Healing After Trauma

by Mikelle Challenger on October 01, 2018

Healing After Trauma

Scot and Flo Rice

“It is definitely by the grace of God that I am alive.” Flo Rice stated with great conviction as she sat next to her husband of seven years, Scot. Three months earlier, on May 18, 2018, she experienced a typical Friday morning as she rushed around her kitchen looking for her lost keys so she would not be late for her job as a substitute teacher at Santa Fe High School. An hour later, eight students (age 14 to 17) and two teachers, were fatally shot while 13 others, including Flo, were wounded.

Flo, who is Catholic, was born and raised in Robstown, Texas.  Scot was born and raised in Houston, Texas.  He was 11 years old when he joined Sagemont Church in 1974 along with his parents Robert and Mary Rice.  Even though he was saved and baptized as a child, in 1997 Scot recommitted his life to Christ and was baptized by Associate Pastor, Emory Gadd. Scot smiled, “As an adult you think about your life, the choices you make and you doubt yourself.  I recommitted myself to Jesus Christ at Sagemont. I asked Emory Gadd to baptize me because I have known him since Joy Explosion in the ’70’s when we would go in the old chapel and meet as students.”  Scot and Flo married in 2011. Flo has two daughters, Aubrey and Shannon from a previous marriage.  Scot’s three adult children from his first marriage are Zachary, Derek and Samantha.

Flo reported that after a few minutes she finally gave up the hurried search for her car keys, borrowed 18-year-old Shannon’s truck and drove the three miles to work. Flo gave a wry grin when she recalled, “I got to school and called Scot. He looked around and texted me back that he had found the keys and that Shannon could come to school later and bring my car. Then he went back to sleep.” Because it was the end of her senior year and having few classes, most of them being college level, Shannon did not need to arrive at school until later that morning. 

During first period, Flo stood in the school gymnasium watching her students play basketball while she spoke to her friend, Ann, who was subbing for another coach that day. The sharp piercing shrill of the fire alarm was the first indication her school day was not going to go as planned. Flo shook her head sadly as she explained, “We thought it was just a drill even though it did occur to both of us that we had recently had a drill.  We left the gym and walked down the hall together to the nearest exit. She was ahead of me with her kids. I remember making sure my kids were all in front of me.”

Unfortunately, the alarm was not a drill. Flo’s eyes were somber and her voice was clear but soft, pausing frequently as she shared what occurred next, “I heard a loud boom. I thought it was a bomb. Everything shook. The sound was deafening. I could not see. I was blinded. Even now I can’t remember seeing anything in front of me. I was almost to the door to go outside. That’s when I heard another loud boom. This time I felt myself falling. I hit the ground face first. Again, I thought a bomb went off and that was why I was thrown to the ground.”  

In shock, Flo immediately sat up beneath the outside doorway and noticed her friend about six feet away lying on the ground.  Even though her friend was not moving, Flo thought she was okay because she did not see blood. When she looked down at her own legs, it was obvious that her bleeding left leg was severely broken because it was twisted at an unnatural angle.  She also noticed there were holes through her jeans in both legs.  Her voice was calm and steady as she shared, “That’s when I realized that I had been shot. I had my bag still on me and my phone was right on top. I drug myself to lay over my phone to try to be still.”

Flo turned to Scot and smiled at him. “My first thought was not to call 911 but to call Scot to come and get me. When I called him I knew that this man was going to come and get me. There was no doubt in my mind that if there was a way to get me then this man would do it.” Scot nodded encouraging her.  She turned back and explained what happened next. “I played dead because I didn’t know if someone was still coming up behind me.  There was a window above me that had been shattered from the gun shots and I could hear glass falling.  I was trying to lay there, being really still, but I kept thinking that maybe it was the shooter and he was looking out of the window at me.

I kept praying: ‘God, You spared me. You saved me. I am still alive. Please keep me alive.’”

At the time Flo did not realize that the doorway she lay beneath intersected with a hallway that the shooter had walked past and fired at them from the end of the hallway. It crushed her later to discover that her friend, Ann, had been killed instantly.  Police officer, John Barnes, witnessed Flo get shot but was at the far end of the hallway.  He then engaged with the shooter and kept him from coming down the hallway, but as a result was seriously wounded and nearly died from blood loss.  As Flo lay bleeding and in pain she recalled, “I could hear the shots continually being fired.”

Scot remained on the phone with Flo hearing everything that was transpiring as he raced from home to the high school.  He shook his head in frustration. “I didn’t know if I should leave Shannon at home and not tell her or bring her with me. It was a dilemma but I had to make a quick decision.  I took Shannon, because I didn’t know if that was the last time she would see her mother.”  

Uncertain of what he was about to face but determined to help his wife, Scot grabbed his guns and then he and Shannon raced to his Ford Mustang.  Scot explained, “I probably drove 100 miles an hour down Highway 6 next to other officers from the city, the county, the other school district cops who were heading to the school. I was running red lights just like they were.  I didn’t know what was going on except for the fact that my wife was shot and I knew I had to get to her and confront whatever evil was happening.”  

He circled the school parking lot until he saw her but was unable to approach because there were several officers at the back door engaging the shooter.  They stood directly over where she lay prone.  Scot explained, “At the time I thought, ‘I better leave my guns behind because I might get shot if the police don’t know who I am.’  I got out of the car, even though they were telling me to leave and go away. When I refused they told me to go around to the side which actually put me more in the line of fire. I held my cell phone up and shouted, ‘That’s my wife, I am here to get her.  I am on the phone with her.  She is alive!’”  Scot shook his head again as he recalled the frustration he felt, “They were standing over her but they thought that she was dead.”

Flo quietly explained, “I didn’t move because I was afraid. I heard a police officer walk by, you know how you can hear their equipment rattle from their belts.  Part of me wanted to say something but then I heard the walkie talkie say, ‘We do not have eyes on the shooter.’  So then I thought that I shouldn’t move.  I just lay there and didn’t let them know that I was alive.  Maybe I should have but I just didn’t know what to do.…I just didn’t know.”

Santa Fe ISD police officer, Johnny Banda, had been told by another officer that both the women lying just outside of the doorway were dead. So after hearing Scot’s urgent requests that his wife was indeed alive, he was surprised to discover that when he reached down to the woman she opened her blue eyes and looked back at him.  

Without a moment’s hesitation, Officer Banda scooped her up and ran across the grassy field and dropped her into the passenger seat of Scot’s car.  Flo stated, “I was in shock, but I do remember that it hurt.  We are so grateful to him because we found out later that police officers aren’t supposed to render any aid until they get the shooter down.  Technically Officer Banda wasn’t supposed to get me and bring me to Scot.  I am really thankful to him because the shooting went on another 30 to 40 minutes and I had already lain there bleeding for 20 minutes.”  A week later, Scot stood in the Texas State Capital before a room filled with media, politicians and people connected with the shooting and read a statement about the bravery of Officer Banda.  After he finished, the two men embraced just before Banda received a commendation from Texas Governor Greg Abbott for his actions to rescue Flo.

As soon as Flo was in the passenger seat, Scot focused on driving her to a nearby emergency room since no ambulances had yet arrived.  Flo was initially horrified when she realized her daughter was in the back seat but then she was grateful for the comfort as Shannon held her hand and prayed for her the whole way to the ER.  Scot shared, “The passenger seat was flooding with blood where she sat.  Cops from everywhere were descending on the school and Santa Fe.  You can imagine I am driving in the turn lanes and zig zagging through them to leave.  I am in their way and they are in mine.”  In record time they arrived at the UTMB Emergency Room in League City.  “When we arrived they hadn’t even heard there was a shooting!”  

Once at the ER they got her jeans off and then counted the bullet holes.  The ER team was amazed to discover that five bullets passed through her legs and at least one bullet shattered her left femur.  This is when they figured out she was not hit from behind but from the side with a shotgun with several rounds from a “double-aught” shell.  Flo stated, “It was by the grace of God I just got hit from below. The window above me shattered and my legs were hit but not anywhere else. There was no reason why the bullets didn’t hit me higher.”

Scot shared, “At that point we didn’t know if her leg would be amputated or if she would crippled for life.”  Though Flo had been in pain since being shot it became unbearable despite medication on board when they worked to straighten her broken leg with weights.  An hour and a half from the time she was carried from the car, the bleeding finally stopped, x-rays were taken and she was stabilized enough to go by ambulance to UTMB Galveston, which is a level 1 trauma center. An hour after being admitted in Galveston she was in surgery to save her leg.  Scot shook his head, “I thought it was going to be a little rod in her leg but then two days later I see an X-ray of a huge rod the entire length of her thigh with pins sticking out everywhere and wires to hold everything together. There are still pieces of shattered bone left in her leg that they say will eventually dissolve.” 

On June 1, just two weeks after the shooting, Flo went by ambulance from the rehabilitation center in Webster, Texas in order to be present at Shannon’s graduation ceremony at Santa Fe High School Stadium which is located next to the main campus. Flo smiled as she stated, “I was so thankful to God to be there. They escorted me into the stadium and up front and kept me away from everyone.  I felt such joy watching her graduate.  Shannon and I held each other in tears afterwards.” 

Despite a hopeful prognosis for her left leg, months later, she still experiences pain because muscle was severely damaged. She used a wheelchair for the first seven weeks and then a walker to be mobile. Four weeks after the shooting, Scot and Flo finally returned to their two-story home in Santa Fe, that was recently made handicap-ready.  

Flo admits that not all her wounds are physical because she continues to experience emotional pain as well. To cope she leans upon the love and support from her husband and family as well as turning to the Lord for strength each day. Flo shared, “Going to church is the only place that gives me relief. I have been reading so many Bible verses, which were my only real comfort during the day to keep my focus.  Because of anxiety I am unable to get out or watch TV, so instead I read.  The only thing that sustains me is God’s Word and to focus on Him.”  Ephesians 2:8 (NIV) has brought her great comfort. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

Another form of support came from daily phone calls from Sagemont’s Pastoral Care Minister, Rex Forsyth. Scot said, “Brother Rex and I are pretty close. My dad died last August and he sang at the funeral and did his graveside [service].  He was there for me. We didn’t have any outreach because we did not allow any visitors. In fact, the only person we did see during her time in the hospital was the Governor when he visited along with Texas senators and congressman and all their wives. Even the Lieutenant Governor was in that room.” A few weeks later, on May 31, Scot and Flo, along with other victims and their families, met President Trump with other elected officials at Ellington Field.

In the months since the shooting the Rices have had meetings with many of the other survivors and parents who lost children as well as the husbands of the two teachers who died. Flo shook her head sadly and then stated, “I am so minimal compared to these other parents and people who have lost their family members. Even the children who were injured have to live with this their entire life and try to get past this. I am an adult and I can go on but these children that experienced this horror have to get through this. I felt like my story was unworthy of publicity. These people have gone through so much more. I am just grateful. Truly blessed.”  

Scot placed an arm around her shoulders and added, “We are extremely thankful that she survived but we don’t want to take anything away from those who lost their loved ones. As hard as it is and as long term as it is going to be everyday we just are thankful that God spared her life.”

Mike Schumacher and Emory Gadd

Tuesday, May 22, just four days after the shooting at Santa Fe High School, Mike Schumacher, Sagemont Church’s Counseling Center Director and Associate Pastor, received a call from Ted Elmore who serves the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention as the Pastor/Church Relations Associate and Prayer Strategist. It was no surprise that Mike immediately agreed to provide on-site emergency counseling to victims who were directly and indirectly impacted by the mass school shooting.

Mike casually sat in the high back chair in his office in Sagemont’s Counseling Center with his iPad carefully balanced on his leg and explained, “They recognized right away there were a lot of kids involved in the churches in the area who were expressing a great deal of concern. They wanted someone down there immediately because they had all these kids going through this trauma.”

With over 30 years of professional counseling experience, Mike served as the President of Rapha, a nationally known Christian counseling organization, prior to assuming the leadership role of the Sagemont Counseling Ministry in 2001. In addition to being an ordained minister, Mike is certified by the State of Texas as a Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and Clinical Supervisor.

No stranger to dealing with crises, Mike, along with his staff of seven other professional counselors meet regularly with men, women and children dealing with various kinds of trauma each day in the Counseling Center.  Even so, he was quick to point out that traumatic events like the mass shooting in Santa Fe, are above and beyond what is typical and normal.

Mike was onsite to provide crisis counseling the day after both the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April, of 1995 and the mass shooting at the Wedgewood Baptist Church back in 1999. Mike pointed out, “Those are just two examples of mass casualty, large traumas, what we call “Critical Incidents.” In both of those cases, I was called in to provide crisis counseling for victims, and critical incident stress debriefings for first responders: firefighters, police officers, medical staff, FBI and even the bomb squad. The counseling and debriefings allowed participants to talk about what they went through, because we know that processing what they experienced actually facilitates emotional healing. That’s the key to long term recovery from trauma.”

Ted and Mike wasted no time in coordinating with Arcadia First Baptist Church, located a mile from Santa Fe High School, as the base for the student-focused counseling. Mike continued, “They wanted me to go down there right away. I was the one who called Emory because I knew he would bring unique gifts because he’s so good with students and teenagers.”

Associate Pastor, Emory Gadd, currently leads the Membership Involvement process for visitors and new members to learn about Sagemont Church as well as oversees the team of ushers and greeters and other ministries: Pastoral Care, Helping Hands, and Membership Process. Emory and his wife, Susan, joined Sagemont Church in 1968 when only 120 people were members. The following Sunday he and Susan found themselves working with the students and for many years he led the Student Ministry and consulted with churches in their area of ministry.  Emory smiled as he placed his hand over his heart.  “I have a degree in sociology, but I don’t have the credentials like Mike does.  I do have years of experience with people, especially students.  There have been many opportunities with the local school districts to help but my experience has not been mass critical incidents.  Usually it is individual trauma where I have been called in for a particular student or situation. For example, I get called in a lot for unplanned deaths of teachers, coaches and students who are not even members of our church.”

Emory immediately jumped at the opportunity to join Mike in helping any way he could with the students affected by the Santa Fe High School shooting.  The following day, Wednesday, May 23, Mike and Emory walked into the bedroom of a Santa Fe High School freshman associated with Arcadia Baptist who was terrified to leave his house.  Emory pointed out that it was a typical teenage boy’s room that included a TV with video games but with one major difference. The walls had been torn out and only the wood frame was visible and there was no carpet. Emory stated, “This is a typical 15-year-old kid you would see in your youth group on a Wednesday night, who since the shooting, had not left his house, but I must say this was a house I would have left. It had been destroyed from the flooding from Hurricane Harvey (August 2017).”

After introductions, Mike and Emory encouraged the young man to share what he experienced on the day of the fatal shootings.  Mike explained, “That’s the nature of trauma. Our brains don’t have the ‘file folders’ to organize such an unusually traumatic incident. So getting victims to talk about their experience, in detail, is a way for their brain to make some sense out of a ‘non-sensical’ event.” 

With a little bit of encouragement, the freshman explained that he was in the main art room where the bulk of the shooting started.  By the time the teenager could escape from the chaos of the room he had witnessed firsthand the murder of four friends and classmates. As the young man shared, Mike pushed him for details telling him to “walk me through exactly what happened.” Mike explained that he really probed him for details by asking him specific questions.  “We asked him to describe in very detailed and graphic terms exactly what he saw, heard and did.  This is on purpose because we wanted him to talk about and feel the freedom to process out loud, so he can come to grips with what happened.  A kid like that will likely have nightmares and will remember images that he saw for a long time. Having him talk about those images diffuses the effect of the memories that he’ll carry so they are not as powerful or overwhelming.”

Mike and Emory spent the hour validating the horror that he experienced and encouraged him to embrace the pain from the trauma.  Mike explained, “One of the things you have to learn when dealing with people who have experienced trauma is to normalize their feelings - to really listen and reassure them that they will be ok.  By validating and normalizing this boy’s responses and reactions, we let him know that his grief is normal and healthy.”

Emory pointed out that, even though they spent a quality hour with the teenager, it was difficult to leave him still fearful of leaving his house. As a self-described, “Life Coach,” most of Emory’s experiences and interventions with teenagers over his 50 years of ministry have been relationship building which lasted years.  He admitted that his heart went out to the hurting young man, “He definitely needs more time with a counselor to deal with the horrible things he experienced.  I wish we could have done more but I feel that we did help him to a new level in his long recovery.”

Mike nodded his head in understanding and then turned and explained, “What we did in just one session is what a professional therapist does with first responders who’ve experienced a traumatic event by walking them through a formal process called CISD, or Critical Incident Stress Debriefing.  Taking victims through this process provides some psychological healing. It at least begins the process.”

Mike and Emory addressed head on the boy’s questions about God and where He is when horrible things happen. Before they left, they prayed an open and honest prayer encouraging the boy to trust God even in the midst of doubt and suffering.

Then they went straight to Arcadia First Baptist Church where they spent time with a second teenage boy who was indirectly impacted by the shootings.  Although he did not experience the trauma firsthand, his best friend was killed during the rampage. 

Mike and Emory agree that they were honored to have to opportunity to meet with these two hurting teenagers.  Mike shared, “Sagemont is uniquely positioned to provide this kind of help.  They knew we had a counseling center, with professional counselors and ministers like Emory, who have been in ministry a long time.”

Like Scot and Flo Rice, the two teenage boys Mike and Emory counseled are in the process of healing in a hurting community which continues to grieve from the trauma as a new school year started in August.  Though their lives are forever changed, to mark the new beginning, Scot and Flo joined the Saltgrass Cowboy Church in Santa Fe Friday, August 17, 2018, in a time of unified prayer. With her hands tightly grasping her walker, Flo stood with Scot beneath the flagpole with their heads bowed along with many others to pray for the schools and students in the Santa Fe community.

Mike and Emory’s intervention after the Santa Fe High School Shooting is just another example of how Sagemont Church continues to be Living Proof of a Watching World through The Sagemont Counseling Center. To schedule a counseling appointment or for more information, contact them at 281.481.7133 or  www.sagemontchurch.org/counseling.