Broken Halo by Amber Gutierrez

Dear Ryland,

Superman once said you’re much stronger than you think you are. Trust me. This must be a very confusing, difficult, and sad time for you. It is going to take time for your mind and body to heal, but remember that this is not your fault, and it is okay to feel scared and angry. I know this letter will not give you any answers, but there is hope that it provides some level of comfort.

Perhaps, in time and with a lot of reflection as you heal and get older, you might be able to forgive this young man.

Forgiveness can be defined as getting rid of any negativity that is the result of being hurt. This does not mean that you have excused the wrong that was done to you and your family. Being able to forgive also does not mean that you will forget – if that is even possible. Ryland, make no mistake the act of forgiveness is for you and not the man who hurt you. If you are ever able to do this, it is for your own happiness and ability to move past the sad events of Nov. 5 as you attended church services.

On Nov. 12, Mr. Frank Pomeroy, your pastor, asked more than 700 people to choose love. Mr. Pomeroy said, “We have the freedom to choose, and rather than choose darkness as one young man did that day, I say we choose life.” He also went on to say, “We can’t allow this act that happened last weekend to keep us from church. We can’t use it as an excuse for why we can’t or should not go to church. We can’t allow that act to let us turn heinous and ugly, as the darkness would have us to be.”

Even as a 37-year-old, what happened on that Sunday goes beyond my powers of understanding. Mr. Ted Montgomery, your deacon, said that only a couple of days before the shooting a young kid asked Ms. Karla Holcombe what to do if a person came and shot the church up. Ms. Karla said, “We would love them and forgive their sins.” Perhaps with time and much healing you will get to a place where you forgive the young man for his sins.

Now, imagine that you are Superman and what happened to you is your kryptonite. This kryptonite is hanging around your neck and will not let you start to get better. Think of being able to forgive this man as a way of getting rid of the kryptonite and letting go of any anger or hurt you may have.

Ryland, Superman has said, “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to preserve and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” Whenever you find that you are angry or sad, dig down deep and find your inner hero and defeat any obstacles that get in your way. In the end choose to persevere and to love.

A Prayer for Sutherland Springs by Jessica Gonzalez 

For the pregnant woman who died at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, hear this prayer. I want to imagine you leaving behind the dishes and the homework piles when you stepped into the church. You sat at your usual spot, familiar faces surrounding you as worship time grew closer. You bowed your head and closed your eyes in preparation of meeting with God. Just an ordinary Sunday until you heard the shots.

No one would have suspected anything amiss on the morning of Nov. 5. Dressed in black tactical gear and carrying a semi-automatic rifle, Devin Patrick Kelley shot the outside of the building before he entered. He walked down the pews and fired until everyone was down, and then left. As he exited, a local resident, Stephen Willeford, shot him twice before he drove away in his SUV. Two men pursued him in a high-speed chase until Kelley crashed in a ditch. When neither the gunshot nor the car crash killed him, he shot himself in the head. He was 26. He killed 26 people, plus himself, and injured 20 others.

When Kelley opened fire on the congregation, shortly after 11:30 a.m., perhaps you looked back only once. Did you realize the danger and place your hands on your children, connecting them to you for one last moment? Did you hear your fellow brothers and sisters say to one another, “I’ll see you in Heaven,” as the bullets brought down one person after another? Did you touch your youngest, Evelyn, and your husband, John, before your body fell? Evelyn and John survived when four of your children, including the baby inside of you, did not. The baby you were waiting to christen Carlin Brite ‘Billy Bob’ Holcombe.

Your pastor, a faithful man no doubt, lost his daughter too. Pastor Frank Pomeroy was not there when the shooting occurred, but his Annabelle was. Similarly, Kelley’s mother-in-law, the person with whom he had domestic issues, did not attend either. However, the people who believed like her did. Kelley, full of anger at God, took lives that were not his to take. Because of you, one of the 26 [victims], all eyes have turned to Sutherland Springs, population 700, a town unknown to the rest of the world before this life-altering event.

Instead of closing the First Baptist Church, it is now opened to the public. The bullet-ridden pews were taken out, replaced with 26 white chairs, the names of those who died in gold lettering. Your baby’s name included. Prayers have been offered in vigils, in small groups, and on social media. A man named Miguel Zamora traveled on foot from Kelley’s residence of New Braunfels to Sutherland Spring carrying a 200-pound cross to give as a gift. Many people are praying for your community. We are the ones left behind while you have found peace.

I hope and pray your baby only knew the sight of Heaven; knowing no pain, no sorrow, and no anger. Crystal, I pray this for you and for us.

On Sutherland Springs by Larissa Hernandez

Written in red cursive is the name Haley on a small square of hand-cut fabric. She thrashes in the wind alongside Keith, Joann, Brooke, and others. Star-shaped balloons and red hearts cling onto small white crosses etched with these names in thick, black ink. Sun-bleached flowers and stuffed animals make company with the unopened letters penned to the 26 names on the white crosses. The town of Sutherland Springs is but a sigh through the South Texas landscape, a humble tick on the clock while driving down U.S. Highway 87.

Nearing Cibolo Creek on Farm to Market Road 539, Stephen Hope stands waiting on the side of the road with his giant, wooden crucifix on wheels. After the traffic of visitors paying their respects and the barrage of reporters buzzing about the three blocks of the community have subsided, the town is seemingly deserted except for the few people who stop to look at the roadside memorial. The flag at the adjacent post office waves silently and the puddles of orange mud from the weekend rain sit unmoving. Above the makeshift privacy screen made of cyclone fencing and black tarp, the marquee at the First Baptist Church reads “Jesus Always Wins.”

Violence, as vehement or accidental as it may come, does not discriminate. It may befall anyone at a given moment. There are many beliefs, many arguments, many excuses, and there are many levels and parts in which everything would have to go exactly right in order to avoid tragedy. And while it seems that the tragedy of mass murders has become expected or unsurprising at this point – almost, but not quite nearing the urgency of cancer or the opioid epidemic – we can no longer wait for these events to affect us each on a personal level before giving it the attention it needs. Violence does not choose, it happens. We make the conscious decision of what to make of tragedy. This discussion begins at the 911 calls, but it should never end at the names written silently on small crosses or the matted teddy bears left beside the names of children.

To the people who cry to themselves in their cars, to the parents who for a few seconds out of their day unwillingly entertain the fear of a school shooting, to the people who feel it is better to ignore, and to the families and friends of Keith, Robert, Shani, Bryan, Karla, Crystal, Greg, Emily, Megan, Marc, Noah, Dennis, Sara, Haley, Karen, Scott, Tara, Annabelle, Richard, Therese, Joann, Emily, Brooke, Peggy, Lula, and Crystal’s unborn child: it is worth every effort to save what we have while there is still something left to save.

Scrawled perhaps through the tears and the unrelenting sobs that have now ghosted away in the … days since the shooting are the words “Love you, son” and “I love and miss you, Mama” among numerous other lines of love and gratitude that decorate the white crosses in Sutherland Springs. Cars and trucks continue to drive down U.S. Highway 87 and visitors keep coming in waves to mourn at the site of balloons and flowers. The banner of names crowns the growing collection of heartfelt posters and sympathy cards, every square of fabric twisting and dancing in the midday sun.

Avatar photo

Larissa Hernandez

Larissa Hernandez is a graduate student at Our Lady of the Lake University in the combined MA/MFA in Literature, Creative Writing, and Social Justice.

Avatar photo

Jessica Gonzalez

Jessica Gonzalez received her bachelor’s degree in English from New Mexico State University. Jessica is an instructional technologist for the Center for Teaching and Learning at Our Lady of the Lake...

Avatar photo

Amber Gutierrez

Amber Gutierrez is a U.S. Navy veteran and will graduate from Our Lady of the Lake University with a master's degree in December 2017.