It 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.
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
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.
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,
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
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
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.
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."