Tragic Kinship: Students at Missouri Baptist's schools touched by shooting - Word&Way

Tragic Kinship: Students at Missouri Baptist’s schools touched by shooting

Students at Missouri Baptist’s schools touched by shooting

By Jennifer Harris
Word&Way News Writer

In the aftermath of the April 16 Virginia Tech attack, where 33 students, faculty and staff lost their lives, colleges and universities across the United States have announced that despite school affiliation, “today we are all Hokies.” Missouri Baptist schools were among them.

Missouri Baptist University, Southwest Baptist University and William Jewell College reported that they joined in remembering the events at Virginia Tech, praying for the friends and families of the deceased and injured, and looking for ways to increase security on campus.

MBU’s student ministries sponsored a prayer vigil on April 19. “MBU students, faculty and staff gathered around the university’s flagpole to pray for healing in the aftermath of the massacre,” MBC public relations specialist Bryce Chapman said.

More than 150 SBU students, faculty and staff joined with Bolivar residents for a candlelight vigil in Plaster Stadium. The vigil on April 17 featured group prayer, a speech by senior David Van Bebber, the reading of the victims’ names and the singing of “It is Well.”

“It seems like we’re searching for answers on a cloudy battlefield that we don’t want to be on, but honestly, answers aren’t easy,” said Van Bebber. “In fact, it would be a true shame tonight if you and I thought we could walk from here with some justification in our hearts, not feeling as bad as we did when we arrived. But that’s not why we are here this evening.

“We are here to call on a good God to provide peace to the many families who lost their loved ones, to ask God to provide healing to those injured just yesterday and to give comfort to the thousands struck with pain because of this tragedy,” Van Bebber said.

He urged the crowd to pray for the family of Seung-Hei Cho, the Virginia Tech student who shot and killed 32 people before taking his own life. He referenced the response of the Amish community to the killings in Nickel Mines, Pa., as he spoke of the need to forgive Cho.

William Jewell used the weekly “Jewell Time” community gathering on April 20 to observe a moment of silence in support of both victims and survivors. The student senate designed a banner for students, faculty and staff to sign.

“We felt that it was important to show our support of Virginia Tech because the tragedy was felt nationwide,” wrote incoming student senate president Tyler B. Folan and vice president Joy Mason. “Since we are college students, we also feel a connection to the college students at Virginia Tech.”

The recent tragedy has also caused the schools to take a look at their security. Gov. Matt Blunt has requested the formation of a campus security task force, which will seek to address how college campuses can increase emergency preparedness. Stephen Heidke, MBU director of public safety and transportation, will participate in the first meeting on May 7.

William Jewell dean of students Rick Winslow participated in an April 17 conference call with Blunt to address safety issues. While Jewell will not have a sitting member on the task force, it will have access to their reports, said Rob Eisele, WJC’s director of communications.

Winslow added that William Jewell reviews its crisis plan following each academic year and will consider the Virginia Tech incident as it relates to Jewell’s plan.

SBU is also reviewing its current Emergency Procedures Plan, said Mark Grabowski, SBU’s director of safety and security. SBU sent out a campus-wide e-mail containing information on what to do in a violent or threatening situation.

“We would eventually like to have all of our buildings equipped with a card access system like our dormitories currently have,” said Sharina Smith, SBU’s senior director of marketing and communications. “The three- to five-year plan for this security measure was already in progress prior of the Virginia Tech tragedy.”

The electronic card access system requires students to scan their student IDs to enter the dormitories or campus apartments.

Next fall, MBU faculty and staff will begin attending periodical emergency training sessions and simulations.

MBU’s Heidke is also researching new technology that will allow for advanced warning of incidents.

Prior to the attack, MBU was planning several security upgrades, including the installation of an electronic patented key system in all the residence halls this summer. MBU also plans to increase the number of Blue Light emergency phones on the main campus. The phones, equipped with speakerphones and strobe lights, allow the caller to be immediately connected to an on-duty MBU public safety officer.

Officers from the St. Louis County Emergency Action Team, and the cities of Creve Coeur and Town and County are set to visit MBU this summer to review potential emergency scenarios.

Students at all three schools said they still feel safe on campus, despite the events at Virginia Tech. (5-3-07)