On the eve of the second year passing since the Marshall County High School shooting, the Facilitators of Community Unity and Support (FOCUS) group is hosting a Night of Hope and Healing ceremony and the community is invited to attend.
The hour-long ceremony will begin at 6 p.m. in the Kenneth Shadowen Performing Arts Center on Jan. 23 at the MCHS campus. Those who plan to attend must enter through the main entrance, which is on the same side of the building as the football stadium.
Marshall County Schools Recovery Coordinator Scott Terry said the FOCUS group distributed a digital survey throughout the community a few months back and learned that although many people are in different stages of healing, the majority felt there was a need for a community gathering on Jan. 23. From that point, the group consulted a grief recovery psychologist for guidance and came up with some ideas which developed into the program for the ceremony.
Terry said everyone agreed it should be low key and respectful, and the grief psychologist suggested they incorporate ways to speak to the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of the people in attendance. For the physical, each person upon entering will be asked to write a name or a prayer or a message on a card to leave behind; there will be a guest speaker to present a message that speaks to the spiritual; there will be music to speak to the emotional.
The painting of a smiling Jesus, which was created by artist Tim Betrand of God's Graffiti Ministry before an audience as part of 2019's Jan. 23 remembrance ceremony, currently hangs in Terry's office and he said looking at it inspired the idea for the cards that will be filled as part of this week's ceremony.
Each person who attends the ceremony Thursday will be encouraged to leave behind an unsigned card with a prayer or a name or a special message. After the ceremony, Terry said he will take all of the cards to the art department and the students will use them to create a collage as a companion piece to the smiling Jesus.
The Marshall County Public Libraries, Terry said, has received a grant for creating an archive related to the Jan. 23, 2018 MCHS shooting. That archive will include the smiling Jesus and the collage.
Tammy Blackwell, branch manager of the Marshall County Public Library in Calvert City, said the physical archive will be located at the main branch in Benton and a digital archive will be available to access through the library's webpage. She said the physical collection will be available to interested persons during regular library hours of operation and the digital will be available 24/7.
The physical archive will contain items sent to MCHS in support of the students and staff after the shooting, as well as items related to the recovery efforts that have been donated to the library," she said. "The digital collection will contain images of some of the physical items as well as newspaper articles, televised news footage and other colleges digital content."
"The archive is intended to remind the community of the outpouring of love and support we received as well as give victims something physical they can come back to, should they need to reconnect to that support," she added. "We are happy to finally be able to move forward on what we feel is an important project for our community."
Blackwell said the library is still accepting donations of items related to the support and recovery efforts surrounding the MCHS shooting.
Blackwell said the library was informed in Dec. by the Office for Victims of Crime that they would receive approximately $29,000 from the Antiterrorism and Emergency Assistance Program; she said the grant with the Kentucky Department of Justice has not yet been finalized.
Terry said those who attend the ceremony will also be the first to hear details of a special project coming to Marshall County: the Merryman House Domestic Crisis Center has received a grant to found a resiliency center and the center's executive director, Mary Foley, will discuss details during Thursday evening's ceremony.
Terry said administrators with MCHS report the students will have a relatively normal day at school Thursday with a regular bell schedule and the routine four classes. He said students will have the opportunity, if they don't feel comfortable in the high school building that day, to sign up to visit and read to the students at the elementary schools. For the students who stay in the building, each class will begin with an opportunity for students to write uplifting notes to send to children's hospitals, military personnel or the elderly in nursing homes.
The high school is also hosting a blood drive on Jan. 23, beginning at 8:30 a.m. in the auxiliary gym and the community is invited to attend to make a donation.