A mass shooting that became personal

Photo: Velizar Ivanov, Unsplash. Photo: Velizar Ivanov, Unsplash.

My son Chibike, a student at Sacramento State University, called me with devastating news. I could hear the trauma in his voice.

“Mom, you won’t believe this; Nat was shot; I don’t know who shot him. He was a good man; he was nice to me; he gave me a Bible in the school fellowship and helped me be comfortable once he found out I had just transferred from LA.”
Nat was Nathaniel Kong, a 59-year-old pastor known as “Brother Nat,” a Christian fellowship leader at Sacramento State. He was killed Feb. 28 while supervising a court-sanctioned visit of three girls and their father.

Equally devastated by the news, I reached out to David Chen, who served with Nathaniel as a co-pastor.

“Dear David, My name is Pastor Anthonia Onye, the mother of Chibike Anubalu. He informed me of the tragic death of Nat. My condolences to you and his family. Chibike shared how kind Nat was to him, sharing a Bible the first day he attended fellowship. He was indeed an angel and has touched my son with his kind heart. We are praying for you all. I will also raise a prayer at our prayer meeting tonight for the family and church family. Peace, Anthonia.”

Pastor David replied: “Thank you, dear sister Anthonia, for the comforting words and prayers. I served our dear Lord with brother Nat for almost seven years. He was so beloved and expressed Christ, especially in his kindness. We have also appreciated meeting your son Chibike, and are glad he got to have that encounter with Nat. He loved the students and was himself a Sac State alum. — David.”

This is how a television news report described the tragedy:
“A man shot and killed his three daughters, all under the age of 15, one other person and then himself at a Sacramento church in Arden-Arcade Monday evening. All five were pronounced dead at the scene.

“Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Sgt. Rod Grassmann said the office received a call at 5:07 p.m. from a worker who heard shots upstairs at the church, known as The Church in Sacramento. . . . The shooting took place during a supervised visit. The children’s mother, currently out of town, had a restraining order against their father, David Mora Rojas, 39, who was at the church to see his children.

“The other victim was the person supervising the visit. The Sacramento County Coroner’s Office confirmed his identity as Nathaniel Kong, 59.”

Nathaniel Kong was a broker of peace. He volunteered to help with the supervised visit of ex-members of his church. He died doing what he loved — helping people, working for peace through negotiation.

Nathaniel’s death was part of the 70th mass shooting of 2022 in the U.S. A mass shooting is defined as an incident with at least four people injured or killed, not including the shooter, according to Gun Violence Archive.

yesterday, AS I WRITE THIS, yet another mass shooting has occurred. An 18-year-old killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

Now there have been more than 200 mass shootings in the U.S. in 2022, more shootings than days in the year.
These heartbreaking and senseless mass murders are happening far too often. As a mother and a teacher, I ask: What can we do?

It is a question for each of us. Another mass shooting with an assault rifle should finally prompt action. Why was a gun in the hands of a teenager who had no business having it?

I do not have the answers. But we are not helpless.

You and I are lawmakers: We can vote; we have a voice. No matter what your politics are, please, it is time to reach common-sense agreement on mental health and guns.

You and I are spiritual leaders: We can begin a discussion on restorative justice in our church communities. No matter what your beliefs are, please, we can make a difference. I am pleading that we do everything in our power to stop these senseless acts of violence, which have become a pandemic in our nation.

My son knew one of the victims of the Sacramento shooting, and so the tragedy became personal to me. Yet the sadness I felt was almost nothing compared to the anguish of the parents in Uvalde.
But it was not nothing.

What did you feel when you heard about the Texas school shooting? Your feelings, like mine, were real. Can our anger and anguish lead to change? This is the peacemaking work of our time.

Anthonia Onye

Anthonia Onye is regional minister for Southern California for Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference.

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