school shootings

'It Is Well With My Soul': Grieving Santa Fe, Texas, sings, prays and seeks answers after school shooting

'It Is Well With My Soul': Grieving Santa Fe, Texas, sings, prays and seeks answers after school shooting

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

— "It Is Well With My Soul," one of the hymns sung at Arcadia First Baptist Church of Santa Fe, Texas, on Sunday

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Two days after the nation's latest school shooting claimed 10 lives, residents gathered for worship Sunday — and reporters, not to mention Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, were there.

Given the location of the shooting, that's no surprise: Grief-stricken Santa Fe, Texas, is a "deeply religious community," as NPR described it. 

The people of the small town south of Houston "turned where they always do when they are troubled: their faith," the Dallas Morning News reported on its front page today.

Already today, tmatt delved into news coverage of the Greek Orthodox heritage of the 17-year-old gunman, Dimitrios Pagourtzis, who characterized himself on Facebook as an atheist.

But beyond the religious beliefs — or lack thereof — of the shooter, religion is a crucial angle of the story in Santa Fe. Here's why: It's impossible to understood that community or its response to this heart-wrenching tragedy without considering residents' faith in God. 

Given that, the New York Times deserves kudos for emphasizing the faith angle even before Sunday rolled around.

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Young Greek atheist in a trench coat: The matrix of symbols on display at Santa Fe High

Young Greek atheist in a trench coat: The matrix of symbols on display at Santa Fe High

No doubt about it. It's hard to get more Greek than the name "Dimitrios Pagourtzis." So, yes, I was not surprised to receive emails asking me the significance of the Greek Orthodox heritage (and ethnic dancing skills) of America's latest young student with guns and a mission.

Once again, we face questions about the contents of a gunman's head and heart, as journalists (and law officials) try to answer the always painful "Why?" question in the mantra, "Who, What, Where, When, Why and How."

The Orthodox connection is mentioned in most background stories about Pagourtzis. Here is a TMZ reference with a link to video. You will not, when viewing it, be tempted to shout, "Opa!"

The student arrested for gunning down 10 people at his high school appeared to be nothing more than a church-going dancer mere days before the shooting.

TMZ has obtained video of 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis participating in a choreographed dance for his Greek Orthodox church the weekend before he allegedly shot and killed 8 of his peers and 2 teachers.

Sources connected to the event tell us the dance was part of a larger Greek festival in a town about 30 minutes away from Santa Fe, TX where he went to school. 

In traditional, even elite, media this Greek Orthodox information is more likely to look like this -- care of The New York Times.

Investigators, meanwhile, are scouring his journal, a computer and a cellphone that Mr. Abbott said showed the suspect had been planning the attack, and his own death. ... 

In many ways, Mr. Pagourtzis was a part of the Santa Fe community. He made the honor roll. He played defensive tackle on a school football team that was the pride of the town. His family was involved in the Greek Orthodox Church.

As always, in this digital-screens world of ours, what a person does with his or her time in analog life (like dancing in an ethnic dance team) may not be as important as what the person expresses in social media.

It's interesting to note that the Times team did not include the following piece of social-media information about Pagourtzis -- which did make it into print at The Washington Post.

In the Facebook account, he described himself as an atheist and said, “I hate politics.”

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A laugh-or-cry correction: In Florida shooting story, AP hears 'sit and shiver' instead of 'sitting shiva'

A laugh-or-cry correction: In Florida shooting story, AP hears 'sit and shiver' instead of 'sitting shiva'

Here at GetReligion, we always enjoy a good correction from the world of religion news. Yes, it's a character flaw for which we probably need to repent.

But who can forget a few years ago when The Times of London reported that John Paul II was the first non-Catholic pope? They meant first non-Italian pope.

Or remember when NPR referred to "the late evangelist Rev. Billy Graham" — a year and a half before he actually died?

Well, now The Associated Press has issued "a correction for the ages," as one Twitter user aptly characterized it.

Here is the correction:

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — In a story Feb. 22 about the Florida school shooting, The Associated Press misquoted Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel in some versions of the story when he spoke about the families of the victims. He said, “I’ve been to their homes where they’re sitting shiva,” not “where they sit and shiver.”

As you might imagine, Twitter has taken notice of AP's mistake:

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Generic prayers for fallen hero: Lots of faith details missing in Parkland massacre coverage

Generic prayers for fallen hero: Lots of faith details missing in Parkland massacre coverage

Back in the days when he attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Joseph LaGuardia had a good friend who was working his way through some tough times.

But there were two constants that his friend could count on -- football and church.

The friend was Aaron Feis, who would later become a security guard and football coach at his alma mater. Feis has emerged as one of the most heroic figures in the school massacre in Parkland, Fla. Students said he used his massive frame to shield the innocent and was fatally wounded while doing so.

The national press has paid attention to the Feis story, with lots of quotes talking about his unique and powerful bond with students and his commitment to his work. He died in a local hospital, while friends sent out waves of social-media appeals for prayer on his behalf.

Today, LaGuardia is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Vero Beach, north of West Palm Beach. I don't know how the local newspaper found him, but his warm words about Feis added some interesting and poignant details to his life story.

The bottom line: Bless be the ties that bind.

As often is the case, there may have been a faith angle in all of those appeals for prayer. In a way, that's the theme that ran through this week's "Crossroads" podcast, which followed up on my earlier post about the Ash Wednesday-Valentine's Day shooting. Click here to tune that in.

But back to the TCPalm.com story about Fies, as seen through the eyes of this pastor who knew him well.

LaGuardia ... said Feis was a couple of years behind him in school, but the two grew close through their church, the New Covenant Church on the Lake in Pompano Beach.

“There were three of us friends who spent most weekends together,” LaGuardia said. “We were very active in the youth group, kind of always there when the doors opened. And his wife was also part of the youth group as well.”

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Friday Five: Florida school shooting, Ash Wednesday photo project, Pence's 'mental illness' and more

Friday Five: Florida school shooting, Ash Wednesday photo project, Pence's 'mental illness' and more

Sometimes, a single picture really does tell the story in a way that a thousand words — or a million words — cannot.

Such was the case with Associated Press photographer Joel Auerbach's image of one woman consoling another after this week's mass shooting at a Florida high school.

Auerbach's photo was striking. Powerful. Gut-wrenching. And yes, there was a religion angle. More on that in a moment.

First, though, let's dive right into this week's Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Most weeks, we've already introduced you to the story featured here. This week is an exception.

The religion story of the week is an interview that NPR did with photographer Greg Miller, who has spent 20 years documenting "the smudge on people's foreheads" on Ash Wednesday. The piece on "The Penitent Pause for a Portrait" contains a number of the images.

It really is worth a click.

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'Ghost' in South Florida school shootings? 'Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return'

'Ghost' in South Florida school shootings? 'Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return'

You turned on the television.

Within minutes you saw the images, you saw the religion "ghost." Clearly, the journalists behind the cameras knew what they were seeing.

It would be hard to imagine a more powerful image -- in terms of ancient traditions clashing with Life. Right. Now. -- than ashes in the shape of a cross on the foreheads of people caught up in yet another mass shooting of students and teachers.

The images, of course, called up words that would be familiar to any reporter who has worked, or is working, on the religion-news beat. We are talking about words that -- especially in South Florida's large Catholic community -- many people, including students, had heard that morning as a priest marked their foreheads with the sign of the cross, during Ash Wednesday rites.

"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

The prayer that many worshipers would have whispered during the rite are even more haunting:

Jesus, you place on my forehead the sign of my sister Death:
"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

So did this symbolic detail make it into many stories about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School? To my surprise, it did not. To see the context, let's look at the main story in The Washington Post. Did the national desk see the religion ghost?

PARKLAND, Fla. -- A heavily armed 19-year-old who had been expelled from a South Florida high school opened fire on campus shortly before classes let out Wednesday, killing 17 people while terrified students barricaded themselves inside classrooms, police said.

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Hurrah: Learning more about Antoinette Tuff's religion

The other day I was reading an obituary of Tom Christian, descendent of the Bounty mutineer. It was in the New York Times and written by my very favorite obituary writer, Margalit Fox.

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The heroism of Antoinette Tuff

A reader sent along a link to a story about an amazing woman who talked down a gunman at an Atlanta-area elementary school. Her name is Antoinette Tuff and the full 9-1-1 call she made — which includes her conversation with the gunman — is gripping. You can hear it from CNN here. Her courage is inspiring and her love for her neighbors is just beautiful. She talks about her own hardships to help him see that he’s not alone in having a bad situation. The love she shows the mentally disturbed man who could have destroyed so many lives is just staggering.

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Pay wall blues: This inspirational SI cover gets religion

Are there any working journalists in this day and age who do not have a love-hate relationship with paywalls, those digital fortresses erected by many publications to force readers to pay for their best online content?

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