Sunday, many of Jonesboro’s 100 churches found their pews filled a bit more, the hymns sung a bit louder. Parents put arms around their children, holding them closer.
Since the shooting, the community has grieved through the funerals for five of their own. Two other children of the community, Andrew Golden, 11, and Mitchell Johnson, 13, remain locked up in the county juvenile detention center, charged in the murder of those five.
“There’s mixed feelings in town about the boys. Some can’t find a place for them in their hearts, but there’s also been a lot of expressions of love for them,” said the Rev. Jerry Jolly, pastor at Temple Baptist and a volunteer chaplain at the detention facility.
“I don’t know what might have misfired in them to cause this damage, but I do know that hate begets hate and retards the healing we need,” he said. “But if we can’t love them, we can accept that Satan causes terrible things to happen, not little boys.”
Jolly has, so far, been the only minister allowed to visit with Drew and Mitchell. He watched as the youngest, Drew, crawled into his grandmother’s lap, asking to go home.
“I visited with those boys and I saw shock in their eyes,” he said. “They are only now beginning to understand what they’ve done.”
Ministers all over Jonesboro struggled to find words for their congregations. Words to deal with the anger, sorrow and pain.
The Rev. Benny Baker at the Bono Church of Christ admitted he had worried all week. And then, on Sunday morning, he found the words.
“We will never know why, and we will never fully understand, and that is not our responsibility,” Baker told his congregation Sunday. “Our responsibility is simply summed up in responding … because that’s what God calls his people to do, and that is to respond.”
Jim Pinson, a captain in the Arkansas State Police and a deacon at the Temple Baptist Church, brought a similar message.
“This week has been a terrible burden, but there’s been a tremendous amount of prayer and compassion pour out for the victims, their families and even those two boys,” he said. “This is a churchgoing community. When one person hurts, we all reach out to help.”