The Lives of the Florida School Shooting Victims: We Mourn Together

People attend a candlelight vigil for victims of the shooting at nearby Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Kami Klein

Psalm 34:18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and he saves those whose spirits have been crushed.

Once again the nation mourns innocent and loving lives that have been taken from us too soon.  Over the course of the week there have been several news stories on the gunman, his motivations, the warning signs, and the steps he took on that horrible day.  His name is mentioned countless times. It will not be mentioned here.

It is the lives that were lost to us that truly matter.  It is their names that should be on our hearts and the family and friends who are enduring a grief that is beyond most of our understanding.

We ask that you honor those we have lost and as you read about each of them, please pray for those left behind, that have no answers.  Please pray for all of the people who loved them.  Pray for the students that survived so that they can heal from the horror and terror they have witnessed.  Pray for the teachers who will be dealing with their own grief but must help these young people attempt to heal.  Pray for our leaders that they may make wise decisions to protect our children.  

Our spirits have been crushed by this horrible tragedy.  Let us come together and pray for healing during this unbelievable grief.  


Those we have lost…

Nicholas Dworet (17) was a competitive swimmer aspiring to compete in the 2020 Olympics. A high school senior, he had recently been recruited to swim at the University of Indianapolis.“That was what he was working for, and he would’ve made it,” Nicole Nilsson, a family friend, told TIME. “He had very big aspirations.”

The father of Jaime Guttenberg (14), a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, shared news of her death in an emotional Facebook post on Thursday. “My heart is broken,” Fred Guttenberg wrote.“I am broken as I write this trying to figure out how my family will get through this,” he said, thanking friends and family members for their support. “Hugs to all and hold your children tight.”

Alyssa Alhadeff (14) , a soccer player at the Parkland Soccer Center.  Her family left this message on the club’s facebook post.  “Honor Alyssa by doing something fabulous in your life. Don’t ever give up and inspire for greatness,”  “Live for Alyssa! Be her voice and breathe for her.”

Scott Beigel (35) was a geography teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. One of his students says he protected his classroom during the shooting and that she’s “100% certain” he saved her life.

Meadow Pollack (18), a senior at the high school, had planned on attending Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida next year.“She was just unbelievable,” her father, Andrew Pollack, told the New York Times. “She was a very strong-willed young girl who had everything going for her.”

Coach Aaron Feis (37) shielded students from the shooter with his own body.  He has been described as a phenomenal man who loved his students and he did exactly like everyone knew he would; putting himself second and his students lives first.

Christopher Hixon, (49)  the athletic director at the school, was also among those killed in the shooting.“Chris is probably the nicest guy I have ever met. He would give you the shirt off his back. “Dan Jacob, the athletic director at nearby Coral Springs High School, told the Sun-Sentinel.

Luke Hoyer (15)  a freshman loved basketball and looked forward to High school.. His aunt said, “Our Luke was a precious child, who just went to school yesterday not knowing what was to come.”

Carman Schentrup (16) A National Merit Scholar semifinalist had recently gone on a college visit to the University of Washington, her cousin Matt Brandow said in a Facebook post, calling her the “most intelligible 16 year old I’ve ever met.”

Gina Montalto (14) was reported to be part of her high school’s state-champion marching band.   her mother, Jennifer Montalto, wrote in Facebook post shared by local station CBS 12. “She was a smart, loving, caring, and strong girl who brightened any room she entered.”

Alex Schachter (14) played the trombone in his school’s marching band and “just wanted to do well and make his parents happy,” his father, Max Schachter, told the New York Times.

Peter Wang (15) was in the school’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Program, according to the Miami Herald, and was last seen in his gray uniform on Wednesday. His cousin, Aaron Chen, told the Herald that Wang held the door open so others could escape during the shooting.

Alaina Petty (15) was a member of the school’s JROTC program and participated in the “Helping Hands” program of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, helping to clean up Florida Keys after Hurricane Irma hit Florida in September, according to the Miami Herald.

Duque Anguiano (14) was a freshman at the school, according to the Miami Herald. His older brother, Miguel, posted about his death on Instagram early Thursday. “Words cannot describe my pain,” he wrote in the post. “I love brother Martin you’ll be missed buddy. I know you’re in a better place. Duques forever man I love you junior!!!”

Helena Ramsey (17) would have gone to college next year, a family member said in a long Facebook post. The relative remembered her as a “smart, kind hearted and thoughtful person.”“Though she was somewhat reserved, she had a relentless motivation towards her academic studies, and her soft warm demeanor brought the best out in all who knew her. She was so brilliant and witty, and I’m still wrestling with the idea that she is actually gone,” the post said.

Joaquin Oliver (17), who was born in Venezuela, moved to the United States with his family when he was 3 years old, according to the Miami Herald. He became a U.S. citizen last January.

Cara Loughran, (14) loved her cousins and spending time at the beach, her family said, according to the New York Times.Her aunt, Lindsay Fontana, posted about Loughran’s death on Facebook and urged readers to take action to prevent future shootings.“We are absolutely gutted. Cara was 14 years old. She was an excellent student, she loved the beach and she loved our girls,” she wrote in the post. “While your thoughts are appreciated, I beg you to DO SOMETHING. This should not have happened to our niece Cara and it cannot happen to other people’s families.”

For pictures and more on the lives of these brave teachers, coaches and students please see this excellent article from  

In grieving Texas town, faith sustains those left behind

A member of the media walks inside the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs where 26 people were killed one week ago, as the church opens to the public as a memorial to those killed, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 12, 2017.

By Tim Reid

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (Reuters) – Joe Holcombe and his wife, Claryce, lost eight members of their family in the Texas church shooting last Sunday, including their son, grandchildren, a pregnant granddaughter-in-law and a great- granddaughter who was still a toddler. But they are serene.

Chairs and roses mark where worshipers were found dead at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs where 26 people were killed one week ago, as the church opens to the public as a memorial to those killed, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 12, 2017.

Chairs and roses mark where worshipers were found dead at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs where 26 people were killed one week ago, as the church opens to the public as a memorial to those killed, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 12, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

“It’s just not a problem to us,” said Holcombe, 86, adding that he and 84-year-old Claryce believe their dead family members are now alive again in heaven.

“We know exactly where the family is, and it’s not going to be long until we’ll both be there,” he said. “And we’re really sort of looking forward to it.”

Chairs and roses show where Joann and Brooke Ward and others were found dead at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs where 26 people were killed one week ago, as the church opens to the public as a memorial to those killed, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 12, 2017.

Chairs and roses show where Joann and Brooke Ward and others were found dead at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs where 26 people were killed one week ago, as the church opens to the public as a memorial to those killed, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 12, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

The Holcombes were upbeat and full of good humor during a telephone interview, and they are not an exception in this deeply evangelical part of Texas.

What is so striking about relatives and friends of the 26 victims of the church shooting in tiny Sutherland Springs is that they all believe good will come from this act of evil and that their loved ones are now safe for eternity, and breathing again, with God.

Psychologists say such deep faith can help families deal with such a ghastly event. Even so, they warn that leaning too heavily on one’s religious beliefs can stunt the natural grieving period and result in post-traumatic stress later.

A cross with a crown of thorns and a Bible open to the book of Proverbs are seen at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs where 26 people were killed one week ago, as the church opens to the public as a memorial to those killed, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 12, 2017.

A cross with a crown of thorns and a Bible open to the book of Proverbs are seen at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs where 26 people were killed one week ago, as the church opens to the public as a memorial to those killed, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 12, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

“I can see potentially it could be some form of denial, a delayed traumatic reaction, and if you don’t have some kind of negative feelings, it can catch up with you,” said clinical psychologist and trauma expert Bethany Brand.

Gina Hassan, a psychologist in northern California, said Sutherland Spring’s faith was invaluable in the wake of the shooting, “but if it’s relied upon in a rigid way, then it’s going to be a problem down the line and come back to bite you later on.”

Local veterinarian George Hill, a relative of the Holcombes, said an evangelical belief in Christ was the only way to deal with such a tragedy.

“We haven’t lost hope,” he said. “They are not gone. They are just gone ahead. And we know we’ll see them again.”

He expressed faith that evil would not prevail. “It looks like evil won, but it didn’t,” he said. “Good is going to win.”

Pastor Mike Clements of the First Baptist Church in Floresville, a small city 14 miles from Sutherland Springs, is officiating over the funeral services for the extended Holcombe family on Wednesday.

The dead include Bryan Holcombe, Joe and Claryce Holcombe’s son, and his wife Karla. Their son Danny Holcombe was killed as well, along with his 18-month-old daughter, Noah. Crystal Holcombe, who was 18 weeks pregnant, was Bryan and Karla Holcombe’s daughter-in-law.

Also shot and killed were Emily, Megan and Greg Hill, three children from Crystal’s first marriage, which had ended with her husband’s death.

Under Texas law, Crystal’s unborn child is also being counted as a victim, making a death toll of nine for the family.

People in Sutherland Springs are truly grieving, Clements said. But evangelicals accept Christ into their lives in a very real way, and because of that, their faith is incredibly liberating, especially at a time of such great tragedy.

Most fundamentally, he said, they believe people who have accepted Christ will go to heaven.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” Clements said over lunch near his church. “There is nothing better than heaven when you are a believer.”


(Editing by Frank McGurty and Lisa Von Ahn)


Pence pays tribute to fallen and heroes from Texas massacre

Pence pays tribute to fallen and heroes from Texas massacre

By Jon Herskovitz

FLORESVILLE, Texas (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence traveled on Wednesday to rural southeastern Texas, where he paid tribute to the victims and heroes from a church massacre that stands as the deadliest gun violence ever committed in a U.S. place of worship.

Pence and his wife, Karen, were welcomed with cheers and applause from as many as 2,000 people who filled half of a high school football stadium in Floresville, Texas, for the prayer vigil, about 13 miles from the scene of Sunday’s carnage in the town of Sutherland Springs.

“We gather tonight to offer our deepest condolences, and I offer the condolences of the American people to all those affected by the horrific attack that took place just three days ago,” Pence told the crowd.

The vice president was joined by a group of dignitaries that included Governor Greg Abbott, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.

Pence was called upon to fill the role of America’s “consoler-in-chief” in the absence of President Donald Trump, who has been out of the country on a state visit to Asia since before the shooting rampage.

“President Trump wanted to come to Texas tonight to tell all of you, ‘We are with you, the American people are with you,’ and as the president said Sunday from halfway around the world, ‘we will never leave your side,'” Pence said to rousing applause.

Earlier, he met with wounded survivors and family members of the victims. Authorities have put the death toll at 26, including the unborn child of a pregnant woman who was among those killed. The number of children slain at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs otherwise stood at eight.

“Whatever animated the evil that descended on that church last Sunday, if the attacker’s desire was to silence their testimony of faith, he failed,” Pence said to cheers.

The killer, Devin Kelley, 26, dressed in black and wearing a human-skull mask, stormed into the church sanctuary and opened fire on worshipers with a semi-automatic assault rifle.

Kelley himself was shot twice by another man, Stephen Willeford, who lived nearby and confronted the assailant with his own rifle when the gunman emerged from the church.

Kelley managed to flee the scene in a getaway vehicle but shot himself to death and crashed in a ditch as Willeford and a passing motorist who was flagged down outside the church, Johnnie Langendorff, gave chase in Langendorff’s pickup truck.

Pence saluted the police, emergency personnel and doctors who had tended to the wounded, as well as the bravery of “those Texas heroes” – Willeford and Langendorff – who “pursued the attacker in a high-speed chase and saved the lives of Americans as a result.” Pence said he had met Willeford and Langendorff before Wednesday’s memorial service.

Preceding Pence to the microphone, Governor Abbott also praised Willeford, drawing a standing ovation when he declared, “Thank God there was a neighbor who helped save lives on that day.”

The comments from both politicians were enthusiastically received by the crowd.

“It was beyond good. People were hungry for what they were saying,” Beverly Perez, a retiree from nearby Adkins, Texas. “The community is rallying around those who are hurting. We hurt with them.”

No mention by name was made of Kelley, a former Air Force Airman who was convicted by court-martial and served a year in military detention for assaulting his first wife and infant step-son in 2012. Police records show he also escaped briefly from a mental hospital in New Mexico while facing those charges.

Authorities have said Kelley was more recently embroiled in a domestic dispute involving the parents of his second wife and threatening messages he had sent to his mother-in-law.

One of the women killed at the church, Lula Woicinski White, 71, was reported to be the gunman’s grandmother-in-law.

Reflecting lingering tensions in the aftermath of Sunday’s rampage, police were called to a park in Floresville about 2 1/2 hours before the prayer vigil by an unconfirmed report of a man with a gun. But a search of the park and adjacent cemetery by about 15 officers turned found no sign of an actual threat.

(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Sam Holmes)

A Texas school is devastated by church shooting

A Texas school is devastated by church shooting

By Lisa Maria Garza and Jon Herskovitz

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (Reuters) – It was heartbreaking for Jennifer Berrones to explain to her 7-year-old daughter Kaylee that her friend and classmate Emily was not coming back to school after Sunday’s church massacre in rural Texas.

“At first my daughter didn’t understand what had happened. She asked me if Emily was sleeping and I had to tell her that she was never going to wake up,” said Berrones, 36, an assistant at Floresville South Elementary School where her daughter and Emily Garcia were in second grade. “I told my daughter that Emily is now with God in heaven.”

Floresville is about 11 miles (18 km) southwest of the small town of Sutherland Springs, where Devin Kelley opened fire on a Baptist congregation on Sunday, killing 26 people and wounding 20 in Texas’ deadliest mass shooting. Nine of the dead were children, including one unborn, Texas officials said on Wednesday.

Many of Sutherland Springs’ children go to school in Floresville, and no school was harder hit than Floresville South Elementary, which lost two students and had three wounded, according to Floresville’s school superintendent.

On the school’s Facebook page, smiling students wearing black T-shirts saying “Strength through Hope” in comic-book script put on defiant superhero poses next to their teachers.

But inside the school the mood has been grim.

“The first few days were rough. Teachers, students and the principal were crying,” Berrones said on Wednesday.

Schools have brought in counselors to help children and staff deal with the grief and trauma. Some students like Alison Gould, 17, have been unable to face going back to school.

“I have been taking it really hard. I am trying to get this sunk in. It is really hard to think that your best friend is gone,” said Gould, after her friend Haley Krueger, 16, was killed.

Floresville High School hosted a memorial service on Wednesday evening for the victims attended by Vice President Mike Pence.

It was part of a long and painful healing process for a group of tightly knit rural communities about 40 miles (64 km)southeast of San Antonio.

Sutherland Springs lost about 5 percent of its population of 400. The town’s children go to school in nearby communities.

The official release of the names of the dead on Wednesday changed rumors to facts and brought more pain, residents said.

“We may need more grief counselors,” Stockdale Independent School District Superintendent Daniel Fuller said.

Mary Beth Fisk, chief executive of the San Antonio-based Ecumenical Center, has brought about 20 counselors to Sutherland Springs.

“It will be a long process of recovery. Often people take one step forward and three steps back,” Fisk said.

Sandy Phillips knows that process. Her daughter Jessica was one of 12 people killed when a gunman opened fire in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, on July 20, 2012.

Phillips set up a support group for survivors of mass shootings and plans to visit Sutherland Springs next week to help families.

“What they don’t understand is that their whole community has been damaged and traumatized,” said Phillips, who traveled to Las Vegas and Orlando in the wake of mass shootings in those cities.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz and Lisa Garza; Additional reporting by Andrew Hay; Writing by Andrew Hay; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Grant McCool)

Managing mental health for refugees in Greece. ‘People need time to mourn’

A migrant waits for transport at a transit camp in Gevgelija, Macedonia, after entering the country by crossing the border with Greece, November 4, 2015

DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Sam* is a Syrian mental health and psychosocial support trainer for the International Medical Corps in Greece.

“There is no such thing as an average day in my role as a psychosocial support trainer in the ever-changing and chaotic environment that Greece has become.

But my story begins like that of many others – fleeing my home in Syria to seek a better future in Europe.

Already having been detained and tortured twice for humanitarian work in Syria and fearing for my safety, I fled to Turkey in hope of being able to continue helping others.

Unfortunately I found that having fled from Syria and having a degree in international relations and vast experience of working with various NGOs does not guarantee asylum.

Stateless, I eventually left Turkey to cross the Mediterranean to Greece – a crossing that has already taken more than 400 lives this year alone.

For me, the worst part was hiding. Like every other Syrian refugee, I was only looking for safety – and yet I spent two months hiding, jumping at the sight of small animals, terrified of meeting another person.

We made it to Serbia, but things only got worse from there. Somebody overheard me and my companion speaking Arabic at a bus stop in Belgrade, and at 2am the next day we were kidnapped.

For a day these people, who I was convinced were under the influence of drugs, tortured us in every way they could imagine.

When the effects wore off they realized what they were doing and fled, abandoning us to find our way to the nearest hospital.

I did make it to Austria eventually, and then to the Netherlands where I was finally granted asylum.

However my journey was far from over.


“I have always felt the need to help people, and as Syrians continued risking their lives trying to find sanctuary in Europe, I knew exactly where I belonged.

As soon as I got my documents I applied for jobs with NGOs helping Syrian refugees, and left the Netherlands for Greece.

I go from island to island, training people in psychological first aid and supporting those providing psychosocial services.

It’s chaotic. Things change every day and it is difficult to predict what lies in store for these people.

Military hotspots have been popping up all over the country, making it ever more difficult for NGOs to access those who need our help the most. Many of these hotspots lack sanitation facilities and drinking water.

There is no war in Greece, but to me it is a battleground all the same.


“Everybody wants to help, but they don’t know that good intentions sometimes do more harm than good when it comes to mental health.

That’s what I am here for – to make sure that the mental health programs are adapted to fit the cultural context.

In Europe, it is acceptable to help somebody get over their grief by distracting them or trying to cheer them up.

But in my culture ignoring grief is considered shameful – we need time to mourn. The people getting off the boats in Greece – traumatized by the journey, homesick and often separated from their friends and families – are rarely given that time.

Being both a Syrian refugee and a mental health worker, I understand why people might fear refugees coming into Europe.

It’s the same fear I experienced on my own journey all that time ago – the fear of the unknown. Even if one single person stops being afraid, I will know I have done my job.”

*Sam asked to omit his surname for safety reasons.

This aid worker profile is one of five commissioned by the Thomson Reuters Foundation ahead of the first ever World Humanitarian Summit on the biggest issues affecting the humanitarian response to disasters and conflict.

For more on the World Humanitarian Summit, please visit:

(Editing by Kieran Guilbert and Katie Nguyen; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit

Daughter’s Balloon Message to Dad Brings Message to Her

In a situation defying explanation, a grieving widow and daughter received the most unexpected encouragement and peace on Father’s Day.

Johnny Seibold was only 43 when he died from pancreatic cancer in May, leaving behind wife Sandy and 13-year-old daughter Saige.

“He was an amazing man,” Sandy Seibold told the New York Daily News. “He was a hard worker, and he loved us. He did everything he could to get us everything that we wanted. We had a really good life, and that was hard to lose.”

On Father’s Day, Sandy took her daughter to her father’s grave.  Saige wrote a letter to her dad and attached it to a balloon that read “#1 Dad.”  The letter asked whoever found the letter to contact them.

“We thought the idea of sending balloons to heaven sounded good,” Sandy said.

The mother and daughter then left the cemetery to run errands and returned home 25 miles away from the gravesite.

To find the balloon and the letter hanging on a fence 100 feet from the house…where Saige and her father would often spend time working together.

“What are the chances?” Sandy said. “I think I started crying. It felt like a message from him.”

The two women say that they now have a lot of peace about losing Johnny.

Pope Francis Calls James Foley Family

Pope Francis shocked the family of slain photojournalist James Foley by calling them at home.

The family released a statement saying they were shocked by the surprise call but “moved and grateful” that the Pope would take the time to minister to them personally over the killing of their son.

The family also said they had permission from the Vatican to release the news of the call.

John and Diane Foley made a statement regarding the death of their son where they said they were proud of their son for exposing the suffering of the Syrian people to the world.

“[James is] finally free,” John Foley said to reporters.  “And we know he’s in God’s hands.  And we know he’s in heaven.”

Pope Francis released a statement saying that the international community needs to “stop unjust aggression” in Iraq.