The mood was somber in the high school auditorium in Orlando where the large group of involved officers gathered for critical incident stress debriefing orientation. The commander in charge of the debriefing introduced the session by describing the horrific terrorist attack on The Pulse nightclub as “the mother of critical incidents.”
I’ve attended the scenes of other demonic births including large-scale attacks at Columbine, Ground Zero, Virginia Tech, and Aurora, but I’ve also been witness to many “smaller” critical incidents, if any could be called that. In truth, every critical incident is a “mother” for those tragically affected. But in the grisly numbers game of body counts, Orlando is of course the worst terrorist attack in the U.S. since 9/11…Until sadly the next gut-wrenching incident, God forbid.
After orientation, we broke up into 10 smaller groups of 25-30 officers each, with each led by a team of trained facilitators including myself and QRT partner Chaplain Frank Ruffatto, Executive Director of Peace Officer Ministries (the chaplaincy ministry I founded in 1996). The purpose of critical incident stress debriefing is to talk out the event according to an established protocol to mitigate the emotional (here I add “spiritual”) impact of a life-threatening event. The goal is to prevent potential stress reactions up to and including full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder—PTSD.
There was much to talk out. Because confidentiality is a necessary part of the debriefing process, here I simply say that in general I remind first responders that, yes, they have a responsibility to professionally debrief every incident, but personally they need to “let go and let God.” We must accept our human limitations in preventing evil, sometimes tough for first responders to do, but we also need to realize we can turn these frustrations over to a loving God who walks with us through the shadowed valley (Psalm 23). We can find healing, if we let go and let God heal us.
By God’s grace, Frank and I accomplished much on our Florida deployment, including a side trip to visit the commander of the incident involving the 2 year-old boy killed by an alligator—another tragedy (take a look at our redacted field notes).
No pictures here, and words fail. We all need to pray for our communities, our country and our culture. Thanks for being our ministry partner!
Orlando Field Notes June 13-17, 2016 (redacted/edited)
Provided support to first responders of The Pulse shooting (and others affected) in cooperation with local law enforcement, chaplains, Trinity Downtown Church and FL-GA District Staff of LCMS. Also visited with Orange County Sheriff’s captain re: alligator killing of 2 yr. old boy—gave him a Peace Officer Ministries (POM) Bible.*
Local contact and host is Volusia County Sheriff’s Dept. deputy whose wife works at the hospital near shooting (hospital staff attended by hospital chaplains).
Met with staff at Trinity Downtown Orlando:
- Shared materials re: Christian critical incident stress management.
- Church having vigil Wednesday evening. Will help train staff beforehand on how to help and invited to stay and be available for spiritual care for those who need it.
Met with President Gregory Walton of FL-GA District LCMS.
- Provided materials to give to church workers to help victims cope emotionally and spiritually.
Drove to perimeter of The Pulse nightclub – spoke with on-scene officer and gave him a POM Bible.
Meeting or working in partnership with:
- POM board member and local law enforcement Chaplain Richard Norris.
- Orlando PD Chaplain Wade.
- Pastor Billy Brath, a FL-GA District Missionary who works community outreach with Trinity.
- Go to Community Center to offer grief support.
- Support first responders at 4pm CISM debriefing at local high school.
9 am Update:
- Heading to Trinity.
- Will minister with support center set up at the Beardall Senior Center in Orlando sometime after 11am
- 4pm-6pm will participate in multiagency debriefing for Critical Incident Stress Management.
- Several officers attend Trinity Downtown…will provide them POM Bibles.
1:30-2:00 pm Update:
- Ministered to Orlando employee who identified himself with the gay community. Prayed with him—he was appreciative.
- Met with incident support organizers at the Beardall Senior Center to offer assistance…organizers thankful for QRT assistance. This is the location where families were notified of the victims and is the support location for this tragedy. Will return tonight to minister to the community and remain until it closes at 11pm (did return later).
3:00 pm Update:
- At the multiagency debriefing until 6 pm EST…assigned to debriefing teams.
7:00 pm Update:
- Debriefing information: About 300 officers involved with the shooting had an overall orientation briefing in auditorium of the high school, and then divided into 10 groups. Steve and Frank were leaders in different groups. There were four leaders in each group. Frank’s group asked him to close in prayer. Today’s multiagency group was one of the most open groups ever encountered regarding Christian ministry. One phrase used by debriefing commander to describe the day was “The mother of critical incidents.” Felt like an intense emotional battlefield scene.
- Met with Trinity staff, elders and members.
- Prepped for/presented at 6 pm Trinity meeting to train church workers dealing with tragedy.
- 7 pm vigil at Trinity: Pastoral care provided, including care for a comfort dog handler. 6 motor officers guarding the event and providing traffic control were given POM Bibles.
- Steve interviewed by a woman who claimed to be working for European press. She did not present credentials, business cards, etc. and asked some provocative questions, but as the interview progressed and Steve shared God’s love with her she seemed to thaw and said she hoped to see him at the community center tomorrow. Pray for her!
11:00 am Update
Met at sub-station with Orange County Sheriff’s Office commander of the response team involved in locating the 2 -year-old boy killed by alligator. Gave captain a POM Bible/offered other support.
5:30 pm Update
Met with some of those affected by or ministering to The Pulse shooting. Will continue to provide biblically-based Christian ministry as able/invited to do so.
11:30 am Update
Visited with officers at The Pulse. Went to Trinity Downtown and gave the last 2 POM Bibles to the staff to pass along to congregational members who are officers.
*The POM Bible is a law enforcement edition Bible with a 96-page study guide written by Steve Lee