We all paused for a moment on Wednesday, didn't we?
Some might have taken a bit longer than a moment. The events of the day are probably still lingering in the hearts and minds of many, especially parents, and will continue to trouble us in the days to come.
Such is the case when we hear about the heartbreaking events that took place just up the road in Townville, at Townville Elementary School.
By now, many have likely heard the troubling details officials have shared with the public: A 14-year-old boy killed his father with a handgun, then got in a truck and drove to the elementary school. He crashed into a fence at the school, near where children were coming outside for recess. He then jumped out of the truck and started shooting.
One bullet hit 6-year-old Jacob Hall in the leg, while a second student was shot in the foot. A first-grade teacher, Meghan Hollingsworth, was shot in the shoulder, but still managed to guide the children back inside the school.
Not too long later, a pair of Townville volunteer firefighters responded to the school and one of them, 30-year department member Jamie Brock, tackled the teenager and held him down until officers arrived.
Little Jacob Hall, a first-grader, was airlifted to a hospital. News of his death came Saturday afternoon.
Simply put, this is the stuff of nightmares.
I mean, this is THE nightmare isn't it? There is nothing we want more than for our children to be safe. Of course we also want them to get a good education and get a decent job one day. We want them to find happiness. To eventually find someone they love, and give us some grandkids. We want the best for them. But tops on the list is safety. Make sure they're safe, and we can work on the rest.
And you would think, or at least hope, that an elementary school, especially one in a little place such as Townville, would be one of those safe places. Somewhere you could leave a child for a few hours, to learn. To make friends. To play on the playground. To eat square slices of pizza and cut Halloween pumpkins out of construction paper and try to beat the clock on those timed math tests. And on most days, on darn near every day, the school in Townville was undoubtedly just such a place.
But not on Wednesday. Instead, it was a day that produced the type of headlines that have become all too common.
Tragically, while headlines about school shootings are common, they are not a new phenomenon. Unfortunately, we've been at it for quite a while in this country, and even in this area.
Those of a certain age in Greenwood will undoubtedly remember the horrific shooting in September 1988 then Oakland Elementary School, when 19-year-old Jamie Wilson walked into the school and shot 11 people. Two young girls died; seven other students and two teachers were wounded.
That was right here, 28 years ago. Roughly similar scenes have played at schools across the country in the years since. Many are simply remembered by and referred to with a single word, such as "Columbine" and "Newtown."
While the incident in Townville was shocking to many, there was one aspect within the event that didn't surprise me, at all: That a volunteer firefighter, who was unarmed, jumped in and subdued the suspect.
I've been in newspapers for more than 12 years. I spent many years working the public safety beat at the Index-Journal. In that time, I came to hold a special respect for volunteer firefighters at the rural departments.
For one, I could never wrap my head around exactly why they do the things they do, for no pay. But thank God they do. You want to talk about salt-of-the-earth, about a sense of service, about those who do for others, just because? That's rural volunteer firefighters. When Fred Rogers, of TV's "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," recounted his mother telling him to "look for the helpers" in times of crisis, these were the type of people she was talking about.
I've watched volunteer firefighters pull people out of cars so wrecked and mangled they didn't even look like cars anymore. I've seen them spend untold amounts of time fighting raging blazes, hoping, somehow, to salvage something for the homeowners. I've watched a fireman hurriedly carry a young child's lifeless body out of a smoldering home, rushing out onto the grass in the failing hope that fate could be reversed. I even knew one volunteer firefighter who dashed into a burning house without even stopping to put his gear on. He pulled an elderly lady out of the blaze while wearing his street clothes.
What happened in Townville was overwhelmingly frightening, and tragic. But, it might have been worse, of not for the actions of the teachers at the school, and at least one brave volunteer firefighter.
Always look for the helpers.
Chris Trainor is a contributing columnist for the Index-Journal. Contact him at ChrisTrainorSC@yahoo.com. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisTrainorSC. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper's opinion.