Sometimes the unthinkable happens. We hear sirens; see fire trucks, ambulances, and police cars all heading towards the local school. Tragedy has surely struck! This was the scene witnessed by many in the town of Stillwater Oklahoma (in 2016) as a young women walked into one of the elementary schools carrying a backpack, and exclaimed, "I'm here to take all the children to heaven." Obviously, the school went into crisis mode! Office staff were able to quickly subdue the intruder; still the extent of what they were dealing with was unknown. Authorities were called and an evacuation of the school was begun. Children were escorted out of the building to a "safe place" while police and fire teams secured the building. Fortunately no explosives were found. The event ended up not to be an act of terrorism but rather the acting out of mentally unstable woman. Still, the children had witnessed an alarming scene. Though the teachers did their best at maintaining order and calm, many of the children knew that something was terribly wrong. "What do we tell the children?", one mother asked. My recommendation is to comfort them with the truth.
The fact of the matter is, all went well: The intruder was quickly subdued. Police, fire, and ambulance personnel all arrived quickly. Not a single child was physically injured. The evacuation plan worked perfectly. Children were reunited with their parents quickly. Everyone was safe. Sure, the potential threat was real; but the preparations and response was adequate. The children can be comforted by drawing their attention to the many ways the school, parents, and community has prepared to protect them. The children too should be praised: they followed their teachers on command and moved to a safer place.
There are many ways to share comfort following a traumatic event. But one of the ways to comfort children in events like this is to comfort them with the truth.
Dr. Allen Schneider is a United Methodist pastor and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist presently serving the Sapulpa and greater Tulsa communities.