Seventeen years ago today I was in the Riverside, California jail visiting a client who was facing three murder charges out of the State of Colorado. He was soon to be extradited back to Colorado where he would face the death penalty.
As I was being escorted from the jail, one of the deputies, who knew I was from Colorado asked me, "Have you heard what happened back there?" I replied, "No" as I had been in the jail for several hours. He told me there had been a mass school shooting, that several people were dead, and that it was all over the news.
I left the jail and went to my rental car and noticed my pager was going off, with messages to call the office ASAP, which I did. Upon reaching the office I was transferred to my managing investigator, Jennifer Gedde (now a lawyer in Denver) who told me quickly about the shooting and that our firm had been retained by one of the suspect's lawyers. Jennifer was with the suspects parents at the time we spoke. I drove to the airport and caught the first flight back to Denver. Upon arrival in Denver I was directed to go to a room in a downtown hotel. Upon arrival at the room I found several members of my staff along with the parents of one of the suspects.
Jennifer told me that she had confirmed both suspects were dead but the lawyers wanted us to stay with the parents, protect them and be available for any investigation that might be necessary on behalf of the parents. The press were looking for the parents, but they were checked into the room under my name.
I immediately observed a middle-aged female, who I would learn to be the suspects mother, curled up in the bed in a fetal position and a middle-aged man sitting in a chair with his head in his hands. He arose and shook my hand, but few words were spoken.
I took my staff out in the hallway and we formulated a plan to protect the parents. I went back inside and spoke with the father who was visibly angry at his son. He did not have it in him, at least at the time to grieve for the loss of his own son, but was worried about the victims and their families.
It occurred to me what a horrible position they were in. They had just lost their youngest son, yet he had taken part in the worst mass school shooting on US soil. They were lost.
Without going into a lot of detail, I came to know these folks well. They are two of the nicest people I know. They knew their son had problems and they had taken steps to address those problems. The mother was always sure to be home when the kids got out of school. They genuinely cared about their family, yet had no idea of the demons lurking in the mind of their son.
Over the next few months as the investigation unfolded, my staff and the attorneys were by their side as many in the public cried out for their prosecution—an understandable yet misguided emotion.
While seemingly odd, I am proud to have known Wayne and Kathy Harris. They are strong, compassionate and good people. When I have a bad day, I often think of them as I am thinking about them today, along with the victims of Eric Harris.