Having spiritual courage cannot mean overpowering trials. It means accepting that some trials do not pass lightly but rather take up a permanent residence in our lives and age along with us. The courage then is not in determining to put up a tough-minded fight. It is in conceding to divine providence the sovereign right to return in various guises of discomfort to draw our deeper submission to the divine will. – Fr. Donald Haggerty, Contemplative Provocations, page 144.
At 10:17am on Monday morning while seated at my desk I received a call on my mobile phone from a local number I did not recognize. I answered to hear following recording:
There is a stabbing victim at Pius X High School. She has been sent to the hospital, and police are on the scene. The injury does not appear to be life-threatening. I will send a further update as more information comes available. Please do not come to the school or call. Please pray for all involved.
A stabbing? At my son’s high school? The voice said it was a girl so I immediately processed that he was not injured. But what was going on? Within seconds I sent my first text to my son Nolan, a senior.
“There’s been a stabbing at Pius? What’s going on? You OK?”
“Yeah we’re fine. Police are here, in lockdown.”
“Do you know who is involved?”
“No one knows what happened.”
I later learned that Nolan was in a classroom on another floor on the other side of the school and hadn’t heard any of the commotion. I sent him a link to the local newspaper report a few minutes later. I also logged on to his Facebook account to see if other students inside the school were talking and found remarkably little. Part of this is I assume due to the restriction on the use of cell phones during the lockdown and also because most students these days communicate on Twitter, something neither me or my son use.
At 10:28am I received a second phone call from the same number:
This is (Principal) Tom Korta from Pius X High School. The parents of the students involved in the stabbing have been notified. Your child has not been involved, and is safely sitting in his or her classroom. This message is going to all parents.
A short time later, around 11am, the Lincoln Police Department released the following statement on their Facebook page:
Lincoln Police are looking for 17 year old Sarah* for her involvement in a stabbing this morning at Pius X. She may be driving a grey 1992 Buick Park Avenue (Nebraska plate XYZ 123*). Sarah is a white female, 5’5″, 105 pounds with brown hair. Call police immediately with any information.
The newspaper report gave the approximate location of the suspect’s home and said that a police officer had knocked and found no one home. The address was blocks away from my own home and I wondered for the first time if the suspect involved was a member of my parish.
I asked Nolan if he knew Sarah and he said that she was a year or two behind him at our Catholic grade school. That’s when I realized I did recognize her name and was acquainted with her and her family through our parish. Looking at her family’s photo in our parish directory Monday night confirmed this. While we have over 1200 families that comprise our parish and I do not know everyone personally the odds are that we’ve bumped into one another at a social event or school function.
At noon I asked Nolan if he knew who the victim was. The news reports still hadn’t named her. He said no one he had talked with knew yet either, but he added that “Someone put pray for Ellen on Facebook.”
An hour later he texted me with Ellen’s full name and told me to tell my wife. Janell had once worked with Ellen’s mom and knew the family.
The students quickly created a hashtag for Twitter: #PrayForPius. I also saw #PrayersForEllen and #PrayersForSarah.
Late on Monday afternoon the following statement was released by the victim’s family through the Southern Nebraska Register, our diocesan newspaper:
LINCOLN (SNR) – The family of a Pius X High School student who was injured this morning in an incident at the school are with her as she recovers. They released a statement today:
This morning our daughter Ellen was injured at Pius X High School. Ellen was taken for medical treatment, and is recovering with her family. We’re blessed by the outreach of friends in our community and across the country. Thank you for your prayers, your compassion, and your well-wishes. By God’s grace, Ellen will recover.
We ask you to join us in prayer for Sarah and her family. We pray that she may be treated with respect and with mercy, and that our community will also support her family. The love of God can conquer all things.
Thank you for all that you have done for us. At this time, we ask that you respect the privacy of our family as Ellen recovers.
At 8:30pm Monday night, students organized a rosary to pray for Ellen, Sarah, and their families.
While I sat outside around 10pm under the stars on a cool autumn night I asked out loud “Where are you Sarah?” I asked because I suddenly felt the weight of her father’s heart who I knew was worried sick and asking the same question.
Within minutes of sitting down at my desk at work on Tuesday morning the wild speculation and gossip commenced once more. Slandering the victim. Projecting motives onto the suspect. Creating their own little crime drama-induced fantasy. Deciding not to get sucked into the conversation and needing a release of my frustration with all of the innuendo and soft anti-Catholic bigotry I’d heard and read the past 24 hours I wrote a new status on Facebook:
It’s been amazing the past 24 hours to listen to and read the comments of people who have no clue about an event yet fancy themselves as a character in CSI or some other crime drama wildly speculating about people, their motives and events, that again, they have no clue about while looking like fools. Or braying jackasses. Hard to differentiate between the two at times.
(Lord, I know I’m rough around the edges. Grant me a spirit of charity and humility.)
I should have just quoted Pope Francis who in his September 13th homily said:
People who judge and criticise others are hypocrites and cowards who are unable to face their own defects. Gossip, too, is “criminal” as it destroys, rather than exalts the image of God present in others. Those who live judging their neighbours, speaking badly of them, are hypocrites because they don’t have the strength, the courage to look at their own defects. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?
Yowza! Go papa!
Desiring to drown out the conversations I put on my headphones and found something calming to listen to. Mozart did the trick.
Late on Tuesday morning the following announcement from the Lincoln Police Department showed up in my Facebook feed:
**Sarah located** At 10am this morning, Sarah was located by law enforcement in Woodson County, Kansas. They responded to a call regarding someone with car trouble. She will be detained in Kansas until she can be returned to Lincoln. Pius X and her family have been notified.
Sarah had made it to a point halfway between Topeka and the Oklahoma border, around five hours and 275 miles away. Seventeen, little or no money, scared and frightened, and driving her boyfriend’s stolen car.
Shortly after this announcement an e-mail came from the Principal Korta:
Dear Pius family,
We are pleased to share with you that the police just informed us that Sarah has been found. She is safe and in police custody.
As we move forward, first and foremost I ask that you continue to pray for Sarah and her family, as well as for Ellen and her family. I ask you to continue to respect both families’ requests for privacy. Part of respecting their privacy is refraining from speculation about motives and/or spreading gossip and rumors about the situation. Please help us in delivering that message to your kids as well.
We give thanks to God for the safety of all who were involved in this incident, and pray for His continued peace and comfort as all who were impacted by this event continue to heal.
Being weak from a continuing battle with pneumonia I made the decision to head home at noon and finish my work from there. I also knew that in my weary state I would be more likely to inject myself into the conversations and stridently correct some of the more grievous misnomers and slander taking place. This would likely not have ended well.
Later in the afternoon Ellen’s family released a second statement through the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln on Facebook:
Our family is happy to report that our daughter Ellen has returned home to continue her recovery. We’re overwhelmed by the kindness of our community in this difficult moment.
Today, we are rejoicing that Sarah has been found, and that she is safe. We are continuing our prayers for her and her family. We hope that she will be treated with respect, with charity, and with dignity. We pray especially that her family will be supported by this community as we have been.
We’re grateful for the leadership and support of the administration and staff of St. Pius X High School. Surely, God will “restore all things in Christ.”
We ask you to continue to respect our privacy as our family moves forward from this incident.
Tonight I paused to read the latest weekly column by Bishop James Conley in the SNR. He writes:
Christ brought peace to Pius X High School in the midst of turmoil. When chaos broke out at Pius, the principal Mr. Tom Korta and the leadership team at Pius acted swiftly and decisively to bring peace. Lincoln police did the same. And our students responded to crisis with maturity and virtue. Turmoil broke out at Pius X this week. But Christ has begun restoring peace.
An administrator shared with me the experience of watching Sister Maria Meza, M.S., standing in the hallway, hugging students as they passed. Father Meysenburg and his brother priests prayed with every student who desired it. And the school’s counseling team, and teachers, and coaches, and administrators, made sure that every student knew that Jesus Christ was present at Pius X High School.
Students organized a Rosary on Monday evening at Saint Peter Parish in Lincoln, asking Our Lady of the Rosary on her feast day to restore peace and healing to all those traumatized by the events of the day. Hundreds of students participated.
In the past twenty-four hours I’ve seen the same old bigotry rear its ugly head in a few office comments and the internet comboxes. Students at our high school are “holier than thou.” “Oh, but things like this don’t happen at a Catholic high school. Parents must be shocked to learn their little precious saints are no better than the heathen at public schools.”
And on. And on. My God it went on.
Here’s the thing: I send my children to Catholic schools not because I think this will insulate them from the evils of this world. I recognize that most if not all of the same temptations that public school students experience are ready and waiting: drugs, alcohol, sex, peer pressure, bullying, broken homes, etc. Evil does not discriminate.
I send my children to Catholic schools because in addition to the fine education they receive they are being prepared to deal with evil when it happens and meet it head on. They don’t slink away from it, laugh at it dismissively, or hide from it. They recognize it for what it is and advance towards it together. They learn from the actions modeled by the faculty and adults at the schools. They learn from their peers.
Bishop Conley continued:
I don’t know why violence broke out at Pius. Even as more facts unfold, we’ll understand very little. We can not assign motives or blame. Violence is always the consequence of the mystery of evil: of sinfulness, or sickness, or confusion. Violence ensnares those who act violently, and those who are harmed. When evil acts, it seeks to destroy.
But we know that Christ restores all things. This week, I am praying for restoration at Pius X High School. I am praying that a sense of security will be restored; that a sense of peace will reign. And I am praying that all who were involved in Monday’s incident—in any capacity—will know the restoring peace of Jesus Christ.
I don’t know why this happened either. I have learned while listening to and reading the gossip-mongers that they understand very little indeed, but feel the very real human impulse to understand by injecting themselves into the conversation, right or wrong. While I get that, they are not the models I would choose for my children.
I’ve witnessed the outpouring of support organized for a senior after his home burned to the ground in the first weeks of the school year, and how it inspired a rival high school student body to help out.
I’ve watched as the student body organized a rosary after a home football game that saw hundreds and hundreds of students and parents kneel in a large circle at midfield to pray for the mom of a student who had been recently diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. Young ones knelt too. I know this because my ten year old son was on his knees beside me.
I’ve listened to the student section roar at halftime of the homecoming football game as the homecoming candidates were introduced with their parents, the loudest roar reserved for a student named Jory. Jory was in a wheelchair, having recently returned to school after battling a debilitating disease. He and his parents were positively beaming, and when his name was announced as homecoming king the roof would have blown off the place had there been one.
I’ve watched over the past day. The victim and her family. The school’s faculty. The student’s themselves. I’ve observed their actions.
They are the models I choose for my children. They are the models I choose for myself as well.
Not the critics. Not the trolls. Not the sarcastic and lost souls looking to score points in the comboxes of this world.
I choose the students at Pius X High School who have taken the mission of Pope Pius X into their hearts to “restore all things to Christ.”
They’ve proven they will not slink away from this challenge while submitting to the divine will.
PS: Pray for Ellen. Pray for Sarah.
*I have chosen to omit the last names of the families involved and the plates of the car she was driving. While they are easily found on the internet due to the media coverage here in town, I chose not to do so here. I have also left out several anecdotes that I’ve heard, but cannot confirm. I’ve tried to stick to the facts as they have been documented and occurred.