If there was one kid at Columbine High you figured would get past
what he'd seen and what he'd felt and what he'd heard, it was
He was the star of the basketball team, 6'4" and good-looking, a
scrappy guard with shooting range that started just after he got
off the bus. He scored more than 26 points a game this past
season, his junior year, as he hauled the Rebels places they
never should've gone. He was hands-down the best schoolboy
playercoming back next year in Colorado.
Greg was tougher than trigonometry too. In one playoff game
George Washington High tried to bully him, throwing elbows and
knocking him down. Barnes kept bouncing up off the floor and
sinking his free throws. Columbine won 58-54, with Barnes
getting 22 points.
When I interviewed him on April 21, 1999, the day after the
shootings, he seemed openhearted and clearheaded. He was a
terrific student, especially in math. He wanted to play for
North Carolina. As one of his friends said last week, "Greg had
May 14, 2000
But maybe inside, he was crumbling. Maybe when you're 16 and
people--friends, teachers--are slain right in front of you, you
find out you're not so scrappy after all. When I was 16, I don't
think a single person I was close to had died. At 16, Greg and
death got real tight.
Greg was looking out the door of a Columbine science room during
fourth period, trying to find what was making those terrible
pop! pop! sounds, when he saw girls' basketball coach Dave
Sanders running wide-eyed down the hall, right in front of him.
"I was standing there with my mouth open, watching," he told me.
"The bullets were coming from the left side. I couldn't see him
[the shooter]. The bullets must've gone parallel to me and hit
Coach Sanders. He got hit [by] two shots in the back. Blood went
flying off him, and he fell. There was shrapnel through his jaw."
Greg had the guts to kneel and pull Sanders in from the hallway.
He took off his long-sleeved blue shirt, the one he got for
Christmas, and it was used to try to stanch the bleeding until
help arrived. But nobody came for 3 1/2 hours. Then the SWAT
team made Greg and the other students in the science room leave
Sanders behind, made them run down the hall and leap over dead
classmates and pools of bright-red blood to get out. A half hour
later Sanders was dead. That kind of stuff shows up on the back
of your eyelids at night.
The next day Greg learned that two of his best friends had been
slaughtered. One was sophomore football player Matt Kechter, who
lived right down the street from him. They would walk to the bus
stop together, study in the library before school. After Greg
got his driver's license, he would take Matt home. "He was the
most innocent person I ever knew," Greg said. Matt was mowed
down in the library like a dog.
The other was his weightlifting partner, Isaiah Shoels. "He was
small, but he was really muscular," Greg said. "He could bench
205!" Greg called Isaiah "Grasshopper," because when Isaiah
would lift, his eyes would bulge.
This thing nailed Greg from every direction. Even the
murderers--Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold--had been in Barnes's
writing class. "Man," Greg said. "I'd give all my honors away,
give away everything, if this didn't happen."
Over the past year he appeared to have put all the horror behind
him. His friends said he didn't brood about the deaths, though
he would talk about it if you asked him. He was playing well in
off-season basketball leagues, doing well in school, had a great
senior year ahead of him.
We were all wrong. Greg may have only been 175 pounds, but he
must have been carrying a load of weight. Maybe there are some
things you don't bounce back from.
As far as anyone knows, he didn't leave a note or a videotape or
an E-mail. He just got up last Thursday, went to his first
couple classes, went to third-period gym, waved and smiled at a
friend in the hall at about 11 a.m., returned home around noon
and hanged himself.
For five years my family lived a mile from Columbine High, and I
still don't know what to make of all this. I'm out of silver
linings and blame and tears. But I know one thing--I never want
to hear about the 13 victims again.
Greg Barnes was tougher than trigonometry, but maybe there are
some things you don't bounce back from.