So my boss and friend, Kathy Lentz, brought in an obituary to work this morning. I work at St. Martin's Drop In Preschool. The obituary was for a Blakely Jernigan, 22, of Columbia, SC. He died Wednesday morning. This is the story I have pieced together.
Blakely grew up in a sweet family. He went to St. Martin's for preschool, and his family is still members at Shandon Methodist Church. He was an eagle scout, a youth group kid, a scholarship kid to Clemson. He got involved with the wrong crowd and ended up making a string of bad decisions involving drugs. He dropped out of Clemson and was living in Columbia again. Wednesday morning while it was still dark, a suspicious car in their neighborhood was reported. Shandon neighborhood is a historic place where doctors, lawyers, and professors live. The homes are pricey, yet have lots of charm and character. University students live spread throughout in duplexes. When an officer responded and pulled the car over, Blakely was the driver. He shot the officer point blank and sped off. A swat team found Blakely at an apartment in the neighborhood, and tried to talk him out. They called his father to come to the scene to reason with him. Blakely's father talked with him and everyone thought he was going to surrender. This boy then came out of the building, guns blazing, and fired rounds from an AK 47 at the swat team. They shot back, and Blakely's body lay for hours on the lawn while they made sure all of the explosives he had owned were safely disposed. The local middle school rerouted buses, a neighborhood preschool stayed closed, and businesses nearby opened late.
Here's the thing. This child had parents. A mother sitting at home waiting to hear how this nightmare ended. A father that had to go to talk with his son only to watch him gunned down by police. An officer on duty for only five days before being shot in the line of duty. He lived by the way. His bullet proof vest saved his life. A swat team made up of people that have to live with the scene of their bullet killing another. My mind immediately wanders to the father. Did they have to hold him back? Did he cry out in agony? Did his son see him as he came out of the building? Dear Lord. Why? Why this? How will this be made whole? How will good be brought forth? How? I don't have the answers.
But I did have a talk with my oldest son. My boss - Kathy - said to me as she handed me the obituary, "This was a Key. He was like your son. He was good." And so I told my Key Blakely Jernigan's story. He ducked behind the couch with tear rimmed eyes. But still Michael and I told him til we were sure it sank into his heart, "We love you. Nothing you do can take that away. Nothing. We all make mistakes. There may be consequences for our actions, but our love will not go away. Ever. That daddy tried to tell his son, and his son didn't hear him. So we are telling you now. Before you get older, before you don't hear us. Let this sink into your heart. Our love is for always and always."
We said other things as well, about not allowing others to make decisions for him, about how he can come to us if he feels confused or pressured. We talked about a lot of things. Key is so small, and yet, in three years he will start middle school. Kids he goes to school with now already face decisions about gangs and drugs. Key's eight. And it all just breaks my heart.
And finally in all of this, I still don't get why. I still don't understand it all. I want God to rewind. To make it end differently. But I can't. Understand. The why, that is. But - I can remind myself as I did Key, that there may be consequences, we all make mistakes, but nothing we do can break us from His love. Nothing.
And Dear Lord, I pray for the Jernigans. And the swat team. And the officer. And just plain everybody.