During the press conference in Humboldt on Thursday with city and school officials in the wake of Tuesday night’s deadly shooting at the Vikings’ basketball game against North Side, Superintendent Janice Epperson not only had her school administrative team standing with her.
She also had three pastors from different churches in town standing with her too.
Higher Ground Assembly of God Pastor Joseph Montgomery, First Assembly of God Pastor Mark Hodge and The Church at Sugar Creek Pastor Greg McFadden showed solidarity with the school leader. And they said it’s not just after tragedies like Tuesday’s shooting that they’re active with the schools.
“Dr. Epperson is great at partnering with different people and entities, and I went up to meet her when she came here in the summer,” McFadden said. “And she insisted that I pray with her and wanted the churches and schools to lean on one another.
“Since then the doors have been wide open for us to be involved as much or as little as we’re willing and able.”
Hodge is also a member of the school board and said he tries to be at every function the school has as much as possible since he has five boys in the system. But he also said Montgomery actually is at every event the school system has.
“It’s not just us three, but a number of the pastors at churches around town reach out and try to do what we can to help the kids and faculty and staff at all our schools,” said Hodge, who also serves as chaplain for Humboldt Police.
Montgomery was at the game between Humboldt and North Side on Tuesday and was in the gym when the shots were fired in front of the concession stand in the lobby at halftime of the boys’ game. He said while there was an appropriate amount of fear and anxiety among the people in the gym, everyone did a good job of staying where they were instructed to stay by school officials and law enforcement who were working security at the game.
Hodge was not at the game but got to the gym as soon as he could once he heard what had happened. He said he arrived about 15 minutes after the shooting, got parked and was directed to where Epperson was as he was trying to check and make sure she and the school system had what they needed.
Once they both knew everything was under control, the pastors said a lot of their time was spent leading others in prayer and counseling on site in the immediate moments afterward for any students or adults who needed immediate help. Montgomery was also with the family of Justin Pankey, a recent graduate of Humboldt who was killed in the shooting, when they arrived on the scene and after they were told of Justin’s death.
“I knew Justin and he was a great kid growing up, and I knew he had a family and parents that made sure he’d get back in line if he ever got out of line,” Montgomery said when asked about conversation with the family. “And then I let them know I and a lot of other people are here for them if they need us.”
The pastors weren’t the only ones reaching out for support after the shooting.
After Humboldt Schools took a day out of class on Wednesday and returned to class on Thursday, counselors from neighboring districts in Haywood County, Milan and Gibson County Special Schools were available for any students who needed someone to talk to as well.
“We had assemblies (Thursday) morning, and some of the kids that were emotional because they knew Justin, we were able to get them in a one-on-one environment to help them and just let them talk to someone,” Epperson said. “And we’re glad we had extra people from the neighboring systems to help with that.”
The school system also set up a QR code on their website for anyone to reach out for counseling digitally and get appointments or phone calls set up.
“We appreciate the support and love we’ve received from all around, and we thank everyone for thinking about us as we move through this extremely difficult time,” Epperson said. “And I appreciate the churches in town for being available for our students too.”
Reach Brandon Shields at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 731-425-9751. Follow him on Twitter @JSEditorBrandon or on Instagram at editorbrandon.
This article originally appeared on Jackson Sun: Humboldt Schools grateful for community support