LITTLETON, Colo., April 25 -- Under gray skies, an estimated 60, 000 mourners stood with grieving loved ones and friends to memorialize 12 students and a beloved teacher slain at nearby Columbine High School. In an eerie silence, mourners prayed, held lilies and roses, displayed signs and embraced one another in tribute to the victims of the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. Vice President Al Gore said: 'To the families of all those who died here, I say you are not alone. The heart of America aches with yours. We hold your agony in the center of our prayers. 'I would be misleading you if I said I understand this. I don't. Why human beings do things evil I do not understand.' Colorado Gov. Bill Owens told the crowd: 'As I look out on these thousands of faces, I see through the grief and the tears an outpouring of love. Since the terrible event of Tuesday, we've witnessed a community that has found within itself a tremendous healing power.' The service, in a movie theater parking lot across the street from Columbine, started more than 20 minutes late to allow time for the larger-than-expected crowd to get into place. Five days earlier, two gunmen laughed as they marched through Columbine High, guns blazing and bombs exploding until a dozen classmates and a teacher were fatally wounded. Suspected gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were found dead in an apparent suicide pact. Their bodies lay together in the second-floor library where most of the killing took place.
A survivor said one of the gunmen asked Cassie Bernall if she believed in God, and when she replied, 'Yes, I do,' he shot her dead. Gore made reference to that gut-wrenching element of the massacre and challenged adults. 'All of us must change our lives to honor these children,' said Gore. 'If you are a parent, your children need attention. If you are a grandparent, they need your time. If you do not have children, there are kids who need your example and your presence.' Gore and Owens were the scheduled main speakers, but retired Gen. Colin Powell appeared unexpectedly and took a seat on stage with community leaders and elected officials. Near the conclusion of the service as some filed away and others passed teddy bears forward to be placed among hundreds of bouquets, four military jets thundered overhead. One separated from the formation to represent 12 kids taken before their time and a teacher who was a grandfather of 10. As Owens slowly read the names of the students and teacher, 13 doves -- one for each victim -- were released and flew off into the gray skies, momentarily circling overhead. The service opened with Columbine students Jonathan and Steve Cohen performing a song they wrote to memorialize the tragedy. One of the brothers was trapped in the school choir room as classmates died just feet away. At the end, a huge procession of bagpipers that opened the memorial with 'Amazing Grace,' led departing mourners in an emotional march down the street to Clement Park next to the school. There stands a makeshift memorial that started with one bouquet on Tuesday and has grown to literally acres of flowers, stuffed animals, messages of condolence and final farewells. ---
Copyright 1999 by United Press International. All rights reserved. ---