Clergy respond after shooting

Red Lion townspeople are spiritually standing together in the face of emotional pain.

BY SUSAN KIM | RED LION, Penn. | April 28, 2003


Red Lion townspeople are spiritually standing together in the face of emotional pain. Funerals were held today for the school principal and student killed last week when a 14-year-old junior high student fatally shot his principal then himself.

People poured into the streets at both memorial services, many of them still asking themselves and each other "why?"

The teen opened fire in the cafeteria, where hundreds of students were gathered, just before school began Thursday.

It's the only junior high school in this town of 6,500 people, and that means the pain "will hit every family in the community," said Stan Hankins of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA).

PDA is sending a team of two pastoral care specialists to Red Lion, where they will work with area pastors who began responding immediately after hearing about the incident.

The Rev. David Tietje, a United Church of Christ pastor in Red Lion, said local pastors went to the school just after the shooting occurred. "Several clergy were at the school that morning just offering a peaceful presence as parents picked up their children from school," he said.

Clergy also were ministering to school staff as they were told their principal, Dr. Gene Segro, had died.

Friday evening one day after the shooting the community held an ecumenical prayer vigil. Some 700 people attended.

As television news covered the service, "the impact was like a stone thrown into a pond," said Tietje, whose church offered an additional healing service.

And as townspeople reached out to each other, Tietje reached across the country, phoning a pastor in Littleton, Colorado, who had responded to the school shooting at Columbine High School, America's deadliest school gun rampage ever.

That pastor told him about PDA's trauma specialists, who had responded in Colorado. Tietje will meet with the team tomorrow.

"I'm glad he told me about them. I wouldn't have thought to call for something like that," said Tietje.

The timing is perfect, said Tietje, since the town's elementary and high school students return to school tomorrow, and junior high students will go back Wednesday.

"What we'll offer is a modified critical incident stress debriefing for area pastors," said Hankins, who added that the team will evaluate whether follow-up visits would be needed.

The PDA team will also offer training for pastors on what to expect at various points of the long-term response "for instance, on an anniversary of the shooting," explained Hankins.


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