Dave Sanders’ daughters are “angry” about the things they’ve heard regarding his “disturbing” final hours bleeding to death inside Columbine while officials refused to breach the perimeter. They begin looking into police reports of their father’s discovery.
Dave Sanders’ daughters hope to expose the failures of the Jefferson County sheriff’s office, and with this come closer to finding a sense of justice and closure.
Dave Sanders was shot once in the back and once in the neck. The second bullet exited his mouth, “lacerating his tongue, shattering several teeth, [and] open[ing] one of [the] major blood routes to the brain.” The shot in his back clipped another major vein, and Dave bled heavily. Two teachers dragged Dave into Science Room 3, where help was being called. Dave needed assistance immediately, though, and so a teacher went into a nearby lab and asked if anyone knew first aid. One boy named Aaron Hancey, an Eagle Scout, volunteered; Hancey was able to use sweatshirts and strips of other students’ clothes to fashion tourniquets and stanch Dave’s wounds while “execution”-style gunshots, bomb blasts, and screams “like [someone was being] tortured,” echoed in the halls outside the science room.
Cullen describes in careful, nuanced detail the severity of Dave Sanders’ injuries and the massive loss of blood he endured immediately after having been shot. He does this in order to highlight the ineffectiveness of the care he did receive—at the hands of a thoughtful and careful student whose training was simply not what Dave needed—as Dave, his fellow teachers, and their students waited and waited for help to arrive.
Dispatchers assured everyone in Science Room 3 that help would arrive “in about ten minutes”—but these reassurances were repeated again and again over the course of more than three hours. Students and teachers showed Dave pictures of his wife and children and grandchildren, begging him to hold on. Dave knew he was not going to make it, and begged his students to “tell my girls I love them.”
Jeffco officials failed to help Dave Sanders—more than that, they failed to let him and the students and teachers calling for help on his behalf know the reality of the situation.
As the shooting ended and things within the building calmed down a bit, Dave lost consciousness. His students attempted to rouse him. Those still on the phone with 911 told dispatchers of their plans to throw a chair through a window and lower Dave to safety, where he could get proper medical attention, but they were warned that it was still too dangerous—nobody knew that the killers had already shot themselves.
The 911 dispatchers, doing the best they can do at their job, inadvertently cause the extreme worsening of the situation in science room three. The violence has stopped, but both officials and those still in the school are unaware of what the situation is, and unable to discern the truth.
At almost 3:00 p.m., the SWAT team burst through the doors of the science room and began evacuating students and teachers. Aaron Hancey begged to stay with Dave Sanders, but SWAT team members, trained to maximize the number of lives saved and recognize when someone is beyond help, urged him out along with his other classmates. Two SWAT officers stayed behind with Dave and called for a medic—but when the medic arrived, he knew there was “nothing he could do,” and quickly moved on to the library.
Dave’s critical injuries have caused him to pass the point of no return. Though he arguably could have been saved several hours ago, he is now beyond help. The students who sat by his side all that time, attempting to stanch his wounds and attend to him, will never know if their teacher could have survived.
Many people were angered by Dave Sanders’ story, and some called the SWAT team’s slow response “pathetic.” Members of the SWAT teams who had first entered the school began to respond in the press, urging parents to “understand” that the team had no idea what they were going into, and describing scenes of chaos, carnage, and obstacles such as fire alarms, sprinklers, and multiple unexploded bombs. The Sanders family ultimately “expressed gratitude” publicly to the SWAT teams at Columbine, and invited the full teams to Dave’s funeral. Cullen writes that “all the officers attended.”
As the story enters the local community as well as the media, the consensus is clear: Jefferson County failed to save Dave Sanders. Though the situation was a desperate and awful one with no right answer—the SWAT teams and officers on the scene could not have known what they were walking into, especially with the revelation of the big bombs—failure and blame must be pinned on someone, and the officials take the fall for the death of an innocent man.