The first SWAT team members to see the horror in the Columbine High School library had to step around bodies and ignore a wounded student’s plea for help as they searched for shooters they didn’t know had already died by their own hands, Associated press reports.
As member Grant Whitus put it, officers carried something home with them that day, a level of trauma and a sense of futility that stayed with them for years and may have contributed to the team’s demise.
“It was just beyond anything I’d ever thought I’d see in my career,” he said of the 1999 shooting that left 12 students and a teacher dead and remains locked in the nation’s memory. “So many children were dead.”
Amid the emotional toll of what it experienced, the Jefferson County Regional SWAT team began to fall apart. By 2002, only three members of the 10-person team remained. The others were reassigned or left the department.