Kids try to cope after shooting

BY PJ HELLER | Santee, CA | March 7, 2001

Faith-based organizations are helping this tight knit community cope with a shooting at a local high school that left two students dead and 13 others, including two adults, wounded.

"Everybody's coming together. Everybody's bonding together," said Tony Foglio Jr., business manager at Sonrise Community Church.

More than 500 people showed up at the Sonrise church Tuesday to seek counseling or to just talk about the events that unfolded a day earlier at Santana High School.

Many placed flowers at a makeshift memorial at the school.

On Wednesday, a female student was injured in a school shooting at Bishop Neumann High School in Williamsport, PA. She was treated at a local hospital and a suspect was taken into custody. Neumann is a Catholic high school enrolling about 230 students in grades seven through 12. It is located west of Philadelphia.

Meanwhile in Santee, CA, the large Sonrise church was serving as community resource center. Among those on hand were mental health professionals, some 100 pastors from churches in Santee and the surrounding San Diego area, and representatives of the American Red Cross.

Students, parents and community members were given the option of speaking with mental health counselors or with faith-based officials, according to Frank Robinson, senior pastor at Magnolia Wesleyan Church, located less than a mile down the road from where the shootings took place.

"It's pretty clear the prayer dynamic was in demand," said Robinson, who was among those offering spiritual solace at Sonrise. "I think the kids wanted prayer.

"I think when it comes to death and violence, the tendency of human beings is to turn to the church," he said. "It makes a lot of sense to me."

Robinson said psychologists could only offer students "coping strategies."

"I don't know if (that) technique has the same kind of warmth that having a human being pray for you does, and infusing the presence of God into your circumstances," he said. "I think that's what people look for when it comes to the kind of crisis we're having with death in a small community where everybody knows these kids and knows their families."

Robinson said it was vital to include a faith-based response to the crisis, not just a response by mental health professionals who he said characterize such incidents as social problems.

"From my pastoral point of view, the problem is spiritual," Robinson said. "We have a spiritual problem nationally. That's why we're having so many crises like this. It has to be addressed spiritually.

"It's a spiritual problem," he said. "It's a problem of disrespecting life. When we speak of life and death, it's really more along the lines of a spiritual question than it is a social question. So the solution has to be a spiritual one.

"You can't solve a spiritual problem with a secular solution," he insisted.

"I think that's where the church comes in," he added. "I think people know this instinctually somehow. That's why they turn to the church in these kinds of situations."

The high school remained closed in the wake of the shooting by a 15-year-old freshman, who police described as "an angry young man." The school reopened Wednesday.

The alleged gunman, identified as Charles Andrew "Andy" Williams, was being held in a juvenile facility. He was expected to be charged as an adult with murder, assault with a deadly weapon, and gun possession. No motive was revealed for the deadly rampage, the worst school shooting since the 1999 Columbine massacre in Colorado.

The counseling session at the church came after several churches in the area held services or conducted community forums Monday night.

A community prayer service at the Sonrise church attracted 600 people, according to Foglio, son of Senior Pastor Tony Foglio.

"It's encouraging to see the community of Santee pull together," he said. "The whole community is rallying together to help one another."

At the Santee United Methodist Church, a counseling session was held Monday night for students and parents. About 80 people attended the session, which lasted three hours. United Methodist ministers from several communities in the San Diego area, as well as representatives from The Salvation Army, attended, reported office manager Bill Grill.

He said after news of the shootings spread through the community, faith-based organizations responded to the high school to offer comfort and support. A ministerial association representing more than two dozen churches in town helped organize the events.

"Everybody just came in and said, 'What can we do,' " Grill said, adding that there were no turf wars among the various denominations.

"We all have the same purpose, the same goal," he said. "There is no competition here. It's just a matter of what's best for the community, the best way of giving the community support and having the community be able to come together as one. That's exactly what everyone is looking at."

Magnolia Wesleyan Church conducted an open community forum with a psychologist and elected officials on Monday night, which was aired by a local television station. Church leaders also went to the homes of students from the congregation who did not want to attend the larger gatherings, Robinson said.

A meeting for the youth was planned for Wednesday night.

"The faith-based community is responding but not in any coordinated way," Robinson reported. "We're playing it the way we figure pastors ought to play it (by) making ourselves available."

The Guardian Angels Catholic Church also held a service Monday night.

Sonrise Community Church was scheduled to host a community-wide memorial service on Friday night.

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