An eighteen-year-old gunman killed at least nineteen children and two teachers at Ross Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, yesterday afternoon. Those killed in the attack included a veteran educator and two ten-year-old fourth-graders, though the majority of the victims have not been officially identified as of this morning. Authorities say the gunman’s grandmother is in critical condition at a hospital near San Antonio after he shot her at home.
This is the deadliest school shooting since the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012, where twenty-six people were killed. It marks at least the thirtieth shooting at a K–12 school in the US this year and came just ten days after a deadly, racist rampage in Buffalo, New York.
President Biden addressed the nation last night, expressing his grief over the tragedy. Speaking from his experience in the loss of his first wife, a daughter, and one of his sons, he closed, “May the Lord be near the brokenhearted and save those crushed in spirit, because they’re going to need a lot of help.”
“Our most basic common link”
When you first heard the news yesterday, you may have asked how many people were killed and why the shooter committed this horrific crime. If you have young children at home, you were likely concerned about how to help them with the anxiety they would be feeling. And you were feeling anxious yourself in the knowledge that something like this could happen at your children’s or grandchildren’s school today.
I asked the same questions and felt similar emotions myself. Then I realized that these responses viewed this tragedy through the prism of our personal perspective. None of them focused on the grieving families or the injured survivors.
Almost immediately, television commentators began responding in a similar fashion. Some speculated about physical security measures to make schools safer. Others wanted to talk about gun control laws or other ways to prevent such shootings.
These are obviously relevant issues, but I believe that today is not a day for such debates. It is not a day for politics or sociology or anthropology. It is not a day to focus on what divides us but on what unites us.
President John F. Kennedy was right: “In the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
A wound that never fully heals
Every child and adult murdered yesterday was made in the image of God and loved unconditionally by him. Every victim is being mourned today by loved ones whose lives will never be the same.
Across four decades of pastoral ministry, my wife and I have walked with far too many bereaved parents grieving with an agony the rest of us cannot fathom. As a result, we know that the news will move on past this story, but the families who lost loved ones will be marked by it forever. There will be a hole in their hearts every new day, an empty chair when they gather for Christmas, a wound that never fully heals.
In response to such unfathomable loss and pain, the president was right to cite God’s promise: “The Lᴏʀᴅ is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Near in the Hebrew means to be “imminent, as close as possible.” Brokenhearted translates a Hebrew term meaning “crushed, destroyed, shattered.” Saves means “to deliver, help, rescue.” Crushed in spirit describes a person whose inmost being is broken.
Can these words describe anyone more fully than those grieving for their murdered loved ones today?
A covenant that binds us all
Let us pray for God’s presence to comfort these grieving families in ways we cannot. Let’s pray for pastors and other ministers in Uvalde as they walk with these families in their pain. Let’s pray for the children who witnessed this tragedy and will never forget what they saw and felt. Let’s pray for the survivors to heal and for the caregivers who serve them. Let’s pray for the community of Uvalde to experience God’s peace and comfort as they respond to the deadliest school shooting in Texas history.
Such compassion is a vital expression of our common humanity in the face of our common mortality.
In his magnificent book Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times, the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks exhorted us: “Love your neighbor. Love the stranger. Hear the cry of the otherwise unheard. Liberate the poor from their poverty. Care for the dignity of all. Let those who have more than they need share their blessings with those who have less. Feed the hungry, house the homeless, and heal the sick in body and mind. Fight injustice, whoever it is done by and whoever it is done against.
“And do these things because, being human, we are bound by a covenant of human solidarity, whatever our color or culture, class or creed.”
On this day of mourning, let us renew this covenant on our knees, in our hearts, and with our lives.
NOTE: In a just-released episode of The Denison Forum Podcast, Dr. Mark Turman and I discuss the ramifications of the grievous 288-page investigative report into the Southern Baptist Convention sexual abuse crisis. Listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.