Cover Story

In tragedy: hope and witness

Issue: "Year in Review 1999," Jan. 8, 2000

By life and by death, powerful messages and images of faith emanated in 1999 from Littleton, Colo., Fort Worth, Texas, Bourbonnais, Ill., and Little Rock, Ark. They were heard and seen around the world. In Littleton, two rampaging students at Columbine High School on the morning of April 20 shot and killed 12 of their classmates and a teacher, wounded 21 other students, then committed suicide. Some of those slain had been active in evangelical churches and ministries. In the hours and days afterward, hundreds of students attended daily prayer meetings at the churches. The massacre and aftermath sparked live round-the-clock TV coverage nationwide for a week. Students, parents, pastors, and others told of the faith, courage, and shining lives of victims Rachel Scott and Cassie Bernall, both 17, and others. MSNBC anchor David Gregory marveled openly at the pervasive "spirituality" among the students. Industry sources reported the highest ratings of the year to date for both CNN and MSNBC. "Columbine, friend of mine ... Do you still hear raging guns, ending dreams of precious ones? ... There's hope for you ... Peace will come to you in time."
-Song sung on a chilly and misty day at a community memorial service April 25 by brothers Jonathan, 17, and Stephen Cohen, 18, leaders of the 70-member Bible club at Columbine High School. The Sunday afternoon service attracted 70,000 people and was carried nationwide by CNN, MSNBC, and C-SPAN. Area pastors and Franklin Graham, substituting for his father, called on people to turn to God for comfort and solutions. "Prayer was reestablished in our public schools last Tuesday. What the judiciary couldn't do, what the churches couldn't do, the children did themselves."
-Pastor Bruce Porter of Cellebration Christian Center at the funeral of Rachel Scott, carried in its entirety by TV nationwide. "She carried the torch of love, compassion, and good news of the Savior. It has fallen from her hand. Who will pick it up?" he asked. Hundreds of teens raised their hands, indicating they would. Her father and her brother David, 16, a survivor who witnessed the shootings in the library, have been carrying the story of Rachel and her Savior to audiences across the nation ever since. "God? Do you believe in God?"
-Taunt from one of the Columbine gunmen, heard by senior Val Schnurr, who suffered four gunshot wounds but survived the attack. Val was crouching next to her friend Lauren Townsend in the Columbine library when the killers swept through. She heard screams and shots at the other end of the room. Then one of the gunmen fired at her and others under the table. "Oh my God!" she cried out as she felt pain in her abdomen. Lauren lay fatally wounded next to her. When the gunman asked whether she was a believer in God, Val said, "Yes, I believe in God." "Why?" the killer asked as paused to reload his weapon. Somehow Val managed to crawl back out of sight, and the gunman moved on to his next target. Val says she prayed constantly as she fought to stay awake and alert. "Val was scared to say yes," her mother said. "But she was scared to say no, because she thought she was dying." "We don't understand why these things happen. An incomprehensible tragedy occurred this evening.... God, we don't understand. But You don't call us to understand ... just to serve. We still serve an awesome God!"
-Message on Fort Worth's Wedgwood Baptist Church website the night of Sept. 15, after a deranged neighborhood loner shot up an interchurch youth rally at the church, fatally wounding seven and injuring seven others, several seriously. Most were young people. Three were current or former students of nearby Southwestern Baptist Seminary. In the weeks afterward, some area churches reported revival-like conditions as members crowded into prayer meetings and young people vowed to be bold in their faith and reach their peers at school for Christ. "He gave up his life so that others might live. He always was known for helping others."
-Allison Hunt, speaking of her singing partner, James Harrison, 21, at 1,440-student Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark. The two were among 25 from Ouachita returning from a musical tour in central Europe aboard connecting American Airlines Flight 1420 from Dallas. On landing in a rainstorm late the night of June 1, the MD-82 went off the end of the runway at Little Rock, crashed into a light tower, and broke into flames. Most of the 145 passengers were able to scramble to safety as smoke and flames filled the plane. Mr. Harrison stayed behind to help others, including a burn victim, get out first. He was overcome by smoke and perished. Eight others, including the pilot, also died. "We all prayed first."
-17-year-old Michael Freeman, who with friends Jeffrey Sartor and Caleb McNair helped panicked passengers escape a derailed 14-car Amtrak passenger train heading south from Chicago. The boys were credited with saving lives by getting people off the train before it caught fire. The March 15 crash killed 11 and injured more than 100.

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