Virginia Baptists pitched in for the massive task of counseling students, faculty and families in the wake of Monday’s deadly shooting rampage at Virginia Tech.
The Baptist General Association of Virginia sent two crisis-care counselors to the Blacksburg campus, said John Tadlock of the Virginia Baptist Mission Board’s empowering leaders team. They were expected to arrive Monday night.
“We’re not exactly sure what we’re going to do,” Tadlock said. Both of the counselors deployed Monday were trained for counseling either one-on-one or with groups.
Tadlock said the BGAV’s disaster-relief ministry has 60-70 persons trained in crisis counseling. He said he expected Baptist volunteers to be involved in chaplaincy work for several days.
Tadlock said the counselors were requested by BGAV campus minister Darrell Cook. Tadlock said Wednesday afternoon Cook was in the process of accounting for students active in Baptist Collegiate Ministries at Virginia Tech, the state’s largest campus ministry organization.
Tommy McDearis, senior pastor at Blacksburg Baptist Church and chaplain of the Blacksburg Police Department, spent Monday at command central. The church, affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Virginia, is located across the street from the campus. Many of the church’s members are part of the university community.
The church regularly uses university interns in its model program promoting a “culture of leadership” to help church members express and pursue a call to vocational ministry.
A spokesperson at the church told EthicsDaily.com Monday afternoon the staff had not heard from McDearis, but were waiting to hear from him instead of trying to call in the middle of the crisis.
Tadlock said the BGAV is working in a rare cooperation with the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia, a fundamentalist group that split from the BGAV in 1996 claiming the established group was too liberal. The SBCV said on its Web site it was offering help with food, counseling and in any other ways possible.
Tadlock said the BGAV heard from Virginia Baptist churches throughout the day seeking information about what they can do. “One thing they can do at his point is pray,” he said.
At least 33 people–including the shooter–were left dead in the bloodiest shooting rampage in U.S. history.
University President Charles Steger called it “a tragedy of monumental proportions.”
“The university is shocked and horrified that this would befall our campus,” Steger said in a statement. “I want to extend my deepest, sincerest and most profound sympathies to the families of these victims which include students.”
President Bush said the nation was “shocked and saddened” by news of the campus killings
“Schools should be places of safety and sanctuary and learning,” Bush said in brief comments Monday afternoon. “When that sanctuary is violated, the impact is felt in every American classroom and every American community.”
The tragedy immediately sparked debate about gun control. Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said America has done nothing as a nation to end gun violence in schools in the eight years since teenagers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, armed with guns and homemade bombs, killed 12 fellow students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.
“If anything, we’ve made it easier to access powerful weapons,” Helmke said. “We have now seen another horrible tragedy that will never be forgotten. It is long overdue for us to take some common-sense actions to prevent tragedies like this from continuing to occur.”
White House spokesperson Dana Perino said, “The president believes that there is a right for people to bear arms, but that all laws must be followed.”
“Certainly, bringing a gun into a school dormitory and shooting … is against the law and something someone should be held accountable for,” Perino said.
Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics said, “Virginia Baptists responded today with clarity and compassion to the inexplicable events of human depravity at Virginia Tech, demonstrating that Baptists are often at their best in comforting the afflicted.”
“Regrettably, a White House spokesperson and others injected the politics of gun rights into this incomprehensible day of gun violence,” Parham said. “Now is not the time for that. We need a moratorium on politics of guns until after the day of grieving.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.