7 Minutes of Terror

 

Written by Louise Tucker Jones in the May 2008 Issue

What part of your daily routine takes only seven minutes? Is it your morning shower? Breakfast at home? A quick stop at Starbucks? Seven minutes sounds short-quick-fast, but sometimes it can feel like an eternity.

On April 20, 1999, sixteen-year-old Crystal Woodman Miller spent seven minutes of terror, crouched under a library table at Columbine High School with her friends, Seth and Sara, while crazed killers taunted then murdered 10 people in cold blood. Three more students were killed in other areas of the school.

The horrific event began when a teacher ran into the library where Crystal and her friends were studying and said there were two boys with guns and bombs. Suddenly, they heard loud explosions and popping sounds in the hall and realized it was too late to run or to hide.

As they took shelter under a table, Seth told Sara and Crystal to start praying, stating that God was the only one who could get them out.

“I really didn’t know how to pray or what to think,” said Crystal, “but I prayed that God would send protection through the police and that it would be over quickly.”

As the boys entered the library, Seth pulled Crystal closer, shielding her body with his and said, “I promise that I will take a bullet for you, Crystal.”

“It was at that moment that I knew I was faced with the most important decision of my life,” said Crystal. With the realization that her life was in jeopardy, she began to pray earnestly.

“I said, ‘God, if you are real, if you are who people say you are, then get me out of here alive. My life is yours forever … please give me a second chance.’”

At that moment the boys entered the room and began systematically choosing their targets—going from table to table—mocking, jeering, and making fun of each person before shooting them. Crystal could hear the gunshots, along with explosions and blaring fire alarms from the smoke.

Suddenly, she felt a chair pushed into her shoulder and realized the killers were standing above them. “I could hear them talking, their voices so hauntingly evil,” she said. “They were actually excited at doing this.”

After killing a young man at the table next to her because he wore glasses, the shooting suddenly ceased. The gunmen had run out of ammunition and went to the hall to reload.

It was during that small timeframe that students made their escape with Seth dragging Crystal from under the table, pulling her along as she stepped over bodies and glass to make her way across the room to an exit. Outside, her emotions gave way to wrenching sobs as the shock of the incident began to penetrate and her whole body went physically numb.


At sixteen years old, Crystal’s life had changed forever. For years, she would be plagued by fear, sadness and constant nightmares. She wondered if she would ever feel safe again or if her emotions would ever heal. Strangely, she found that speaking publicly about the event was cathartic for her and she received numerous invitations to tell her story.

But it was more than her experience at Columbine that Crystal began to share. She also shared about her newfound hope and faith in Jesus Christ, living out the prayer she prayed under that library table when she gave her life fully to God. She now shares that hope with people all over the world.

“I want my life to be about something,” said Crystal. “I came face to face with death and I saw that all the things I had been living for and all the things I thought were important in this world were not and I wanted to do something with my life.”

She especially wants to reach young people and speaks at hundreds of schools through “The 180 Tour,” a character-building school assembly program which promotes nonviolence and challenges students to make a difference in the world through character and decision-making.

“It all starts by the way you treat others,” said Crystal. “I ask them, ‘Who do you want to be? How do you want people to remember you? What’s your legacy that you want to leave behind?’” She reminds the students that what they say or do and the way they treat others will have a huge impact on who they become.

Since Columbine, Crystal has been interviewed on major news programs such as Good Morning America, CNN, The Today Show, Larry King and more. She has traveled extensively to places such as Kosovo, Macedonia, London, Switzerland, Russia, Germany, Indonesia, Africa, and others, sharing her message of hope.

From 1999 to 2004 she traveled with Samaritan’s Purse, an organization founded by Franklin Graham, where Crystal ministered to young victims of war, poverty and disaster. As their national spokesperson for nearly two years, she lived in Honduras, Mozambique and El Salvador for three months each, doing relief work in each country.

Her heart was touched by the tragedies suffered in these countries. “There is something about tragedy that binds your hearts,” said Crystal, stating that others have gone through experiences even more devastating than what she went through at Columbine.

“I never would have imagined that the worst thing that ever happened to me could truly be turned around to something positive and good,” said Crystal. “For the longest time I felt my life was marked by tragedy, suffering, pain and fear… then I realized I can be marked for life by hope and purpose. It’s a choice in life and we can choose things that make us better people.”

Crystal now lives in Edmond with her husband, Pete Miller. Her book, Marked for Life, can be purchased at Barnes and Noble and Mardel, or online at Amazon.com. To contact Crystal or learn more about her ministry and The 180 Tour, visit her web site at www.crystalmiller.org.

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