During Masses Dec. 4 and 5, the weekend after a 15-year-old male student took his social studies class and teacher hostage, Fr. Dorner offered the following comments:
“In all of this, we are confronted by the mystery of the human heart. This experience has left many of us feeling vulnerable and humbled before the power of just one wounded heart. … There are many things about this past Monday we will never understand. In the next life, I believe we will get a better glimpse.”
Sophomore Samuel Hengel held 25 students and teacher Valerie Burd hostage for nearly seven hours at Marinette High School on the afternoon of Monday, Nov. 29. After local police stormed the classroom that evening after hearing gunshots, Hengel shot himself.
He died Nov. 30 at a Green Bay hospital.
The day after the tragedy, Marinette, a city of 12,000 located on the Wisconsin-Upper Michigan border, experienced a mixture of relief that the students and their teacher were unharmed, but disbelief that Hengel had acted so violently. Hengel was said by authorities to be a good student with friends, some of whom were in the classroom with him. Described as an outdoorsman, Hengel had fired at least five rounds from two semi-automatic handguns before shooting himself.
“I could just feel the sadness as I drove into town today,” said Nancy Fennema. “Everybody is concerned and just surprised that this would happen.”
Fennema is manager of clinical services for Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Green Bay. Catholic Charities has a satellite office in Marinette and Fennema was there Nov. 30.
She said county and city services were providing outreach to Marinette residents, but that she expected Catholic Charities would be needed in the coming weeks.
This is not Catholic Charities’ first time with such a crisis. In October 2007, they also provided assistance after a shooting in Crandon in Forest County left seven people dead. Catholic Charities therapist Deb Mullen was part of the months-long outreach that followed and is the on-site therapist at Marinette.
“It’s important that there be follow-through,” Mullen said. “That much I learned from Crandon. A lot of people rushed in and then left, and a staying presence is very important.”
She added that the first several days after such a traumatic event are crucial.
“I think that we need to be paying attention, we need to be watching over the next 72 hours,” said Mullen, who has worked in the Menominee-Marinette area for 11 years. “Typically, everyone is pretty numb for the first two to three days. When things start to settle, people will need help.”
She and Fennema know that the upcoming holidays will be especially hard, with survivors experiencing many emotional and even physical reactions.
“Everyone experiences this differently,” Fennema explained. “Some roll with it, others feel trauma and shock and need some help talking about it and making some sense out of the experience.”
For now, she said, people are expressing relief and concern for Hengel and his family and friends.
“Everyone is connected here,” she said. “This is a close-knit community.”
Fr. Dorner reminded his parishioners to keep all the victims in prayer.
“In the days to come, let’s remember Sam and all the victims as we pray for the gift of healing and reconciliation. It will take time for us to heal. Even with time, a scar will always remain. So let’s recall what our faith teaches us: no matter how mysterious and difficult life can at times be, we know our heavenly Father walks with us and that he is our strength and salvation,” he said.