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Computer Programmer Went Shooting With Gunmen

<i> From Times Wire Services</i>

The man who sold a semiautomatic handgun to the two Columbine High killers went shooting with them in the woods three times in the month before the blood bath, the man’s lawyer said Tuesday.

Mark Manes, 22, admitted selling the semiautomatic TEC DC-9 to one of the teenagers but did not know it would be used in the April 20 attack that left 15 dead, including the gunmen, said attorney Robert Ransome.

“When you’re up shooting in the woods with a bunch of kids who love to shoot at things, the obvious assumption is, ‘Hey, they like guns and they like to shoot,’ ” Ransome said. “He never got to that point, thinking what they might do with it. It just never crossed his mind.”

Manes, a computer programmer and former Columbine student, was booked on suspicion of providing a handgun to a minor, punishable by up to six years in prison. His lawyer is trying to work out a deal with prosecutors.

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Ransome would not say whether Manes sold the two teenagers ammunition, how much he charged for the gun, where they went shooting, who else accompanied them or what Manes may have known about the law involving gun sales to minors.

Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, stormed Columbine, hurling explosives and blasting away with four guns. They killed 13 people and wounded 23 before killing themselves.

They used the TEC DC-9 purchased from Manes in late February and three gun--two shotguns and a rifl--that had been legally purchased by Klebold’s girlfriend, Robyn Anderson, investigators said.

Under Colorado law, an 18-year-old without a felony record can furnish minors with rifles and shotguns. Investigators have characterized Anderson as a witness, not a suspect.

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Investigators believe Harris and Klebold were the only two gunmen but are looking at the possibility that others may have been involved in a conspiracy. They are also performing ballistics tests to determine which weapons fired the fatal shots; Manes could face more serious charges if the TEC DC-9 was used to kill someone.

Manes is the first person arrested and connected to the school attack. He bought the pistol at a gun show last fall, Ransome said.

“A third party knew Mark had this certain weapon and also knew Eric and Dylan were looking for weapons. He put them together,” the lawyer said. “Mark was not friends with Eric and Dylan. He did not hang out with them.”

Investigators said the middleman was a pizza shop employee who worked with Harris and Klebold.

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Three times in the month before the massacre, the three, joined by an unspecified number of other people, went into the woods, “shooting automatic weapons,” Ransome said. He would not say if the weapons were fully automatic.

Automatic weapons, which fire continuously as long the trigger is down, are illegal.

Semiautomatic weapons fire once with every pull of the trigger. But semiautomatic pistols are sometimes loosely referred to as “automatic.”

Meanwhile, the investigation into the massacre took a sour turn on Tuesday as a sheriff voiced suspicions about a teenager whose parents accused his department of shrugging off warnings about the gunmen.

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Judy and Randy Brown had charged that police did not follow up complaints that Harris had threatened their son Brooks.

In a TV interview on Tuesday, Jefferson County Sheriff John Stone hit back, saying it was suspicious that Harris warned Brooks Brown to stay out of the school building on the day of the shooting.

“Brooks Brown could possibly be a suspect. Brooks Brown’s statements . . . got some irregularities in them. Mr. Brown as well as several others are in the investigative mode,” the sheriff said on the “Today” show on NBC-TV.

The sheriff’s office said Stone was busy in meetings all day and would not be available to comment further on his interview. But the Browns were furious.

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Randy Brown, father of Brooks, said the FBI does not consider his son a suspect in the case and that Stone and local police were looking for scapegoats.

“It’s incredible, it’s wrong. He should be ashamed of himself,” the elder Brown said on the “Today” show.

His wife, Judy, added, “Brooks tried to stop this, and now Brooks is being blamed for it.”

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BALANCING ACT: Families tell how they reconcile teens’ need for privacy and parents’ need to know. E1


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