'Broken and hurting' Santa Fe seeks hope, healing

by Diana Chandler, posted Monday, May 21, 2018 (3 months ago)

Mourners pray while lighting candles for the 10 victims of the May 18 Santa Fe High School mass murder.
ABC13 screengrab.
SANTA FE, Texas (BP) -- Associate pastor Joey Tombrella had a personal story to tell in his graduate recognition sermon days after the Santa Fe High School mass murder.

His sister Rachel Blundell, the school's principal, and her daughter, 18-year-old niece Faith, were among those seeking safety when a teenager walked into the school, killed 10 and injured another 10.

"Prom was last week, and to hear gunshots behind you as you run in a grassy field with your heart racing," Tombrella said of his niece, "it is not a surprise why this generation is being labeled the anxious generation."

Faith told her story at Tombrella's kitchen table in League City, Texas, the night before his sermon at Nassau Bay Baptist Church about 25 miles from the school. She heard the shots when they began around 7:30 a.m. May 18.

"She could see down the hallway one of her teachers, in her words, freaking out," Tombrella told Baptist Press of Faith. "As she was leaving, she could hear the gunshots going from the high school. The fire alarm possibly could have even saved my sister's life; I think she could have gone [back] inside, but the doors were looked because of the fire alarm."

Both survived the ordeal uninjured, but eight students and two teachers were killed in the attack.

Area pastors met in Santa Fe today, May 21, to plan a community-wide service of hope and healing, First Baptist Church of Alta Loma pastor John Newton told BP. A service in a community venue, perhaps the Santa Fe High School stadium, may be of particular benefit to the unchurched and unreached in the town of 12,000 people.

"We are broken and we are hurting," Newton told BP. "The wounds are very deep, they are very fresh. We are a small community. We have one high school and we know the kids. We're not a metropolitan area with large schools. We live here."

About 200 attend Alta Loma church in Santa Fe on Sundays, and attendance at all churches combined in the community would be about 2,500 on a "good Sunday," Newton said. None of the dead or wounded attend his church that draws about 35 or 50 students to Wednesday evening youth events.

"We're trying to reach out to our community to offer them some hope," Newton said. "We find people that are without Jesus a lot. It's not like we can say there's no place else to go because everybody's saved here. That's not the situation in Santa Fe."

The meeting is still being planned but might occur as early as May 23, Newton speculated. Newton cancelled his vacation to remain in town to minister.

The town is accustomed to hurricanes, he said, but not mass shootings.

"We do hurricanes. We're resilient. Neighbors help neighbors," he said. "This [shooting] is hopefully something that is a once-in-a-lifetime thing and nobody will ever have to go through that again, because it is loss of life.

"It is a loss of security, a feeling of hopelessness, and personally, as a pastor," Newton said, "I found myself not really even knowing how to feel, knowing what to do, and reaching out to some chaplains." The Billy Graham Rapid Response team is onsite, Newton said.

Southern Baptists of Texas and the Baptist General Convention of Texas chaplains are on standby to help as needed, leaders of both groups have said.

Police have arrested Dimitrios Pagourtzis as a suspect in the shooting. The 17-year-old used a shotgun, revolver and handmade explosive devices in the rampage. Some of the explosive devices were operational, police said in news reports May 20, although none of them were successfully detonated on the day of the crime.

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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