By Paula Schlueter Ross (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Two seniors — identical twins — at Faith Lutheran High School in Las Vegas were among some 500 injured Oct. 1 in what has been called a “massacre” during an outdoor country music festival.
There are at least 58 fatalities in this latest mass shooting, the deadliest in U.S. history, according to news reports.
The wounded sisters, both varsity cheerleaders, are Gianna Baca, who was shot through the thigh and is recuperating at home, and Natalia Baca, who remains hospitalized after a collapsed lung but is stable. Both are expected to recover. (Watch an interview with them on “Good Morning America.”)
Also still hospitalized is a 2011 alumnus of Faith, who was shot twice and is in “serious, but stable, condition,” according to Dr. Steve Buuck, CEO of Faith Lutheran Middle School and High School.
It was, Buuck said, “a tough day for our school and certainly our city, but we have a God greater than all this, and His presence was felt … on our campus as prayers have come pouring in from around the U.S.” Those prayers are “felt and deeply appreciated.”
The 1,900 students from Faith’s middle and high schools met the morning of Monday, Oct. 2, “to pray, share Bible verses” and be reassured that counselors are “on hand whenever they need them,” Buuck told Reporter.
“Our faculty and staff have done a tremendous job of being the hands, voice and feet of Jesus to our hurting students.”
“Comfort dogs” from Lutheran Church Charities visited the students on Tuesday “and were a very welcome source of comfort for many of our students and staff,” Buuck said. “We deeply appreciate their important work among us.”
“The Faith family has been deeply hurt by the senseless massacre that happened at the Route 91 Harvest Festival this past weekend,” he added. “Yet amidst the pain, confusion and fear, God has been faithful to His promises of being close to the brokenhearted and providing strength and courage to us as He is indeed with us wherever we go.
“Faith Lutheran deeply appreciates the many prayers that have been lifted up for our school and all who mourn in Las Vegas,” Buuck said. “It’s beautiful to see God answering those prayers and providing the comfort and peace we need for such a time as this.” (See Buuck’s Oct. 4 blog, “Insights @ Faith Lutheran: Las Vegas tragedy and our response: thankful.”)
Another shooting victim, Phil Aurich — whose children are students at Faith Lutheran Preschool and Academy, Las Vegas — has endured two surgeries after being shot in the back.
“When I saw him in the ICU [Oct. 3], he was coming out of the anesthesia and was responsive and receptive to Scripture and prayer,” said the Rev. Craig Michaelson, senior pastor of Faith Community Lutheran Church, which operates the schools. “Thankfully, it looks like he will recover, but it will take awhile.”
Michaelson said several Faith students lost family members and loved ones. “One girl alone had four friends of the family who were shot,” he said, adding, “We are still trying to get our arms around all who have been impacted.”
An aide at the school’s K-5 Academy, Sherry Orne, who was working security at the concert, helped evacuate victims and care for the injured before first responders arrived. Michaelson asked for prayers for Orne “as she tries to recover from the trauma” of that night.
Christina Gruber, the mother of a former Faith preschool student, was shot in the leg. She attended the congregation’s Oct. 3 “Service of Hope and Healing” on crutches.
The pastor said he and school leaders are contacting school families “to see how they are doing, and to see if they were directly impacted by the mass shooting. We want to have a good handle on who has been impacted so we can provide long-term support.”
Said Michaelson: “We are just beginning to realize the ripple effects of this mass shooting in our community, but it is safe to say that we have all been deeply impacted.”
But even in the darkness of that nightmare, “the light of Christ is shining brightly,” the pastor noted.
The night of the shooting, “victims were being hauled to automobiles and taken to hospitals by people they didn’t even know.” And in ensuing days, residents have been “giving blood, water, food and clothes to hospitals and other emergency centers. Prayer stations and hugging stations have been set up in hospitals. Food is being delivered to ICU waiting rooms.
“God’s love is evident in mighty ways, and people have been very open to hearing of His love,” according to Michaelson, who said he experienced that firsthand as he visited people in hospital waiting rooms, sharing God’s Word — and praying — with them.
‘Someone close to us’
Effects of the shooting were felt even at Loving Savior of the Hills Lutheran Church and School in Chino Hills, Calif., about a four-hour drive from Las Vegas.
There, a member of the grade school’s staff, Administrative Director Donna Jaksha, lost her daughter-in-law, Rosio Jaksha, in the tragedy.
Since then, Donna, her husband, John, and son, Chris, have been in Las Vegas, and Loving Savior Pastor Rev. Andy Wu has kept in touch with Donna, who is very heavy-hearted since the senseless murder of her son’s wife. Rosio died Sunday night in a Las Vegas hospital.
The young couple has four children under age 6, and the elder Jakshas were babysitting them while their parents were in Las Vegas for the weekend.
Through the school’s public-address system, Wu has led Loving Savior staff and students in prayer for the family and has requested prayers via the congregation’s prayer chain. He also shared cell-phone numbers between Donna Jaksha and Synod pastors in Las Vegas so that “local Lutheran pastors can help [the family] while they’re there.”
Wu noted that, unlike most tragedies reported on TV, “this is someone really close to us and is someone we know, so it is bound to affect the school’s staff and students in a more personal way.”
His prayers are for “our country, for Las Vegas, for all the victims and rescuers and helpers, and for the family.”
But also, he added, to help students see the positive side, “that the greatness of humanity shows in all tragedies: strangers helping strangers, and people even sacrificing themselves to help others.”
It’s a real-life lesson, he said, “to help us to learn that when something bad comes, we come together and help each other.
“We know God is invisible,” Wu said. “But God’s love is not.” In the midst of heartache, it is there: “in us, through us and through the people around us.”
Entire community impacted
Even though no congregation members or school families at Mountain View Lutheran Church, Las Vegas, were killed or injured in the shooting, “many people know someone — a family member, friend or coworker” who was, noted Mountain View Pastor Rev. Derek Klemm. “This has impacted the whole community and we’re treating it as such from a ministry perspective.”
That includes letting congregation members who serve in law enforcement and medical fields know “they’re in our prayers and we are there for them,” said Klemm.
The day after the shooting, the congregation helped with immediate needs, such as sharing information about “blood drives and donations, comforting people, being available for conversation” and holding a prayer service.
“People are extremely receptive to deep conversations, and being available for people is key,” said Klemm. Especially important, he added, is “sharing God’s love and our hope in Christ with our entire city.”
LCMS Pacific Southwest District President Rev. Dr. Larry Stoterau said his office “continues to be in touch with our pastors and congregations as we learn more about the injuries.
“The emotional recovery for those who were at the concert will take time, with need for great love and care. We seek your prayers for those affected and for those caregivers.”
Posted Oct. 5, 2017