Throughout the years I’ve often wondered what John was thinking or feeling that day in the library. At Leawood Elementary School they told my parents that most of the killing was done in the library.My mom knew that John went to the library to work on his homework during lunch because he had an after school job at Arapahoe Acres Nursery.
There he had been working since he was fourteen years old, loading plants and bird baths and an assortment of landscaping items into people’s cars for them. He would also speed around on the golf carts, we would later find out from some of his friends. My parents said we would all have to pay for our own cars, so John got a job as soon as he was able to. It wasn’t long before he paid for a beat up old Chevy pick-up truck, that was always breaking down. Michelle, his girlfriend, once told him it was a piece of junk and he got upset. It’s like when someone calls your sibling a name, you can call them that, but no one else can, right?. John could call it a piece of junk, and did, but no one else could. The fact is, he worked hard for that truck, so to him it was gold.
So, on April 20th, John went to the library during lunch. I’ve read police reports and listened to the substitute librarian’s 911 call but the main person that knows what happened to my brother is Nicole. I’ll let her tell her story in her own words. She wrote this article for a teen magazine thirteen years ago.
It was a typical day in April. I was a Sophomore at the time, only 16, and didn’t have very many friends. I had just transferred to Columbine only six weeks earlier and hadn’t had the chance to know many people yet. I was also the quiet, shy type too. In minding my own business on my lunch break, I went to the library to do homework.
I had only been there for a few minutes when I heard someone running down the hall. A teacher then came in to dial 911 and yelled at us to get under the tables. All the while I didn’t believe this was real. This can’t be happening. Not here. Not this school.
While the teacher was on the phone, someone pulled the fire alarm. A few moments later, one of the gunmen walked by a window. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. A boy wearing black and carrying a gun. All of a sudden a voice told me You are not safe under this table. You need to go hide somewhere else. But where would I go? A boy was next to me at another table and I asked him if I could join him. He said yes.
Once I crawled over to him, we pulled the chairs in around us. I was hiding under the table with him when they walked in. My back was to the door and most of the room. In fear of turning around and what I might see, I watched his face to see where the gunmen were walking.
They walked up to a table next to us, and fired. One of the gunman said “God—do you believe in God??” I never heard someone answer and I hoped they were ok. (I later found out this girl was ok, but had been injured.) Then the gunman walked over to where we were hiding, and fired under the table. I moved away, but the boy I was with came out from under the table. They walked back over and shot him again. I then knew he was dead. They then walked back over to me and asked me if I was still breathing. The same voice that told me to hide somewhere else, also told me to lay down and play dead. In doing that, I blacked out.
When I woke up, I realized that I had blood on my hands. I pulled on the bottom of my shirt so I could see it. There at the bottom of the shirt were bullet holes. I had been shot, but felt no pain. I heard some people getting up at a table near me, and I made a daring move to follow them out a back door to safety.
When we got out the back door, there was a cop car in the grass. They took us farther away from the building to a mini hospital area they call triage. There I waited for an ambulance. While I was waiting, a boy sat with me that I didn’t even know. He was worried about some friends of his and I felt bad for him. In a way I was helping though. I brought him comfort and assurance that they were probably ok, and I was the one out of the two of us that was hurt the worst!
They took me to the hospital where we found out exactly what happened to me. I had taken one gunshot through the stomach from the right side to the left side. Nine pieces of buckshot went through me. (Five are still in me today.) It is a medical miracle that I survived. I spent one day in the hospital and that summer recovering. I went back that following August to school and eventually graduated in 2001. I also found out that the boy I was hiding with, his name was John Tomlin. John was considered a Christian in our school by many and was a great witnessing example to others.
Nicole also told us that John was holding her hand and calming her down. She said he was completely at peace and calm. Nicole doesn’t know why he came out from under the table. Was he trying to get the shooters? Trying to get away? We will never know. There is no doubt in my mind though, that God gave John peace in the midst of those confusing chaotic events. I also want to share the best part of Nicole’s story here:
Now let me tell you another part of the story you haven’t heard on television. The redeeming power of God through such a horrible tragedy, for me personally. I was not saved at the time. I went through depression, anger, guilt and even hatred toward God for putting me through this. But God showed up loud and clear at a one-year memorial service that Darrell Scott, father of Rachel Scott, put on. I remember clearly that day.
Michael W. Smith showed up to sing the song he wrote about Cassie Bernall entitled “This Is Your Time.” I was going to tune Michael out, when a voice, LOUD and CLEAR (just like that day in the school) told me to listen to the lyrics and what that man had to say. I thought I was losing my mind, so decided to give the guy a chance. That song changed my life. I found myself thinking about John in the song, instead of Cassie, and I forgave myself for John’s death! It was not my fault, and it never was!
A few weeks later I was on the internet talking to someone one night. She lived in St. Louis, I lived in Denver. She was a fan of Michael and that was how we met. We ended up saying the salvation prayer one night for she helped me realize that God KNEW I was going to go through that day. His Son died on the cross for me and bore the pain I never felt!
God has taken control of my life since then. I moved to Nashville after graduation, and that girl on the internet is one of my best friends and lives in Nashville too!! If I can leave with any parting thought it is this: Seize every opportunity in life to do things. Do not let an ill word be the last word to someone. Take time to reach out to others-the lonely, sick, depressed and people who don’t have many friends. I always wonder what would have happened if someone had befriended me in the beginning. All it takes is an act of kindness and love and we can make the world a better place.