Dear Edwards Church Community,
On Sunday April 22nd two cruel events collided. The cruelty of one is obvious: Travis Reinking, a man with a history of criminal acts and mental illness, reportedly used an AR-15 assault rifle to kill four young people and wound four others at a Waffle House in Nashville. The second event was cruel only by coincidence: the NY Times ran a story headlined “The Mass-Shooting Survivor Network” by Rick Paulus. (Link here.)
I could be upset by the existence of a network of mass-shooting survivors, were it not for the comfort, support and healing provided by a community of mutual care. The mere facts that such a community is needed and that the need continues to grow distress and anger me. But the human capacity for empathy and reaching out to help heal each other is, in the end, stronger. Or it better be, if we are to survive and thrive.
In 2008, after a shooting at Northern Illinois University, students from Virginia Tech waited a few days before making contact with survivors in Illinois. They knew from their experience the year before to let the initial shock and media frenzy fade. Their counterparts in Illinois were grateful. “[H]earing about a different shooting from their perspective helped. It was like, ‘Tell me how the next year is going to be, what am I going to be dealing with?’” said one survivor. And then a contingent from Illinois, weeks after experiencing their attack, traveled to Virginia for a memorial on the one year anniversary of that shooting.
There are numerous groups with different focuses, but a common purpose – to connect survivors of mass shootings, so they can help each other. The largest grew out of a group of Columbine high school survivors, who reached out to their neighbors 20 miles away in Aurora, CO when a midnight movie theater shooting happened there.
The chief of police in Aurora at the time, Dan Oates, was a law school classmate of mine. Dan was a patrol sergeant in the NYPD during law school, and we bonded in night classes. His family wanted him off the street, but he never took to the office work available in a big city police department. We fell out of touch over the years, but I can imagine the move to Colorado was in part to use all of his experience and education in ways that suited him and his family. Because I knew Dan as a person and knew enough of his stories from the street, I grieved for him when the Aurora shooting happened.
In February of this year, survivors from Virginia Tech (2007) and Columbine (2000) travelled to attend the ten year anniversary memorial of the Northern Illinois University shooting. While they gathered, their phones lit up with news alerts about the shooting in Parkland, FL. Just as they tried to compose themselves for a difficult memorial, the need kept growing to care for more survivors, and it will until we do something to reverse the trend.
May God help us find the way,