Most of us have already read the story of Steven P. Kazmierczak, the gunman who went on a shooting rampage at Northern Illinois University. Apparantly he recently stopped taking medication, went ballistic, and opened fire in a geology class, shooting 21 people, killing 5, then taking his own life.
This time the shooter didn’t seem like a “troubled” kid seeking revenge (as we’ve seen in many past shootings). University police said that Kazmierczak was actually an “award-winning” student “revered” by colleagues and faculty.
The sad thing is… this trajedy is nothing new. We’ve seen it so many times we can’t even count.
So what can we do?
1. Use this as an opportunity to dialogue with kids about the trajedy. Lane Palmer, a Columbine youth pastor/counselor who worked with kids through the 1999 shooting, advised the following:
It is vitally important that we help our teens walk through events like these for many reasons. Some youth leaders might be hesitant to talk with their groups about the recent tragedy for fear that it will only intensify the stress and fear already imbedded in their emotions. The fact is, the opposite is true. The excess of various emotions that were released over the past few days need a healthy outlet, otherwise they will work their way out in negative ways.
One thing that helped me with our students was to help them put labels on what they are experiencing (stress, fear, sadness, etc.), then talk about ways to address each individual one. For example, if they are feeling sadness, ask them what has helped them in the past with those feelings. If they are anxious, walk them through the whole concept of how God is still in control, so we need not be anxious about the future (i.e. Matthew 6:25-34). This could happen on a corporate and individual level.
I think the other key issue here is the chance we have to bring up the important issues in life. When events like this occur, we have a golden opportunity to help teens evaluate their spiritual condition. As well, many times you’ll see a lot of new faces in your group after events like these, because students are looking for answers. Again- what a great opening for evangelism.
Lane talks more about this in my interview with him last April after the Virginia Tech shooting. He answers questions like, “What youth group would you run this week” and links some resources for discussions on dealing with tragedy
2. Pray for the families and friends of the slain victims:
- Daniel Parmenter, 20, Westchester, Ill.
- Catalina Garcia, 20, Cicero, Ill.
- Ryanne Mace, 19, Carpentersville, Ill.
- Julianna Gehant, 32, Mendota, Ill.
- Gayle Dubowski, 20, Carol Stream, Ill.