Churches weep and minister after school shooting

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Florida residents are reeling along with the nation after a gunman opened fire at a Parkland high school yesterday, Feb. 14, leaving 17 dead and 14 injured.

Authorities reported that a former student, Nicholas Cruz, opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School just as classes were ending Wednesday afternoon.

It was the country’s deadliest school shooting since a gunman attacked students and teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012.

Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder in the deaths of students and staff at the high school.

“Pray for the students, staff, and families affected by the shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school today,” Franklin Graham posted on Facebook shortly after the attack. “Also lift up law enforcement and first responders in your prayers.”

While law enforcement and state officials issued calls to prayer at press conferences, churches in the area of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are mourning their own losses while offering words of hope and help to those hurting in their community.

The main campus of Church by the Glades is located less than 10 minutes from the school; lead pastor David Hughes said many of the students in the church attend Douglas High.

Hughes held back sobs as he explained that a few families in his church had suffered a fatality and one family has a son who is “gravely injured.” They are still in the process of accounting for all their members connected to the school.

At times like this, Hughes said, people often wrestle with the reasons for the tragedy but that’s not the most important question to be answering.

“What now?” he said is the better question. And “Who wins?”

“Do we let fear and cruelty, violence and hatred win,” Hughes asked, “or do we continue to fight against the darkness and continue to bring the message of hope and light that comes through Jesus Christ?”

‘We care’
Eddie Bevill is pastor of Parkridge Church in Coral Springs, just blocks from where the gunman was taken into custody. He said many Douglas High School employees and students are members of his church family and are still grappling with yesterday’s tragedy. As far as he knew at press time, Bevill said all the members of his church have been accounted for.

“From within our church there is great sadness and a sense of loss,” he said.

Bevill recounted a conversation with a leader in his church who was friends with Aaron Feis, the assistant football coach who is said to have lost his life while shielding students from the bullets with his body and was the first victim to be publicly identified. The man said when they were students themselves, he and Feis had watched together as the events at Columbine High School unfolded on TV in 1999, both of them weeping over the senselessness of it.

Parkridge Church met at Douglas High School for the first seven years of its existence and Bevill said the church has enjoyed a good relationship with the school ever since. They stand ready to help the school and the community through the grieving process, the pastor said.

Part of that was a prayer vigil the church hosted on its property earlier today organized by Church United, a cross-denominational evangelical group. Thousands, including Florida Gov. Rick Scott, turned out to pray for healing and protection and to seek solace and support with grieving neighbors. Many on the platform read Scripture to the crowd in English, Spanish and French and pointed toward “the God of angel armies” as our ultimate source of strength.

“What we’re trying to say to our county is that Christians care because Christ cares,” Bevill said. “We want to be a present help in times of trouble.”

It’s also a time for prayer.

“Once you’re off the front page. it goes out of people’s minds unless you live in that community,” he said, “but we will need to continue to be lifted up in the weeks and months to come.”

— by Nicole Kalil | BP

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