Across Pacific & Asia
Killings underscore need
- for addressing roots of violence
April 21, 1999 News media contact: Tim Tanton*(615)742-5470*Nashville, Tenn.
By United Methodist News Service
Turning back the tide of school killings, such as the April 20 massacre near
Denver, requires addressing the hatred, fear and spiritual poverty that
cause violence, United Methodist leaders say.
The killing of at least 15 people at Columbine High School in Littleton,
Colo., is "a horrific tragedy," said Bishop Marshall L. (Jack) Meadors, who
heads a task force guiding the United Methodist Church's Initiative on
Children and Poverty.
"It would remind us when the role models of our youth are the Mafia and
Adolf Hitler, the result is going to be racism and violence," he said. "A
society that sows violence will reap violence.
"Our hearts go out to the victims and their families, and to the families of
the young men who were responsible."
Two students at the high school opened fire on classmates and faculty
members at 11:30 a.m. local time, commencing a bloodbath that lasted four
hours. The two students, both white males, were heavily armed with handguns,
shotguns and explosives. The boys, ages 17 and 18, later shot themselves.
"The things we could never dream of are becoming daily nightmares," said
Bishop Mary Ann Swenson of the United Methodist Church's Denver area.
Columbine High School is only 15 minutes from her office.
Five United Methodist congregations have families with students enrolled at
the school in Littleton, a fast-growing suburb southwest of Denver. At press
time, one hospitalized student is a member of Columbine United Church, and
the daughter of one family at St. Luke's United Methodist Church is
The Rev. Steve Poos-Benson is pastor of Columbine United Church, a shared
ministry of the United Methodist, United Church of Christ and Presbyterian
Church U.S.A. Just as he closed a morning staff meeting at the church, a
parent called, reporting that she was at a store by the school and heard
shots fired. Poos-Benson, youth pastor Holly Freeman and other staff members
drove directly to the school, where shots could still be heard.
As Poos-Benson moved from an open area, he saw Freeman embracing a student
who had just run from the building. Shortly afterward, Freeman worked to
move students to safety behind fences in the adjacent residential
neighborhood. As they moved, one girl later said she heard shots go by
within arm's reach.
Because of its proximity to the school, Columbine United Church quickly
became a gathering place for families and various response agencies. By 8
p.m., a prayer service was under way in the sanctuary.
District Superintendent Terry Benedett-Farmer, whose area includes Columbine
High School, attended the evening worship service, and began networking
pastors in the area to be available to provide counseling.
At nearby Phillips United Methodist Church, the Rev. Marvin Essing was also
leading a prayer service, joined by the Rev. Mike Hubbard, pastor to
neighboring Heritage United Methodist Church. Rocky Mountain Annual
Conference Treasurer Dan O'Neil, active in conference youth ministries and a
youth sponsor at Phillips, also lent a hand, as well as establishing an
account to receive contributions for assisting families
The United Methodist Committee on Relief, already busy with natural
disasters elsewhere, made its crisis counseling services available to the
conference disaster response volunteer, the Rev. Gary Haddock, who
coordinated with the Rev. Gil Zyzniewski, a local volunteer.
The Rev. Brian Riecke, conference youth coordinator, joined the on-site
response effort after advising all conference pastors to be aware that their
students were likely to be affected by this trauma, given its severity and
national attention. The Rev. Jane Keener, also on the conference staff and
formerly a hospital chaplain, was also present to provide back-up.
Staff at The Upper Room, a division of the Board of Discipleship, called to
say they were sending resources for grief counseling and devotionals focused
on loss and tragedy.
St. Luke's United Methodist Church, announced its presence as a "safe place"
for the community, and scheduled evening prayer services through the rest of
the week. United Methodist churches throughout the metro area, including
St. Andrews, Parker, Heritage, Wheatridge and Hope, had scheduled prayer and
memorial services by noon the following day.
Bishop Swenson, arriving in Denver only hours after the shooting, learned
that the gunmen had targeted minorities and "jocks," and that the incident
occurred on Hitler's birthday. "All of the issues of race and violence
immediately come forth.
"Hate is the visible cause of this tragedy, but the hidden cause is fear,"
"One of our pastors talked with families with kids involved, and he said,
'The word is these kids were outcasts. They didn't like anyone and no one
liked them. Our youth have talked at church about how we treat each
"My prayer is for the day when there are no outcasts, when we can move
beyond our barriers and the cliques and groups. We pray for a time when all
are insiders, when everyone knows they are included, welcomed -- even those
out of the mainstream and on the margins. Maybe then, if we can reach out to
the margin and welcome every child of God as a child of God, maybe then we
can put an end to violence and hate."
The Initiative on Children and Poverty was launched in 1996 by the Council
of Bishops. It is focused on addressing the needs of children worldwide.
"With the Initiative on Children and Poverty, we recognize that violence
grows out of spiritual poverty as well as material and economic poverty,"
Meadors said. "The goal of our initiative is the proclamation in word and
deed of God's love for all people and especially for children and the poor,
and that does include (people in) spiritual poverty, which sounds like the
"The seeds of poverty include lax gun laws and racism and white supremacy,"
"The incidents of children declaring war on society and on their friends is
escalating, like the violence in the world, as long as seeds of violence are
being spread," he said. " ... These kinds of incidents are symptoms of a
deeper problem. The church is called to deal with those root causes, those
"The church is called to situations like this, to be the sign and the
instrument of God's love and God's peace in the world.
"We must pray, and we believe that this is God's world and God is a God of
peace, and God calls us to be instruments of peace."
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