Somber service honors the dead

80,000 pay tribute to students, teacher killed in high school

In Colorado

April 26, 1999|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

LITTLETON, Colo. -- With jets and white doves, somber words and soaring tributes, the victims of the Columbine High School massacre were memorialized yesterday in an open-air ceremony attended by about 80,000 mourners, led by Vice President Al Gore and others calling for an end to the violence.

"All of us must change our lives to honor these children," Gore told a crowd that included families of the 12 students and one teacher killed Tuesday. "More than ever, I realize every one of us is responsible for all the children.

"Parents, we can stop the violence and the hate. We can rise up and say, `No more.' "

Gore was joined on a makeshift stage erected on a parking lot near the school by his wife, Tipper; retired Gen. Colin L. Powell; Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and other political and religious leaders.

After the ceremony, a bagpipe-and-drum corps led the visiting officials and victims' families in a procession to a park near the school, where the group added more flowers to the growing shrines that have appeared since the killings.

Except for a few brief references, the killers -- Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17 -- were all but ignored in a ceremony devoted to their 13 victims. Thirteen names were intoned by Owens and a white dove sent aloft for each.

The most dramatic moment came when four F-16 jets screeched low over the crowd before heading off in a missing-man formation -- used to honor fallen comrades -- in which one plane veers away from the rest. The lone jet pointed its nose directly skyward and disappeared into the gray clouds overhead.

The flyover was led by a pilot who had graduated from Columbine.

By the end of the service, the skies delivered a cold rain that mixed with the tears of many in the crowd, some of whom had arrived more than four hours before the 1 p.m. service. Thousands attended despite the lack of seating, and only those close to the front could see the stage.

At the entrance to the service, people handed out fliers, Bibles, invitations to churches and block groups, and "a talking book" by the Rev. Billy Graham, called "Facing Death and the Life After."

Speakers and singers, including gospel star Amy Grant, set a mournful yet comforting tone as they reflected on the shared trauma. There remains an unanswerable question at the heart of the killings, they said.

"Why, why does God allow this?" the Rev. Franklin Graham, son of the Rev. Billy Graham, said in an impassioned speech. "I don't have answers, friends, but I do know this: There is a God."

In a song that seemed directly addressed to the emotions of those gathered, Grant performed "Somewhere Down the Road."

"You cried until the tears run dry," Grant sang. "You say, why, why, why does it go this way? Why, why, why, and all I can say is somewhere down the road there will be answers to the questions."

`There's hope for you'

Two Columbine students also performed a song written after the shootings. Brothers Jonathan and Stephen Cohen have recorded the song, "Friend of Mine," which they encouraged the crowd to buy; the proceeds will go to the victims' families.

"Columbine, flower bloom," they sang. "Columbine, there's hope for you."

Amber Burgess, a senior at Columbine whose mother was in the school's first graduating class, represented the student body and offered words and a song.

"My heart goes out to all my classmates and my coach who are no longer with us," she said. "The memories we have of you will never be lost."

She and another student led the crowd in the school's chant, emblazoned on T-shirts worn by many in the crowd and soaped onto the windows of cars on the streets. "We are," the chant begins, as an answering chant continues, "Columbine!"

There was a heavily Christian tone to the day's events, with one pastor urging those gathered to seek Jesus.

Several speakers noted the bravery and faith of one slain student, a born-again Christian, Cassie Bernall. She was confronted in the library by one of the killers, who demanded: "Do you believe in God?" She responded, "Yes, I believe in God," and was shot.

Officials lauded the community for its response to the crisis.

"Confronted with an unimaginable evil, this community has drawn closer," Owens said. "We've witnessed a community that has found within itself a tremendous healing power."

`A wonderful community'

Some who live here, a suburban area that has grown quickly in recent years, say the tragedy has drawn the community together.

"We really do have a wonderful community here," said Bruce Patterson, a petroleum engineer who came to the memorial with his 17-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son, the latter riding in a Red Flyer wagon.

"It was the right thing to do, to come here and be with people and grieve together. It's really good that everybody is coming together to try to help one another," said Patterson.

Others said they appreciated the support shown across the country for their stricken community.

"I think it's awesome that our vice president came. It shows we obviously mean something to them," said Brigitte Reid, who moved to the area three weeks ago and has befriended a neighbor who turned out to be a Columbine teacher and parent of a student at the school. "Hopefully, our community will become closer because of this."

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