When I was 9 years old, I was given an ugly necklace to wear every day. It was a dull, silver metal chain and from it hung a long flat pendant engraved with my name, date of birth, address, religious preference, and the names of my parents.
As a World War II veteran, my daddy knew this to be a dog tag. We were to wear these so that, in the event of Russia dropping an atomic bomb in our vicinity, we could be identified by those tags.
Most of my friends and I did not know much about Russia, except that they were a big country in Europe that wanted to destroy our nation, and that we should fear them. We prayed for their conversion on a daily basis as we were taught how to “duck and cover” beneath our desks, should the need arise.
I can recall wondering if the Russians bombed us while I was at school, would I ever have the opportunity to see my family again, and the mere thought terrified me. Some proactive Americans built bomb shelters during those troubling times, and although my aunt and uncle started a project to build one in their backyard, it was never completed.
During those years of my childhood, we feared an attack by a powerful enemy from another country. Now we have a new threat to our existence, and it’s not as much from another country as it is from individuals who live among us in our own hometowns and neighborhoods.
Every week, we hear of mass casualties inflicted by unstable individuals whose victim selections appear to be random and senseless. Active shooter drills have become a required part of the school curriculum, and it hit too close to home a few weeks ago.
Much has been said and written about the incidents of March 27, 2023. It was a gorgeous spring day, with no clouds to be seen in the bright blue sky over Nashville. Trees were budding, flowers were blooming, and the view from The Covenant School, located high on a hill, was spectacular.
There was no inkling of the horrendous sequence of events that would forever traumatize seven families and the hearts of all Americans. In seven households within our city, that Monday began like so many others, waking from slumber to the sound of an alarm clock or the voice of a parent telling their child, “Time to get up and get ready for school.”
Seven people ate their breakfast, drank their coffee, gathered up their books, papers, and whatever they might need during the course of the beginning of what was perceived as an ordinary week. There was no inkling of the horror that was to follow.
Only one of the seven had premeditated an unthinkable course of action that would forever cause heartbreak, horror, and disbelief in our city, state, and the entire nation.
The six unsuspecting victims included the head of the school, Katherine Koonce, who loved her job and the children who felt blessed to be under her leadership. Well-respected wife and mother to a son and daughter, she was revered by those who knew and loved her and devoted her life to the betterment of countless students. “She fostered deep and delightful friendships that left no one unchanged.”
Cynthia Peak, wife and mother of three, was a substitute teacher that fateful day that was to be her last on earth, doing what she loved.
Brittany Hill, one of Mike Hill’s seven children, said of her school custodian father, “A job that everyone knows he loved. I have watched school shootings happen over the years and never thought I would lose a loved one over a person trying to solve a temporary problem with a permanent solution.”
Nine-year-old Evelyn Dieckhaus loved to play with dolls and hoped to be an occupational therapist like her mother when she grew up. “Our hearts are completely broken,” said her family. “We cannot believe this has happened. Evelyn was a shining light in this world. We appreciate all the love and support but ask for space as we grieve.”
William Kinney, also aged 9, loved baseball and was celebrated and honored by his baseball teammates at their neighborhood park. He was described as “unfailingly kind, gentle when the situation called for it, quick to laugh, and always inclusive of others.”
Hallie Scruggs was among the innocent victims. She was the only daughter of Covenant Presbyterian Church senior pastor Chad Scruggs and his wife. With three older brothers, 9-year-old Hallie was the Queen Bee at home.
Out of respect for the family’s privacy, I refrained from contacting our dentist to express our deepest condolences upon the loss of his great-niece, but at the end of that week, I called his office and left a message to tell him and his family of our deepest sorrow and assurance of our prayers. I did speak with Hallie’s aunt and found it impossible to find the right words to speak and offer comfort.
Here are the powerful thoughts and words of Dr. Jonathon Scruggs the day after the murder of his great-niece.
“My brother’s grandchild was murdered yesterday. We should all take the blame. Hatred and divisiveness – we all contribute. We should all ask for forgiveness. SAY NO MORE!”
Copyright © 2023 Mary Margaret Lambert