When gun shots rang out in a nearby high school on March 5, the Rev. Paul Ashby, Senior Minister of Le Mesa (Calif.) UCC, knew something had to be done.
Two students had been killed at Santana High School in Santee, Calif., when Charles Andrew Williams, 15, opened fired.
After Ashby talked to the Rev. Jane Eckles, Southern California-Nevada Conference Minister, the two issued a call for people to gather by candlelight, not just in memoriam, but as a witness against gun violence. Any number of gatherings were lamenting the tragedy itself. They wanted to help people examine the social reality behind it.
Within 24 hours, about 90 people, roughly half being high school youth, showed up for the candlelight vigil. The service lasted an hour and 37 minutes. "The starting point for recovery was having people stand up and tell how they felt," says Ashby, "tears and all. Just talking about the fear was the first step in the healing process."
It's going to be a long, hard road to recovery for Le Mesa, he says, particularly because there have been three school shooting tragedies in the area.
One of the country's first school shootings occurred at Cleveland School, not far from Le Mesa. A young girl opened fire in an elementary school, killing the principal and wounding the janitor. Her reason? Ashby sighs. "Because she didn't like Mondays," he says. "Whatever happened to just skipping school?"
School shootings seem to involve young, disturbed kids with ready access to guns, says Ashby. As he sees it, even if counselors admonish teens to alert adults of troubled peers, the gun-lust culture of America must change. "All these incidents are incredibly sad," he says. "It appears that America is willing to pay with the lives of her children for her love of guns."