Columbine survivor couldn't endure aftermath - East Valley Tribune: News

Columbine survivor couldn't endure aftermath

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Posted: Friday, August 21, 2009 5:00 pm | Updated: 2:05 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

An ex-convict is sentenced to die for the fatal shooting in Tempe of his 21-year-old common-law wife, who survived the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999.

Tiffany Lien froze.

A shaggy-haired teenager with a black gun in his hand stared at her.

The gunman, Columbine High School shooter Dylan Klebold, didn't fire for some reason.

"After she survived this, I really thought she had a free pass from violence. I was so wrong," said Allen Hofmann, Lien's father.

Six years and four months after getting home alive from the Columbine massacre, Lien locked eyes with another killer. This time, she stood on a bed screaming in a Tempe apartment at 4:30 a.m. This time, the gunman fired and kept firing.

A jury in Maricopa County Superior Court on Thursday sentenced her killer, Rodney Hardy, 46, to death for the Aug. 28, 2005, shooting that also left Lien's friend, Don Stanciel, dead.

When Lien's family addressed jurors Aug. 4, they were there to talk about the impact her murder had on their lives, but their words were heavy with how their loss began on April 20, 1999.

SCHOOL DAY

Lien wasn't an exceptional student, but she excelled in the color guard and played clarinet in the marching band.

"She was this huge bubble of happiness," her mother, Lori Hofmann, said. "Her silliness never ended."

Her best friend in her freshman year, Tessa Anderson, recently recalled Lien's silliness too.

Lien liked to go out in public in outlandish wigs, or with a pair of boxers over her jeans and start up conversations with strangers to get a reaction.

And when Lien danced, it was usually for laughs.

"She was always an outgoing person, she always had a smile on her face," Anderson said.

Lien arrived at school at 7 a.m. the day of the shooting.

Anderson met Lien outside her fourth-hour science class and the two freshmen walked to the cafeteria for lunch at 11:10 a.m.

The two girls had just sat down on a concrete pod outside the cafeteria with their pizza when they heard what they believed were firecrackers and the start of student prank day. They were the first shots fired over the next 14 minutes that killed 12 students, a teacher and wounded 21.

Klebold descended a flight of stairs firing his weapon and coming towards them.

Lien told investigators she saw two students get shot.

"Lien stated that she was approximately 20 to 25 feet away from gunman number one and looked at him face to face for approximately 25 seconds frozen in her tracks," an investigator wrote.

Lien and Anderson ran into the packed cafeteria where the students were scrambling for cover and they hid in a restroom with two other girls.

They locked themselves in stalls and stood on top of the toilets.

RODNEY HARDY

While Lien was going through her freshman year, Hardy was about half-way through a six-year stint in the Arizona Department of Corrections.

Hardy, who already had a conviction for armed robbery in 1982, found himself behind bars this time for shooting a man in the head.

Court records tell the story.

In 1995, Hardy and his then-girlfriend ran an escort service.

The couple shared an apartment in Phoenix and was having personal and business problems when they decided to split.

The woman showed up at their apartment to gather her belongings with her mother and a burly biker for protection.

Hardy shot the unarmed man, grazing his forehead.

Hardy claimed self-defense, saying the biker forced his way in, but witnesses and evidence at the scene showed no signs of a struggle and the man was five feet outside the door while Hardy was inside when he fired his gun.

Hardy was a free man in 2002, the same year Lien's class graduated. He started a limousine service, Sunset Express Taxi, and became a well-known regular at strip clubs throughout the Valley.

At his murder trial, Hardy testified that he was Lien's savior.

He said he was driving his limo one night when he came across Lien beaten and near death in an alley.

Hardy said he nursed her back to health.

Lien began working in the Phoenix strip clubs Hardy hung out at and the couple married in Las Vegas in July 2004, even though Hardy was still legally married to another woman.

AFTERMATH

As Lien and Anderson hid in the stall, they could hear gunshots and loud explosions that rocked the walls, set off fire sprinklers and alarms and shook dust down on them. Thirty bombs exploded that day.

Lien could also hear one of the shooters shouting. She penned her experience for police.

"The male was very angered," Lien wrote. "Everyone was pretty much cleared out except the four of us in the bathroom and he was screaming and yelling, 'I hate you.' Not to anyone in particular, he was just yelling it."

She never seemed to shake the fear from that day.

"After the Columbine tragedy, she became much more tentative," Allen Hofmann said.

She began always looking over her shoulder and became less trusting.

At an Easter gathering, a car backfiring sent her diving under the table.

Travis Hofmann, Lien's uncle, said she couldn't escape the reminders.

Whenever she walked out her front door she saw a car decorated to memorialize her neighbor, who was killed. Two of her friends were also wounded.

Dr. Erin Nelson, a Scottsdale-based psychologist who assisted in the Columbine Psychiatric Autopsy Project, said everyone in the community was affected in some way.

"Either you were there and experienced this profound tragedy or knew someone who was there," Nelson said.

Nelson was a doctoral student when she worked on the project with two psychiatrists and two psychologists, whose objective was to figure out what led the killers to do what they did.

"The trauma was absolutely extraordinary. It defies description," Nelson said.

And there was a "huge treatment vacuum," she said.

The shooting undermined the security of the community and then it was followed by an onslaught of media that exploited many people, she said.

The recovery from such an assault on the psyche can be difficult and long-term and there are as many responses to trauma as there are people, Nelson said.

For some, the trauma has a more overt manifestation - trouble sleeping, a descent into alcohol, drugs or both. Or, it can more insidious and subtle with signs like irritability or difficulty following through.

"What's so remarkable to me is some of the stories of heroism that didn't make the press where students helped each other out," Nelson said.

Lien and Anderson were one of those stories.

The gunfire ended in the cafeteria, but they could hear it upstairs. After laying low for 40 minutes in the bathroom stalls, they made their break through the smoke-filled cafeteria and eventually to a fire exit they burst through to safety.

Lien continued with the marching band and even marched in the Tournament Roses Parade on Jan. 1, 2002.

But she was losing interest in school and her old friends.

Anderson and Lien went their separate ways about halfway through their junior year.

"It's not like we didn't like each other, she just started to hang around with different people," Anderson said.

FINAL WEEKEND

Lien and Hardy were sharing a Phoenix apartment on Aug. 26, 2005, the day he hit her with a backhand. Not long after that, he hit her on the head with a remote control and she left with just the clothes she had on.

Stanciel, Lien's friend, had just moved from California and was living in hotels and driving rented cars as he looked for work so he could bring his girlfriend and children to be with him.

His sister told Tempe detectives he liked to hang out at strip clubs.

Lien ran to her friend, Meleigha Howell, and she agreed to let Lien live with her.

Howell, her boyfriend, Lien and Stanciel took Stanciel's rented Hummer and drove to a Phoenix hotel, where they spent the night.

Hardy was already on the hunt for her.

He stopped by his grown son's place and gave him a gun for safekeeping so he wouldn't do anything he would regret. Hardy took the gun back an hour later, though.

Hardy visited clubs and talked to dancers and bartenders. He visited a dancer at her home. He burned up the telephone. The message was basically the same with everyone. He was heartbroken and believed she was gone for good.

"My baby's gone," he told a bartender as she served him double shots of Hennessy cognac. "I could kill them right now, I could kill them."

The next day, a Saturday, Hardy left a message on Howell's phone.

"Hey Meleigha, this is Rodney. Um, you need to call me right away because I know where's she at, I know who's she's with, I know what they're driving," he said, his voice stern, but calm.

The four friends went to a party in Phoenix.

The other guests at the party had never seen any of Howell's friends before, but there seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary about them.

The group got back to Howell's second-floor apartment near Mill Avenue and U.S. 60 about 2 a.m.

Howell got thirsty, so she put on her flip-flops, grabbed a pack of Newport cigarettes and walked to the vending machine nearby.

As she walked toward the machine, a car like Hardy's passed.

Howell tried to reconcile what she saw and wondered whether she was "just trippin'."

As she worked the vending machine, Hardy, wearing a light blue dress shirt, black slacks and dress shoes, popped out of nowhere and grabbed her arm.

"Let's go," he said. "I know she's in there."

They got to the apartment and the first place he checked was Howell's bedroom, where Hardy surprised Howell's boyfriend.

Hardy moved down the hallway.

He kicked in the door.

"Don't you move, don't you move," Hardy said.

Howell could see Lien standing on the bed screaming in a white t-shirt.

Howell heard Hardy racking the gun and she ran, leaving a trail of flip-flop sandals and a cigarette pack on the landing as she fled to the sound of gunshots.

Hardy claimed that he fought Stanciel for the gun and he didn't know how Lien got shot.

Stanciel was shot four times and the room and bed were filled with bullet holes. Lien suffered a grazing wound to her forehead and wounds to the back of her head and neck.

A few hours later, her parents were informed in Littleton, Colo.

"I have a sadness that will never leave," Lori Hofmann told jurors.

To this day, she finds notes that Lien left for her around the house.

Her parents have one other treasure she left behind: a pillow with HOPE embroidered on it, which was one of a pair given to Lien a year after the Columbine shooting.

The other is buried with her. It reads, PEACE.

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