On December 9th, I called my daughter, Jessica, who all of you know is a student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) in Daytona Beach, Florida. We discussed our upcoming Christmas vacation plans, her mid-terms, and me picking her up the following week. During our conversation, we both received a text message from ERAU’s automated alert system that there had been a police incident on campus and that the suspect had been arrested. We joked around about the alert but didn’t think much about it.
It wasn’t until later we found out the ERAU alert was about a student arrested for comments he had made on social media about how he was going to do his own Columbine massacre at ERAU. Daytona Beach Police (DBPD) stated the student made statements on Snapchat about his plans. Several students who were concerned about his online statements notified the DBPD, and they arrested the suspected shooter before he could implement his plans. DBPD’s explained the suspect had a backpack with a folding rifle and several hundred rounds of ammunition when they apprehended him. The suspect discussed how busy the campus would be because of students taking end-of-semester tests. Something as close to home as this causes us, as a parent, to stop and reflect on just how dangerous this world is. We get those morbid thoughts that plague us throughout the day.
Knowing that Jessica was fine, I started to push those thoughts out of my mind. There are too many of them to list, but as they come back into my mind as I write this, I will tell you I thanked God for those students that saw something and said something. I thanked God for the DBPD’s quick action and that I had had that phone call with Jessica that morning. Even though I knew she was safe, I couldn’t shake my thoughts, so I knew that I had to turn to God to help me get through this day and not do something foolish. These thoughts reminded me of a previous phone call I had with Wendy almost nine years ago to the day.
We all have those dates in history where we remember exactly where we were at that moment. I am old enough to remember where I was on November 22, 1963, the day of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Most of us can remember where we were on 9-11, and the shock of watching the Towers go down and the Pentagon on fire. December 14, 2012, I was with the Belleair Police Department. I was at a Christmas luncheon when I got a text from Wendy asking me if I was watching the news. From my phone, I immediately jumped on Fox News and saw the horror unfolding at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
I stepped out of the luncheon and called Wendy. She was crying about how young the victims were. Because of their ages, she told me that she wanted to go and get Jaycee, who was only five at the time, take her out of school, and just hold her. I explained to her that was a rational move and if it made her feel better to go and do it. It took her a minute, and then she stated that all the schools in the area were on lockdown because of the shooting and the girls were in a safe place. I told her that it was only natural to want to go and get the girls, and if she still felt that way in a few minutes, just go and get them. These were the same thoughts I was having on December 9th. I wanted to drive over to ERAU and pick up Jessica so I could protect and hold her.
This Christmas, I want all of you to gather around your loved ones and cherish the moments that you have together. Remember the past celebrations, remember those that have gone before us. Don’t let an angry word stand between you and a loved one. Life on this planet is short, and we need to remember the reason for the season. Christ came to earth to teach us about love and forgiveness. He came here to give us a gift of eternal life, and because of this promise, we know that we will see those not with us again. This is the season for promises and hope. Wendy, Jessica, Jaycee, and I wish you a wonderful Christmas and a safe New Year.
Jim, Wendy, Jessica and Jaycee Howard
Jim has many years of law enforcement experience and has run the safety team at his church for several years. TSA was formed after he realized God's calling when multiple churches reached out and asked him to present at their church.