On the afternoon of February 14, a gunman entered a high school in Parkland, Florida. The 17 victims and their families experienced unimaginable terror, unspeakable tragedy and devastating heartbreak. That afternoon, the teachers and students of the school, the first responders who rushed to the scene, the Miami metropolitan community, and the nation were completely terrorized with fear as the national epidemic of mass shootings came home to south Florida. And there I was, miles and miles away, with feelings of complete terror, horror, helplessness and outrage. It made me realize that we are all wounded—wounded by this experience and experiences of our past. In some way or another, we are all victims of this tragedy.
As tears filled my eyes and my heart ached in pain, I couldn’t help but reflect on our ability as humans to deeply empathize. The Scriptures refer to our innate capacity to feel another person’s feelings, thoughts, or attitudes vicariously. Empathy is not only a character that God designed us to possess, but it’s something the Bible encourages. The Apostle Paul instructs us to “be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble” (1 Peter 3:8). We’re told to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).
My Moment of Terror
I thought I had blocked it from my mind. It was so long ago, yet the feelings I felt that spring morning are the same feelings I had when I heard the words “active shooter at south Florida high school.”
It was a beautiful spring morning. The dirty old piles of snow had finally melted, and the daffodils and crocus remind us that everything was being made new. I was living in a tiny first floor apartment having coffee with my now husband Bruce when a man, who had just attempted to steal a car from my neighbor, was approaching our apartment. We ran to the kitchen—the farthest point of the apartment away from the windows—and watched as he slashed our dusty screen with a screwdriver. Bruce shielded me behind him and grabbed the only thing he had to defend us: a tennis racket.
For some reason and by the grace of God, the man grew tired of slashing my screen and moved on to the next open door. The intruder climbed the stairs as we heard screams, “Someone help me!” At that moment, a young man that lived in the complex rushed the stairs to confront the intruder, who was moving toward a woman clutching a baby. As the woman fled to the balcony to get away from the man, people on the ground begged the woman to drop the child, which she reluctantly did. As crazy as it sounds, I believe throwing the baby down the balcony could have saved her life. While the first responder had the man pinned on the ground, the woman fled down the stairs to safety.
What happened after I don’t remember, but I’ll forever be marked with the terror I felt. I suspect it is the same type of terror anyone feels when threatened by someone or something.
Turning to God in Times of Terror
The truth is, we are all victims. And despite the terror, there are people who step through to save us, just as Christ saves us. Just as my neighbor stepped in, the nation is stepping into this shooting epidemic.
In these desperate times, we must revel in the truth that God has overcome the world. We must continue to pray that we will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the plaque that destroys at midday, because we have made the Lord our dwelling place—the Most High, who is our refuge (Psalm 91:5-9).
In light of recent terror, I am grateful that Kensington and the Troy Police Department have partnered to bring our communities Active Shooter Response Training on March 8. I know that I will be there, and I am encouraging everyone I know to be there, too. Together we can learn how to protect ourselves when terror meets us face-to-face. Learn more about the training and register for this free event at kensingtonchurch.org/activeshooter.
This training is through the A.L.I.C.E. Training Institute, which has educated and equipped hundreds of churches, thousands of schools, and more than one million individuals to handle crises of this nature. Learn more about the training program that teaches to proactively handle the threat of an aggressive intruder or active shooter event at alicetraining.com.
-Caryn James, Communications Director