The peaceful routine of fall days was shattered yesterday morning as a gunman opened fire in a classroom at Umpqua Community College, just north of Roseburg OR. In just under ten minutes there were ten dead including the gunman, seven injured by gunfire and hundreds and thousands stricken with grief, anger, and fear.
We who live here have read about these type of incidents in other parts of the country and the world. But those events do not happen here. Until now. The chaotic scene at UCC, Mercy Hospital, and the Douglas County Fairgrounds, where students, staff, and faculty were bussed to be reunited with their family and friends, demonstrate just how real this event was.
Multiple press conferences, hours of media speculation, and a statement by the President of the Unites States continued to hammer home the reality of the horrific act of a lone gunman, who was shot and killed in an exchange of gunfire with police.
Yesterday afternoon multiple pastors, chaplains, and licensed counselors from every imaginable agency gathered at the Fairgrounds to offer counseling and support. Community agencies and businesses stepped in and provided food, water, and other snacks. The Red Cross responded with a significant amount of their own volunteers and other resources.
As I sought to assist families and others affected by the shooting (which truly impacts every resident of Douglas County) I was reminded that words are never enough. Watching families wait for the agonizing minutes and hours as the busses rolled in from the campus was heartbreaking. Even more painful was to meet with families whose students were not on the bus, but presumed victims of the gunman. Words were not enough.
When words are not enough even prayer can be hard. After all we use words when we pray. When words are not enough the presence of the Holy Spirit making Jesus Christ real and tangible in ways words cannot express is the only gift I can bring.
Many have asked what they can do to help and support the community in the aftermath of this horrific event. My answer: prayer. Pray that those pastors whose church families lost loved ones, pray for the church families that are ministering to those who are still hospitalized, pray for the administration, faculty, staff, and students of UCC. Classes are slated to resume Monday, Oct. 5. Many who were present are fearful of returning to the site of the tragedy. Many parents and school age children throughout Douglas County are afraid. Schools are often thought of as the safest place in the community. As this incident reminds us safety is a hard thing to guarantee. Pray for our law enforcement officials and first responders. Most of them have never experienced anything like this event and are struggling to process their own feelings. Finally, pray for God’s Spirit to be poured out in Douglas County as believers and churches seek to communicate hope in the midst of hopelessness, courage in the face of fear, and strength in the midst of weakness.