John Nicoletti, Ph.D., a psychologist at the Denver and several surrounding police departments, was among the early arrivals April 21 as the chaotic scene unfolded in Littleton, Colo where Columbine High School was shattered by the volley of automatic gunfire and bombs after being invaded by two students who called themselves the “Trenchcoat Mafia.”
Twelve students and a teacher died in the fusillade, along with the perpetrators who, according to the sheriff, announced they were on a “suicide mission.”
Nicoletti was in the thick of the rescue operation, talking with youngsters after they fled, and being available for traumatized police officers as the left the building. He spoke with parents at Leawood Elementary School while they anguished not knowing whether their children were alive or dead. “We were with them and talked with them into the night,” Nicoletti related.
Even the most hardcore Swat team members were describing the scene inside the high school was the most grisly they had ever witnessed, particularly children who had been shot while hiding under desks or slain execution style.
Nicoletti said he would respond by telling officers “how to get rid of the images, the dragons, so you don’t see one of these children when you close your eyes.”
How much benefit would be derived from such counseling was too early to predict. “These are bandaid solutions of the moment while everybody is still busy,” Nicoletti said.
The situation was compounded in that some officer were at the school in dual roles. In addition to being police, some were fathers of students inside the school, according to Nicoletti.