Group prays for Newtown community
Wednesday, December 19, 2012 12:00 AM
More than 200 students, parents, educators and clergy gathered in front of Philadelphia High School before classes Monday morning to pray in the wake of the massacre at a Newtown, Conn., school which left 26 people dead on Friday.
PHS students gather to pray on Monday.
The gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 20 children and six adults before killing himself inside the school.
The Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Philadelphia High School hosted a special "Meet You at the Pole" gathering where words of encouragement and hope were offered.
Tommy Dearing, superintendent of Neshoba County Public School District, said students, teachers, administrators and other staff paused for a moment of silence Monday morning to remember the victims of the massacre along with their families.
Dr. Dan Howard, pastor of First Baptist Church in Philadelphia, spoke at the "Meet You at the Pole" event at PHS.
"This thing that happened, this tragedy that happened," he said, "this is something that has affected our whole country and affected each of us."
Dr. Terry Larabee, superintendent of the Philadelphia Public School District, was among those in attendance.
Larabee, who organized the event, said he did it to make a statement.
"I felt we had to do something," he said.
Larabee said the remembrance was a way of getting a message out to the students at all three schools.
He noted that while the teachers would not bring up the shootings in their classrooms, they would answer students' questions if asked.
Larabee described the "Meet You at the Pole" remembrance as amazing.
"At 7:28 there were barely 10 kids out but at 7:30 I don't know how many were here but there were a lot," he said.
Dr. Howard talked about the various emotions both students and adults were experiencing in the wake of the shootings.
There's sorrow, he said, sorrow for the children, parents, teachers and students.
"There's grief on our part for them," Howard said. "There's anger because we don't understand why this has happened. Why someone would have so much hatred in their heart."
Howard spoke about the importance of talking about these feelings and how faith would help in handling them.
He ended with a prayer, asking God to watch over those affected.
Many in the crowd agreed with Howard's message, recalling how they felt when they heard news of the murders.
"It's sad," Paul Prince, a student at Philadelphia, said. "I was thinking 'Why would somebody do that? What was going through his head?'"
Prince said he felt that everyone coming together and praying would help them overcome their sadness.
Another student, Garrett Threadgill, said he felt bad that such a thing had happened.
"I feel bad for the parents and families for what happened to them," he said, noting that when he heard he was worried that a similar incident might happen at his school.
The fear of a repeat incident was shared by others in attendance.
Jonathan Crabtree, the youth minister for First United Methodist Church, said he worried that something could happen when his six-month-old daughter started school.
"It affected me," he said.
Crabtree also said he felt sadness for the shooter.
"What could have been done for him?" he asked.
In response to worries of a similar incident occurring, Dr. Larabee said that over the weekend he spoke with his administrators about ways to better secure the school.
He noted that a few months ago a school shooting drill was performed and various tips were made on how to do better. This includes locking gates during school hours and locking classroom doors during class.
He said everyone on the school campuses should either have an access badge or a visitor's pass, no matter who it is.
"If it's me [without a pass], I expect somebody to take me to the office and get a visitors' pass," he said.
Larabee recalled that he was in his office when he heard the news about the shooting.
"I wasn't really crying but while watching the news, tears were streaming down my face," he said. "It hits close to home when it's a child and I don't think there's anybody, anywhere who hasn't been touched."
Dearing said the county school district has a security plan in place in case a similar emergency was to occur.
"We're in the process of critiquing our plan and seeing what areas we can improve on," he said.
In regards to the Newman shootings, Dearing said mental health issues needed to be addressed.
"We need, as a society, to address the issue of mental health as a way to head off these problems," he said. "We also need to educate people on how to receive treatment."
Dr. Larabee said his Tornado family extends their hearts and prayers to those in Newtown.
"Although we are many physical miles away from this tragedy, an incident like this strikes all members of the Tornado family on a personal level."