Canadian Salvation Army Officer Comforts Survivors of Parkland Shooting

Photo of a memorial site with roses, an American flag, stuffed animals, and other flowers
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Salvation Army officer Major Holly Patterson has comforted survivors of many natural disasters during her 40 years of service, but says she has never experienced the wide range of painful emotions that she has witnessed over the past several days as she has brought emotional and spiritual care to the survivors of one of the world’s deadliest school massacres in Parkland, Florida.

Parkland memorial

“To see the pain on the faces of mothers and fathers and blank looks of traumatized youth is heart-wrenching,” says Patterson. “Many of the stories I’ve heard are too graphic and personal to retell.”

Patterson, a Salvation Army officer from Canada, currently serves in Bradenton, Florida. Within hours of the shooting she was asked to be part of a team that is providing financial assistance and emotional and spiritual care to hundreds of people that include students, parents, neighbours and teachers.

“I had the privilege of sharing counsel and prayer with a teacher who protected her students. They all made it out alive, but now she is “broken“―unable to sleep, reliving the horrors of what she experienced. The emotional, spiritual and practical need here is great,” says Patterson.

“Parents have taken time off work to be with their children―we help financially to make up the hours lost. We are helping with mortgage and rent payments, replacing cell phones, glasses and retainers. This assistance is critical and takes a huge load off their shoulders.”

Major Holly Patterson

Major Holly Patterson

Patterson and her team are moved by the strength and determination of students mourning the loss of teachers and friends.

“Students held a memorial run and a vigil for one of their coaches and released 17 balloons in honour of the victims,” says Patterson. “Each small ceremony is a step in the healing process. They are going to bring something positive out of this horror. God bless them all.”

The Salvation Army continues to work with local officials and community partners to determine long-term services to the families affected by this tragedy.