SANTEE, Calif. (BP)–Hundreds of Santana High School students, many accompanied by their parents, returned to class March 7, just two days after a 15-year-old boy opened fire, killing two students and injuring 13 others, including two adults.
Walking past a makeshift memorial adorned with flowers, posters and purple and gold balloons, students, some carrying Bibles, marched back to class through a sea of network media and curious onlookers.
Pastors, counselors and professional psychologists were present in every classroom to provide help as students and faculty began the process of emotional and spiritual healing from the nation’s most recent outbreak of school violence.
Phil Herrington, pastor of the Southern Baptist Pathways Community Church, has been a key point person in providing assistance to students and their families since Andrew Williams shot and killed Randy Gordon and Bryan Zuckor in a random act of violence.
Herrington, who also serves as chaplain of the local sheriff’s department, has been working around the clock, ministering to families throughout the community. He will be leading a memorial service for Gordon, 17, on March 10.
“This has been a difficult day for us,” Herrington said during a break in counseling sessions at Santana High School. “But this is the moment and time that we as Southern Baptists can be of tremendous help to our community. We are here to pray, console and listen to what our students have to say.
“This is our time, our chance to be a witness to Jesus Christ,” Herrington added. “We are a close community here and this has impacted all of us.”
Pathways, a congregation of about 600 members, meets in an elementary school not far from Santana High School. The churches offices, located in a storefront, are about a mile from this high school campus about 30 miles north of San Diego.
Santee is a quiet, bedroom community of about 36,000 residents, where people say they never would have imagined a school shooting.
But that is exactly what happened at 10:55 a.m. on March 5 when Williams opened fire on his fellow classmates, firing off more than 30 rounds from a .22 caliber revolver.
Williams was expected to be arraigned March 7 as an adult, charged with murder, assault with a deadly weapon and gun possession.
For some in Santee’s Christian community, the shooting was a sign of ongoing spiritual warfare within the public school system.
“To a degree, this is all about spiritual warfare,” said Mark Jackson, a parent of a teenager who attends Santana. “We have taken every aspect of God out of our public education system and I believe that we are seeing the results.
“I’m not saying that God has to be taught in every class, but it’s wrong to totally ignore the impact of Christianity on our culture,” he told Baptist Press while standing in front of the school.
“I do know this,” Jackson said. “God will take this and turn it into something good.”
Becky Lang, the mother of a junior at Santana, agreed. Her daughter, Rusti, is a member of Fresh Jive, a Christian club that meets at the school.
“There are some people who want to take their kids out of public school because of this, but I think this is exactly where the Christian students need to be,” Lang told Baptist Press. “I think our Christian students should stand tall and strong in the faith and be a beacon of light at Santana High School.”
Rusti, 16, sang in the honors choir with James Jackson, a member of Pathways who was injured in the shooting. She said dealing with the incident has been difficult — even as a believer.
“We have our good moments and our bad moments,” she said, just before attending classes on the morning of March 7. “There will be healing here, but it’s going to take some time. I know that God is going to give us the strength to pull through this.”
Tiffani Thurman, 16, used an impromptu morning news conference to share her faith in Jesus Christ with the secular media. News cameras continued to roll as she quoted Scripture acknowledging that Jesus is the Lord of lords.
Several Baptist churches, including Pathways, were scheduled to hold special youth services on the night of March 7. Herrington said it would provide an opportunity for students to share from their hearts about how they are dealing with the shooting.
Starnes traveled to Santee March 6-8 to report from the scene.