The last time I was at a school in Marshall County, Kentucky, it was to watch one of my sons play against them in a middle school football game. That was over twenty years ago, on a beautiful autumn night. Yesterday, a fifteen-year-old student walked into the high school with a handgun and turned twisted imagination into a most perverse reality.
I cannot pretend to know what it’s like for the teenagers involved in a school shooting. I imagine it is terrifying beyond belief to have someone you thought you knew walk into your classroom, cafeteria, library, or gym and start shooting at you or your friends. Likely enough, seconds seem like eternity and sounds either flare into deafening volume or shrink into numbing deafness. The searing wounds, the screams, the panic, the blood and moans must all meld into horror itself.
For parents, relatives, friends and other loved ones, the fear triggered at the first reports must be instant agony—the not knowing, the inability to immediately find out whether your child, nephew, buddy, neighbor or church member is among the dead, one of those with life-threatening injuries, wounded, or safe but scared and scarred by the experience. How long those moments of wondering must be! For some, there will be the amazing relief of finding them still alive and healthy; for others, unspeakable pain and sorrow.
For teachers, cooks, custodians, coaches, maintenance workers, grounds keepers, office workers and administrators, the unspeakable and unimaginable has become reality. The place they tried to make safe is not, the students to whom they had dedicated their best efforts and most genuine talents have been targeted, torn and some have been taken. I have little idea how they even begin to comprehend the tragedy and its implications.
For first responders, especially in small communities, the scene must be primal in its terribleness. These bleeding and dying are not nameless strangers; these are youngsters that you know, teachers that you had, neighbors, relatives, friends. In spite of the trauma and the complete possibility that shots are still being fired, they rush in to protect, to rescue, to defend, to do whatever can be done to prevent greater harm and to try and save lives and limbs.
The small towns that once believed this could never come to them, who had watched the news of other places, now face the fact that this truly can happen anywhere. There is no place beyond the touch of anger, hatred, malice, malevolence and violence. If it can happen in Benton, Kentucky, it can happen in Winfield, Kansas.
I know this, I force its awareness upon my thinking and I also force myself to remember this: even in these places of senseless tragedy, people respond with courage and caring. People of different faiths embrace one another and others. The artificial barriers of color and code, culture and cause, pride and prejudice, all disappear for a while and help is offered, received and appreciated. People weep with one another, endure the shock together and turn toward survival and recovery, even when they doubt the possibility. In spite of their anger, rage and agony, people will seek the welfare of others.
Even as I grieve at the horror, I am moved once again by the way that we seek to do good even in the most horrible circumstances. We are indeed, both wretched and wonderful creatures, formed from dirt yet fashioned into the image of God.