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The Big Hero Of Littleton

May 03, 1999
May 03, 1999

Table of Contents
May 3, 1999

Faces In The Crowd
Pro Basketball

The Big Hero Of Littleton

As usual, coach Dave Sanders spent Tuesday of last week at
Columbine High hanging around the kids.

This is an article from the May 3, 1999 issue Original Layout

One kept constant pressure on the gaping gunshot wounds in
Sanders's shoulders, using T-shirts off other kids' backs.
Another made a pillow from kids' sweatshirts for his head.
Others covered his shivering body with more shirts.

Outside the science room bullets and shrapnel were still flying,
but inside, where Sanders lay, the kids were quietly keeping him
talking, conscious, alive. "Who's this?" they whispered, going
through his wallet, showing him his own pictures.

"My...wife...Linda," he said with what little breath he had.
They asked him about the pictures of his daughters Angela and
Coni. They asked him about coaching the Columbine girls'
basketball team. They asked him about coaching the girls'
softball team. They asked him about all of the boys' and girls'
teams he used to coach. A man coaches just about every team at a
school over 25 years, there's a lot to cover.

Every high school has a Coach Sanders, the giving one, the
joking one, the one who sets up the camps, sacrifices his nights
to keep the gym open, makes sure the girls have the weight room
to themselves twice a week. RUN, GUN AND HAVE FUN is what the
girls' basketball team T-shirts said last season and it worked.
The Rebels had their best record in a decade. So when he ran
into the cafeteria on Tuesday morning at 11:30, his face bright
red, and yelled, "Get out! Get out! They're shooting!" the
hundreds of kids in there took him seriously.

Some people believe Sanders saved the lives of more than 200
kids that day. Witnesses say he led many to the kitchen, to the
auditorium, to safety. "He saved my life," says Brittany Davies,
one of his jayvee basketball players, "and then he kept running,
cutting across the lunchroom, telling people to get down. He
left himself in the open where he could get shot."

Columbine English teacher Cheryl Lucas told the Rocky Mountain
News, "He was the most responsible for saving a bunch of
lives.... They would've been sitting ducks if not for Mr.
Sanders." But that wasn't enough for Sanders. There must have
been a dozen ways out of the cafeteria to safety. Instead, he
ran upstairs to warn more kids.

"I was standing in the science room, looking out the window [in
the door leading to the hall]," says Greg Barnes, a varsity
basketball player. "Then I saw Coach Sanders turn around, take
two shots, right in front of me. Blood went flying off him and
he fell."

Sanders got up and staggered into the science room. Teeth were
knocked out when he fell. Blood was pouring from his shoulders
and chest. A roomful of kids leaped back. Eagle Scout Aaron
Hancey, a junior who videotapes boys' basketball games, began
applying pressure to the wounds.

An hour went by. The gunmen had tried to enter the room next to
the science room but couldn't. Hancey talked to police on the
science room phone, telling them where he and the others were,
that Coach Sanders was badly wounded. The police said a SWAT
team was coming.

A second hour went by. Someone crept to a science room window
facing the parking lot and held up a sign that read 1 BLEEDING
TO DEATH. Still, no SWAT team. No fire ladder to the window. No
chopper.

Three hours and nothing. The kids in the science room weren't
hearing explosions anymore, but they dared not run for it. They
figured the killers could be anywhere. How could they know that
the killers had been dead for more than an hour?

Somehow, Sanders stayed alive, despite losing body heat, blood
and breath. "He was a brave man," says Hancey. "He hung in
there. He was a tough guy."

Finally, after 3 1/2 hours, a SWAT team burst in. One member
said he'd wait with Sanders until a stretcher came. "Even if
they'd gotten him out then," says Hancey, "I think he would've
made it."

Outside, in the hollow-eyed afternoon, there came a rumor that
Sanders was in surgery at a Denver hospital. For hours Linda and
the girls frantically called area hospitals. Nothing. Finally,
at about 9 p.m., Angela went live on a Denver TV station and
pleaded, "Does anybody know where my father is?"

Her father was still in that science room. He died by the time
paramedics reached him. He died a couple hundred yards from 300
cops and dozens of ambulances. Only the kids in that terrifying
room heard his last words: "Tell my girls I love them."

Everybody said Dave Sanders lived for kids.

Should've known he'd die for them, too.

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA
Some people believe Sanders saved the lives of more than 200
kids that day. Witnesses say he led them to safety.