CBN.com On December 1, 1997, a 14-year-old gunman opened fire on a group of praying students at Heath High School in Paducah, Kentucky. Fourteen-year-old Brooklyn Watson stood in shock, as her fellow students fell to the ground. Now 11 years later, she shares with us how that fateful day lead her to find peace and forgive the shooter.
This is Brooklyn, in her own words.
There were about 30 students or so who every morning would gather in our school lobby and they would meet and just pray.
One day, just like any other day, we gathered in the lobby in a circle and we shared praises and requests, and we took hands and bowed our heads and began to pray.
I said amen and I heard this loud noise and my friend Nicole, who I was just standing next to holding hands with in the group, began to fall to the ground. I looked up and I found myself staring down the barrel of a .22 caliber. I stood five feet away from the gunman, in shock the entire time, as he opened fire on our group.
When the gunman put the gun down, I turned around, only to find my friends and peers who just seconds before were praying lying in the floor in pools of blood. Three girls were murdered that day and five others were wounded.
A few days following the shooting, I found myself home alone, and all these emotions of hurt and pain and anger just began to well up inside of me. And I asked God why. God, why? We were praying to You. What did we do to deserve this? All my life I had heard about this all knowing, all powerful, mighty, loving, caring God, and all of the sudden it just didn’t make sense to me and doubt set in.
I remember crying out to God and saying, You know what, God? If You’re real, if You’re really out there, then You’re going to have prove yourself to me because I’m not so sure I believe anymore.
A few weeks after the shooting, my friends and I were asked to go and speak at a youth rally. All of my friends already thought that I was a Christian. I mean, I went to church and I went to prayer group and they invited me to go speak at a youth rally.
After the conference was over with, we were invited to go to dinner and a concert. And I just remember going to the concert and this presence of peace and humility that I experienced and I had just never felt before.
And it was just like God reached down and wrapped His arms around me. He whispered in my ear, Brooklyn, I know you’re hurting because I’m hurting with You. And I know this is hard, but you don’t have to do this on your own. I’m right here reaching out to you. Take My hand and let’s walk through this together, and when you can’t walk, I’ll carry you.
It was like a light bulb went off in my head and I just got it. I realized that it was about a relationship. And that night I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and began my walk with Him.
I wish that I could say that it’s been an easy road, but it hasn’t. And in all honesty, God has carried me through most of it. There’s been a lot of healing and tears shed.
It literally took me years of walking through anger and hatred toward the gunman to come to a place where I said, God, I know this is not what You want from me. I know that You don’t want me to have this hate in my heart. You’re going to have to change my heart. God, change my heart and help me to learn to forgive this young man.
God slowly softened my heart, and a year later woke me up in the middle of the night and just gave me this peace and this gift of forgiveness.
Through God’s grace I had an opportunity to write the gunman and share with him that God had given me the gift of forgiveness and I actually got to witness to him. A few months later, I got a letter back from him. And when I opened it up, the very first thing that I saw in red was “your brother in Christ." And then I went on to read the letter, and he shared with me that since the shooting and being thrown in and out of prison cells, he’d actually come into a relationship with the Lord as well.
Something that I experienced that was so tragic and so devastating and to look at my life 10 years later and know that not only did the gunman who committed this act come into a relationship with Christ, but now there are people all over the world who are hearing this same story and coming to know the Lord.
I’ve been so blessed, and I currently have the incredible opportunity to walk life with some of the coolest teenagers and I also get to travel the world and talk and share the story that God has given me and talk to students and young people about the decisions they make.
I think about the letter I received from the gunman and how when I opened it. It said, “Your brother in Christ,” and that just gives me so much hope in knowing that anybody, no matter what you’ve done, what your past has been, Christ will still be your Savior.
A caring friend will be there to pray with you in your time of need.