What I Learned from a Mass Shooting at My Church

On July 27 of 2008, a lone gunman entered the sanctuary of the church my family and I usually attended. He was carrying a shotgun with the barrel cut off, hidden in a guitar case, and managed to get three shots out before five fathers and grandfathers in the congregation submitted him and took the weapon away from him.

Miracles Happen

The day of the shooting I had irrefutable proof that miracles do happen.

On the weeks and months following the shooting there were multiple mentions of the phrase “line of fire.” I didn’t understand what it meant in the beginning, thinking that it referred to the people closest to the shooter. What it actually meant was the fan like pattern that the pellets in the shotgun followed in their trajectory, including their reach to the exit door at the back of the sanctuary.

That morning there was no regular service, but a children’s play – the culmination of a summer camp that had been held at the church. All the children, who on any other day would have been at the opposite wing of the building in the religious education area, were in the sanctuary, yet not a single child was physically hurt.

There were plenty of children in the “line of fire.” Some were sitting on the laps or right next to a parent who was injured, yet not a single pellet reached a child. What are the chances of that?

Miracles happen.

The Meaning of Aftermath

You always hear on the news, after a terrible tragedy is mentioned, the words “and its aftermath.” I never really understood what these words meant until this tragedy hit so close to home.

I never knew that the events of one day – mind you, the shooting took less than a minute – could create so far reaching effects. Several people whose health was already compromised, especially the elderly, left their bodies as if in a domino effect in the next few weeks after the event. I remember a friend mentioned how his heart sank when he had to dress up for yet another funeral – the sixth in a period of two weeks.

I saw beautiful couples, who still loved each other, divorce. People who had always been fit, inexplicably gain weight. And of course, an increased incidence of illness and surgeries.

Every so often, we hear of one more person who has become unable to work. There are pains so great we can’t event talk about them.

There is this silent anxiety lurking in the depths of our consciousness that may probably only go away when every one of the children who was there that day shows evidence of being a happy and healthy adult.

Evil People Do Exist

Before this happened, whenever I heard in the news that yet one more “nutjob” had done something crazy-evil, like a school shooting, I always assumed the people in question must be crazy themselves. Not so after the unfortunate reading of the gunman’s “suicide letter.” Here was a person with full use of his capacities, who chose to, day after day, feed his mind and heart with hatred. A person who could even explain his reasons coherently right before he set out to open fire a in a room full of children.

After that, I had to admit that some people who are in full use of their mental capacities simply choose to do evil.

It is Good to Listen to the Inner Voice

I had promised myself that I would take the children to see the play at the church that day, and that we would be, not only on time, but early.

However, that morning things didn’t go as planned. My husband was running late and told me to go ahead with the kids and he would meet us there later. When I was picking up the boys’ lunchbox that he had prepared, I heard this soft, gentle, loving voice that said, “It is more important to be together as a family, than to be on time.”

I listened. We arrived at the parking lot of the church exactly three minutes after the shooting, right after the first police car.

Pay attention to the inner voice.

Bad Memories Can Be Overwritten

The gunman carried his shotgun hidden in a guitar case. It is natural that from then on the sight of a guitar case, or even a guitar, could bring up fear and other negative emotions, especially among the children in the congregation.

A special service was designed to reclaim the guitar case and the guitar as instruments of creation and not of destruction. At the end, the minister walked down the hallway where the shooter set up, playing the guitar and singing with the children.

That day I learned that bad memories are recordings in a cassette tape, that can be overwritten by simply recording a better memory on top of that one – no need to erase first.

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