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 Greg Barnes.
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 player coining 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 plans."
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� 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."