Chairman’s Corner by Scott McGraw

Tragedy has struck in our hometown of Kalamazoo with the shooting of eight people, six losing their lives in a senseless tragedy by a deranged person who brazenly picked random targets for his sick tirade. How do you respond to this? Over the coming weeks we will learn more about this man. What would make this person snap where he would take six innocent lives and leave two more hospitalized – one brave young women struggling for her very life more than a week after the attack?

I am proud the initial reaction of our hometown was to turn to God. From an event that unfolded late Saturday evening and early Sunday morning, many awoke to see the tragic news unfold on the morning news. By Sunday evening, multi-faceted religious prayer services were organized throughout the community. God was already at work healing Kalamazoo and our prayers strengthened His grace in our lives and our community.

There is much left unanswered when this type of senseless tragedy strikes. I remember in 1980 when the tornado struck Kalamazoo late on a blustery May afternoon. Five people lost their lives then, as well as injuries to scores more and considerable physical damage to the downtown area. The community was deeply bruised that day, too.

But Kalamazoo is a strong community that rebounds from such tragedies. It is always a sad event whenever people lose their lives. But through the grace of God and the sacrifice of His son Jesus Christ, we learn to accept these losses. Death is as much a part of life as birth; it’s just hard to digest when lives are shortened prematurely to what we feel is just.

We are hearing some heart-touching stories come out from this event, some good and some bad. The first victim in the day of shootings was an amazing lady named Tiana Carruthers, who shielded three young children from the gunman only to take three bullets herself. She, thankfully, survived and was released from the hospital on Feb. 29. Another victim, 14-year-old victim Abigail Kopf, was shot in the head at the Cracker Barrel and police thought she was deceased. She squeezed her mother’s hand as she stood over her daughter, apparently coming back to life before her eyes. Abigail remains hospitalized with serious injuries and is now breathing on her own. We need to keep her in our prayers. I just heard this story more than a week after the shootings: Rich and Tyler Smith, who were looking at cars in the Seelye parking lot, also had Tyler’s girlfriend with them. She decided to stay in the car, while the father and son exited the vehicle to take a closer look on the lot. She ducked down in the back seat of their car when she heard gunfire. Her description helped police identify the gunman a couple hours later and capture him.

And the bravery and composure of Emily Smith, the daughter and sister of Rich and Tyler, who spoke at a ceremony honoring her fallen family members was simply incredible. Within three days of the shootings, she told her friends and family not to remember them as victims of this tragedy because that is not the way they would like to be remembered. She encouraged them to remember them with happy memories of the way they lived their lives. What a precious gift this girl is to the rest of her family.

How can we find comfort in this senseless tragedy? Lives lost will be missed, but living goes on. Time has a way of lessening the emotional pain of such tragedies and God gives us just so much time on this earth. It would be a testimony to these lives lost if we all make the most of each of our own lives during the time we have been given. The relationships we have with those we love are precious and we need to cherish our loved ones each and every day.