I don’t know if I can tell the story again, so I’ll copy and paste a letter which I wrote to my family yesterday.
I thought I should write and give you an inside perspective on what happened this weekend.
Over the last month and a bit, my friend Martin Martinez and I have been talking quite a bit. He’s from Puerto Rico, but is going to university in Iowa. He has Spring Break from school this week, so I suggested to him that he should come up to Canada to visit. He’s best friends with Jon Gregory, who lives outside Chicago, so I said he should convince Jon to come so they could make a road trip out of it. Martin also mentioned the idea to Ann Rankin and Adam Binns, who attend church with him in Iowa, and they decided to come along as well. They left Thursday afternoon and drove to Chicago, where they stayed the night with the Gregory family. The three of them stayed up until 3AM playing poker with Jon and his younger brother James. At the end of the night Jon and James made sure they hugged each other. Martin, Ann, Adam and Jon left for the Bowmans’ the next morning (they were delayed by a few hours because Jon slept in :)). Mrs. Gregory sent them with individual baggies of grapes 🙂 They arrived around 10, when we met them by frantically dashing to the door to surround them with hugs. I hadn’t seen Ann, Adam or Jon since this past summer, and I hadn’t seen Martin since the Feast in 03. It was quite a reunion. The next morning Mrs. Bowman prepared a wonderful breakfast for us, and we headed out to Toronto. Mr. Weston had scheduled a public Bible study for that morning, and we decided to go to support the effort. The Bible study was a success – I think we had 38 new people in attendance. We herded up all the kids in Toronto (I think there were around 30 of us) and went out to lunch at Swiss Chalet. Later we returned for church services, where Gina promptly threw up all of her lunch. Our new minister, Mr. Elertson, was up and running around during the sermon, which we thought was odd, but we suspected his wife was sick or something similarly benign as that. I think someone must have called World Vision, where we were holding services, and contacted Mr. Abasolo, who then contacted Mr. Elertson. After Mr. Weston finished his sermon, Mr. Elertson must have told him what had happened. Just before the closing prayer Mr. Weston walked up the side of the room and pulled Jon out from the front row. Martin and I joked that he was probably getting in trouble for falling asleep during church while sitting in the front row 🙂 After the service was over we were all wondering what had happened and why only Jon had been pulled out, but a few minutes later Mr. Weston rounded up all of the kids in a separate room. He told us that a deranged member of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin group had entered the service and started shooting. Jon’s younger brother James had been killed. At that point that’s all that they were able to confirm, and that’s all that we were told. It was an incredible shock as it was, and I think it was good that they protected us from knowing about the rest of the victims. Martin, Ann and Adam were hit especially hard. They had just stayed at the Gregorys’ house the day before. They had taken James to an arcade, and used his knowledge of where the mall was to sneak up on Jon while he was working 🙂 Sarah and Gina were also hit hard, as they have stayed with the Gregorys on a few occasions, and Sarah is also close friends with Jon. Mr. Weston and Mr. and Mrs. Elertson were with Jon most of the time, comforting him. Mr. Elertson is from Milwaukee, so he knew every person there, he knew the room, he knew the doors the man had entered, and he personally knew the shooter. We asked him what the man had been like, and he said that he had been quiet and not overly sociable, but had always seemed like a nice man, and no one had ever had any problems with him. He had been baptized in 1985. Mr. Elertson also has family which attend in Milwaukee, including a young niece – but their family was away for the weekend because of a social in another area. Mr. Weston and the Elertsons were arranged a flight home for Jon. They got him on the first flight out, so he had only a small amount of time to hear the news, grieve, and try to compose himself for travelling. They unfortunately weren’t able to arrange a flight for someone else to go with him, so Jon had to travel alone. They did, however, make arrangements for him to be taken care of by the airline personnel. Over the rest of the night we heard more news about the other victims: some true, some thankfully false. Jon’s dad Randy Gregory was killed, along with his little brother James. His mother was also shot, but is in stable condition now. Bart Oliver, one of my little camper friends from two years ago and brother of my friend Nick Oliver, was also killed. Apparently he was hit by the bullet which also killed James. Nick’s fiancée Angel was also hit in the stomach, but is in stable condition. I heard an interview with an older woman who explained that even after Angel had been hit, she was trying to get up and help other people. Everyone had to tell her, “Angel, sit down.” She said, “Oh, I’m not hurt that badly,” and tried to help others. Mr. Diekmeier, the grandfather of our friends Aaron and Mike, was killed. I don’t know the other three victims — Gloria Critari, Gerald Miller, and Richard Reeves, but apparently Mr. Miller jumped in the way and took the bullet for an older woman who survived. Two other people were hit: a guy our age named Matt was apparently hit twice – in the shoulder and neck – but is stable, and a 10-year old girl named Lindsey, whom Martin, Ann and Jon worked with at pre-teen camp this summer, was also hit in the leg, but has been released.
We’ve been at the Bowmans’ house this entire weekend, grieving together. I don’t think it was an accident that we were all together this weekend, or that Jon was with us. Jon should have been there this weekend. He should have been mowed down with his family. He wasn’t because he was with us. It’s A Wonderful Life. If we hadn’t planned this weekend, Jon would have been there. The weekend was planned because I’ve been talking to Martin…and I’ve been talking to Martin because he broke up with his girlfriend…and he broke up with his girlfriend because…… — it’s a huge chain of events. To me it was obvious from the beginning that Jon had been protected. He *should* have been there. It wasn’t a coincidence that he wasn’t, and it wasn’t a coincidence that we had a mob of young people together from whom we could all draw strength. The situation has an eerie similarity to that which we faced when Eric Burson died. We were all away, staying at the Blanchards’ with a group of young people. I think God is continually providing us with the strength and support we need to get through these trials.
Martin has heard from Jon twice today. His mom is improving, but I’m not sure how severe her injuries are. Apparently she was hit in the abdomen, causing liver damage and a blood clot which later had to be removed from her lungs. Today Jon had to tell her about Mr. Gregory and James. Martin, Ann and Adam are driving to Milwaukee right now to give Jon all his stuff which he left at the Bowmans’, and to check in on him. He has some family from his mom’s side with him right now, along with Mr. Bryce and Mr. Sheldon Monson. Mr. Gilchrist is also flying up, as he was the area pastor there for many years. Right now we’re just waiting to hear what the plans for a memorial service will be. Gina is in Kingston right now, so if plans are made within the next couple of days, she, Kristen Lewis and I are planning on driving back and maybe meeting up with the Bowmans, Sarah and Mike Heykoop, so we can all drive up together. I was supposed to have to take an exam tomorrow, but thankfully my prof was compassionate enough to excuse me from it. Right now we just have to wait.
So many people are affected by this tragedy. The Church as a whole is so small and interlinked that it is impossible to not be affected by it. We all need prayers right now – especially the families, but also the rest of us who are affected. Pray for Jon and his mom, Nick and his family, along with all the others. The Church has been forever changed.
I love you.