Holston pastors respond to Jacksboro shootings
By Annette Bender
When the Rev. Danny Hensley heard about the shootings of three principals at Campbell County High School in Jacksboro, Tenn., he realized that the student suspect's grandparents were members in his church.
Hensley went to them immediately, visiting the maternal grandmother at the hospital, the paternal grandfather at his home.
"They were shocked and confused," said Hensley, pastor at LaFollette United Methodist Church in Oak Ridge District. "That pretty much describes the whole community right now."
As news spread that Assistant Principal Ken Bruce was dead and two other administrators, Gary Seale and Jim Pierce, were in serious condition, area United Methodist churches opened their doors for prayer and consolation.
Fincastle UMC held a prayer service on Nov. 8, the evening of the shootings. Of the 35 in attendance, six were high school staff members. Eighteen were students.
"They were not so much afraid as crestfallen," said the Rev. Kevin Cole. "The service gave them a time to be together, to cry together."
The Rev. Gary Mauldin, Holston Conference pastoral counselor, visited with about 30 high school youth at LaFollette UMC on Nov. 9. "It was a time of sharing and prayer, to let them talk about their experiences, and where God is in all of this," Mauldin said.
On the day after the shootings, the Rev. Lyle White, pastor at Jacksboro UMC, took sodas and bottled water to students receiving counseling at the local middle school. On the previous night, he prayed with three parishioners who came to the church.
"They just needed to debrief - they had to talk to somebody," he said. "This is a bad situation."
Pastors also expressed concern for the 15-year-old suspect, Kenny Bartley Jr. In the close-knit community, they said, everyone knew everyone, even if they attended different churches.
"The saddest thing is that this young man had a history of trouble," said Cole. "There were signs, and we as a church and community were not able to help. We mollify it and say, 'He's doing better.'"
"We need to be praying for that boy and his family, as well as for the community," said White. "We've got to reach these kids before they get to this point. We've got to reach them when they're young."
"This is a fracture of what our hopes and dreams are for our children in school. School is now a scary place instead of a safe place," said Mauldin. "That's why it's so important for the church to respond to and pray for all who have been hurt by this. And now, the church can be a safe place where we can get kids together."