Letter from Columbine Seminary Teacher (from Rob Hildebrandt, Pam (wife), and children, Mike, & Christina):
Good Morning Everyone,
Thank you for your patience, your prayers and your genuine concerns for all of us here. I cannot express adequately the range of emotions, the breadth of experiences, everyone is feeling or having here. Shortly, as I write a detailed report for the Brethren, I will e-mail a copy to each of you.
Our family is going to be fine. Little Mike, like 16 or 17 others of our seminary students, "just decided" at the last minute to be somewhere at school other than the Commons (beautiful cafeteria) or the library. Heavenly Father has been carrying the these sweet students throughout this ordeal. (Mike decided to come home for lunch rather than meet his buddies in the Commons, which, on Tuesdays, he often does.)
Christina was caught in the concert choir room--she and 120 other choir members. Indeed,she was one of the last to get out. The gunmen were running down the hallway by that room but at the time she was leaving, the gunmen had turned around and were firing down the hall "backwards", so they didn't see her. Some huge "chunk" of a kid literally ran over Christina and she went sailing to the ground. (Today she's still a walking bruise.) Up she got, continued running, and with her many friends of the choir zig-zagged through parts of the building till they could find a way out. (Columbine is an incredibly beautiful building, but very large. Few students know all the exits or have ever been in all of the building.) Once out, she and several others actually scaled an 8-foot chair link fence. Once over the fence, she and the others kept running until they reached the park that surrounds part of the campus. Another friend, who had parked his car in the park instead of on campus that morning, herded Christina and several others into his car and drove them to wherever they wanted to go. She went to Pam's office nearby.
One of our mormon 15-year old boys was badly shot. He's the "nameless" boy at St. Anthony's in critical condition. His leg was badly shot but rebuilt that first night in 6-hours of surgery. A bullet entered his cheek, destroyed his jaw, and came out his neck. On Wednesday, he endured 9-hours of surgery for that wound. As often is the case, this wonderful young man--a member of my son's teacher's quorum--is the kindest of kids, quiet, humble, and always smiling.
Three of our students were in the library, hiding under tables while their friends were being selectively shot. One, a girl named Amber, was actually under the table the gunmen used to reload their weapons, laughing about how much fun it was to kill, and wondering aloud who they'd "nail next". Our two others there, young men, both were confronted by the armed gunmen. One, John, had a weapon pointed at his head. Both of our boys were known to the gunmen, but only as nice guys, so they let them go, only to shoot others there. These three are having the most challenging time now.
Dozens of our kids were in the Commons where shooting went off. They all escaped. Dozens more or our students were hiding throughout the building, many in rooms systematically sprayed with bullets and in places where they could hear both the gunmen's terror-filled threats and the screams of their wounded friends.
At the seminary, we housed 60 non-LDS students, 7 or 8 of our own students, and 6 faculty members, including two coaches and two English teachers known to our daughter. We were all here, together, for over four hours. We had SWAT team members on our roof throughout the ordeal, police both inside and outside our facility, and periodic visits by the police to question our kids about the gunmen. Since we had a student year book, the kids at the seminary made the identification of the gunmen known to the police in the first minutes of this ordeal.
Many bombs, some quite large, exploded both in the school and throughout the parking lots and even in the neighborhood nearby. Our backyard is adjacent to the parking lot. During the night on Tuesday, two very heavy explosions rocked our whole neighborhood as bombs with timers, hidden in student cars just over the fence from our backyard, exploded.
We were evacuated by 6 PM but not allowed to return home till Wednesday afternoon. Our wonderful bishop who lives three cul-de-sacs away housed our family. Braving gunfire and police barricades, our sweet bishop's wife brought lunch to the seminary for everyone. She first went to all her neighbors to collect all she could.
The Church sent a large team of counselors in from all over Colorado and from Salt Lake City. That Tuesday night our stake president held a prayer meeting at our nearby stake center, attended by over 500 students and their parents. We were there for nearly 2 hours although the "meeting" lasted less than 20-minutes.
Extensive counseling is available through next week at the stake center. We, ourselves, are starting seminary Monday at the stake center, 9-10 AM daily till we know what the school district is going to do. Help and aid for these (and all the students) is pouring in from all over the U.S. I will have to write to you separately about the incredible miracles occurring here hourly for everyone. I felt impressed to call my friend, John Bytheway, a very popular youth speaker, who, upon getting my call, simply said, "Rob, when do you want me there?" He'll be here in two weeks for a couple days to meet the kids individually and to present a fireside talk.
The greatest moment came Wednesday morning when President Hinckley called. He had received a list of all my students' names and wanted us to tell the students that he was praying for each of them individually by name. I cannot even type those words without the tears returning. Our Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Enoch--our modern Joseph Smith--our dear prophet is doing that as the ultimate way of helping in this terrible situation.
As I asked scores of kids what they were doing in their various places of hiding, most all responded "praying". "What were you praying for?" I asked. About eight of the students, independent of one another said, "Bro. H., I was praying to Heavenly Father to ask Him to please let me realize all the blessings in my patriarchal blessing."
These are not ordinary young men and women. "Royal Army" only begins to define their spirits. We have a long and unchartered road ahead emotionally. Each day is literally taken now one at a time. The worst part of the day, dear family and friends, is the wake-up moment. From some sleep and peace comes this horrible rush as everything returns again--the emotions, the fears, the restlessness. I'm a veteran of service in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and this is what happens to me each morning. My 100 students are sweet children yet who are experiencing in a worse way these same feelings. Their childhood has been stolen from them now.
Hardest hit have been those students who have lived their teen years in a sort of wonderland: life is great, school is great, everyone loves me, I love everyone--kids who have crafted a teen life which they totally control. Enter this tragedy that has shaken to the core their comfort zone. They simply cannot being yet to piece anything together.
Eighty-percent of our students saw and / or heard the work of those student gunmen.
Now that bodies have been identified and removed, a new wave has hit our students and family. These were popular kids who were killed, Christina lost two good friends. Mike lost one. Some of our students lost as many as five good friends. Their funerals begin Saturday and continue through next week.
At this point, everything these sweet children are experiencing reminds me of when we were all little kids, took that terrible fall from the three-wheeled bicycle, scraped open a knee which mom bandaged and "kissed to make better". As it healed, it itched and even hurt, so we kept scratching the wound open until, weeks later, it was infected and painful. This seems to be happening here. What looks like a better day than yesterday ends as tragic as the previous with new information, the upcoming funerals, etc. Mr. Sanders who bled to death in the school was such a wonderful man. He'd reached that desireable state as an educator when he quit playing all the games--quit 'playing school" with all those silly rules less mature teachers impose--and was instead, relaxed and loving, a friend to all the students. Every single seminary student knew him, many quite well.
Thank you for your calls and e-mail letters. I have received well over 100 e-mail letters and nearly that many phone messages. Sadly an over-night power failure erased all my phone messages (my back-up battery was improperly installed). In the coming days and weeks I will be writing all of you, keeping you posted on the blessings and miracles occurring hourly.
Here's a personal one to end with.
Our sweet Trish was dealing with this alone in Utah and called day-before-yesterday to tell us she was driving home for the weekend. A blizzard (still going on here) struck both Utah and Colorado yesterday morning preventing her from driving over. She asked about airfare but we knew that was too expensive. Pam gave it a try though, at Trish's and my insistence, and in calling Frontier Airlines, was immediately asked her address here. When the agent asked about the Columbine situation, Pam explained that our daughters brother and sister were involved in that as students at the school, and that was why she felt a need to come home. The women excused herself for nearly three or four minutes--probably longer--then returned to the phone crying. "Mrs. Hildebrandt, I have just spoken to so-and-so, one of our executives, and we would deem it an honor if you would allow us to provide free airfare for your daughters round trip flight."
Living these days in the presence of the Spirit every moment is humbling and peace-fulfilling. Even to the most casual of students and faculty members, the reality of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ is becoming apparent.
Have a wonderful day. Thank you for your prayers--which are truly felt.