BENTON—Area churches offered open doors, encouragement, and support to the Benton, Ky. community in the wake of a shooting at Marshall County High School on Jan. 23.
On Tuesday morning in the 8 a.m. hour, a 15-year-old student walked into the commons area and open fired. Two students (both 15 years old) were killed and 17 others were injured. Six of those injured were air lifted to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville with extensive injuries. The others were sent to regional hospitals and are in varying conditions.
“I think yesterday, I know for me personally and all the people that I talked to, was almost like you’re sort of walking through a bad dream. You know it’s real, but it doesn’t feel real,” Kory Cunningham, associate pastor at Hardin Baptist Church, located 20 minutes from the high school, said. He was on the scene by 8:30 that morning, and other pastors from the church joined him throughout the day.
“Several of our church members work in the school system and they ministered amazingly in the crisis and chaos. Many of them were in the location of the shooter and shooting,” Hardin’s pastor, Ricky Cunningham, was en route to the Amazon River to teach pastors, but fielded calls from the airport in Nashville all morning.
Kory Cunningham expressed thankfulness that all of Hardin’s students who attend Marshall Co. were safe. However, many of them lost friends or were in the commons area when the shooting happened.
The church opened its doors from 12-2 p.m. for any student or family of a student who wanted to talk to or pray with a pastor or a counselor on Tuesday. Around 20-30 students and adults were in and out throughout this time.
Hardin’s Wednesday night service will look different in light of this tragedy as well as the church combines youth and adult services for “just a night of scripture and prayer. We are going to try again to bring each other together and remind us of the things that really matter in life,” Kory said.
“I can see very vividly Genesis 3 where we’ve walked away from God, and evil, sin, suffering, and all that was introduced into the world. We feel the brokenness very vividly yesterday,” Kory continued. “I think that’s a reality and that’s why ultimately Christ came and gave His life so that all the brokenness could one day be swallowed up and there could be a new heaven and earth where these tragic events don’t happen.”
He added, “This pushes us to reflect on and realize that is the most precious and important thing even in this life that we have hope for the future.”
Joseph Brown, a 2015 graduate of Marshall County High School and member of Hardin Baptist, challenged those in his community via Facebook, “I beg any student that needs to talk to someone to please go to a counselor or talk to someone. It’s so important to talk about how you feel and what’s on your mind or something you saw, to someone that you can trust or get an answer from. The power of prayer is still strong.” His little brother currently attends Marshall Co. High School.
Brown continued, “Don’t turn to hate and corruption. I pray that this situation will bring more to Christ and glorify Him. Let the ones we know, know that we love them, that the community loves them. In your spare time swing by the hospital and drop off flowers or just stop by and tell the student/parent you love them to show them we care.”
“All the children have been traumatized. They saw their friends shot. They had to run for their lives,” said Kentucky Baptist Convention Executive Director Paul Chitwood who was meeting with Marshall County pastors at the time the shooting occurred. “We need to pray for healing and pray for the community and churches as they come together to minister to the families.”
He added, “It was inspiring to see the way the school officials and first responders handled this situation and the way parents reacted under extreme duress.”
On Jan. 23, Governor Bevin released a statement that said, “This is a tremendous tragedy and speaks to the heartbreak present in our communities. It is unbelievable that this would happen in a small, close-knit community like Marshall County. As there is still much unknown, I encourage people to love on each other at this time. Do not speculate, but come alongside each other in support and allow the facts to come out.”
Students throughout the area gathered Wednesday morning for prayer vigils. In addition, His House Ministries in Mayfield, Impact Church in Benton, and New Zion Baptist, where KBC President Charles Frazier is pastor, held prayer vigils yesterday. Dozens more events like this have been scheduled throughout the area as well as the community bands together. (WR)