Previously, I shared with you the story of a time when, at least for a few hours, I actually possessed a gun.
This is a second story and this time about a gun that “possesses” me.
These days as we recall gun tragedies in schools, our stories go back usually to beginning with Columbine and the student massacre that took place there. And while it is probably true that the horrid tales of modern day school massacres should be traced to Columbine, the reality is that there is to be found a long history of gun violence in our schools.
And while this is not a tale of mass shootings or multiple deaths, it is a tale of a gun tragedy in a school and in our time. It is the tale that, for me, personally, marks the saga of modern day school gun violence.
This story unfolds in late April of 1984 on the West Side of Detroit in Precious Blood Grade School.
It was Holy Week and for the students Easter Break was right around the corner. In fact the final half day of classes before the Great Easter Break was coming to its final minutes. No doubt, with Springtime and Easter heavy in the air, the excitement among the students had to be running very high.
Minutes to go!
And in the eighth grade classroom one young lad at that moment proudly decided to produce a unique token of his excitement.
He had brought a gun to school!
And this, minutes before that final bell, was the perfect time to produce this item and allow his friends to be properly impressed.
And, indeed, they must have been.
All the while, that is, until, somehow that gun went off. That weapon discharged.
A single bullet.
Just enough to tear across the room and lodge in the skull of an unsuspecting eighth grade girl, a young lady named Kelly.
And in an instant Kelly was gone.
I was the pastor of Precious Blood Parish at that time and, thus, that school was directly in my care. One of “my kids,” Kelly, was dead and still another, perhaps a couple of others, responsible for her death.
In an instant what had promised to be a calm and quiet few hours before entering the Easter Triduum suddenly turned into nothing short of a nightmare not just for me but for so many.
There were grieving, shocked parents and frantic, fearful parents and bewildered, dazed boys and girls and sirens everywhere and police and media and questions – questions mostly with no answers right then.
Try, just try and sit down on an evening like that with parents who have just lost their daughter and try, just try and find some words to make sense!
And the next day, with media still hounding and legal authorities still searching for answers, that day that in our calendar is called Holy Thursday, I and the faculty and the parish staff spent in sessions with grief counselors, all just trying to put our own spirits and souls somehow back together.
And on that Friday which we call “Good” there was the usual Service that focused on that long-ago cross and death even as we continued to deal with a right-here-right-now senseless death.
In the evening the church building was filled to overflowing, not for prayer and worship, although there likely was plenty of that present in hearts and minds, but rather for a neighborhood and community meeting to gather and talk about what had happened and how some healing might begin.
And in Easter Week – the Funeral!
And a whole lot of years have passed since that moment, those days and yet, in all honesty, every time a new story of a school and youngsters and a gun or guns emerges, well, for me it is like tearing a bandage off an old wound and opening it yet again.
I continue to be called to grieve and so I do.
And as I do, I can only imagine what some parents are going through and some kids and some teachers and some First Responders. Sandy Hook! Uvalde! And so many others!
And I can also suspect that, even after all these years, there are those who were part of this story who, likewise, still feel the pain and those wounds. This sort of hurt just does not heal.
A single bullet has taken one life.
It has also wounded countless others.
I continue to be one of those.