I was a pastor in Denver, Colorado on 20 April 1999. I had been visiting and making calls, and begun preparing for Sunday’s sermon, when I learned of the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton.

My initial response was disbelief. I turned on the television for local and national coverage. It was true. I got in my car and drove to the site. It was evening and dark. Yet, the area surrounding CHS was lit up like day. News anchor, Adelle Arakawa, nervously smoking, was prepping to go live. Police and people were everywhere. Power generators hummed.

I knew two pastors who served the Littleton community. One was pastor of the church that Dylan Klebold (one of the shooters) attended. Later, this pastor resigned from his church because of the blow-back from a divided congregation and community in response to his presiding at Dylan’s memorial service. The other pastor became a local leader in organizing a faith community response and later became president of a Lutheran seminary.

There was criticism of the slow response to the shooting by the Denver S.W.A.T. Team. The team did not enter the school for some hours after the shooting for fear of response from the shooters. Later it was learned that the shooters had killed themselves hours earlier. One of the S.W.A.T. team members was a son of our congregation. We invited him to come and speak. He was received respectfully and answered questions.

Post-shooting analysis highlighted the “Trenchcoat Mafia” character of the shooters. Dylan and Eric Harris wore black trench coats. Eric was called emotionally disturbed, a psychopath, with Dylan a follower. Bullying became a conversation topic as a reason for their actions. Videos were shown of Dylan and Eric laughingly practice shooting their TEC-9s in the mountains. Criticism was levelled at their parents for not knowing about what Eric and Dylan were doing in their rooms and not knowing about the weapons they possessed. They had procured their weapons through friends, a classic example of “straw purchasing.” The chant “We Are Columbine” became the Columbine mantra.

It was heartening that the Rocky Mountain Synod-ELCA formed a task force called the Non-Violence Resource Team to teach nonviolence as a foundational Christian ethic.  Yet, little were we to know that Columbine was a precursor to a plague of mass shootings. I pray there be no more. I act there be no more. Lord, have mercy! Jesus, help! We Are Columbine!


Ron Letnes
(Rev. Dr.)