DENVER Dozens of top secret, crime-scene photos from the Columbine High School massacre, showing the two killers' bodies, their victims and even their bombs, have leaked out.
Families of some victims are outraged and say the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office has failed to keep a promise that the photos would never leave that office.
"People don't want the pictures of their dead kids circulating on the Internet, which it appears likely is what's going to happen," said Brian Rohrbough, whose son Dan was one of the 13 killed when shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold rampaged through the school on April 20, 1999.
The Rocky Mountain News has copies of a number of the photos, as do some Columbine families.
The sheriff's department has launched an investigation to confirm the authenticity of the photos and to figure out how they could have been leaked, spokeswoman Jacki Tallman said.
"These photos are potentially stolen property if they're determined to be authentic," she said.
Tallman said families of the victims were being notified about what she called the "unauthorized release" of the photos.
The department is concerned about how the photos could be used, she said. The photos in some cases match crime-scene diagrams and notes previously released under court order.
Some of the families are sure the pictures came straight from the sheriff's office.
Tallman said 34 agencies were involved in the Columbine investigation, and the photos could have come from any of them.
A preliminary analysis did show that the sheriff's office had the negative and a printout of at least one photo obtained by the News, Undersheriff John Dunaway said. Dunaway said that early on in the Columbine investigation, as many as 100 people may have had access to the photos. That number is now closer to a dozen.
But he stressed, "Certainly, there was no authorization to release these photos."
Rohrbough, who has seen the photos, said that Jefferson County has fought the parents on release of much of the Columbine investigation.
But, somehow, the most graphic of the crime-scene documents have become public, and he believes the photos came from that office. "The stuff that can hurt you, (Jefferson County) will gladly dole out the back door," he said.
Rohrbough declined to say how he got the photos. "I certainly didn't steal them," he said.
Rohrbough and Dawn Anna, whose daughter Lauren Townsend was killed at Columbine, said the sheriff's department promised the photos would never be made public.
Lead Columbine investigator Kate Battan assured the families that the photos were under tight security, Rohrbough said. His family was told that photos were destroyed after they were printed, that negatives or other originals were kept under lock and key in the sheriff's evidence vault, and officers used a photo lab inside the sheriff's department.