When Someday Became Today

It was a beautiful fall day as the warm sun burned off the morning chill. I arrived, left the parking lot, and entered the school building. The faculty meeting would begin in a few moments, and there were things to be done. Soon the majority of the three hundred plus cars that shuttle children to our school would be entering the parking lot and dropping their precious cargo at designated locations.

The day began with the faculty meeting where we discussed items of immediate importance and some of long-range significance. I dismissed the meeting with prayer and headed for our individual assignments with the energy and freshness that comes from a new day in a still new school year.

I proceeded to analyze those areas that needed my attention, and began to prioritize my work. This is a time of day that I make myself available on an impromptu basis to students, teachers, parents, etc. It is a busy period that settles down with the start of classroom instruction.

The day was progressing smoothly when at approximately 11:15 a.m. my secretary tracked me down and advised that Corporal Michelle Marshall of the Taylor Police Department had requested to meet with me and was waiting in the school office. Michelle was assigned to the youth division, and her presence meant something out of the ordinary was involved. I had worked with her on several other occasions and always found her to be very well adjusted to a position that required well-blended measures of firmness and compassion.

My instincts were on double alert as she requested that she and I meet privately in my office where she asked me about one of our first-grade children Diane Driskill. "There has been a problem at the home," she said as she inquired if we could supply any information we might have on problems within the family. As I brought the records in for review, my mind raced through various scenarios. After the record was reviewed, and found to be devoid of any pertinent information, I asked Michelle the nature of the problem.  Her response involved the most devastating statement I have ever heard. Diane had been killed by her grandmother only a few moments earlier. As shock flooded my soul, thoughts of my words spoken to the faculty in meetings past, rushed to my consciousness. “Someday we will lose one of our little ones, and the opportunity we have to work with them will be gone. We need to make diligent and wise use of the opportunities we have to love them and teach them and share our lives with them. Someday we will lose one, and we will need to know that we did our best with the responsibilities God gave to us." With the sudden violent discharge of a shotgun on that fall morning, “someday” became today.  We could do no more for Diane; what was done already would have to suffice.

Michelle said that it appeared that the grandmother had killed her, and then turned the gun on herself. Although the attempt at suicide left her seriously wounded, the grandmother had called the police and reported what she had done. Later I would learn that the grandfather was also involved, and tried to take his own life at work.

I called my secretary Carol to my office. She informed us that she had talked to the grandmother earlier that morning, and had been told that Diane was ill and wouldn't be in school that day. She had known this lady for years and had always felt that little Diane was the most precious thing in her grandmother’s life.  Carol was visibly shaken.

I determined at that point not to inform our staff in general, but only key members who could be of help immediately.I called Diane's first grade teacher to the office, and informed her that there were police concerns about the home, and asked if she could be of any help. She had called the home herself that morning and was told that the child was ill. I excused her, telling her not to worry, but to keep our meeting confidential. She would later thank us for not telling her the facts until later that afternoon.

After the police left, I called my administrative team together to discuss possible steps of action. My main concern was the children, in light of the fact that we had been warned that this tragedy would very likely be on the evening news (which turned out to be true). I wanted to provide information to the children to help them understand the situation, and wanted to alert the parents to the need for close attention to and support for their children.

It was decided that a sealed letter would be prepared and sent home with each child in Diane's class. This would at least give minimum information to the parents. I asked my elementary principal to write the letter and see the task through while "keeping a lid on the situation". We also alerted as many parents as possible and asked them to arrive at school early, because we had to inform the class about a tragedy, and their presence in the room would be a great help. I arranged for the director of our daycare to be present since she had known many of the children for several years.

Thirty minutes before the end of school I called the teacher into my office and informed her of the tragedy. In her grief she recalled a conversation she had with the grandmother earlier that morning, trying to see if there had been any clues that could have alerted her to action that might have prevented this tragic loss. The best comfort for her broken heart was the memory of having recently prayed with Diane as she invited Jesus into her heart as her personal Lord and Savior.

With just a few minutes left in the day, I spoke to all the students in Diane's first grade class. I told them that Diane had died at her house that day, and had gone to Heaven to be with Jesus. Our Biblical belief tells us “to be absent from the body (in death) is to be present with the Lord for evermore.” I asked if any of the children had lost grandparents or others in their families (many had). Then I told them it was okay to be sad or even cry, because we would miss her, but we knew beyond a doubt that she was with Jesus, and He is taking care of her now. I prayed with them, and asked God to help them understand, and asked that the Holy Spirit would comfort their hearts. I prayed for Diane's family and their hour of deep distress—that God would comfort them. The children would return the next day to find Diane's desk and her belongings had been removed. I had discussed this with the teacher who agreed that this action would help the class as they tried to go on with their lives.

The last few minutes of the day were gone, and the children left. I wondered if we had met their needs, and if we could have done a better job. God's grace was sufficient in those closing minutes of the day as sorrow was followed by a deep sense of peace. God does all things well. I believe it, and I trust Him.

Grace was certainly sufficient for that day, but the next day would require another dose. The story broke, and everyone wanted to talk about what happened. I determined that the school would have to make a statement. The news media was already clamoring for an interview with me, the teacher, and even students. I wrote a statement, and had it printed along with Diane's picture, and sent it home with the students.

I informed our staff that I, alone, would be available for comments. They later thanked me for protecting them. Having one designated spokesman for the organization is a part of most policies involving crises.

Dealing with the media was an experience I could have done without. I realize their job is to "get the story behind the story," but along the way sensitivity and concern for the people involved is often discarded. There was more to the story, but I was determined that they would not get it from me.  I said what I knew to be true, and what I believed to be appropriate. When the story broke, it was given a great deal of media coverage.

Several days later we buried Diane on a cold and rainy day. As I spoke to those who gathered at the service, I reminded them of the concern that Jesus has shown for the little children. When the disciples had determined that Jesus was too busy with adults to be bothered with children, He rebuked them saying, "Suffer the little children to come unto Me, for of such is the Kingdom of God."  I said, "As she passed from life to death to eternal life, the Savior took her into His arms and carried her into eternity." As Isaiah said, "He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom." We said goodbye to Diane that day, but her memory remains and will always be a part of us.

It was later determined through psychiatric examinations that the grandparents were suffering from the rare disorder, “folie a deux,” a shared paranoia. They somehow had become convinced that there was an abduction conspiracy involving a neighbor, organized crime and the General Motors Corporation. They loved their granddaughter so deeply that they were willing kill her to keep her from being kidnapped and tortured. Both the defense and the prosecution agreed that they were insane at the time of the murder, and they were subsequently found not guilty by reason of insanity in Wayne County Recorder’s Court and committed to a psychiatric facility for treatment. They have since been released.

Someone has said that childhood is a season of growth and the prime time to plant the seeds of faith through which God will provide a harvest. Someday the time of sowing will be past.  Those of us who have been given the opportunity to plant spiritual seeds in the lives of children must be faithful, so that when someday becomes today we will have no regrets. We will one day fully understand that those sown seeds will produce graceful results long after the last wave of time has broken on the shore of a measureless eternity.

Roger Allen Cook

I love to write stories about God’s grace.  If you have a story I should consider, please contact me at:    roger.cook@southsidefamily.com

P.S. After giving the message at Diane’s funeral, I drove to a doctoral class at the University Of Michigan. The class was entitled “Psychology of Organizations”. When I arrived in my black suit, the professor asked if something special had happened. I told the class the sad story of the events of the last week and that I had driven directly to class from the funeral.

There were several questions from the other students about the way things had been handled by my school organization. Then the blockbuster question was asked. “What did you say to those who had gathered, about this tragic murder of a 6 year old child?” I glanced at the professor, and he nodded approval. I then proceeded to freely present the biblical comforts, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, just as I had at the funeral, to a room of unsuspecting graduate students and their professor. Isn’t God’s grace a wonderful thing?