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Baptist youth injured in school shooting

LAKEWOOD, Colo. (BP)–The one teenager still hospitalized after a school shooting in Colorado Feb. 23 is a member of a Southern Baptist congregation.

Matt Thieu, an eighth-grader, was outside Deer Creek Middle School in Littleton, Colo., Tuesday afternoon as students boarded buses upon dismissal. The Denver Post reported that a man with no apparent connection to the school opened fire on Thieu and another student, Reagan Weber, using a high-powered rifle.

After the first shot was fired, a math teacher reportedly tackled the gunman as he was shooting a second time. That teacher and two others were able to disarm the man before police arrived. The gunman has been identified as 32-year-old Bruco Strong Eagle Eastwood.

Chris Little, family pastor at Bear Valley Church in Lakewood, told Baptist Press that Thieu is a member of Bear Valley and is expected to recover from his wound.

“He’s a wonderful kid, a typical teenager who’s on a spiritual journey,” Little said. “He has been regularly attending youth group on Tuesday nights and loving it, enjoying life.”

Little explained that the bullet grazed Thieu’s chest, breaking a rib and causing trauma to his lungs similar to what a concussion would do to the brain. He remains hospitalized so that doctors can monitor how his lungs are reacting to the wound and attempt to ensure that he won’t suffer long-term effects.

“He’s doing well. He was extremely lucky,” Little said. “A couple of inches and it would have been a totally different scenario. He’s in ICU at this point as a precaution. My understanding is he shouldn’t have any long-term physical issues.”

Thieu’s mother and older sister have attended Bear Valley for several years, Little said, adding that he had visited the family after the shooting.

“I was with them last night at the hospital, and our student pastor is down there with them right now,” he said. “They’re doing really well. They know that friends and especially church people are praying for them and supporting them. They understand that God was protecting him in the midst of what could have been an even more horrific outcome.

“They’re obviously glad that the shooter was caught, and like everybody they’re wondering what would cause someone to do this,” Little said. “The family is in good spirits and has rallied around each other. The family members that aren’t here in town are flying in and will be here in the next couple of days.”

The church’s youth continued with their regularly scheduled Tuesday night activities, Little said, but during that time they discussed the shooting and youth workers attempted to help them process the event.

“Last night was our junior high night, so Matt would have probably been there,” Little said. “The parents of students are going to be providing meals and any other practical needs that the family has in the next few days and weeks — food, money, whatever is needed.”

Little said Thieu could potentially be released from the hospital by the end of the week. Weber, the other injured student, was treated and released late Tuesday afternoon.

Dear Creek Middle School, located on West Columbine Drive in Littleton, is only blocks away from Columbine High School, where two students went on a shooting spree in 1999, killing 12 classmates and one teacher.

In 2006, a gunman walked into Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colo., and held a classroom of students hostage for several hours before killing a 16-year-old girl. The gunman then shot and killed himself as SWAT officers stormed the classroom.

“Some of the kids here have friends in Bailey,” Little said. “It’s a 20- or 30-minute drive from here, and some of the kids knew the girl in Bailey who was killed.

“It reopens a scab, a wound that you think you’re healing from, and it moves to the forefront of your mind as a parent, as a student, as a community member,” Little said. “It’s like, ‘Here it goes again.’ It reopens that wound and the fear and hesitation and anxiety, which is natural. That’s where the community is, kind of still in shock. It’s not something you get used to.”

Deer Creek Middle School was the scene of another school shooting in 1982, when two 14-year-old students reportedly were firing at prairie dogs before one student turned his gun on the other, killing him in a bicycle storage area, The Post said.

Eastwood, the gunman in the most recent shooting, has prior arrests for menacing and domestic violence, according to The Post, and his father said Eastwood had bills he couldn’t pay. Bruco War Eagle Eastwood described his son as a drifter “who has always had problems.”
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

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