By JOHN FORTMEYER
A tragic, unexplainable shooting June 5 at a private Christian university in Seattle. Another, just as tragic and unexplainable, five days later at a public high school in Troutdale.
Shock. Tears. So many unanswered questions.
Prayer vigils at both sites. Graduation ceremonies, made very emotional by the sad events, go on as scheduled within days for both schools.
Oregon’s governor orders flags to fly statewide at half-staff on June 17 for the two young victims — both from the Portland area — of both shootings.
Then a series of memorial services, including at Beaverton and Boring churches, respectfully, for the two young victims. Hundreds gathered at Village Baptist Church June 15 to remember Paul Lee, 19, a graduate of Westview High School in Beaverton who was a freshman at Seattle Pacific University when gunned down there. Hundreds more came to Good Shepherd Community Church June 22 to honor the memory of Emilio Hoffman, 14, a freshman who was killed by a fellow classmate at Reynolds High School.
And documenting it all in great detail was both local and national media.
The juxtaposition, both timewise and geographically, of the two shootings as well as the common link to the Portland area made the two tragedies seem almost to blur into one. That factor was perhaps especially symbolized when a multitude of sympathy cards and notes from Seattle Pacific students were sent to the Troutdale school and displayed on tables during a special candlelight memorial service that drew 1,000 people to Reynolds’ football field on the evening of June 17.
While the “whys” of the incidents may never be known, the “who, what, where” facts behind the two shootings are now common knowledge as a result of the extensive media coverage.
The alleged shooter at Seattle Pacific’s Otto Miller Hall, 26-year-old Aaron Ybarra, of Mountlake Terrace, Wash., was not a student at the university. He was subdued thanks to the heroic actions of student Jon Meis. Ybarra faces murder and assault charges; two others at the university were wounded. Authorities say Ybarra struggled with mental health-related issues in the past and leading up to the shooting. It is not known why he targeted Seattle Pacific. Ybarra pleaded not guilty at his arraignment June 23, and his lawyer said he’s planning an insanity defense,
“The Seattle Pacific University community has endured a senseless act of violence resulting in the death of one of our precious students and the injury of two others,” said SPU President Daniel Martin. “We have been shaken deeply. I have no words to adequately convey the grief we feel about this event, or how it has affected each of us — students, faculty, staff, and administrators … There has been an outpouring of love and support for SPU from Seattle, the nation, and the world. I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to reach out to us; your love and support has helped sustain us during this difficult time.”
The son of Peter and Mira Lee of Bethany, Lee was described by his professors as always positive, and with a great wit. In Facebook postings and at the Beaverton memorial service, his friends and family said Lee was kind-hearted, had an infectious laugh and a strong faith in God and a passion to serve.
Martin, who also spoke at the memorial service, announced there the establishment of The Paul Lee Foundation, to raise awareness and resources for people struggling with mental health-related issues.
In the Troutdale shooting, Hoffman was fatally shot in the Reynolds High locker room. That morning, 15-year-old freshman Jared Padgett brought two guns, nine ammunition magazines and a large knife to the school, apparently prepared to shoot many more. In addition to killing Hoffman, Padgett injured a teacher before taking his own life.
No link has been found between Padgett and Hoffman that would explain the shooting.
Grieving family and friends said Padgett’s actions were entirely inconsistent with his “straight-arrow” background. Padgett had planned a career in the military and was a devout member of the Mormon church. Memorial services were held June 16 at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Gresham.
Rev. Larry Whittlesey, a longtime Portland-area pastor, director of the Luis Palau Association’s School Partnership Network and national director for Christian emphasis for the YMCA, was asked by the Reynolds School District to coordinate the Service of Hope and Healing held the evening of June 17. Other local pastors joined Whittlesey and various local officials as presenters, including Tom Santillanes of Mountainview Christian Church, Curtis Young of Columbia Ridge Community Church, David Brown of The Chapel, Ken Blondeaux of Woodland Park Baptist, Orlando Rodriguez of Anethem Church, Keith Evans of Greater Gresham Baptist and Mario Flores of Adonai Church of the Nazarene. The service included hymns and other music, Scripture readings and a candlight closing that Whittlesey said symbolized “bringing light out of the darkness.”
Hoffman’s mother, Jennifer, said their family was deeply touched by the response at the evening gathering.
At the memorial service in Boring five days later, friends and family remembered Hoffman as a mischievous but lovable boy who loved soccer, music and fashion. Hundreds at the service, including the family and Pastor Steve Keels, wore red Converse, Emilio’s favorite sneakers.
“In one week we lost two young Oregonians to shootings at Reynolds High School and Seattle Pacific University,” said Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber in ordering flags at half-staff. “We’ve learned this week that Emilio Hoffman and Paul Lee both liked to make people smile, had kind hearts and were embarking on opportunities at new schools. I am devastated to know their potential and dreams were cut short by senseless acts of violence. To the family and friends of Emilio and Paul, their school communities, and emergency responders, we stand with you.”