News and Views

UMs respond to Great Mills High School Shooting

Posted by Erik Alsgaard on

By Erik Alsgaard

As members of a Southern Maryland community reeled in the wake of a shooting in one of their own schools, United Methodist leaders responded with open churches, prayer services and words of comfort.

On Tuesday, March 20, a 17-year old student, armed with a handgun, walked into Great Mills High School and opened fire, striking two other students. The gunman was shot by the school's armed resource officer; the gunman later died of his wounds.

The Baltimore Sun newspaper reported Wednesday that the 16-year-old victim of Tuesday’s shooting, Jaelynn Willey, remained in critical condition Wednesday morning. The other victim, 14-year-old Desmond Barnes, remained in good condition.

Barnes is a member of St. Luke UMC in Scotland, Md., according to the church’s pastor, Delonta Hicks. A Certified Lay Minister, Hicks has served the church for the last 21 months.

Hicks said that several members of his congregation either attend or work at Great Mills High School. “I talked with Barnes’ mother,” Hicks said, “and he’s going to be okay.”

Baltimore-Washington Conference Bishop LaTrelle Easterling issued a statement within hours of the shooting, calling all United Methodists to respond with prayer. “Our prayers are tinged with grief, sadness, anger, and helplessness,” the bishop said. “And yet, we know prayer is the most powerful action we can take at this time, trusting that God will be present in the lives of all those who have been affected by this violence.”

United Methodist churches in the area opened their doors immediately after the shooting for people seeking solace. At Lexington Park UMC, about one mile from the high school, the Revs. Lori and Doug Hays posted on Facebook that the doors of the church would open at 10 a.m. for prayer and meditation.

In addition, Lori Hays said, youth from the community were invited to the church at 2 p.m. Wednesday. “We know that you (and many of us) are maybe trying to sort out feelings, emotions, questions, you-name-it!” the Hays’ wrote in an email. “(This is) just a time to be together, support each other, maybe talk, maybe listen, maybe let off some steam.”

On Tuesday night, ecumenical prayer services were offered throughout the community.

First Saints Community Church in Leonardtown, and Hollywood UMC held a joint prayer service, as did Bethesda UMC, Mt. Zion UMC, St. Luke’s UMC and Zion UMCs in Lexington Park.

At Solomons UMC, about 15 miles from the high school, the Rev. Dottie Yunger led a prayer service.

“Together, tonight, as we light candles and offer prayers, we try to extend our arms around the uncertainty that presents itself each and every day,” Yunger said. “We don’t go it alone. We extend our arms, and Jesus extends his arms around us, so we are not alone. Just as Jesus extended his arm on a cross, so that death would not have control over us any longer.

“Because if anyone knows about the uncertainty and violence and hate the world can bring, it is Jesus. If anyone knows about how that violence and hate can bring an untimely and tragic death, it is Jesus.”

Area clergy in Waldorf held a prayer vigil for Great Mills High School at Peace Lutheran Church. The Rev. Laurie Gates-Ward, pastor of Good Shepherd UMC in Waldorf, said during the vigil that God “calls us not just to pray, but to act.”  Waldorf is located about 40 miles northwest of the high school.

Saying that her 12-year old son got off the bus from school Tuesday and immediately mentioned the shooting, she said he told her that he was really scared. “This is too close to home,” her son said. “Why doesn’t anyone make this stop?”

“We are being sent into the world anointed to be the hands and feet of Jesus to make this stop,” Gates-Ward said at the vigil. “Let us follow where God is leading us.”

The incident comes just days before a national march against gun violence, scheduled to take place in Washington, D.C., March 24, along with hundreds of other cities around the world. 

March For Our Lives, according to its website, was “created by… students across the country who will no longer risk their lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings that has become all too familiar. In the tragic wake of the 17 lives brutally cut short in Florida, politicians are telling us that now is not the time to talk about guns.  March For Our Lives believes the time is now.”

The National UMC in Washington is inviting youth groups both locally and around the country to join them in a rally and lock-in leading into the March For Our Lives. The rally begins Friday, March 23, at 6 p.m., and the lock-in starts at 9 p.m. Inspired by the teenagers in Parkland, Fla., they are hosting an event to raise awareness about gun violence, get excited for the march, meet other youth involved in the movement, and provide a place for groups to stay for free for one night in DC. Guest speakers will talk about gun violence, mental health, and related issues. There will be pizza in abundance and a competition to make the best sign for the march. For more information, contact Patrick Landau, director of Youth at National UMC, at 202-363-4900, Ext, 112.

click here for resources on addressing trauma in the wake of gun violence with your youth/children.