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School shooting stuns OK town

BY SUSAN KIM | FORT GIBSON, OK | December 7, 1999

A shooting Monday that injured five

at a middle school in this close-knit town has sent residents into


While the injured students are being treated at local hospitals,

families and friends are gathering at local prayer vigils and for

services of comfort. The First United Methodist Church hosted an

ecumenical service of prayer and healing Monday evening.

Youth pastors from the town of 3,500 people, about 50 miles southeast

of Tulsa, are ministering to the injured youth and to their families.

A 13-year-old suspect was taken into custody Monday morning. A 9mm

handgun was recovered, according to police reports.

The shooting happened outside and possibly inside the school as

students were gathered before the start of classes. There were no

fatalities at the scene. All of the school district's 1,850 students

were sent home.

"I would have said this would happen anywhere but here," said Martha

Hinkle, a Fort Gibson resident. "But, then, everyone says that, don't


"People have been just calling the answering machines of the families

and leaving messages just to tell them they love them," she added.

"This is a small town and a close-knit town.

Faith-based organizations on a national level are also concerned

about long-term response to this incident and other school shootings

across the country.

"Clearly we would like to do more to prevent and eliminate these

tragic events," said Johnny Wray, who coordinates a Week of

Compassion giving program through the Christian Church (Disciples of


While these groups -- along with other national leaders, teachers,

parents, and young people -- ponder how to prevent the next tragedy,

David Gill, director of the Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center in

Little Rock, Ark., is shaping a national response to school shootings

-- one that could eventually make a difference for any youth involved

in school violence.

This summer, a national camp will host delegations of students from

six schools that had shootings in the past year. These students, Gill

said, will form the foundation for what will become a peer-to-peer

network that will support survivors of school violence everywhere.

"What we're doing in response is also what should be done for

prevention," said Gill. "That is, positive role modeling, providing a

spiritual foundation, forming a community. After something like this

happens, schools tend to look at their security systems. But what

about having a chaplain on campus?"

During the past year, some faith-based efforts have focused on

preventing youth violence. A videotape of a United Methodist-produced

teleconference on youth violence, entitled "Kids, Guns, Violence: How

to Make a Difference," is available by calling 1-800-251-4091. It is

accompanied by a kit that guides viewers through an on-air dialogue

among youth, parents, teachers, church leaders, university personnel,

and government agencies.

At the end of the teleconference, the panel of featured experts asks

the viewers to make a commitment toward making a difference in their


When the teleconference originally aired in May of this year,

hundreds of people nationwide participated. The 90-minute broadcast

was uplinked live from the Nashville studios of United Methodist

Communications to 600 downlink sites in 48 states plus the Bahamas.

"We witnessed an incredible grouping of persons that might not

normally come together," Shirley Strutchen, director of United

Methodist Teleconference Connection. "Hopefully all of these groups

and viewers are now setting up their own dialogue sessions."

Also available to parents and young people off the FaithHome Web site

is a set of booklets to help parents talk to young people about

violence and anger management, among other topics. "Saying nothing is

exactly the wrong thing for parents to do," said Susan Sally, new

ventures director of the United Methodist Publishing House.

In addition to practical tips on how to talk to young people about

violence and anger, and how to constructively monitor television

programming and other media exposure, two of the booklets -- entitled

"Your Child and Violence," and "Your Child and Anger" -- cite

relevant scriptures and contain prayers for peace and for other

related topics. They also tell parents how to spot the warning signs

of violence and how to coordinate non-violent activities.

Warning signs listed for teens include, among others, being

consistently insensitive to the feelings of others, relying on

physical violence, and expressing feelings of persecution and

isolation. The booklets also suggest referrals for mental health

counseling and other resources.

The eight-page booklets, put together by family therapists and

pastors, can be found on the FaithHome Web site along with other


Local churches can respond by discussing violence prevention and

response in youth fellowship classes, added Caren Ligon, a member of

Oakcrest Church of Christ in Oklahoma.

"It's just a shock to me," she said. "It really is necessary for

churches to take steps such as hiring a youth pastor. There is so

much stuff going on in the world that you need a full-time person

just to help youth cope with it."

Police said that the attack appeared to be random, and that any

relationship between the attacker and the students was unknown. About

450 students attend the middle school where the shooting occurred.

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