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Columbine Angel

More than a year after her daughter was killed at Columbine High School, a mother longed for a sign that her child’s soul was at peace in the afterlife.


My husband, Don, and I pulled into the high school parking lot that cold December afternoon. It had been 20 months since the shootings. Twenty months, and still I could hardly bear to look at that building.

Sometimes it seemed like only 20 minutes since the April day in 1999 when we waited with the hundreds of other frantic parents for our children to make their way through the cordon of police and emergency vehicles surrounding Columbine High School. Some of the kids came out crying, frightened, stunned. Some were rushed from the school in ambulances.

One teacher and 12 students, including our 16-year-old Kelly, did not come out. For a day and a half they remained where they had died while investigators pieced together an account of two teenage boys who had fallen into the grip of a terrible evil—the evil that seemed to me to hover still about the place where it happened.

Like most of the others, Kelly was killed in the library, crouching beneath a table as bullets ricocheted through the room. Just inside those windows! I thought as Don got out of the car. Right behind that curved steel-and-glass facade. It was too much to bear. I turned my head away, unable to look.

It had been weeks before the examination of the crime scene was complete and police let the families visit the site. It was important to me to see the place where Kelly had tried to hide. I needed to pray at the spot, outlined in white on the floor, kneel where she died. But if I thought actually going to the library would ease its menace, I was wrong. The bullet-scarred walls, the splintered tabletops, a shattered computer screen—violence and hate were still palpable there.

We live just two blocks from the high school, and for a long time I could not even drive by it, taking long, bizarre detours for the simplest errands. But for Don’s sake, and for our older daughter, Erin, I had to pick up my life again. And what helped most was remembering how Kelly loved angels.

From the time she was tiny, Kelly and I had shared a special affection for these messengers of God. I can still hear her piping little voice, at age three, reciting the verse on the little guardian angel card my mother had given her:

“Angel of God, my guardian dear
to whom his love commits me here,
ever this day be at my side
to light and guard,
to rule and guide.”

Kelly loved that card. I’d often see it on her dresser top or catch sight of it with her schoolbooks. When she was older we would sit together on the sofa and watch Touched by an Angel. We never missed an episode. We bought the soundtrack CD too, and would sing along in the car, just the two of us.

For Kelly and me, angels were our shorthand for “God is near!” And his nearness is what made her such a happy child—a girl who woke in the morning with a smile and literally skipped through the day, blue eyes sparkling, long blonde hair swishing behind her.

That’s what gave the library its peculiar horror for me. Kelly was such a gentle, trusting little soul to die amid such evil! I’d given her a poem about angels that she kept in a frame on her bedroom wall. After she died I’d step into her room again and again and read it, lingering over one line especially: “Angels are with you every step of the way and help you soar with amazing grace.” I wanted to believe an angel had been beside her that day, with her beneath that table, helping her soar above the terror.

Almost as though they knew I needed them, people sent angel figurines along with their condolences. They came from friends, neighbors, total strangers—china angels, metal angels, wooden angels. An eight-year-old daughter of a friend tried to count the angel images in our house one day and gave up at 175—and every one of those angels whispered to me that Kelly was fine.

Only around the library was I unable to feel comfort. Not that we hadn’t tried to exorcise the evil from that place. The school district at first wanted to repair and refurbish the space, but Don and I and the other parents believed that no child should ever again be asked to study there. God brought us together in an organization we called HOPE—Healing of People Everywhere—to raise money for a brand-new library building.

What began as a fund-raising effort among the families was caught up by the whole community, then by the entire nation and even beyond. The new school building was under construction now—Don had driven in that afternoon, as he often did, to check on its progress. “I’ll stay in the car,” I told him. I’d visited the building site with the other families just a few days earlier.

The new library posed no terrors. It seemed to me a sign of life continuing, life affirmed. It was the presence of the old site that continued to oppress and upset me. I glanced reluctantly at it through the car window. Its exterior was unchanged, but inside, I knew, nothing was left of the old facility. Architects had come up with a design that preserved the cafeteria on the ground floor, while entirely removing the second floor where the library had been.

The cafeteria now had a spacious atrium feel, bright and light, with a beautiful mural of trees on the high ceiling, drawing the eye upward. Students and faculty of Columbine High School had a space that all could enter without fear. With the other families, we’d see to it that no physical trace of the tragedy remained.

Yet for me, the place still menaced. I turned my back on it and stared the other way out the car window. I need to know that Kelly’s all right, Lord, I prayed. I need to know she’s happy and at peace.

Turn around. Look at the building. The nudge didn’t come from me. That building was the last thing in the world I wanted to look at. I wrenched my head around…and blinked in astonishment.

Something bright was moving across those upper windows! Something shimmering and glowing, gliding slowly past the glass exactly where the old library had been.

Open-mouthed I stared while the unmistakable figure of an angel hovered over that second story. Wings, radiant hair, flowing garment—no artist could have rendered a heavenly messenger of comfort more gloriously.

I sat awestruck, seeing, yet scarcely believing. Even here, even here! Your angel was here with Kelly, just as you are with her always and forever.

How long did the vision last—15 seconds? However brief the time on a clock, I knew the angel had given me a lifetime of assurance. In the midst of all the evil that ever was and ever will be, God is present. God is with us. God is stronger.

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