Law enforcement officials in Florence, South Carolina, are feeling a weight of grief like no other as they mourn the loss of one of their own.
Late Wednesday afternoon, seven law enforcement officials were shot after deputies served a search warrant at a home in West Florence, about 90 minutes east of South Carolina’s capital.
Three sheriff’s deputies and four police officers were shot. Seasoned Officer Terrence Carraway died as a result of his injuries and others are in critical condition. The suspect was taken into custody after a two-hour standoff.
“This is a very heavy, disturbing and shocking time for a somewhat small community in South Carolina,” said Billy Graham Rapid Response Team (RRT) Chaplain Jeff Naber, who manages RRT’s law enforcement ministry.
“The time for grieving hasn’t even begun.”
Three RRT chaplains arrived in the city of Florence on Wednesday night after leaving their posts in communities affected by Hurricane Florence just weeks ago.
The number of crisis-trained chaplains ministering after this police shooting will at least double in the coming days—all of them active duty or retired law enforcement.
Chaplains headed to Florence at the request of Florence County Sheriff Kenney Boone and president of the South Carolina Sheriffs’ Association, Sheriff Steve Mueller.
With a trembling voice and tears in his eyes, Sheriff Boone spoke at a press conference within a few hours of the incident.
“There’s gonna be a lot of officers who need counseling,” he said, adding that the city officers were caught off guard and shot as they responded to assist the deputies.
“I would ask that you put the families of these officers in your prayers,” he continued. “Please lift them up.”
Naber says the officers, loved ones and others in the community affected by this tragedy are likely dealing with shock and denial at this stage.
“They’re thinking, ‘This can’t be happening here, to this officer, in South Carolina, in the United States—again,’” he said.
A former law enforcement officer himself, Naber knows it’s natural for officers to focus on the facts and details after a tragedy. In times of grieving like this, sometimes the best you can do is simply be there.
“They want to know what happened, when, where,” he explained. “But the one thing they can’t answer is the why.
“The only response sometimes in these circumstance is to be there and be present … a ministry of presence,” Naber added. “That can be powerful for people when they’re going through their worst day to know people showed up.”
And that’s what RRT chaplains will do. Show up. Listen. Pray. Smile. Cry. Comfort. Be there.
In the coming days, Naber asks that people think about this small community and keep them in your prayers.
“Pray that those who know Christ will take comfort in that while they feel the sting of death and heavy loss,” he said. “And pray for those who don’t know Christ—that this will be an opportunity for hearts to be opened and chaplains to share the Gospel message.”