September 13, 2017
“I heard gunshots and screaming. I love you.”
Village Missionary Suzanne McNally had just returned home from dropping off kids at the local school in Valleyford, Washington. Minutes later, she received this text message from her son, Stephen, a junior at nearby Freeman High School. Unaware of the magnitude of the situation, but still able to communicate with Stephen via text, Suzanne rushed to the school.
Stephen and his classmates initiated an immediate lockdown protocol, securing themselves in the back of the classroom. On the floor above, a fifteen-year-old student had taken out a pistol and started shooting at his fellow classmates. Panic ensued as shots ricocheted and frantic students attempted to escape.
Stephen’s father and Suzanne’s husband, Village Missionary Aaron McNally, was playing golf with several men from church when his phone received a similar text from Stephen.
“Someone just shot up the school.”
Thinking the event occurred outside of the school, he called Stephen for more information. After the call went directly to voicemail, Aaron left the golf course and made his way back into town.
While driving, Aaron called the on-duty Fire Chief of the local Fire District, of which Aaron serves as a Chaplain. The Fire Chief confirmed that indeed, there had been a shooting at the school, and all Emergency Services were in the process of determining injuries and fatalities. Aaron and Suzanne met up at the school and waited alongside the hundreds of other concerned parents.
“My mind was going back and forth from thinking about our responders, my son, our community, everything,” remembers Aaron. “I was feeling a lot of that burden on the way to the school.”
Thirty minutes after Stephen’s class went into lockdown, a police officer escorted the startled group of students out of the school. A thorough sweep by the police force was conducted through the school to ensure all students were accounted for.
After hours of waiting, the McNally family was finally reunited. The shooter’s rampage ended when he surrendered to the school janitor. Sadly, one student was killed, and three others were critically injured.
A long, painful road of recovery lay ahead for the small community of Valleyford, and for the McNally family, as well.
In the Aftermath of the Freeman School Shooting
Freeman High School made national headlines for weeks following the shooting. While the entire country became embroiled in this tragic story, the residents of Valleyford were experiencing the tragedy themselves.
The McNally family and Valleyford Community Church, where they serve, found avenues where they could reach out to different segments of the community.
In the subsequent days, the church opened its doors to anyone in need of support. Many members of the community gathered together to pray over all who were affected by the shooting. When several new visitors came to church the following Sunday, Aaron encouraged the congregation to not dwell on insoluble questions, but to identify the “real enemy,” and recognize their need for “the real Savior.”
“A lot of the people in our church have roots in Freeman – they went to school there; their kids went to school there,” says Suzanne. “Everyone in the church was tender-hearted and wanted to do whatever they could to help.”
Aaron also had the opportunity to spend time with many of the First Responders who worked the crime scene. He was needed in his role as Chaplain in the Fire District.
“Many opportunities to pray, minister, and serve folks have come out of this,” says Aaron. “The walls of separation are just broken when there is a traumatic event.”
Later that week, the church hosted a benefit concert that Stephen’s band helped coordinate. All proceeds were donated to the Freeman Strong Fund, which helps provide financial assistance for medical care and counseling to anyone affected by the shooting.
Suzanne joined a women’s Bible study attended by the mother of one of the injured victims. All the ladies found their group to be a safe place to discuss emotions, work through questions, and pray together.
“We all had different perspectives and coming together to talk was such a good time of healing for us as moms,” remarks Suzanne.
Exhausted from their continual work in the community, the McNally family received wonderful encouragement from fellow Village Missionaries Don & Gaylene Manning, who traveled from their field in La Pine, OR to help. The Mannings are from Valleyford, and Don had served as a Deputy Sheriff in that area before serving with Village Missions. Aaron called them “humble servants who responded to help in a time of need.”
In the January edition of Country Matters Online, discover how Don & Gaylene helped serve the McNally family, the community of Valleyford, and how people are leaning on the Lord one year later.