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Virginia pastor balances dual roles

The Rev. Alexander Evans is caring for his congregation and local police.


The Rev. Alexander Evans has pulled double duty in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting rampage.

The senior pastor of Blacksburg Presbyterian Church and the chaplain for the Blacksburg Police Department, Evans is helping people to cope with the tragedy - while he also tries to care for himself.

Running almost non-stop since the shootings on Monday, Evans said he has been from hospitals to his church to the police station to the building where the victims' families were gathered. The tragedy has affected the whole town, he said, and many are grasping for answers.

"There are no answers, unfortunately," Evans said.

Any down time he has had has been filled with his own questions and thoughts on the tragedy, which left 33 people dead, including the gunman. It was the worst act of gun violence in U.S. history.

"There's all this adrenaline and all these things running through your mind," he said. "There are a lot of hard things about it. Parents are destroyed and there are so many issues."

And some of the hard parts are, in fact, also the horrible parts. As police chaplain, Evans has had to do a number of death notifications for families whose children were killed in the shooting. Some victims were only able to be identified by showing morgue photos to the family.

"That was terrible," he said, shaking his head.

Evans has also been helping counsel police who responded to the shooting, saying many of them were also dealing with a lot. On Wednesday, he spoke with one of the students who witnessed the massacre inside Norris Hall.

"He was the sole survivor in one of the classrooms. He was in hell - he saw hell, but now he's standing up and doing OK," Evans said. "That is some real hope. It speaks of fortitude and that's amazing."

Evans' church is coping with the tragedy as well by serving its members and the wider community. The church will be the site of several funerals, including one on Friday for a professor. The space is also being used for some of the police officer debriefings and mental health meetings.

Evans said everyone has some connection to the shootings and everybody knows someone who was affected. That's true for Blacksburg Presbyterian Church, where one of the injured students was a church member.

The church held a service Monday night for the community and more than 200 people attended.

"People just didn't know what to do, but were thinking that they should come to church and be together," Evans said. "After the service, people didn't want to leave. Many stayed for an hour after just talking and being together."

Evans has been sustained himself by visits from the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance National Response Team, as well as by the outpouring of support that has been sent to the church from across the U.S.

"It has been incredible," he said.

"My own life has been sustained by more than 150 e-mails from all over, and they're full of words of encouragement," he said. "That's been happening everywhere, too - people are showing up here and helping with their very best selves in the very worst circumstances. It's just a sign of what matters: community, care, human kindness - relationships that transcend the worst circumstances."

Now several days after the tragedy, Evans said the focus should not be on the shooter but rather on caring about everyone and providing support as people move forward. He said he thinks the Sunday church service will allow for a more hopeful look forward.

"I'm thinking we'll be able to say that we live in a tough world but that we have to have hope," he said. "Hope is stronger than despair and life is stronger than death. Hope will prevail and that's what we'll say."

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