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Quilting to give comfort

A Crystal River woman finishes two memorial quilts for the people of Littleton, Colo.

[Times photo: Steve Hasel]
Kathie Baumgardner of Crystal River shows two memorial quilts she will take to Colorado this week to mark the anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings. "Quilts traditionally have been keepsakes for memories," she says. 

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 18, 2000

Nearly one year ago, the tragedy and horror that occurred with the student shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., seemed almost too cruel to comprehend.

The scars of that day, in which 12 students and one teacher were killed by two armed students who subsequently killed themselves, will likely never heal completely. But one local woman hopes that a pair of memorial quilts she helped create will offer at least some small comfort to those touched forever by the tragedy.

Crystal River resident Kathie Baumgardner spent nearly a month sewing the king-sized quilts, which were pieced together from colorful cross-stitch squares sent by hobbyists from around the world. For Baumgardner, what began as a labor of love gained a deeper meaning when she was invited to travel to Littleton this week to present the quilts for public viewing at memorial services being held there.

"It's hard to express how special this is to me," said Baumgardner. "The care, the love that you feel from being part of something like this -- it's almost overwhelming."

Baumgardner said the idea for the quilt started last May when a Missouri woman named Carla Howard began asking for cross-stitch squares for the Columbine High School Healing Quilt through an Internet hobby site. Baumgardner offered her help, and eventually took over the project when a death in Howard's family forced her to give up full-time involvement in the project.

Baumgardner had just taken a quilting class, but had no idea how complex the project would become until the cross-stitched squares began arriving at her home.

"They just kept coming in," she recalled of the meticulously crafted squares that poured in from as far away as Brazil and Australia.

Baumgardner was delighted by the care and individuality of each square. Many were created using fairly simple cross-stitch patterns, such as flowers, hearts and teddy bears. Others were more elaborate, displaying hopeful messages that came in the form of poems and Bible scriptures. Squares created by children tended to focus on happier themes, such as holidays and cartoon characters.

"There were no rules set for them," said Baumgardner. "People express their feelings in many different ways."

In mid-March, Baumgardner began arranging and sewing the squares on a deep blue-and-silver background she had picked out. Working on the quilts at home during the day, Baumgardner found it hard not toget caught up in the emotions of the project.

"I found myself thanking God often that my own children come home safely from school every day," she said. "The messages on some of the squares were so heartfelt. I knew that the people who created them felt just like I did."

Once the quilts were finished, there was the matter of taking them for display to the Trinity Christian Center in Littleton, where several of the shooting victims' funerals were held last year.

Here too, Baumgardner believes her faith lent a helping hand.

"I believed God made it possible for me to," says Baumgardner, who received donations from members of her church, as well as from several of the cross-stitch contributors.

Because school officials have decided not to hold a public memorial service at Columbine High School, Baumgardner doesn't expect the quilts will be displayed there. Instead, she hopes that a local caretaker will eventually find a permanent home for them so they may be viewed by the public.

Baumgardner says she will always treasure her involvement with the project, and feels that the quilts have helped to create a lasting gesture of community healing among it participants.

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