In his first sermon since his 9-year-old daughter was killed in a mass shooting at a Christian school, Chad Scruggs, the senior pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church, opened up about the complicated nature of grief and thanked the church for supporting his family amid their pain.
“First of all, we love you,” Scruggs told his Nashville-based church in a May 14 message titled “Loss and Gain.”
“We loved you before March 27, and we love you more now because of how you have loved us.”
Scruggs' youngest child and only daughter, Hallie, was one of six people murdered on March 27 in a mass shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville after 28-year-old trans-identified shooter Audrey Hale fired through its doors and entered room after room in search of people to kill. Hale was shot dead by police officers who rushed to the scene about 14 minutes after the initial 911 call came in.
Scruggs said his family is often asked how they are doing, but “we just don’t know how to answer it yet.”
“We're doing not well; kind of searching for a new baseline in life right now,” he said.
The pastor said he is finding comfort in C.S Lewis’ book A Grief Observed.
“Lewis talked about that loss like an amputation, which has been helpful for me for this reason. How are you doing? Well, we're learning to live with a part of us missing,” Scruggs said.
“Like losing an arm, perhaps, knowing that the phantom pain of that lost arm will always be there with us, just know that from our perspective now it feels impossible to ever pretend the arm will regenerate or that it will ever feel whole this side of Heaven. So I'd say we're learning to live with sadness. And I will tell you that that's OK. You can do that. Learning to live with sadness.”
Scruggs said he’s thankful that he, his wife and their sons, have never felt “alone” in their time of grief and thanked his congregation for their support.
“You have shown up to suffer with us, which is an acknowledgment that love under the shadow of the cross is often best expressed not with words but in presence and tears.”
People experience death, the pastor said, as the “cutting off of relationships.” He drew parallels between the love his family has experienced from the Church and the women at the cross with Jesus.
“Death destroys families,” he said. “Yet here's Jesus in His own death, assuring us that in Him, relationships are never severed. Families are not destroyed, but just the opposite. They're actually expanded and grown in Him.”
On its website, The Covenant School is described as a ministry of the Covenant Presbyterian Church, with both located in southern Nashville. The school was “created to assist Christian parents and the Church by providing an exceptional academic experience founded upon and informed by the Word of God.”
Hale shot her way into the private elementary school on the morning of March 27, fatally gunning down three 9-year-old students and three school staffers as she unleashed 152 rounds.
In addition to Scruggs, students Evelyn Dieckhaus and William Kinney were killed, as well as school janitor Mike Hill, substitute teacher Cynthia Peak and school head Katherine Koonce, who reportedly ran toward the shooter to try to protect the children.
Hale was armed with two semi-automatic rifles and a handgun before being shot and killed by responding police officers. Nashville Police Chief John Drake said the preliminary investigation indicated the shooting was a planned, targeted attack.
The FBI and police have yet to publicly release a motive for the shooting. However, Hale, who previously attended the school, reportedly left a detailed manifesto and plan for the shooting at her home and in her car.
Earlier in May, the National Police Association filed a lawsuit against Nashville and Davidson County to make Hale's manifesto public. The Tennessee Firearms Association also filed an administrative appeal for the materials.
"It has been more than a month since the shooter was killed and the officers involved have been praised for their actions in the incident," Doug Pierce, a lawyer for the NPA, said. "Accordingly, there is no criminal case and there is no reasonable likelihood of there ever being a criminal case arising from this incident."
"The Metro Nashville Police Department has sought to rely upon a rule of Criminal Procedure to deny public access, but those Rules only relate to a 'criminal proceeding," Pierce added.
Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org