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Leo Wildermuth, left, J.P. Wildermuth, and their mother Angela Wildermuth sang during “A Service of Suffering, Lament, Unity and Hope • On the Occasion of Gun Violence in Our Community” at St. Margaret of Scotland Church in St. Louis Oct. 24. Area residents gathered to mourn and find hope following at school shooting at the nearby campus of Central Visual and Performing Arts High School and the Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience.
Leo Wildermuth, left, J.P. Wildermuth, and their mother Angela Wildermuth sang during “A Service of Suffering, Lament, Unity and Hope • On the Occasion of Gun Violence in Our Community” at St. Margaret of Scotland Church in St. Louis Oct. 24. Area residents gathered to mourn and find hope following at school shooting at the nearby campus of Central Visual and Performing Arts High School and the Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience.
Photo Credit: Sid Hastings

After school shooting at Central Visual & Performing Arts High School, a prayer service at St. Margaret of Scotland shows solidarity and love

Archbishop Rozanski offers prayers, support after deadly school shooting at Central Visual & Performing Arts High School

By bringing our sadness, tiredness and anger to Jesus, we can find unity and hope as He calls us to action, Father John Vien told those gathered for “A Service of Suffering, Lament, Unity and Hope” at St. Margaret of Scotland Parish on the evening of Oct. 24.

Sean Bushlack was comforted by his mother Anna Bushlack during “A Service of Suffering, Lament, Unity and Hope • On the Occasion of Gun Violence in Our Community” at St. Margaret of Scotland Church in St. Louis. The Bushlacks are members of the choir at the church.
Photo Credit: Sid Hastings
“Jesus did not stand by when people were hurting — He plunged into their lives,” Father Vien said.

Three people died, including the alleged shooter, and more were taken to the hospital with injuries after a shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School and Collegiate School of Medicine & Bioscience Oct. 24. The schools, which share a campus at the corner of Kingshighway and Arsenal Street in south St. Louis city, are about two miles from St. Margaret of Scotland.

“Father, we know the sadness we feel is Your sadness, the same sadness Your son felt when he wept for the death of His friend Lazarus,” Father Vien said during the prayer vigil. “Help us to see these feelings as the way that you move us to act.”

Emily Schiltz, a parishioner at St. Margaret of Scotland, has two children at Collegiate School of Medicine & Bioscience: Ben, a junior, and Molly, a freshman, who were both at school when the shooting occurred. “It was a parent’s worst nightmare. I got a text, first from my son, saying, ‘Mom, I love you,’ then from my daughter, saying, ‘Mom, I love you,’ which is an unusual thing,” Schiltz said. “I found out a minute later that they were in a lockdown, and they were texting because they were afraid they weren’t going to come out alive.”

Schiltz, a speech language pathologist, left work and raced to the school. “I just grabbed my stuff, not knowing if there would be a way to get to them, but just thinking, let me get close,” she said. While she was on her way, Molly and Ben texted her that they were being evacuated, which gave her some comfort. They were reunited in the Schnucks parking lot. “It was just a huge hug and relief and release and terror all at the same time,” she said.

Schiltz and her daughter came to the prayer vigil “to show our solidarity and love for those that experienced even worse today, but also take a moment to sit in peace and prayer and be the recipients of care for what our family has experienced,” she said. “I was very, very moved by the service. And I was very moved by how many people came. I felt wrapped inside a community that feels the same horror and the same outrage that I do.”

Her faith calls her to action, now, Schiltz said.

Participants embraced at a prayer service Oct. 24 at St. Margaret of Scotland Church after three people, including the alleged gunman, were killed at the nearby campus of Central Visual and Performing Arts High School and the Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience.
Photo Credit: Sid Hastings
“Our focus is on social justice, and the reality that (my kids) shouldn’t have had to experience this today. And no other child should,” she said. “So our conversations are going to be, how can we use what our faith informs us, as far as care for those around us, to be part of the change that’s long overdue?”

St. Margaret parishioner Angie Reitenbach attended the prayer vigil with her daughter, Zanaida. Zanaida, a student at Cor Jesu Academy, has friends from St. Margaret of Scotland School who now attend the Collegiate School of Medicine & Bioscience.

“These were kids that we know, who were running away from their school. It’s right in our neighborhood,” Angie Reitenbach said. “There’s nothing really we can do right now but be present for them.”

Reitenbach said she knew even before she got a message from the parish that there would be some sort of gathering to pray. “This is the place where the community comes to celebrate and to mourn,” she said. “This is a home. This is a place for everyone.”

Juliann Hesed, co-chair of the parish’s Living Justice Ministries, emphasized that addressing gun violence is a life issue. “We are all created in God’s image. It comes down to the respect for human life — it’s that simple. Whether it’s the victim or the victimizer, God has created us all,” she said.

“We’re doing more than just praying. I think people are also very concerned about the issue and want to see some change in our society,” Father Vien said. “Both are needed.”

Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski offered his support for victims of the shooting in a statement Oct. 24.

“Once again people in our city have experienced the tragic loss of lives and the trauma of a school shooting. I am holding our neighbors in the Central Visual & Performing Arts High School community in my prayers,” he wrote

“It is a sad irony that this tragedy comes the day before the multi-denominational Vigil to Save Children’s Lives and Interfaith Gun Safety Initiative launch,” he continued. “I urge all people of good will to join together in prayer for everyone affected by today’s shooting, and for divine guidance as we continue as a community to seek ways of addressing the dual crises of mental health and violence.”

Father John Vien prayed at the prayer service at St. Margaret of Scotland Church in St. Louis Oct. 24.
Photo Credit: Sid Hastings
Alexzandria Bell, a 15-year-old sophomore, and Jean Kuczka, a health and physical education teacher, were killed in the shooting.

Kuczka, 61, began her teaching career at Seven Holy Founders School in south St. Louis County. She taught there for 16 years before moving to Carr Lane in 2002 and Central Visual & Performing Arts in 2008.

“I believe every child is a unique human being and deserves a chance to learn,” Kuczka wrote in a teacher message on the St. Louis Public Schools website.

Seven other students were taken to hospitals with injuries. Four had gunshot wounds: two in the leg, one in the arm and one in the hands and jaw. Two student had abrasions to the face and one had a fractured ankle.

Interim Commissioner of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Lt. Col. Michael Sack said authorities responded to the school within minutes of reports of the shooting and entered an area where they heard gunfire and killed the suspect. Police identified the suspect as Orlando Harris, a 19-year-old who graduated from Central Visual & Performing Arts High School last year.

Harris was employed at Cardinal Ritter Senior Services. “Our hearts and prayers go out to anyone who was impacted by the senseless violence at Central Visual & Performing Arts High School,” Cardinal Ritter Senior Services CEO Chris Baechle said. “Cardinal Ritter Senior Services has provided and will continue to provide full cooperation with local law enforcement to offer whatever assistance we can with this terrible situation”

The victims of the subsequent trauma are more than the injured and the dead, Sack said. They extend to the students who escaped, officers and other first responders who saw the carnage, he said.

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