One student was injured in the incident, which lasted only minutes.
But the church’s connection to the shooting goes beyond being able to provide crisis ministry to students and their families – their pastor’s eldest daughter came face to face with the gunman, Sky Bouche.
It was the look of fear in that young woman’s eyes that made the shooter put his weapon down, Bouche shared with a local reporter just hours after his arrest.
Darren Gaddis, senior pastor of First Ocala, was on a mission trip in central Asia when he heard about his daughter’s experience and immediately began making arrangements to get back home. He shared with his church Sunday morning that both of his Forest High students were close to disaster as his son was just one hallway away when the single gunshot rang out.
“This would be a very different day if my God had not intervened on behalf of my children,” an emotional Gaddis told his church.
Monty Grant, pastor for business administration at the church, helped coordinate the efforts to provide comfort and care in the hours it took for students to be bussed over from the school and reunited with their families. As one of the largest venues in the area, Grant said the church is often used to coordinate a disaster response or emergency. Because many First Ocala students attend Forest and considering the connection with the pastor’s family, Grant said everyone, whether they had students at the school or not, was “drawn in.” Grant was impressed with the willingness of church members to drop everything and start serving others, especially the students.
“When our students got off the bus, they immediately jumped into action, doing the same things the adults in the room were doing,” Grant said.
Gary Townsend, Florida Baptist Convention catalyst for the north region of the state, expressed his gratitude for the hard work and caring support the members of the church showed the faculty, staff and families of Forest High, noting that God’s hand of protection was apparent at the school and the church.
The willingness to serve was pervasive throughout the entire community as businesses began calling to see how they could help. Grant noted that several area businesses sent food and water to the church to help keep people comfortable.
Grant said that while everyone is understandably a bit on edge, there was a sense of normalcy among the Forest students he interacted with on Sunday.
“We prayed specifically that there wouldn’t be a spirit of fear and that they would be strong for their peers today,” he said. “It was happening as early as yesterday.”
Grant said while he hopes the church doesn’t get a lot of opportunities for the kind of ministry his church participated in on Friday, “it was good to be in a place where we could be used by God that day.”
By Nicole Kalil, Florida Baptist Convention, April 23, 2018