By Sr. Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
“How could it happen here?” people are asking. Parkland, Florida is the location of the latest school shooting in the United States. Last year, Parkland was named Florida’s safest city. Sadly, it is home to the high school where the 18th incident with a firearm in the United States took place this year. Parkland is a “tranquil city nestled in a serene, wooded environment,” its website says. Ironically, this week that website bore a red button blaring “EMERGENCY ALERT”.
Violence in the safest city in Florida
On Wednesday, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz opened fire on students exiting the school after he triggered the fire alarm which lured his victims into the hallways. Using an assault rifle, Cruz killed 17 students, and injured 14 others—5 of them with serious injuries.
This is the deadliest such shooting in a high school in the United States. There is only one other shooting that claimed more victims. In December of 2012, 20 children and 6 staff members were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut Since the year 2000, an estimated 130 shootings have taken place at elementary, middle, and high schools. They have occurred in 43 of the 50 states at the rate of approximately 1 per month, leaving approximately 250 children and staff dead.
“My Facebook page was filled with people posting that they hadn't been able to contact their family member who had been at the school that day and that if anyone had heard or seen them to please have them call home. I couldn't stomach seeing those pleas” says one Miami mother. " ‘Safe’ " is an illusion in today's world”, posted another.
Broward and Miami counties school superintendents sent a recorded call to all parents with children in public schools. That call informed parents that there would be a police presence at every school. Schools remained closed in Parkland on Thursday. Hundreds of people attended vigils.
In a statement released by Archbishop Thomas Wenski, he offers “my prayers and those of the entire Catholic community for those affected by this senseless tragedy.” He then asks that “even as we are still learning about the appalling dimensions of this tragedy, we must come together as a community to support one another in this time of grief.”
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, added his voice to that of Archbishop Wenski. In a tweet, he encourages Catholics and Christians just beginning Lent “to unite our prayers and sacrifices for the healing and consolation of all those who have been affected by violence in these last weeks and for a conversion of heart, that our communities and nation will be marked by peace.”
In a communication signed by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin writes that “Pope Francis was deeply saddened to learn of the tragic shooting that took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.” The Pope promises his prayers to “all those affected by this devastating attack,” and expresses the “hope that such senseless acts of violence may cease.”
The Archdiocese of Miami
Stephen Colella, Cabinet Secretary of Parish Life of the Archdiocese of Miami, told Vatican News that a webinar was scheduled Thursday afternoon local time with Steve Angrisano who was a youth minister in Columbine at the time of that tragedy. The webinar, he said, is for “teachers, deacons, youth ministers, any pastoral ministry role that would like to hear what he has found to be effective practices in the immediate first phase—what to do and what not to do… And how to accompany our young people, and their parents, and the rest of the community through this horrible tragedy.”
Archbishop Thomas Wenski spoke with Sr Bernadette Reis, saying that “at this particular time, we are trying to console family members and help with the preparation for their funerals.” As a pastor leading the Archdiocese where the shooting took place, Archbishop Wenski said that “we are praying for the victims, the families, the survivors, praying for the entire community because this is a traum that affects all of us, and especially affects parents that drop off their kids at the school door every day, never expecting that harm would come their way.” To break the cycle of school violence, Archbishop Wenski said that it is not only the “the ready availability of guns and other weapons, but also our care of people with mental health issues,” that needs to be considered.