Congregations pray for victims, community following Arapahoe school shooting
By Connie Faber
Two of the five USMB congregations in the Denver, Colo., metro area were directly impacted by the December 13 shooting at Arapahoe High School (AHS) in Centennial, Colo. Three families from Trailhead Church, the USMB congregation in Centennial, have students at AHS, including two teens that were on the cross country team with the shooter.
The only AHS student attending Belleview Community Church, a USMB congregation in Littleton, was not in school that day, says pastor Mike Andrews, who spent time with the family following the incident.
The shooting prompted lock downs at all 24 Littleton public schools, a security precaution that affected additional Trailhead families as well as households that are part of The Micah Project, a USMB church plant in neighboring Littleton, Colo.
“I think for most of us at Trailhead and in this community, (the school shooting) served as another reminder that evil is real, and we are not in control,” says Trevor Lee, Trailhead lead pastor, in an email interview. “I heard a number of people with younger children talking about how this shattered their illusion that they can always keep their kids safe.”
According to Lee, security procedures put in place following the 1999 Columbine High School shooting appear to have spared lives at AHS when senior Karl Pierson entered the school at midday with a pump-action shotgun, ammunition strapped across his chest, a machete and Molotov cocktails. Pierson asked for librarian and debate team coach Tracy Murphy, who had earlier dismissed him from the debate team. Murphy left the school building, which police praise as a tactical decision intended to lure Pierson outside. Pierson fired one round down a hallway and then shot student Claire Davis, who died Dec. 21 from her injuries. The 18-year-old shooter killed himself as a security officer closed in.
While the incident itself only took about 80 seconds, reuniting AHS students and parents took much longer. Students were evacuated and searched by police before going to one of two locations to be picked up by their parents. Lee says the lengthy process meant it was 4 hours from the shooting before one Trailhead family was reunited with their son. Adding to the tension was the fact that students did not have access to their cell phones for some of this time and this prevented family members and friends from contacting their students.
“There is a great deal of fear involved for both students and parents,” says Lee.
AHS students and families that are part of Trailhead as well as the shooter’s victims, his own family and the community as a whole were the focus of a prayer time that was incorporated into a special Vespers service already planned at Trailhead for that evening. The congregation offered similar prayers on Sunday.
“Both services (Friday and Sunday) were already focused on waiting for and longing for the coming of the kingdom of God, when all things will be made right and evil finally defeated,” says Lee, who felt these themes fit well with the unexpected events of that Friday.
Sunday the Belleview congregation and Garden Park MB Church, Denver, also acknowledged and prayed for the families impacted by the shooting.
C-Link did not hear from Ethiopian Evangelical Church, a USMB congregation located in Aurora, Colo., about their involvement or response.
That churches holding prayer vigils Friday night blanketed the community with invitations to join them was a testimony of unity, says Vaughn Jost, The Micah Project pastor.
“As tragic as these events are, I’m convinced it’s a time when the body of Christ can show we’re unified beyond the walls of any one congregation as we work together to meet the needs of our community,” says Jost in an email interview.
The community’s concern for the shooter’s family is one positive response Jost has seen. “While I hear some people expressing anger toward the shooter, many I talk to also have a deep sense of sadness on behalf of his family,” says Jost. “Sometimes its easy to forget the horror that the shooter’s family is going through, but in this case I’ve noticed a strong call to pray for that family.”
Although The Micah Project (TMP) church family did not have students at AHS, Jost says the shooting nonetheless impacted them. TMP high school students know kids from Arapahoe, and middle school students have classmates with siblings at Arapahoe, says Jost. Other connections include a TMP woman that taught at AHS until last year and families that will be sending children to AHS in the future.
Being the hands and feet of Jesus following the shooting “meant spending time together sharing the things we are thinking and feeling as parents and talking about how our kids are handling things,” says Jost.
“As a church we’re reminded of several things that we know to be true,” says Jost. “First, we’re reminded that we live in a broken and hurting world. No amount of legislation or school security upgrades will ultimately change our hearts. And as events like this occur during the Advent season, we’re reminded how much we need the Prince of Peace to rule more fully in our lives.”