reflections on Columbine – 10 years later

columbinecrosses1 Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the shootings at Columbine High School. This event was our town’s 9/11, one of those kind of things that becomes a fixed point in memory. It causes you to always remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard the news.

I was working from home that day, and my kids were at school. I heard a helicopter fly nearby my house and then another and another. I glanced out of my window and saw news and police helicopters hovering over the streets below. The house we lived in at that time was up on a hill and though I could see the roof of the high school, it wasn’t clear yet what was going on. I flipped on the TV and there were the images that have since been burned into our minds – our children running out of the school building, hands clasped on top of their heads being herded by swat team members with guns at the ready.

Though my oldest was still only in junior high, there were many families on my street with children at Columbine. I went out to knock on doors to make sure they all knew what was going on. Many were not at home. I got to the house of my daughter’s best friend who was a freshman at Columbine at the time and banged on the door. Ana herself opened the door, pale and shaken. She had just left the school cafeteria to walk home for lunch. She happened to turn on the TV and saw what had occurred only a few moments after she left. It would be another 6 hours before we knew that her brother was safe. He and a group of students were hunkered down in a classroom, hiding from the gunmen whom they thought still roamed the halls.

Instinctively, I went to pick up my children from their schools, even though the school day was just half over. Parents streamed in and throngs of kids gathered at the doors, each released as their parents showed up to claim them. A teacher who was monitoring the crowd offered gentle words of comfort, calling each student by name. I remember my daughter’s tear stained face – her first question being, is Ana ok?

We knew that we needed to open the church. And all the local churches were packed full that evening, and many evenings after that, filled with praying, weeping, lighting candles, worship, just being together. Then, the first sleepless night, tossing and turning, praying for the families, especially the ones whose children’s bodies still lay in the school library all that long night. (The swat teams were still trying to figure out if the school was rigged or booby-trapped as the shooters had warned.) The next day I shopped at the nearby grocery store. There were dozens in the store and we all shopped in silence, eyes wide, mouths grim.

 A carpenter from Oklahoma came and constructed 15 beautiful wooden crosses on Rebel Hill in the park behind the school. People were outraged because there were 13 killed that day, 12 students and one teacher. The other two were the shooters themselves who had taken their own lives. What are those two crosses doing next to my son’s cross? Those are words that could have been spoken by God Himself. We were face to face with the scandal of the gospel. Who “deserves” a cross? Taken for the symbol that it is, the death of Christ is for us all, those who do evil as well as those considered to be righteous. But the two crosses were eventually quietly and kindly taken down. A pastor in a nearby Lutheran church was forced to leave his church after he performed a funeral for one of the shooters, Dylan Klebold. He said, “What could I do? They asked me and I believe this is how Jesus would respond.” This kind of grace is too difficult for us to bear. These sort of things bring our struggling, dualistic hearts out into the unyielding light of day.

Memorials, ribbons, bonding, “We are Columbine”, divisions, pain, anger, arguments, investigations, stories, crosses, wheelchairs, new life, adoptions, scholarships, thriving- all are a part of the messy process of healing over time. Now 10 years later there is to be sure, more healing than strife and pain. I believe it is an act of faith to remember and tell the stories and to recount how beauty and life have been called forth from chaos once again. And, to dare to reflect on the mystery that the gospel is far, far bigger and better than we can dare to dream.



Recent Posts
Showing 7 comments
  • Gloria Mattson

    I remember those 15 crosses. I was a junior at Dakota Ridge at the time. It was a pivotal moment in my faith when I read the words on the killers cross, “Jesus loved you”. They were killers and they were victims. No level of sin is more powerful than God’s love. I hope more people can get that, because that Truth brings so much freedom for Him to get us through these horrible experiences. Thanks for your words and helping me to re-enter the pain just enough to see God’s heart again. I was a bit numb yesterday. God bless.

  • Karey

    Ellen, we found the same picture for our blogs. Your closeness to the event and your words here speak your emotions well. Did you in any of the news all day yesterday hear/see any mention of the 15 crosses? I so remember all the arguing and the contemplation it brought about, remembering Christ died for all. It’s a good question: what would we do if we found Dylan or Klebold, or Judas, or Hitler in heaven?! The timing this year with the Jewish Holocaust Remembrance coinciding …

  • ellenharoutunian

    Wow, wise women! Beautifully said, and SO hopeful.

  • Skip Newby

    Well, thanks Ellen.
    Maybe these will be my only tears for the day.
    I appreciate the depth of your insight into the mystery of the Gospel.
    I hope that in no way I injure anyone who still carries the pain of that experience. However, I must say, I think the crosses for the two boys who comitted the atrocity should have remained.
    As much as His Grace comforted those who were murdered and injured in every way, I wonder how deeply it flowed to the pain of those two boys acting out of despair.
    As for seeing Dylan, Klebold, Judas, or Hitler in heaven, I’ll probably have to wait a while, until all those they harmed have finished loving them enough for their healing.
    Peace, Skip.

  • Mona

    Wow!!! Well said. Thanks for your insight.

  • Denisa

    Ellen: thanks so much for sharing with all of us who merely watched and heard, who felt like our prayers were just too little for the pain, grief, shock of all that took place that day. May your community continue in God’s grace and as you remember may God’s peace continue along with opportunities to give out God’s love and grace. 🙂

  • David Shepherd

    “This kind of grace is too difficult for us to bear. These sort of things bring our struggling, dualistic hearts out into the unyielding light of day.”

    Thank you for the invitation to face my own tendency to pull the trigger in so many different ways. You are a gem, my friend.

Leave a Comment