'Grieved' Connecticut church community responds to shooting

NEWTOWN, Conn. — Area churches are preparing to provide any assistance that may be needed for families impacted by Friday morning's mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, where at least 27 were killed, including 20 children.

Bryan Sims, pastor of Southbury Baptist Church, about 15 minutes from the school, said he was contacting members to see if any of them were directly impacted.

"We're all very grieved, definitely praying for those who are going through that down in Newtown. It's such a tragedy. It's one thing when it's adults, but when it's little children being killed, it's just hard to fathom," Sims said.

"I've emailed everybody in the church and put it on our church Facebook page that ... I'm here to talk, pray if anybody needs to. I'm kind of gauging the response right now. I'm not sure if people want to come to the church or if they want to be with their families right now," Sims continued.

The tragedy unfolded when a young man entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut where is mother worked and began a terrifying shooting spree which left 27 people dead.

The Associated Press reported that the shooter, a 20-year-old male identified as Adam Lanza, was also dead inside the elementary school. At least three weapons were recovered at the scene, including a .223-caliber assault rifle and two semiautomatic handguns.

Witnesses reported that up to 100 shots were fired and that the shooting happened in two kindergarten classrooms.

The shooting is the nation's second-deadliest school shooting, exceeded only by the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, which left 32 people and the gunman dead.

Sims said Southbury could itself use prayer to know the best way to respond to the tragedy.

"We're just here to reach out to anybody we can," Sims said.

Mark Angerosa, interim director of mission for the Western Connecticut Baptist Association, said they would work across denominational lines to access the need for assistance, even as the association is still responding to Connecticut's damage from October's Hurricane Sandy.

"It's still very early to tell," Angerosa said. "There are some ... very large churches in that area. In the evangelical community in Connecticut, we tend to work across denominational lines where it's helpful. And we'll certainly see if we can get on board with anything they are doing in that area already."

According to Angerosa any outreach could be an extension of disaster relief already underway in response to Hurricane Sandy.

"It's been a very difficult few months with the hurricane and now this tragedy is just devastating," said Angerosa.

Lisa Siedlecki, director of communications for the mega five-campus Walnut Hill Community Church, said many of the families in Newtown attend Walnut Hill's Danbury campus. Walnut had just held an emergency response meeting to prepare a ministry response to the tragedy when Baptist Press spoke with Siedlecki.

"It hits home here. We have families there," Siedlecki said with tears. "But our families are, I think right now, all accounted for, which is good. There are a few we haven't heard about so we have pastors out there now. We've had pastors there since early this morning. We've got a team there now ministering to the families."

Walnut Hills cancelled Friday's Christmas musical to instead hold a prayer service, she said. "We are opening our doors to the community for prayer [Friday] tonight. We've also got pastors mobilized in our prayer room and chapel for people who ... need to come and be prayed for. We've engaged the counselors we work ... with, at a Christian counseling center ... in Danbury, which is kind of our hub town in our region."

"What I can tell you is ... everybody is just devastated to the core," she said. "The people who live in Newtown come to our main campus that's been there for 30 years. Everybody's wrecked.... We can't begin to even predict what the long-term effect is going to be."

Angerosa said that there is going to be a lot of personnel in the area, both Christian and secular. He said that the important thing is being able to find out what exactly the needs are.

"Right now ... they're in shock and the initial grieving process is going to be huge. It's going to be community-wide. Until we connect with some of the churches there and find out what their needs are, it's hard to know exactly what we can do," said Angerosa.

"I have found oftentimes people want to go immediately when they hear that there is a problem or tragedy or disaster," Angerosa said. "But sometimes it's good to take a step back, try to make connections with people and get a good feel for what's really happening before just rushing in."

Christian Examiner staff contributed to this report



News report from Dan Mallory, Connecticut Governor