El Paso Area Schools and Churches Respond to Students’ Fears After Shootings

Pastor JC Rico gets a few low-fives from school kids during PE at Immanuel Christian School in El Paso.

The morning of the mass shootings at an El Paso Walmart, Immanuel Christian School was having a workday for teachers and church members to prepare the grounds for the start of school.

Immanuel Christian, a ministry of Immanuel Baptist Church, is but a 2-minute walk from the El Paso Walmart where 22 were slain Aug. 3 by a lone gunman.

“That’s our Walmart. It is always busy,” Immanuel pastor J.C. Rico told the TEXAN.  “Anyone [at the workday] could have said, ‘We need paper bags. We need to run to Walmart.’”

They didn’t.

In fact, unbeknownst to those at the clean-up day, the shootings were occurring about the same time the teachers and church members finished their tasks and gathered together outside in the hot, El Paso mid-morning sun, to pray.

“We were praying in the schoolyard at the same time the shooting was happening. We had no idea,” Immanuel 7-10 grade Bible teacher Eva Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez headed for the Cielo Vista Walmart after she finished up at school that morning, only to change her mind and drive to a Walmart nearer her home instead. While in that Walmart, she received a call from her husband, an El Paso policeman, warning her about the active shooter.

An Immanuel preschool teacher was actually in the Cielo Vista Walmart parking lot as people fled the store in panic. The school’s athletic director had been there 40 minutes prior to the shootings. Others were at the Sam’s Club next door.

The uncle of an Immanuel senior, German-born Alexander Hoffman, a citizen of Juarez, was among the victims.

Usually the start of school means shopping for supplies or finishing summer reading or acquiring new uniforms and shoes.

The first day of school for many public and private schools in El Paso, was not what anyone expected.

For Immanuel Christian, the return of its 455 students to school Aug. 12 meant extra security and lockdown training its staff and teachers the week before, reassuring meetings with parents, and the presence of counselors, including Southern Baptist of Texas Convention Disaster Relief chaplains, for children and families.

“We have had security in the past and safety protocols in the past, but it’s really brought things close to home,” John Davis, Immanuel head of school, told the TEXAN, explaining that in addition to the measures already in place such as automatic locks and limited points of entry, the school added armed security officers — off-duty El Paso policemen — this year.

Families were asked to contribute toward the unexpected, non-budgeted expense and many have, Davis said.

Hector Vasquez, an El Paso policeman who was one of the first responders to the Walmart Aug. 3, is among the new security guards at Immanuel. He is grateful for the opportunity to be at the school.

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Source: Texan Online