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Student settles Columbine lawsuit

Published March 2, 2004 at midnight

The Columbine High student who came to be known as "the boy in the window" because of his dramatic escape from the nation's deadliest school shooting has settled a lawsuit against Jefferson County.

Patrick Ireland, a 17-year-old junior at the time of the attack, dropped an appeal of his federal lawsuit Monday in exchange for a $117,500 settlement, Jefferson County spokesman John Masson said.

Ireland's attorney, Stephen Peters, of Denver, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The settlement resolves the last of numerous civil lawsuits filed against Jefferson County for its response to the April 20, 1999, attack that two students carried out on their high school. In the five years since, claims have been filed by families of 17 victims, seeking damages from the sheriff's office, Jefferson County schools, the parents of the two teen gunmen and others.

Only a suit brought by the family of Isaiah Shoels, who was killed, against the parents of gunmen Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, is pending. The rest have been dismissed or settled.

Ireland's attorneys argued that Jefferson County deputies stood by and watched as Ireland, who'd been shot in the head, dragged himself to a window and crawled through to safety.

He was partially paralyzed but recovered, although not fully.

Ireland's escape was captured on television and became one of the most powerful images of the Columbine attack in which 13 were killed. Visually, it represented much of the severe criticism leveled at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office's response to the tragedy, which many blamed for dithering and waiting while the wounded bled inside the school.

Masson said the settlement spared Ireland and the Columbine and Jefferson County communities from another public rehashing of Ireland's role in the incident and the emotions it raised.

"This had such a tremendous impact on the community, the students, the families," Masson said. "And Patrick Ireland probably represents, from the visual drama, one of the most poignant and sad pieces of Columbine. A protracted trial . . . would have reopened all those wounds."

Ireland's claim was dismissed March 26, 2002, before it reached trial. U.S. District Judge Lewis Babcock said Ireland did not allege that Jeffco deputies' conduct was egregious enough to overcome the normal immunity from lawsuits that government officials have.

Masson said the county did not settle out of concern that a trial would reveal more embarrassing information about the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office's handling of the shootings.

Masson said the county already had prevailed in a hearing in which nothing of the sort came out. But the case was dismissed before discovery proceedings that typically turn up most of the evidence.

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