By Jessica Brodie
TOWNVILLE—United Methodists continue to grieve this month after an elementary school shooting Sept. 28 claimed the life of a 6-year-old boy and wounded two others.
The shooting rocked the tiny community of Townville along with South Carolina and the nation, but immediately Christian love and prayers began pouring out on families there, wrapping them in comfort and care even as they tried to make sense of the senseless.
A 14-year-old boy is charged with shooting three people at Townville Elementary School, one fatally, on the school’s outdoor playground. The shooting injured a 6-year-old boy and a teacher, plus claimed the life of Jacob Hall, shot in the leg. Jacob had been airlifted to Greenville Memorial Hospital. After a series of surgeries, he was placed on life support and died. The shooting and Jacob’s struggle to cling to life sparked prayer circles, town gatherings and vigils across the nation.
Jeffrey Osbourne, the father of the suspected shooter, was found dead in his home about two miles from the school; he had been shot prior to the elementary school shooting. The alleged shooter is being held at the Greenville County Detention Center Juvenile Facility.
“We just walked with them,” said the Rev. Judy Hames, pastor of Dickson Memorial United Methodist Church, Townville, which shares a property line with the school as well as a close, supportive relationship.
Hames was one of the first on the scene after the shooting and said she tried to show the love of Jesus with the school.
“A lot of times all you can be is that presence,” she said.
Hames was at the school daily for two weeks as the school has struggled to return to what Hames calls “a new normal.” She said she was surprised to see the children have been leading the way as they all come to terms with what that means; at a recent open house, she said the young students walked right by their old classroom and right out onto the playground where the shooting occurred.
“You could hear the sounds of children laughing on playground,” Hames said, calling it one of the most hopeful sounds she’s experienced.
Few can say anyone led the way more than young Jacob himself, who before his death is said to have encouraged his family to soften their hearts toward the teen who shot him.
“Little Jacob told his mother that she had to forgive that boy because Jesus loves him, too,” Hames said. “In his little way he affected innumerable people.”
She said she is sure there are not any superhero costumes left in the state, referring to the way people showed support for Townville, Jacob and his family by dressing up as their favorite superheroes in his honor; Jacob was a big superhero fan.
Hames said the support and love of community and the nation has been powerful; she was there at the school one day when they got a call from Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and another when they got a box of cards from Sandy Hook Elementary. Both of those places had been the sites of mass shootings themselves.
“God has this way of taking smelly manure and making beautiful flowers,” Hames said.
In a statement to South Carolina United Methodists, Bishop Jonathan Holston prayed for the community and for the nation.
“Our hearts are heavy as we again learn of an act of gun violence, this time perpetrated at a school in Townville, South Carolina,” Holston said. “As United Methodist Christians, the disturbing trend of escalating gun violence is one that people of faith cannot ignore. As we lift up in prayer those affected in this community, let us lead in peacemaking and work to stop gun violence in our society.”
Holston and Anderson District Superintendent Susan Leonard-Ray were among many who attended a service at Dickson Memorial the Sunday following the shooting.
Leonard-Ray said Hames was a strong Christian link between the church and the school.
“The United Methodist Church was on ground zero of this crisis, and Judy has done phenomenal ministry there,” Leonard-Ray said. “The pastor is always appointed to the church and community, and here is a bright, shining example of a pastor serving in this way.”
She also said the outpouring of support from Hames’ fellow pastors in the district was overwhelmingly powerful.
“I probably received eight texts in a matter of 15 minutes notifying me of the shooting, asking is Judy OK, how can we help, what can we do,” Leonard-Ray said. “What happens to one happens to all.”
Hames said Dickson Memorial is helping collect for an existing fund to make the area where Jacob and the others were shot into a memorial. Checks can be sent (memo: playground) to Dickson Memorial UMC, P.O. Box 144, Townville, SC 29689, or to Townville Elementary School, 105 Townville School Rd., Townville, SC 29689.