United Methodists, bishop respond to school shooting

The Rev Alicia Coltzer-Besser, superintendent of the Texas Conference's Southeast District, and her mother, Margaret Henck. Heck was substitute teaching at Santa Fe High School, near Galveston, Texas, when a mass shooting occurred there May 18. She was unharmed. Photo courtesy Texas Conference.
The Rev Alicia Coltzer-Besser, superintendent of the Texas Conference's Southeast District, and her mother, Margaret Henck. Heck was substitute teaching at Santa Fe High School, near Galveston, Texas, when a mass shooting occurred there May 18. She was unharmed.

The mother of a United Methodist district superintendent was at Santa Fe High School where 10 people, most of them students, were killed on May 18.

The Rev. Alicia Coltzer-Besser said her mother, 76-year-old Margaret Henck, was among those who fled with students to the sound of gunfire. A 17-year-old boy carrying a shotgun and a revolver opened fire at the school. The suspect, who was in custody, also had explosive devices, authorities said.

Henck, who has served as a substitute teacher in Santa Fe High School for many years, was leading her students out of the building while assisting a wheelchair-bound student, when another teacher approached her with the news of the shooter. “My mom is elderly and has a bad ankle. The teacher took her by the arm and said, ‘We are going to run. When I say drop, you drop,’” Coltzer-Besser said.

Coltzer-Besser said that her mother dropped to the ground and the other teacher lay his body over hers to shield her. Both teachers ultimately made it to safety, along with their students. The Galveston County Sheriff’s Department reports 10 fatalities, nine of whom were students. Two law enforcement officers are among the injured.

Other United Methodists responded quickly, with a local church announcing it would open to offer the community a place to pray on May 19. Bishop Scott Jones of the Texas Conference issued a statement calling the shooting “a cruel and senseless act of violence.”

"I grieve, pray and weep with the families of the victims at Santa Fe High School and others involved,” Jones said.

Authorities have warned the public to exercise extreme caution, as multiple explosive devices — including pipe bombs and pressure cooker IEDs — have been found both on and off the school campus. Citizens are urged to report any “suspicious items” to law enforcement immediately.

The Rev. Yohan Baek, pastor of Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Santa Fe, will open the church sanctuary Saturday morning, May 19, between the hours of 9 a.m. and noon, to provide the community with a place to pray and grieve.

The Rev. Vincent Harris, South District superintendent, will join Baek to meet with families and learn how The United Methodist Church can best help.

Coltzer-Besser is deeply grateful for her mother’s well-being, but the family and entire community have taken their first steps on a journey dark with grief.

“This is a small community,” Coltzer-Besser said, “Everyone will know someone who was lost. They will know the shooter.”

Gragg is the Texas Conference Cross Connection editor.

News media contact: Vicki Brown (615) 742-5470 ornewsdesk@umcom.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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