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"I know this sounds out of character for a minister to say, but when we walk into a bank, we see guards guarding our money; how much more precious are our children?"



was the flicker of the Columbine torch that distracted the drunken man from his aimless stumbling through the rubble of the school siege in Beslan, Russia, in 2004.

The man walked toward the light, and toward Bruce Portera visiting minister from Colorado who had lit the torch that night. He grabbed it and muttered in his native tongue, "May all the little children who died be in heaven."

Porter had ventured to the site one week after the terrorist attack that September to offer what little comfort he could to a community that had lost 344 civilians and 186 children in a three-day standoff between Russian security forces and a Chechen warlord.

He had brought the torcha handsome gold and black object with the names of all the Columbine High victims inscribed on itas a symbol of understanding from one community to another. To show Americans had felt similar pain.

"They killed my wife and all my children," the Russian told Porter through an interpreter. "They cut off all my roots; I am alone in this world. Do you know anything about suffering?"

Porter had little response to such anguish and could only reflect on his tour of duty in Vietnam.

At the mention of war, the man's mood brightened ever so slightly, and he lifted his shirt to show scars from his days as a soldier in the Afghanistan war. It was the link he needed to feel safe with Porter, and he collapsed into his arms and wept uncontrollably.

"I live with a daily dread that the carnage I personally witnessed two years ago in Beslan, Russia, will play out some dark day here in America," Porter said this week. "The recent attacks on students in Bailey and in Pennsylvania only fan the flames of my paranoia."

Porter, a chaplain with the Inter-Canyon Fire Department in Morrison, has worked with first-responders after attacks at Columbine High School, Red Lakes High School in Red Lakes, Minn., a middle school in Beslan and at Platte Canyon High School.

He just returned from Nickel Mines, Pa., on Saturday, though that visit was a personal mission of comfort, unrelated to his duties with the fire department. He also spent time at Ground Zero after 9/11.

Porter describes those missions as an invitation from God, or "a tug in his heart," backed by the knowledge he has accumulated as a first-responder and minister over the years. Porter has a doctorate in divinity, though his current ministry is with a small group of nondenominational Christian churchgoers that meet mostly in homes. Donations from friends and supporters come in when he needs them to cover travel costs, and he also speaks to crowds on occasion for speaking fees, he said.

"I know this sounds out of character for a minister to say, but when we walk into a bank, we see guards guarding our money; how much more precious are our children?" said Porter, who has two grown children and one 10-year-old. "I think we really need to begin a serious dialogue in this country."

Porter believes that schools represent the "soft underbelly" of a nation's psyche. He believes that terrorists and madmen see violence against children as an opportunity to inflict the maximum psychological damage.

In some cities he has visited in Israel, teachers now have weapons training and have concealed weapons, and children feel safe only if they see armed guards nearby, he said.

Porter admits that from a purely statistical point of view, a person is more likely to be struck by lightning than experience a school shooting.

"It's sort of a risk assessment," Porter explained. "What I am looking at is the incredible trauma on our nation's psyche that this would cause-the vulnerability."

He added: "Nuclear bombs have never gone off in American cities, but if one does, it has the potential for destroying the economy."

Porter doesn't believe metal detectors or similar devices help. He cites the Red Lakes incident on a Native American reservation in Minnesota where a student gunman set off metal detectors and was ordered by an unarmed security guard to stop, to no avail. He killed nine people before killing himself.

When Porter visited schools in Germany after Columbine on a mission with Columbine survivors and parents to discuss nonviolence and preventive measures, he received a cool reception at one school. An official there reminded them that his community had gun control and school shootings would never happen.

Then, in 2002, 19-year-old Robert Steinhäuser stormed a school in Erfurt, Germany, killing 13 teachers, two students and a police officer before killing himself. Porter returned to Germany with Columbine students to help with the healing process.

For Porter, it was heartening to see the Bailey community pull together after the recent school shooting, he said, as did the Amish community during their grief. He quotes the value of forgiveness, saying bitterness is like poison in the heart. He cites the value of ongoing counseling for students and adults who may still need it in the coming weeks and months.

He has even contributed stories in the past along with his wife, Claudia, to one of the "Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul" book series.

Yet, while he waits for "new management" from the man upstairs, Porter struggles to accept the passive views of others regarding the need to protect children in schools based on the atrocities he has personally witnessed.

"That's our choice," he said. "We can leave (our children) defenseless and die at the hand of a madman or, let the madman meet a credible deterrent."


























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