6] The audio turned out to be real, though it was eventually confirmed to originate from a rare German documentary about the shooting.

Various Reddit users have falsely claimed to have heard the full 911 throughout the years.

The 911 recording is currently in the hands of the Jefferson County Police Department. They have no intentions of releasing the audio in its entirety. A YouTube video shows a reconstruction[7] of how the 911 call transpired.

References[edit | edit source]