LITTLE FALLS -- A terrified 15-year-old Heidi Johnson hid beneath a library table and prayed to God as her classmates were fatally shot or injured around her on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.
It was the worst school shooting in U.S. history. Twelve students and a teacher were killed while 23 others were injured at the hands of students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold who then killed themselves.
Now at 17, a confident and poised Heidi Johnson took center stage at the Charles D. Martin Auditorium at Little Falls High School Sunday morning to talk about how Christian teens and their churches need to step up and take back the public schools to make sure a tragedy like Columbine doesn't happen again.
"I don't want to see any more Columbines happening," said Johnson. "I don't want to see any more shootings. Sin is all over the place and I think it's because the churches aren't standing up like they should have been."
It was standing-room-only at the high school auditorium Sunday for the first free community church service sponsored by several Little Falls churches, including Church of the Nazarene; Christian Life Center; Faith, Hope and Love Fellowship; Little Falls Alliance Church; Little Falls Assembly of God; and Grace Covenant Church.
The event was organized by youth pastors from each church who are hoping to host a community church service four times a year. The "God With Us" worship band also performed. In addition to Johnson, inspirational youth minister Monte Hipp spoke about today's youth culture.
Youth Pastor Matt Rudeen from Grace Covenant Church said the community church services will be held to attempt to bring the community together and show what great young people live here, as well as to build unity around the churches, in spite of the differing doctrines.
"We are gathered together to simply worship God," said Rudeen. "And we're here to support the youth of our community."
The auditorium was packed with teens who came to listen to Hipp and to hear of Johnson's experience that day on April 20, 1999.
Johnson said she decided to skip lunch and went to do her homework in the library instead. She and her classmates heard popping noises but shrugged it off as school construction noise. Then a teacher ran into the library saying that a student had been shot. The students in the library, including Johnson, fell to their knees and hid underneath the library tables.
Two figures dressed in black, Harris and Klebold, then entered the library and told them, "Everybody get ready to die. Right now."
Johnson continued to pray as students around her were killed by gunfire. One bullet hit the table she was hiding underneath. At one point, she saw Harris' face as he looked beneath her table. He looked evil, she said. But he didn't shoot her. The living and injured ran quickly out a school exit door to hid behind a waiting fire truck outside.
For Johnson, the school shootings changed her life forever. She now has an agent and travels around the country to speak about how churches need to take back the schools. Now in her senior year, she attends a different high school that is willing to accommodate her busy travel schedule. She has lobbied in Washington, D.C., asking that America embrace Christianity and post the Ten Commandments in public schools.
"It's almost a bad word to walk around and say, 'Jesus Christ,'" said Johnson, of public schools. "We're not Generation-X. We're the Chosen generation. I believe we're going to prove them wrong."
"There's a culture out there that needs to be touched," said Hipp, of today's teens. "This generation isn't looking for something to die for. They're looking for something to live for."
It is perhaps fitting that Johnson would be in the area speaking about how violence has touched her life, demonstrating how she's using the tragic experience to help others. Starting this weekend through Friday, Peace Week has been declared throughout the Brainerd lakes area. Students throughout Crow Wing County will learn about ways to promote peace and reduce violence through awareness.
It's a start.
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