Thanks to the efforts of Emmanuel Reformed United Church of Christ, the students of Franklin Regional Senior High School and the community of Murraysville, Penn., are returning some sense of normal life. A week ago, the town was struggling to recover from frightening attack at school, when a 16-year old high school student with two knives stabbed and slashed 20 students. After Emmanuel Reformed UCC pastor the Rev. Joseph Hedden helped co-organize a community rally, those wounds from the trauma have started to heal.
On Tuesday evening, April 15, scores of community members turned out to help send students back to Franklin Regional with love — lifting them up in a visible show of support to prepare for the school to reopen on Wednesday. Hedden has two children who attend the school, so the rally was a "chance for everyone to show the students they weren't alone."
"It's something to have your community be the center of attention for an act of violence," Hedden said. "Everyone is determined to start doing the normal things, like going back to school and going to church. The routine is starting to get back to normal."
More than a thousand people attended the "Send Them Back with Love" rally in cold conditions at the Murraysville Community Park, including the local fire and police departments, school faculty, students and other residents of the town. Hedden gave the invocation to begin the rally.
"My message was that we all can make an impact, that we all can do something in the face of something terrible," Hedden said. "If it's forgiveness, compassion or listening, then we are not helpless and we can contribute."
Emmanuel UCC, located just a few miles away from Franklin Regional, actively worked to assist others in the aftermath of the attack. There were no deaths, though one male student remains hospitalized with injuries. Last week, the congregation organized a community meeting. On Sunday, Hedden and other civic leaders put forth the idea to bring the community together before the school reopened.
"We were communicating with folks through social media. I got a Facebook message early Sunday asking if there was anything we can do before school starts to send the students forth with their best foot forward," Hedden said. "At a meeting with about five or six people — police officials, school administration, an AM radio news anchor and myself – we got together Sunday and put all this together. The congregation provided logistical support and the candles that we lit at the rally."
The entire experience has left Hedden appreciative of how people can collaborate for a common cause to move past a terrifying incident.
"It's remarkable to me how you don't realize people can get things done and work together. There were a lot of moving parts, and the fact things happened quickly in terms of response is remarkable," he said. "We had a lot of people working on a lot of little details, and everyone played their part."