Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

December 19, 2012

Sharing their grief

TAHLEQUAH — Community members gathered Tuesday evening to pray and offer encouragement to the victims of a mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

“Last Friday morning, a terrible tragedy befell Newtown, Conn., taking the lives of 20 first-graders and six adults who gave their own lives while trying to protect them,” said Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols. “Like many of you, I’ve spent the last few days trying to make sense of the senselessness; I’ve tried to find the elusive answer to the question of why? Finally realizing I wouldn’t be able to do either of those things, I began to ask myself a different question: How would it be possible, despite being separated by thousands of miles, to show sympathy for, and solidarity with, those who endured so much loss and who are in so much pain?”

Nichols said he didn’t have that answer, either, but others found it through the organization of Tuesday evening’s candlelight vigil in downtown Tahlequah.

“This vigil is an expression of the only thing we can offer those who are grieving: our compassion,” said Nichols. “It’s the best way we can demonstrate we will stand with them as they begin the long process of healing. That process began yesterday with the first funerals for the young victims.”

Nichols recalled the words of someone else as he thought about the lives lost in Connecticut.

“They’re not my own, but they seem very fitted to this moment,” said Nichols. “’The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They’re our students, and our teachers, and our parents and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we’ve measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and realize that capacity may well be limitless.’”

The mayor said the events of last week’s school shooting cannot be undone, but communities are not helpless.

“We are not helpless in the face of unthinkable and unexplainable acts of hatred and violence because we possess the strength that compassion provides,” he said.

Cherokee Nation Principal Bill John Baker told those who gathered downtown to pray for the victims and their families, and for the first responders in Newtown.

“While Newtown looks different, sounds different, and is a far different place, there are many common bonds: the love of our children, the love of our friends and family, and our concern for the future,” said Baker. “In our Cherokee tradition of caring and healing, we come together to send prayers and positive energy to those directly affected by the massacre of 6- and 7-year-olds.”

Baker said he didn’t aim to debate gun laws, but said leaders must reaffirm their commitment to helping those who are mentally ill.

“We must all step up our effort to help the mentally ill before they help themselves or others, and we must always continue protecting the most vulnerable among us: our children,” said Baker. “If anyone doubted the devil exists, that should no longer be a question with the evil that showed up at Sandy Hook school. How do we fight the devil here in Cherokee Country? Pray, work hard. We set an example and we do right, even when it’s hard. In the face of this despicable tragedy, I ask that you all join our Cherokee family and pray for the victims, the heroes, the families, and our country.”

United Keetoowah Band Chief George Wickliffe said the shootings were almost unbelievable, and he called on others to offer prayers to victims.

NSU President Dr. Steve Turner said violent acts are occurring too often.

“We know one of the early school shootings was at Fort Gibson,” said Turner. “I’m reminded that as a child, we are often taught the Golden Rule, and I think one of those simple truths is that if we really treated others the way that we like to be treated, I think there’s a lot that could happen. I hope each of us would examine that inner person tonight and say, what can I do, what can I learn, and how can I be a better person? How can I reach out to those who are hurting so much?”

First responders should also be the focus of encouragement and prayers, he said.

“As other people are running away from these tragedies, there are those first responders who have to run to [the scene]. I know they see and experience and have to do things none of us can even imagine, but yet they carry the experience with them. To our first responders, I simply say godspeed and God bless you. To the families of those first responders, thank you for the sacrifice that you pay.”

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