Kentucky church member escapes school shooting — but not the trauma
'Are you OK?” “Tell me you’re safe.” “Pamela, please text…
‘Are you OK?”
“Tell me you’re safe.”
“Pamela, please text me back.”
At 7:57 a.m. on a recent Tuesday, a gunman opened fire at Marshall County High School in Benton, Ky., a rural community 130 miles northwest of Nashville, Tenn.
By the time the rampage ended, two students were dead, and 14 were riddled with bullets, police said. Seven other victims — all teens — were hurt as students ran for their lives.
As news of the nation’s latest mass shooting spread, text messages flooded 18-year-old Pamela Ross’ phone.
But for half an hour, the messages to Ross, a senior at Marshall County High and a lifelong member of the Benton Church of Christ, went unanswered. The texts became more frantic.
“I had an MRI at 8, or I would have been there,” said Ross, who faces possible neck surgery as the result of a 2016 car wreck. “I had no clue about anything until I got out and got dressed.
“My mom (Susan) looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, ‘There’s been a shooting.’ I said, ‘What?’ I couldn’t process it. … Then she handed me my phone, and I opened it, and I had like 500 messages and missed calls.”
The reality of what had happened sank in, and Ross (no relation to me) broke down. “And it hasn’t been the same since,” she told me. “It won’t be the same for a very, very long time.”
In an age of 24/7 news, the Kentucky tragedy faded quickly from the national headlines. In fact, another school shooting — this one claiming at least 17 lives at a high school in Parkland, Fla. — flashed across our television screens just as we were going to press.
However, for our fellow Christians such as Ross, the Marshall County heartache remains fresh. On the morning after the shooting, Ross said it still didn’t seem real: “I talk about it to people like I know that it happened. But when I sit and think about it, I don’t believe it. Benton was voted the No. 1 place to raise your kids in Kentucky, and now we will be remembered for this.
Expanded interview: Pamela Ross reflects on Kentucky school shooting
“We always learned about Columbine High School,” she added, referring to the 1999 Colorado massacre in which 12 students and one teacher died, “but you never think it could happen to you. That’s what makes it so unreal to us. We are like Columbine now.”
I first heard about the shooting when my friend Paula Harrington, a member of the Lone Oak Church of Christ in Paducah, Ky., posted on social media about it.
“Shaken. Broken. Wishing I had words to pray,” Harrington tweeted as she waited to pick up her daughter Gracie at the school.
Minutes later, Harrington updated her status: “After standing in a school lobby with other numb parents, excellent police officers and wise, comforting school officials for what seemed like forever, we have our daughter. Pray for those who don’t and never will.”
The previous Sunday, the youth group from the Benton church — including Ross, her best friend Sydney Temple and twins Mason and Christian Cosner — had enjoyed a youth rally hosted by the Glendale Road Church of Christ in Murray, Ky.
Two days later, the 16-year-old Cosner brothers were wounded in the attack at Marshall County High.
Gunshot victim Mason Cosner was flown to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville in critical condition. “He is now home and recovering nicely,” said Mark Ray, the Benton church’s preacher.
The bullets missed Christian Cosner, but he suffered bruised ribs when he stopped to wrap the leg of a shooting victim.
In the weeks after the shooting, the twins’ church family brought meals to their house — just one of many ways the congregation showed love and concern. The community rallied around each other and embraced the hashtag #MarshallStrong.
“There’s still a long way to go before we get anywhere close to normal, but God is good,” Ray said. “It’s amazing to see the community come together and to see God working even in the midst of such evil and pain.”
Most amazing to me was the faith expressed by Ross: Even while stressing the necessity of seeking comfort and peace in God, she voiced concern for Gabe Parker, the 15-year-old apprehended by police.
“The shooter needs prayers,” Ross said. “What he did is absolutely awful, and you can’t justify it to make it OK at all. But he is still a child of God, and he obviously needs God very badly in his life. So, we just have to pray that he will find God.
“He will probably never be free again, so he just needs to have a heart full of God,” she added. “We all do.”
Bobby Ross Jr. is Chief Correspondent for The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected]
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