MD shooting prompts faith response

Seeking answers, residents gathered for prayers while counseling resources offered to local residents

BY JIM SKILLINGTON | March 22, 2018

As community residents heard of a shooting at Great Mills High School in Southern Maryland Tuesday morning, local churches began opening their doors for prayer and meditation.

A 17-year-old student used his father's handgun to critically wound a 16-year-old former girlfriend just before classes began at the school. Another student who was in the hallway at the time was wounded. An armed school resource officer, shot the shooter who subsequently died at a nearby hospital.

By mid-afternoon, several churches were hosting prayers and discussion. Dozens of other churches held prayer vigils Tuesday night.

Lexington Park United Methodist Church invited youth of the community to gather at the church Tuesday afternoon. "We know that you (and many of us) are maybe trying to sort out feelings, emotions, questions, you-name-it!" the church pastors wrote in an email. “(This is) just a time to be together, support each other, maybe talk, maybe listen, maybe let off some steam.”

About 50 people met at Cornerstone Presbyterian (PCA) Church. “There are a lot of people who are hurting and there are a lot of people who are looking for answers,” Walt Nilsson, Cornerstone's senior pastor, said.

“You see these incidents on the news all the time nowadays, unfortunately. And this time, it just hit a little too close to home,” Kristin Ashby, a church member,told WJLA-TV.

"The power of prayer, it’s effective," another church member, Esrael Seyum told the station's reporter. "It’s the most immediate thing you can do while you try to figure out long term solutions."

Baltimore-Washington Conference Bishop LaTrelle Easterling issued a statement within hours of the shooting, calling all United Methodists to respond with prayer. “Our prayers are tinged with grief, sadness, anger, and helplessness,” the bishop said. “And yet, we know prayer is the most powerful action we can take at this time, trusting that God will be present in the lives of all those who have been affected by this violence.”

The Rev. Laurie Gates-Ward, pastor of Good Shepherd UMC in Waldorf said her 12-year old son got off the bus from school Tuesday and immediately mentioned the shooting, she said he told her that he was really scared. “This is too close to home,” her son said. “Why doesn’t anyone make this stop?”

“We are being sent into the world anointed to be the hands and feet of Jesus to make this stop,” Gates-Ward said at a prayer vigil that night.

An interfaith prayer service at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lexington Park invited its participants to write on a "prayer wall." According to the Associated Press, one message read: "Lord, help the parents of the shooter to find hope and peace in you." Another said, "Please choose love."

Writing on the high school's Website, Jake Heibel, the school's principal wrote, "Words cannot express the sadness and grief that our school community is feeling right now. I know that we are shaken and scared ... and will struggle for sometime trying to make sense of it all. I do not know exactly how but we will find a way to overcome this tragedy. Now more than ever we need to stand together as a school community to love, cherish, and support one another."

The school plans to reopen April 2, following an already planned Spring Break. Counseling services were being offered at a number of locations around the community. The St. Mary's County Health Department also provided a list of counseling and trauma resources.

Information about United Methodist Church response was provided in an article posted on the Baltimore-Washington Conference's Website.

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