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Forgiving Columbine Should We Forgive Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold?
By Jonathan Dube
April 20 In the aftermath of the Columbine High School shooting, a carpenter erected 15 handmade wooden crosses on a nearby bluff: one for each of the 12 students killed, one for the slaughtered teacher, and one each for Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the murderers. Hundreds flocked to the crosses, hanging rosaries, leaving orchids, scrawling messages of hope and love.
But the killers crosses, while meant as a symbol of redemption, were not accepted by all. One person covered them with black plastic bags. Another removed the bags.
At the base of Klebolds cross, a laminated poster read, Forgive them Lord, they know not what they do. On Eric Harris cross, someone scrawled, How can anyone forgive you?
It is a question that has haunted this community of victims, one that has made it difficult for some to move on while making it easier for others.
Tearing Down Crosses
In the year since the tragedy, many of the victims families have bonded, meeting regularly to talk and share and cope. But the one issue they rarely discuss, because they cant begin to agree, is whether those boys who slaughtered their young and ruined their lives should ever be forgiven.
The very notion of forgiving those two angers some families so much it makes them bristle. Brian Rohrbough and Rich Petrone, the father and step-father of murdered student Daniel Rohrbough, found the 14th and 15th crosses so disturbing that they yanked them out of the ground and chopped them to bits. Shortly after, when a local church planted 15 trees in memory of the lost, Rohrbough and Petrone grabbed a saw and cut two trees down.
Those two guys are cold-blooded evil murderers, Petrone says. And after what they did to our kids, theres no way that Id ever forgive them.
But what about all that stuff in the Bible about forgiveness? The crime even happened the week of Easter, a holiday that symbolizes Gods display of forgiveness to the world.
According to the Bible, you need to repent before you can be forgiven, Petrone says, his voice rising with anger. They were evil. They did not want forgiveness. They even said it, Were not victims of society, we evolved above humans. They called Jesus the a-word. They told God to f-off.
The way Petrone sees things, forgiving Harris and Klebold would be letting them off the hook. To do so, he says, would be to dishonor Dan. And it would send the wrong message to others.
If you can do what Eric and Dylan did and not be held accountable and Gods going to let them in Heaven, then why do we even have religion? Petrone says. To me, if you forgive the murderers, you agree with what they did. When you plant a garden, and group those murders in with those innocent victims, youre telling the rest of the kids, Hey kids, its OK. If you have a bad week and a bad year and you want to murder all your friends and teachers, it dont matter. Youre going to be forgiven. Gods going to let you in Heaven and were still going to love you.
Now what does that make a kid think? I mean, is there no shame in murder now?
Just Let Go
Put that way, the idea of forgiving Harris and Klebold sounds ludicrous. But theres another way to think of forgiveness. The Rev. Billy Epperhart of Trinity Christian Center in Littleton, Colo., preaches that its possible to forgive without pardoning the murderers or their actions.
Epperhart, who officiated at four of the victims funerals and has counseled many of the families since, sees forgiveness as letting go of hate and anger.
When we talk about forgiveness, were not saying were sweeping what happened under the rug, or that were pardoning them as though they didnt do it, Epperhart says. But we are saying that we must let go of the hurt that the tragedy caused in our lives, and accept what happened, and begin to find purpose and meaning in the tragedy and in the future.
That approach has done wonders for the healing of Darrell Scott and Beth Nimmo, the parents of 18-year-old victim Rachel Scott. After the shooting, he founded a ministry called The Columbine Redemption to encourage positive changes in young people, and ever since has been evangelizing across the country. In addition, the couple just finished a book, Rachels Tears (see excerpts), about their daughters beliefs and their own spiritual perspective on the tragedy, a book they hope will help prevent youth violence.
Forgiveness is for me, its not for the offender, Scott says. I knew that I couldnt afford not to forgive. Forgiving helped me to move on.
Forgiving Is Good for You
Forgiving can do more than help one heal spiritually. A large body of research shows that forgiveness contributes to good physical health, says Virginia psychologist Everett Worthington, the director of the Templeton Foundation for Forgiveness Research. Worthington says people who are unforgiving tend to hold hostile feelings, and hostility contributes to cardiovascular risk, increasing the changes for arteriosclerosis, heart attacks and strokes.
Being unforgiving is also stressful, he says, and that weakens the immune system, increasing the likelihood of autoimmune diseases such as cancer. And, he says, people who dont forgive are more likely to develop mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety.
But even with all those health benefits, Worthington cautions, that doesnt mean everyone should forgive. In fact, he says, even the old adage that you must forgive in order to move on isnt necessarily true for all people. Forgiveness means different things to different people depending on their religious and moral values.
For some, like Rohrbough and Petrone, refusing to forgive may be the only way to make peace with oneself. And for others, like the Scott family, forgiveness may be the only way to move on.
-- (^@^.^), April 20, 2000
Well, that is certainly a new take on Columbine:
"If we don't forgive Harris and Klebold, it will have an adverse effect on our cardiovascular system, and may lead to strokes."
I assume your post is satire. You can't be serious.
-- (email@example.com), April 20, 2000.
Forgiving the killers at Columbine is not for me to decide. They did not hurt me. How the surviving victims feel is for them to feel. It would be a pretty empty gesture for anyone not involved to forgive the killers.
What about our counseling or avising forgiveness? Again, none of our business. None whatsoever.
Among those who were badly hurt, the victims, forgiveness for the two killers could only be offered as an unlooked-for gift. The two killers have no "right" to forgiveness. It either comes or it doesn't. It is either freely given or not. But, it is not for us to look askance at a victim who doesn't feel in a forgiving mood. That is a private matter entirely.
-- Brian McLaughlin (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 20, 2000.
If I was a parent of one of the murdered children, I think I eventually could come to forgive the murderer. Assuming, of course, that the murderer was dead. That's why the death penalty is a great thing. I would have a hard time thinking about how my child was dead and his killer was sitting around watching T.V. and lifting weights in prison somewhere, but if he's dead also? Eventually, I'd be able to move on.
-- Someone (ChimingIn@twocents.cam), April 21, 2000.