While I strive to share posts that provide encouragement, and to remind others to "Stay in God's grip!" Today my life has been forever changed...
I have been trying to compartmentalize everything that occurred today.
This morning after leaving my home, I had decided to take Highway 6 to Missouri City / Sugar Land where my first patient visits were today.
It was one thing seeing a SWAT Team vehicle on 646, sirens blaring, followed by an ambulance and several other emergency vehicles, it was another to find that I was in a long line of cars stopped on the highway near Santa Fe High School.
As I sat on the highway, the radio announcer shared there was an active shooter. Soon, our daughter Emily sent me a text. Suddenly I realized I was stopped on the highway because the crime scene was growing and traffic had been stopped. I was within a mile of the school, looking behind, and realizing, that they were diverting traffic away from the area.
Thirty minutes went by, and then another fifteen minutes. I noticed parents walking past me, and then being directed back. The police who had stopped the traffic were now going from car to car, asking where those of us who ended up within the blocked area were heading, so that they could then direct which way to go.
When the sheriff's deputy had me roll down my window, he asked, "Are you a parent?"
I replied, "No, I'm a hospice chaplain on my way to visit a patient."
He then looked at me and said, "We could sure use you at the Junior High."
I didn't hesitate. I said, "Sure, where do I need to go."
He gave me the name of an officer, and directed me off the road, and crossed traffic.
My boss would share later today, "God had a divine plan." What's the chance of a hospice chaplain being in a line of cars in front of a school where death seemed to be everywhere?
When I got to the school, I saw a number of emergency vehicles. One had the words, "Mass Casualty Vehicle" on the side. I thought, "This is awful."
I walked past a line of parents, frantically looking at their phones, texting, and making calls. I saw young people of various ages, leaving their schools, either from the junior high, or the elementary across the street.
An officer walked me past the parents, past more officers, and into the front office of the junior high where parents were waiting. I was taken into another office, where a mother was sitting, crying. I introduced myself, and I asked about her child, "My daughter was hit in the leg. That's all I know. I haven't seen her yet. I'm waiting on them to get my other daughter from the junior high and then I need to get my other daughter from the elementary."
I found myself saying, "She will be okay."
After a few minutes that just seemed to last forever, I offered to walk across the street with her to get her daughter from the elementary so that they could get on their way to UTMB where the daughter would be treated. As we walked she said, "I can't believe I took my daughter's phone away from her. She was grounded of her phone. What if something more would have happened? What if she wanted to call me as she was dying to talk to me?"
I looked at her and said, "You did what most parents do. You parent. And taking away a cell phone is what normal parents do. You had no idea this was going to happen. You were being a good parent."
She looked at me. She got where I was coming from.
It crossed my mind that this look I have seen before. It's the look that people get when they know that they simply don't have control of anything.
We made our way to the elementary. She grabbed her daughter, and just hugged her. Her other daughter who had followed us from the junior high was quiet until she saw her sister. "Did you hear?"
"Yes, we all have. Are you okay?" she asked.
The other daughter said, "Yes."
I walked to where a vehicle was waiting to escort the family to the hospital. She hugged me and thanked me for "being there."
I made my way back through the series of stops and next I found myself sitting with the custodian who's words, "Police! Police! Police!" were first heard over the walkie talkie that she carried on her belt when the gunshots began.
The small framed, Hispanic woman, has worked for the school system for seventeen years. She shared that just after 7:30 am this morning the students were in their classes. She was doing her normal duties when she noticed a student wearing a black coat and black hat. She said, "I thought he looked out of place."
She said she was about to say something to him, but something inside her caused her to stop. She said, "He turned and looked back three times."
She said the next thing she heard was the loud "bang" of a gun being fired. She immediately grabbed her walkie talkie, calling for police and began to ran. "I never knew I could run so fast."
She later talked of how all these kids are "like my own children." And then, the reality that the children that she cared for, she ran from, rather than turning to help. "What kind of mother abandons her children?"
I stopped her, and reminded her that she did what most of us would do in that situation. I continued to hug her as she shared, and just kept saying, "You are safe now. You did all that you could."
I'm not sure any of us, given the therapeutic "fight or flight" response wouldn't do just the same.
When her daughter arrived to pick her up, it was obvious that she was grateful to see her mother and to hold her.
It was painful to sit and listen, as names of students began to circulate, and as teachers and staff would enter into the nurse's office, and let their guard down. These are people who discovered their passion for teaching, and now are finding ways to utilize their amazing gifts to confront a national problem that has now entered their classroom.
"Not in my back yard," or "NIMBY" as I have heard over the years, often when it came to the rights of the poor, or those who were working to solve social justice issues has suddenly made it's presence known to my neighbors.
Even as I left the property, a man with a "Make America Great Again" t-shirt, and a gun strapped to his leg picking up a child almost made me puke.
I am angry. I am furious. I am afraid. And I AM TIRED.
Somewhere I'm filing away the images of what I have seen today. The sounds of sirens, the anxious faces, the tears shed, the reality that today we are the sentinels, witnesses of innocence being murdered in the hallways of our schools, and we must DO SOMETHING.
Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain and ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.