Church helps while grieving mass shooting victim

Even while mourning the loss of one of its own, Aldersgate United Methodist Church here became the center for victims’ assistance after the mass shooting at nearby Santa Fe High School.

Jared Black, 17, was one of eight students killed at the school along with two substitute teachers on May 18. Thirteen people were wounded.

Of late, Jared and his family had recently become active again at Aldersgate.

“He was a happy kid, a friendly kid,” said Bobby Wright, a longtime Aldersgate member. “He stepped back in here like he was never gone.”

Carol Gaylord, a close friend of Jared’s mother, Pamela Stanich, noted his love of drawing and animation, and his sunny personality.

“Jared always had a smile, always had a hug – not just for me, everybody,” said Gaylord, an Aldersgate member who has led confirmation classes there.

Pamela Stanich had an agonizing, hours-long wait to find out the fate of her son, and a Houston Chronicle photo showed her trying to reach him by phone soon after the shooting.

Survivors besides Jared’s mother include a stepfather, two brothers and his father, who lives in California. Service arrangements are pending.

Authorities have charged Dimitrios Pagourtzis, a junior at the high school, with capital murder in the attack. He engaged in a firefight with authorities and was taken into custody after he collapsed in front of an art lab, according to news accounts.

Gaylord said Jared was in art class when the attack began.

Aldersgate United Methodist is about three miles from Santa Fe High School, and the community of Santa Fe is a suburb both of Galveston and Houston.

The church’s membership of about 300 includes Santa Fe High School teachers and students who survived the attack.

Wright talked to one such girl at the church on May 20.

“She was open about the fact that she was disturbed,” said Wright. “I’m thinking that’s a good thing. If you admit that it bothers you, you’re ahead of the game.”

Wright is retired executive director of 911 operations for Galveston County, Texas, and a volunteer first responder who rushed to the school after hearing about the shootings. 

“I thought I’d been through some bad things before Friday, and have, but there’s nothing worse than multiple children (victims) and there’s nothing worse than it happening in a place that’s supposed to be safe,” he said.

Rusty Norman, an Aldersgate member who serves as president of the Santa Fe Independent School District Board, also hurried to the scene. He watched some of the unfolding horror on security cameras inside the school.

“I thought to myself, `This is not a TV show, this is not Hollywood, this is my high school, and there should not be blood running down the hallway, and there should not be shell casings laying all over the hallway. It should not be,” he said.

Norman spoke during the early service at Aldersgate on May 20.

“The members that were here in church this morning just offered up hugs, words of support, a shoulder to lean on, a shoulder to cry on,” he said.

Aldersgate became the weekend headquarters for the Red Cross and a range of other nonprofit and government agencies offering victims’ families counseling and help with practical matters, including funeral arrangements.

“What we try to do is provide a safe, very respectful place for the families to come and start that path to recovery,” said Henry Van de Putte, CEO of the Texas Gulf Coast Region of the American Red Cross.

Van de Putte said Aldersgate was not only well-located for the assignment but also offered a number of meeting rooms in its family life center that could allow for private consultation with families.

“It’d be hard to find a better partner than Aldersgate,” he said. “We know that this community is grieving. For them to step up and think of others at a time like this just speaks volumes.”

The Rev. B.T. Williamson, assistant to Texas Conference Bishop Scott Jones, was at Aldersgate on May 20 to offer support and share about conference resources.

Martin directs communications for the Texas Conference and Hodges is a Dallas-based reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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