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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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After stopping shooter, teacher has two wishes

Mark Johnson may surprise people with his pensive wish. Someday the teacher at Rocori High School, Cold Spring, Minn., would like to talk to the teenager who brought a gun to school and took the lives of two students.

Johnson knows what he will say: "I want to thank him for putting the gun down, and he needs to hear it from me."

The morning of Sept. 24, Johnson sat on the bleachers preparing for his next physical education class. Startled by the sound of a gunshot, he looked up to see a student holding a gun in front of him. Instinctively, he reacted with a shout--"No!"--and the 15-year-old dropped the gun to his side.

"A few seconds and it was over," Johnson said. But the recovery will be long. Counselors are still available to students and teachers. And Johnson has witnessed students reaching out to each other.

His classroom looks the same on the surface, but the 27-year teacher knows it has changed--and so has he. "I've always had fun in my classes and with my students," he said. "I relate well to a variety of personalities. But I think I look at them differently now, more observant, more caring."

Johnson says he has received words of kindness, thanks and support from across the country. He finds strength at Resurrection Lutheran Church, St. Joseph, Minn. "I've been amazed by and thankful for the support of my congregation, the prayers, the warmth," he said.

But questions remain. Could the shooting have been prevented? How will the three small communities of the school district--Rockville, Cold Spring and Richmond--be affected in the future? Why are two students' earthly lives ended with another facing a lifetime of prison? Johnson asks these questions knowing that no answers may be uncovered but with another hope-filled wish: "We live to forgive."


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