By Jeanette Chaffee, Special to ASSIST News Service, terrorist survivor, speaker, and author
ROSEBURG, OR (ANS – October 12, 2015) – On October first I was driving around Tualatin, Oregon, and I nonchalantly turned on the radio. I heard the horrific news that a gunman had gone on a shooting rampage in a writing class at Umpqua Community College, killing nine and shooting nine others.
Immediately I remembered my own experience surviving a terrorist bombing on TWA Flight 840 back in 1986, how helpless I felt, and how grateful I was that God allowed me to live though other people died.
I felt the Lord instructed me to go to Roseburg and help in whatever way I could. I have to admit that it was with some nervousness that I headed 180 miles south.
I wanted to see what was going on when I arrived. The first thing I noticed was that signs giving gratitude to the responders and prayers appeared everywhere from McDonalds to The Lion’s Club.
Folks thought of ingenious ways to raise money for the victims’ families and funeral expenses. Elmer’s Restaurant displayed a poster about a garage sale and bake sale at the local paint store. A nearby school band got the idea to play four concerts and raised $2,000. A local tattoo parlor brought in $2,000 in one day offering a “Roseburg Strong” tattoo. In a home garage, people painted metal yard signs the shape of Oregon with a heart cut out for Roseburg’s location. $42,000 has been donated so far.
Then I drove up the hill within sight of the campus (at first off limits except for students and staff) to check things out. I noticed national media. CNN, Fox, ABC and CBS with their enormous moving van sized satellite trucks parked near the campus gate. Reporters were professionally dressed and “miked up” ready for action at any moment.
I was relieved to see the large Billy Graham Rapid Response Team trailer in the midst of the media vans. I stopped and paid a visit to Toni and Al New who are counselors with the team. They told me how people kept stopping by all day to thank them for being there.
At the bottom of the street leading up to the campus was a make-shift memorial along a metal fence. The sidewalk was lined with large hearts created from small stones with “Emilio” written on them. Stuffed animals, large and tiny cards, bundles of flowers, posters and an American flag were stuffed in the metal linked fence. In the middle was a huge banner with the shape of Oregon. It read: “Pray for Roseburg”. A five-foot wood cross stood at one end.
That’s when I saw them. The two posters. I was stunned. I will never forget them.
One read: “Stand up, stand up for Jesus, Ye soldiers of the cross. They stood up.” The other: “I’m Christian.”
I decided that hanging out at the memorial would be a good place to have the chance to talk and pray with folks who stopped by. I stood looking at the memorial. At times I walked by bunches of flowers, read the cards, and prayed.
Occasionally someone would park their car and come over. Shortly after they arrived, I’d quietly walk over and ask them if they knew someone who was being remembered. That’s when they would talk to me. Roseburg is a very tight-knit, small community of 22,000. I soon discovered that everyone either knew someone who died or knew of someone who knew of someone who died.
I met two teenagers, Sierra and Christina. Sierra’s boyfriend was best friends with Treven, one of the nine students shot dead. Treven’s father is a fire fighter in District #2 who were the first responders. Since her boyfriend now lives elsewhere and can’t come to the funeral, Sierra wanted to remember every detail to tell him daily by phone. We had a group hug just before they left. I was teary-eyed when they walked away thinking of how they were just kids and should never have had to experience this.
Then Jim drove up on a huge motorcycle. He was a rough-and-tough older man. He told me that his sister, Dodie, was good friends with Professor Levine who was the first one to be shot to death. Jim said he’d gone to a hilltop that morning and talked to his (dead) dad for several hours.
I searched and found a little note about Mr. Levine tied on the wire fence. Jim stared at it. I thought about the person who wrote that sentence and how they’d most likely never know how much it touched this burly man. To Jim, it meant the world. It reminded me of how the smallest gesture of kindness can profoundly impact someone.
After a short visit, I asked him – as I did everyone – if it would be OK if I prayed for him. He said yes. So did everyone. I assured him that I would be praying for him and Dodie, and that I meant it.
By the look on his face, I wondered if he had ever heard a prayer.
Desi and Carolin Perez with the Billy Graham Rapid Response team stopped by and met Tonya. Her daughter’s friend died. I was moved seeing how the couple attentively listened to her then prayed together.
Stephanie’s friend, Melody, found out a day after the shooting that her daughter had been killed. Melody’s other kids were eight years old and younger and kept asking where their sister was. One of them insisted that they go get her. Stephanie is a Christian and agonizes in how to help her friend. I encouraged her to be a friend, listen, care and pray. Then she said she had brought a gift for Melody and hung it on the fence. We walked over and she showed it to me…a little four inch cross tied on the barbed wire. It read, “Love Never Fails.” I took a photo of her holding the cross because she wanted Melody to see it.
Grief was all around me, and so much so that at times I was weighed down with heartache.
I had first met Rene by phone so I decided to stop by work to say hi in person. What she told me was riveting. Rene heard the best eight words any mother would want to hear.
Her twenty-year-old son, Shelby, had classes at UCC Thursday morning. He attended his first class at 7:50 am and then started walking over to Snyder Hall for his writing class. Suddenly he stopped and wondered if he had remembered to bring his writing journal. When he opened his backpack, he realized he’d forgotten it at home. He knew it would take about twenty minutes round trip and he had to have it even though it meant being a few minutes late. Ten minutes later he arrived home, grabbed the notebook, and headed back to UCC.
Police stopped him from entering at the college entrance. All they said was that he wasn’t allowed to enter. He headed for a nearby store and saw the tragic news on their TV. Shelby immediately drove to Redeemer Church. Rene had always told him that if anything ever happened, he was to go to church and she would meet him there.
When he called her – which he never did during his class hours – Rene asked him where he was.
“Where do you think I’d be?” he asked. “I’m OK. I’m at church waiting for you.” She sped to the church. They bear-hugged, and thanked the Lord he was safe.
I left the memorial and headed to Mercy Hospital in hopes of meeting and praying with my hero, Chris Mintz. He’s the ex-soldier who charged the gunman and was shot seven times. Chris wasn’t seeing anyone, but I spoke with Angie, his nurse. The message I asked her to pass on to him was that the world was praying for him. I also said how happy I was that he had a fun birthday party with his six-year-old son.
Chris returned home two days after my hospital stop. He faces many months in rehab which includes learning to walk again.
I walked out of the hospital and headed for my car. An older woman was standing in the parking lot and just winding up a media interview. I approached her and found out her name was Patti. She told me how she met Kim Dietz in water aerobics class and how much they both loved swimming three times a week. Kim and her eighteen-year-old daughter, Shannon, were so excited to be starting school together at UCC. Patti will be attending Kim’s funeral Sunday.
Patti is a devout Christian. I asked her how I could continue praying for her. She immediately knew three ways: for many opportunities to share the Lord, wisdom to know what to say, and that the love of Jesus would be seen in her life.
Arriving back at my motel that evening, Crystal (the night shift desk clerk) told me she had seen me on ABC news the prior evening. She wanted to know more about my own terrorist experience, so I shared it with her. Then she said her boyfriend – and the father of their three-year-old Brianna – had been murdered this February. He begged the shooter to let him live. Instead, the killer shot him five times. She showed me her tattoo and said it comforted her because her boyfriend’s ashes were mixed in with the dye. We held hands and I prayed for Crystal and her small daughter.
An exceptional memory for me was my private meeting with Fire Chief Greg Marlar in his office. He is a soft-spoken, low-keyed, and kind man. His team, District #2, was the first responders along with two detectives. He spoke of how one of his own firefighters, Justin Anspach, had lost his son Treven. I told him how very sorry I was and how I had met Sierra. I mentioned that her boyfriend was Treven’s best friend. We talked about how the community can help the grieving families. I shared with him what had helped me after my terror attack. I was thrilled he allowed me to pray for him, Justin, and all his men’s spouses and kids.
The Lord had given me the idea to go, opened doors for me to be there, and I am glad I went. Now I can share with others what is happening.
Your prayers for Roseburg make a difference. They are greatly appreciated.
Photo captions: 1) Body of victim being taken from the scene of the shootings. 2) Martyrs for Christ. One by one the gunman asked students if they were Christians. The nine who said yes were shot in the head. 3) Billy Graham Rapid Response counselors Toni and Al New from Kingstort, Tennessee. 4) Stephanie’s gift to her friend Melody, a grieving mom. 5) Billy Graham Rapid Response members Desi and Carolin praying with a mother. 6) A loving note to Treven Anspach who died. 7) The nine who died in the massacre. 8) Jeanette Chaffee.
About the writer: Jeanette Chaffee survived the midair explosion of a terrorist bomb less than fourteen feet away from her. She has appeared on CBS Evening News with Dan Rather, 20/20, The 700 Club, and other global television and radio shows. She has been quoted in Newsweek, The New York Times, and USA Today. Jeanette has authored Extravagant Graces: 23 Inspiring Stories of Facing Impossible Odds. It has become an instant classic, garnering dozens of five-star reviews on Amazon. She speaks at church services, conferences, community and church events, retreats, schools, and women’s clubs. Connect with her for speaking at: JeanetteChaffee.com.
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