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Columbine survivor’s brush with death underscores ‘how precious life is’

SHELBYVILLE, Ky. (BP)–A former Columbine High School student drew a stark contrast between good and evil as she described the appearance of the two attackers at the Littleton, Colo., school.

Heidi Johnson said she believes something greater than Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold possessed them.

“When I saw Eric’s face and looked into his eyes, he wasn’t there,” said the 17-year-old junior. “And it wasn’t Christ.”

Johnson, who survived the mayhem in which 12 students and a teacher were killed, spoke to about 300 people at First Baptist Church, Shelbyville, Ky., April 29.

Despite close proximity to five students who died in the tragedy, Johnson wasn’t physically injured. She crouched under a table after a teacher warned that a student had been shot. After seeing a bomb go off, “I knew it was no longer a prank.”

Immediately, she said, “Lord, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I pray for your protection.”

Seated in the center of the room, she recalled how the two killers entered the library and said, “Every one of you, get ready to die.”

She kept praying as they circulated, seeing their boots and black trench coats as they walked by her table. When they saw her praying, they said something to her but didn’t fire their weapons.

Eventually she was able to flee the library, where most of the 12 student victims died, and was reunited with her father.

“I know God’s grace is real,” said the student, who has since transferred to a Christian school.

One of the speakers at a one-year anniversary prayer vigil in Littleton that attracted 15,000, Heidi and her father, Barry, travel two to three weekends a month speaking on the lessons of Columbine.

Also accompanying her to the Kentucky church were her mother, Kathy, and her pastor, Billy Epperhart of Trinity Christian Center. They were invited by First Baptist’s evangelism committee.

After a brief description of the tragedy, Johnson shifted to an evangelistic message, reflecting her participation in a campaign to post the Ten Commandments in schools.

Referring to Christ’s command to make disciples in Matthew 28:18-20, she said if that was the last thing that Jesus said on earth, it must have been pretty important. Yet countless numbers of people “don’t have a clue” about Jesus or his sacrifice, she said.

“When you experience death like I did, you realize how precious life is,” she said. “If you’re not right with Jesus Christ, today is the day of salvation.

“How often do we let people pass by every day we could have shared the gospel with but were scared?” she asked. “I get passionate about this because I believe revival is coming, but it’s only going to come when we start standing up. He’s going to pour out his Spirit but first we have to ask.”

Her father, who works in sales for a Denver-area printing company, called Heidi’s survival “incredible.” Columbine’s library, marked by bullet holes and overturned furniture, looked like it had been in a hurricane.

Recalling how it took hours to find his daughter in the midst of chaos, Johnson compared that pursuit with God reaching out to restore people’s lives.

“How do you put into words when you see your daughter when she could have so easily been taken away that day?” said Johnson, who choked up midway through his message.

He also credited faith for his daughter’s emotional healing, saying some students who didn’t see nearly as much are in counseling and taking medication to cope with the aftereffects.

Heidi touched on that issue during a question-and-answer session. A woman from Louisville asked how the happy-looking teen dealt with such a horrible situation.

“There’s no way I could be doing what I’m doing without [the Lord],” she replied. “It’s by the power of God I’m able to do this.”

Epperhart noted that many mental health professionals attribute her cheerful outlook to a form of denial. But the reality of her faith is not a simplistic answer, he said.

God’s hand in the situation was very evident, said Barry Johnson. He related how a member of the bomb squad told him poor craftsmanship and materials prevented much worse damage from occurring.

Harris and Klebold intended to blow up the school with a propane bomb and shoot students as they ran out of the school, he said. But the bomb didn’t explode even when they fired bullets at it, he added.

“People have asked, ‘Where was God that day?'” Johnson said. “He was all over that school.”

Heidi also defended Cassie Bernall, the student who reportedly was asked if she believed in God before being shot to death in the library.

Soon after the release of her mother’s book, “She Said Yes,” an online magazine questioned the account. It quoted sheriff’s investigators as saying the statement likely came from another student. However, some students still insist Cassie affirmed her faith.

When an audience member asked about the media accounts, Johnson said she didn’t hear whether Bernall was asked about her faith. But, she said, it wasn’t that important.

“If she didn’t say it, she had been saying yes her whole life,” Heidi said. “I think that’s what’s important and should be reflected on. She did die daily and that’s the important part. I think that’s what a martyr is.”

The church registered seven decisions to accept Christ as Lord and Savior during the Johnsons’ speaking engagements in the Kentucky town.

    About the Author

  • Ken Walker