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MD children speak up

BY SUSAN KIM | BOWIE, MD | October 9, 2002


"We come to God this night and pray for our children, and for our children's children, and our neighbor's children, that they be not afraid, that they be able to sleep well, trusting in the goodness that is surrounding them in this place."

—Rev. Heather Howland Bobbitt


"I pray that the bad guy gets caught." This simple prayer uttered aloud by a child at an interfaith service in Bowie, Md. brought tears to the eyes of dozens of congregants gathered Tuesday night.

Children, parents, grandparents, teachers and law enforcement officials sat side by side at the Christian Community Presbyterian Church in the suburb northeast of Washington, D.C. where a 13-year-old boy Monday became the eighth person shot by a yet-to-be-caught sniper.

Bowie residents gathered to pray for the children -- and, in turn, to listen to their children pray.

"I hope the bad guy gets caught before he can commit any more murders," said a young boy.

"I pray that our schools are safe," added a girl.

For worried parents and grandparents, the service provided a safe haven to gather and simply hug or lend a listening ear.

"My granddaughter was afraid to walk the 300 yards from the bus stop to my house," said Doris Kobe, who escorted her 11-year-old granddaughter from the bus stop Tuesday.

Another grandmother was wondering how to talk about the sniper shootings with her grandson. "After 9/11, my grandson said, 'All those people that died, they were standing still, weren't they?'

"And I said, 'Yes, I think they were.'

"He said, 'Well, I'm a fast runner so they're not going to get me.'

"Now I don't know what to tell him this time around," said the grandmother.

The Rev. Heather Howland Bobbitt, interim pastor at the church, said she felt the community needed to gather to pray for the children. "We come to God this night and pray for our children, and for our children's children, and our neighbor's children, that they be not afraid, that they be able to sleep well, trusting in the goodness that is surrounding them in this place."

Part of coping with fear, Bobbitt said, is being courageous enough to still care for each other in the face of danger. "We might be more courageous people and take more risks in reaching out to one another and protecting each other's children."

One parishioner prayed aloud for the perpetrator: "God, step into the heart of that person that is so angry and despondent and unfeeling. Open his heart."

Other prayers were lifted up for the medical teams caring for the wounded victims.

"We also ask a blessing upon all police, detectives, forensic teams. Lord, protect them from all darkness. Open their eyes in the best way that they might swiftly find this person," Bobbitt prayed.

"The community - teachers, students, parents, families, everyone - has been rocked so hard by this."

While everyone is anxious about the sniper attacks, children -- particularly adolescents -- could be hit the hardest by anxiety and fear, said Kathy Kohl, a pastoral counselor with the ecumenical Pastoral Counseling and Care Ministries. "Children need to have places where they can talk about this, the adolescents especially."

Age-appropriate discussion groups could be held in local churches, she suggested.

Kohhl said she frequents the Shoppers Food Warehouse in Wheaton, Md. where a 55-year-old man was the first person shot by the sniper.

"I grocery shop there. I live in that area. I frequent the places where the murders happened so I don't know how to wrap my mind around it myself."

Local churches could offer a safe haven for anxious people in communities, especially young people, agreed the Rev. David Carter-Rimbach, pastor at the Linden Linthicum United Methodist Church in Clarksville, Md.

"Churches could provide a place for kids to come after school. We have a lot of kids walk past on their way to school, too."

The Bowie boy, walking with his aunt toward Benjamin Tasker Middle School, was wounded by a single gunshot to the chest. He underwent several hours of surgery at Children's Hospital and was in critical but stable condition Tuesday.

The shooting happened before classes started so there were no eyewitnesses, though several people reportedly heard the gunshot.

Like many residents in the area, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose appeared to be emotionally taxed Monday as news of the school shooting surfaced, and at one point had tears streaming down his face.

"All of our victims have been innocent and defenseless, but now we're stepping over the line," he said. "Shooting a kid -- it's getting to be really, really personal now."

One teacher, Mary Jennings, who has lived in Bowie for 10 years said she believes that, because the community churches work closely together, people are able to better weather this crisis.

"This shooting isn't something from Bowie. It happened to Bowie," said Jennings. "And this faith-based community was in place long before this event and long before 9/11."

Jennings, who has two children of her own, regularly attends St. Matthew's United Methodist Church, just down the street from Christian Community Presbyterian Church.

"Because our churches work together, parents have worked together to provide wonderful support and values that were already instilled before this happened. If we didn't already have those values and a foundation in the church, this would be even more terrifying for the children."


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More links on Public Violence

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