Jackson parents pray for students, schools in wake of mass murder

Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Emanuel United Church of Christ pastor Sam Roethemeyer leads a prayer during a vigil Monday, Dec. 17, outside of South Elementary School in Jackson. Organizers wanted to have groups gather outside of several local schools to pray for those affected by the shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. (ADAM VOGLER)

In the aftermath of Friday's shooting rampage in Newtown, Conn., many are trying to overcome the grief over the killing of 20 children and six adults in the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

President Barack Obama said Sunday night in the Newtown High School auditorium that he was mindful that words couldn't match the sorrow, but he told those assembled, "Newtown, you are not alone."

Newtown is certainly not alone. There were prayer services at local schools Monday morning to remember shooting victims and to offer strength and courage for their families. One of those schools was South Elementary School in Jackson.

"This was a parent-led effort," said Jessica Maxwell, principal of South Elementary. "We think it's right to show compassion for the loss of life in Connecticut."

About 20 students and their parents gathered briefly at the school's flagpole -- the flag still at half-staff in memory of the victims -- to hear the words of comfort offered by Sam Roethemeyer, pastor of the Emanuel United Church of Christ in Jackson.

"I give thanks that we've come together," Roethemeyer said. "We're saying to the nation that we care deeply about those who have recently had their lives taken from them and that we are praying for their families."

Roethemeyer said the pain from the tragedy has touched everyone, but he reminded the participants there is hope.

"I can feel the pain and agony of the families in Connecticut," he said, "but we can still make the world, and our community, a better place. Through faith and perseverance, we can make a difference."

The service was concluded with a silent prayer while other parents arrived at South Elementary to drop off their children. School safety was an issue that some parents had thought about during the weekend.

"It's kind of scary," said Connie Keller, a parent of a special-needs child at South Elementary. "But I think this is a secure place. I know the school in Connecticut was supposed to be safe, too, but I think things will be OK here."

Mark Ries also has a child who attends South Elementary.

"The issue of safety is a concern to me," Ries said. "In light of what happened in Connecticut, I felt a little awkward bringing my child in today."

Ries said that his wife, a teacher in the Oran, Mo., school district, takes a precaution in her classroom.

"She keeps her classroom door locked at all times, even during class. It's something she has done before the shooting, and I doubt she'll be changing what she does anytime soon."

Ries added that he gave his son an "extra-big hug and a kiss" before leaving him at school for the day.

In terms of actual measures the school takes to ensure the safety of its students, Maxwell said South Elementary has cameras and video surveillance in place and that all exterior doors are locked except for the front door. Visitors to the school must stop at the front desk and receive a pass before being allowed further entry.

"But," she added, "if there's anything else we can do to prevent loss of life to our students, I'm all for it."

Most local schools have similar measures in place. In Connecticut, though, the shooter smashed a window to get inside.

Wade Bartels, chief financial officer and safety coordinator of the Jackson School District, said that safety at Jackson schools is a continuous process.

"It's not something we look into whenever a tragedy happens," Bartels said. "It's always on our minds. We even consult with outside security experts on the steps we should take for student safety. But, in light of the tragedy, whatever steps we feel we should take, we'll take them."

Prayer services also took place at Jackson's North, West Lane and Orchard elementary schools, and at Jackson High School and middle school. In Cape Girardeau, there were prayer services at Alma Schrader and Blanchard Elementary schools, and a moment of silence was observed at Central High School. At Central Junior High, a poem was read followed by 26 seconds of silence in memory of the number of people who were killed in the Newtown shootings.

klewis@semissourian.com

388-3635

Pertinent address:

1701 S. Hope St., Jackson, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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