The night before two ruthless teens blasted through Columbine High School on a shooting and bombing massacre, 16-year-old John Tomlin was refurbishing the bed of his beloved 1985 Chevy pickup. When John parked his classic ride in the school parking lot the next morning, he had no idea that the truck he was restoring would help restore his Denver-suburb, the nation, and the world.

Twenty-five years ago today, April 20, 1999, students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered John, 12 peers and a teacher and seriously wounded 23 others.

Three weeks after the tragic rampage, I stood next to John’s pickup where he parked it. I’ll never forget how John’s beloved Chevy was tenderly overflowing with mourners’ flowers, plants, memorial notes and balloons.

Two decades after the Columbine tragedy, I interviewed John’s mother, Doreen Tomlin. Here she reflects on how she forgives the shooters and recaps the faith that calmed her firstborn as he huddled under a library desk. John was comforting a fellow student in his final moments before the killers turned on him.

Facing the shock and grief…

 I totally sympathize and have compassion for anyone who has lost a child, no matter how they’ve lost a child. People really are clueless when you have a child murdered like we did, and then you’re dealing with the media. Our telephone rang nonstop for six weeks.

At times I feel like God picked me up by collar of my shirt and held me over the ocean and dropped me in. That was a cold reflection of God but how I felt at times.

  There were days when I didn’t want to or know how to live without my son. People would say, ‘You have his memories.’ I’d say, ‘Who cares? I don’t want the memories. I want him.’ I can remember crying during the night. I hated to go to sleep. I’d wake up and realize this is not a nightmare. It’s reality.

 Finding strength through the loss…

I credit our faith for our healing. We know John is in heaven. We know we’ll see him again. Instead of turning away from God, we kept choosing to turn to Him. My husband and our other two children and I didn’t watch TV for three months, we were in our Bible more and praying more.

I was involved with Moms in Prayer for many, many years before John was killed, starting when he was first starting school back in Wisconsin. With the other mothers, we’d  study the characteristics of God, so when John was killed, I clung onto God is all-knowing and He’s all-loving. It’s really having that deep personal relationship with Jesus Christ that builds that foundation and strength to endure. Also, I look at creation and see the sovereignty of God and who He is. I cling onto that when the pain gets too deep. I can look at creation and know God is marvelous even though I don’t understand what I am going through.

Coming to peace with the shooters…

I really rested in the fact that God is their judge and that took a big burden off my shoulders. I remembered the story of Corrie ten Boom who was imprisoned by the Nazis and later forgave her sister’s killer. Corrie was speaking on forgiveness and in the audience saw the man who killed her sister in the concentration camp. Corrie was filled with hatred, but when the man came up and asked for her forgiveness, she held out her hand. She didn’t want to forgive him but did out of obedience to Christ. That story really stuck with me.

So with Dylan and Eric it was that obedience of choosing to forgive them. Forgiveness didn’t come over night. I had to keep relinquishing my anger to God. A couple of years ago, I saw one of the killer’s moms interviewed by Barbara Walters, and Barbara asked, ‘Do you believe in evil?’ The mother said, ‘No, I don’t,’ and I instantly thought, Your son murdered my son and you don’t believe in evil? So I had to forgive all over again. Charles Stanley has said that forgiveness isn’t always a one-time thing.

Seeing pain turn to smiles…

John was a sweet, good kid. I miss his sense of humor and his smile. Now when I look at his pictures, it brings a smile to my face. Before it brought nothing but pain. On his birthday, we do things he would have liked to have done and we celebrate him. But the pain isn’t there.

When I hear of another school or public shooting, it plunges you right back as if it were yesterday that your child has died. You just sympathize and empathize with the families so much. My prayer is always that these people would know Christ so they do have hope that this is not all there is.

I don’t believe God wastes any of our life. He uses the suffering more than anything. You can let the pain and suffering either destroy or you can become a better person because of it. John is in heaven and he wouldn’t want us to be unhappy. He would want us to live our lives to the fullness. And that all takes time.

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