Millions of American parents prepare every year for the day they send their “babies” off to college. After the ISIS-inspired attack at Ohio State University earlier this week, these moms and dads have a new and immediate concern.
After the Ohio State University attacker — a Somali-born student reportedly angry with the treatment of Muslims — had been shot and killed, I was driving back to the Bedford County Courthouse in Pennsylvania to conclude a day of serving warrants in my role as constable. I knew that the affable and colorful Sheriff “Reich” of Bedford County, Pennsylvania, would have something to share on the campus attack.
Standing in the office of Chief Deputy Diane Montz-Nelson, Sheriff Charwin Reichelderfer launched into the topic of kids in college — and offered a tip for students in these tense times.
“Kids need to use their heads. Most of them are away from home for the first time with no parental supervision,” he said. “This newfound freedom, coupled with alcohol, can be a recipe for disaster. Universities bring together people from different communities, cultures, faiths, and backgrounds, and sometimes, on rare occasions, people have wicked motives. If your senses are radically impaired, you might not notice something that could save your life.”
Chief Deputy Montz-Nelson is the mother of a teenage daughter who aspires to be a nurse. Montz-Nelson and her daughter are just beginning the process of thinking seriously about colleges. “What happened at Ohio State is frightening,” she said. “It makes me not want to let my child go to the movies, let alone go away to college,” she added.
But Montz-Nelson has also been in law enforcement for 18 years. She is a leading candidate to replace her boss when his term ends. She doesn’t succumb to fear.
“It’s easy to put your life on hold because of a fear of terrorism, but that’s not who we are,” she said. “Police are well-trained — better than ever before. Threats can be identified more easily and neutralized more effectively, and most people understand the importance of being aware of danger in large gathering places. However, we simply can’t let fear dominate our lives.”
Judge Kent Smith, a magisterial district judge in rural Pennsylvania, understands parental worries as kids enter college.
“As the parent of a freshman in college and a former police officer, I am concerned about sending my kid to school,” he said. “I think our law enforcement is some of the best trained in the world, but with all the attacks on our officers and potential terrorist attacks on our campuses, how do we really prepare?”
“My heart goes out to the families of the Ohio State attack,” Smith continued. “There, but for the grace of God, go I. However, I have a lot of confidence that our law enforcement can handle these types of situations as they arise.”
I am also an Anglican bishop. For people of faith, the Bible is replete with passages about how to handle fear: “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control,” it tells us (2 Timothy 1:7). Yet so many people are expressing just that, fear — in the wake of the terror attack at Ohio State University.
These days, many police are fond of using the sheepdog metaphor — “police are like sheepdog protecting a flock” — but in my role as clergy, I tend to believe the Good Shepherd analogy from the Gospel of St. John. The good shepherd protects his sheep at all costs, even if it means he becomes the food:
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”
Tom Verni, a retired detective with the NYPD, told me this after the attack: “What I ask of people is to make a leap of faith that the average police officer will do everything to protect us.”
“By and large, the overwhelming majority of police are fine, honorable, and upstanding citizens who choose every day to leave their family and friends to put their safety on the line for all of us — and with no guarantee they will come home.”
Parents should be well-assured that no matter what happens, there will always be people who will selflessly rush toward danger — while others are running away.
Council Nedd, Ph.D., is a Pennsylvania State constable and an Anglican bishop living near Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania. Follow his musings on law enforcement, faith, and politics on Twitter @BishopNedd.