Columbine memorial ceremony shines a light on community strength: a 'senseless tragedy indelibly imprinted in our minds'

As the small suburban town of Littleton, Colo., gathered on Saturday to honor the 20-year anniversary of the notorious massacre at Columbine High, the message community leaders shared was one of remembrance, reflection, and ultimately forgiveness.

Ron Mitchell, principal at Columbine from 1986 to 1996, said he still struggles with what happened, adding that he never imagined that such a tragedy could take place at any school, no less his own.

“In some ways it is hard to believe that it's been 20 years and in other ways it feels like the senseless tragedy and loss of life occurred yesterday, as it is indelibly imprinted in our minds and hearts.”

Crosses with the names of the victims of the massacre at Columbine High School nearly 20 years ago stand along a picnic site in the park before a vigil at the memorial Friday, April 19, 2019, in Littleton, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Crosses with the names of the victims of the massacre at Columbine High School nearly 20 years ago stand along a picnic site in the park before a vigil at the memorial Friday, April 19, 2019, in Littleton, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Local Pastor James Hoxworth urged those in attendance not to forget the shooting, in which two students gunned down 13 people -- 12 students and a teacher -- and injured many more before killing themselves. He also urged the people on hand to reflect on the “good that has come out of so much pain”

“This community has refused to allow the tragedy to define us, and how this community has responded to tragedy is how we are defined,” Hoxworth said.

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“All of a sudden, life comes into crystal-clear focus and we reflect; the things that we thought we valued seemed to pale in comparison to what we truly value in this life.”

Scott Christy, the current principal, was presented with a 17th-century tea bowl by Japanese artist Makoto Fujimura. The bowl was broken once and repaired with gold, giving it the name “‘The River of Gold.”

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Fujimura said the change that came from the repair made the bowl “more beautiful” and “more valuable,” making it a fitting symbol of all that has emerged from that shooting back in 1999.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.