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Values, faith, comfort voiced in funeral of slain Ky. teens

WEST PADUCAH, Ky. (BP)–Calls for a return to traditional Christian values in schools and words of comfort for a grieving community were offered by Baptist ministers at a joint funeral service Dec. 5 for three students killed in a shooting spree at the conclusion of a prayer meeting in a Kentucky high school Dec. 1.
About 2,000 people packed into Bible Baptist Heartland Worship Center to pay final respects to the trio of students killed at Heath High School in West Paducah: senior Jessica James, 17, sophomore Kayce Steger, 15, and freshman Nicole Hadley, 14. Charged with their murders is a fellow student, Michael Carneal, 14. Five other students also were wounded in the attack.
The service, which lasted two hours, was covered by dozens of television and newspaper reporters who were drawn to this town of 26,000 residents. The news media were kept outside the church, leaving many to join a national television audience who watched via CNN.
Mourners began arriving as much as two hours prior to the service, many forming prayer groups outside the church. Inside, three white ash caskets were placed at the front of the sanctuary and remained open until the start of the service. The caskets were covered with messages written by friends with black marking pens. Many of them had been written Thursday when hundreds of people waited, some up to three hours, to come by and tearfully write their words of farewell. Some said, “We’ll see you soon,” “We love you” and “This isn’t goodbye.”
The service included powerfully emotional remarks by six ministers — two for each victim. All three of the girls were members of Paducah- area Baptist churches.
“We are shocked, but we should not be. For we now live in a nation where they slaughter our children and we act surprised when they slaughter each other,” pastor Tim Pearcy of Twelfth Street Baptist Church said during Kayce Steger’s eulogy. “We live in a nation where we send our children to school, yet we have allowed ourselves to be stripped of the right to place a plaque upon the wall in their classroom that says, ‘Thou shalt not murder.’ God help us.”
Drawing from Hebrews 12:4, Pearcy encouraged the attendees to “keep the faith” and “remain strong in that which you believe — even stronger now seeing the sacrifice that has been made. Remember, our struggle is not against flesh and blood. We must continue to serve the One called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father and the Prince of Peace.”
Pearcy said Steger was a beautiful 15-year-old. “She had outward beauty, and yes, she had inward beauty because she was a child of the living God.” Citing the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, he reassured the family that there is nothing that can separate them from the love of God and that Kayce holds a special place in heaven. Citing Revelation 6:9, Pearcy told them “God has a very special place for his martyrs, for those who have died for the cause of Christ.”
Tom Hughes, pastor of Kevil Baptist Church, told the grief-stricken families “we have come as instruments of comfort and healing. We have not stopped interceding and lifting you up to the Lord. For there is one who knows your pain — our heavenly Father. For he watched his son die on the cross.
Hughes then read Romans 8:28 from Jessica James’ personal Bible. “God is sovereign and he is in control,” Hughes declared. “Some might say, ‘How could something like this happen?’ We are not able to understand all things. It is a matter of faith, to trust that God is in control. God willed his Son to die so that others may live. The God who raised his son from dead does not bring suffering and evil into the world. He will work through this to bring honor and glory to himself.”
Hughes said he will always remember James as one who loved to tell others about Jesus. Kevin Deaton who had served as pastor of Kevil Baptist for 10 years prior to Hughes, read from James’ personal diary in which she thanked the “Lord for giving me the chance to win someone for you” while at summer camp. “Jessica understood what it meant to take up her cross and follow Jesus,” Deaton said. “Monday (Dec. 1) she followed him all the way to Heaven.”
Drawing from Psalm 100, Don Young, pastor of Bible Baptist Church, reassured the family that as they “walk through this valley, God walks with you.” He also praised Nicole Hadley’s family for the courage in allowing her lungs and heart to be donated to those in need of transplants.
Prior to the funeral, her parents explained their generosity, saying, “Our daughter, Nicole, donated organs so that others may live. This is very special to us and to her. We wanted to do this out of love and belief in our Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Associate pastor Johnny Sams reminded everyone “Jesus came into this world of hate, but he said, ‘I’ll die to make men free.’ One moment Nicole was talking to God here and the next she was talking to him face- to-face.” Sams then challenged the crowed with this: “When that split second comes for you, will you be talking to him face-to-face?”
An opening prayer was led by fellow Heath student Ben Strong, an Assemblies of God pastor’s son, who was leading the prayer group moments prior to the shooting.
“We know where they are,” he said before praying. “They put their entire hope and faith in Jesus Christ. To us, it hurts to see them go. But to them, there’s no better way to go. They were praying and as soon as they said, ‘Amen,’ they saw the face of God.”
Christian recording artist Steven Curtis Chapman, a 1981 graduate of Heath High School, performed two songs and then invited those in attendance to trust Christ as their Savior. After Chapman led the congregation in the sinners’ prayer, he asked for those who had made a decision to trust Christ as their Lord and Savior to stand. Several did.

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  • Don Hinkle