By Michael F. Haverluck
Calvary South Denver church Pastor Gino Geraci responded to the mass shootings at Columbine High School in 1999, was on the scene at Ground Zero in New York in 2001 to serve the needs of families and rescuers and rushed to the site of the Aurora theater shooting just weeks ago.
“All of these tragedies prompt questions about vulnerability and morality, and, of course, the question of evil,” he said. “Are there real answers to evil and suffering?”
He said there’s a feeling of being conflicted when responding to murder and mayhem.
“First response takes an emotional toll, yet there is a sense of honor and privilege to be able to supply comfort and support and perspective. Tragedy often begs for comfort.”
Situations like these become “culture-defining moments where people look at themselves differently.”
“Good and evil are once again introduced into American vocabulary,” Geraci said. “It shows [Americans] that there is such a thing as good, right and wrong . . . but what happens to a culture that distances itself from the idea of evil?”
The senior pastor indicates that the consequences are dire, hinting that ignoring something does not make it go away or prove that it doesn’t exist. He notes that the denial of evil behind terrorist attacks can result in tolerating and ultimately inviting mass killings.
He said, “But some of the questions might also include, ‘What is the real nature of self-sacrifice, heroism and compassion?’ People always want to know why or why did God allow this? Part of the challenge is to not pretend to know answers to questions ─ that you cannot reasonably answer.”
He said even “knowing the reason doesn’t change the way you feel. You’re not supposed to feel normal after losing a loved one. People of tragedies ask the question, but they still feel vulnerable.”
He said the disasters all have something in common.
“Columbine provided a culture shift. Mothers and fathers from Maine to Washington, from Montana to Mississippi, wondered if sending their children to school was safe. Nine-eleven prompted the question, ‘Are we safe from our enemies in our own country?’ The Aurora theater massacre caused every parent who visits a movie theater to wonder if it’s safe to go out and have fun with [his/her] family.”
He said instead of the three “Rs” American now is focusing on the three “S’s.”
“Safety, security, sanity,” he said. “How do I keep from becoming a casualty from another person’s insanity?”
Gun control, widely promoted by activists after both Columbine and Aurora, isn’t the answer, he said.
“Guns have solved way more problems than they have created,” Geraci argues. “When a police officer pulls out his gun during brawls, 99 percent of the time, the brawls stop. Cowards shoot people who don’t have the ability to protect themselves.”
And he questioned the attitude adopted by the current administration.
“In the current administration, a strong America is provocative,” Geraci explained, noting the president’s policies of weakening the military and taking a non-aggressive, non-“offensive” stance on the war against terror. “Why is that? How is it possible that a weak America puts us in a [better] position of security? Weakness brings vulnerability. Invulnerability is a myth.”
The Salem Radio program host notes that his experience tells him that America will never be immune from surprise attacks, even with the tightest security.
“I worked in law enforcement all my life. There is no strategy against ambush. Most people aren’t objects of ambush, but we can create an atmosphere of safety and still retain personal freedom. The challenge is how much safety and security are we willing to secede in the name of safety and security?”
“God, in His gracious mercy, has given me an opportunity – one of my great privileges of life – to provide my support to ask people to ask the important questions,” Geraci said. “How can I help people think about God? How can I help people think the unthinkable?”
He responded to Columbine because it was only blocks from his church.
He arrived there to “panic.”
“Children being herded away from the school,” he said. “I was on the southern perimeter of the high school [and] was met by an Arapahoe County sheriff who had secured the southern exit. Children had crowded into a house that had served as an after-school facility for the LDS church.”
The pandemonium was caused by two student gunmen who shot and killed 12 other students, one teacher and themselves and injured 21 others.
“High schoolers were crying and shaking,” he said. “We began to get as much information as we could. On my arrival, we had not determined the number of shooters or whether or not the shooters had accomplices. We were in the uncomfortable position of gathering intelligence and working an active shooting scene.”
He said working there opened the door to respond to Ground Zero, where nearly 3,000 died, with the Red Cross and the FBI.
In Manhattan, “The entryway was congested with New York citizens carrying pictures of loved ones, posting them wherever they could,” he said. “When we arrived at the site, my first impression was one of total devastation. Firefighters and police officers had already been on the scene for days [but] we were still in search and rescue mode.
“The faces of the other first responders were covered in soot, ashes, debris . . . and you could sense the fatigue and determination to keep going,” the Christian radio personality shared. “My first thought was, ‘How could something so big and expensive (the Twin Towers) become so worthless so quickly?’ My second thought was how I could provide help right away. I would stay for 10 more days doing 12-hour shifts: first at Ground Zero and then at the morgue, and then at the family center.”
The weight of the attack was more than anyone at the scene could process ─ even days after the Islamic terrorists killed Americans.
“Questions would slip out from time to time,” Geraci recounted about his experience with the relief crew. “But real answers to these questions would only come weeks and months down the road.”
Then weeks ago, he responded to the July 20 shooting at a theater in Aurora.
“I was awakened from sleep,” Geraci told WND, about the phone call he received shortly after a gunman opened fire and killed a dozen people attending “The Dark Knight Rises.”
At a briefing with the division’s supervising special agent, Geraci was asked to join and assist the FBI special agent in charge of the scene, the Evidence Recovery Team. The Aurora chief of police and Justice Department officials at the quickly set-up command center.
“One of the supervising agents came to me and we began to discuss how to approach the team and the images inside the theater,” Geraci said. “I knew that even for experienced agents, the scenes would be gruesome. We talked about how we could help the team process the scene and watch for warning signs.”