[Episcopal News Service] Members of the Episcopal School of Jacksonville community and their friends, including city and state officials, were assured during a memorial service March 9 that it was the day of resurrection for murdered Head of School Dale Regan.
“This is the third day since the tragedy occurred. This is the day of Dale’s resurrection,” said the Very Rev. Kate Moorehead, dean of St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in Jacksonville and vice-chair of the school’s board of trustees, during her sermon.
Regan, 63, died in the early afternoon March 6, a few hours after she had been involved in firing Shane Schumerth, 28, a Spanish teacher at the school. He returned to campus with an AK-47 in a guitar case and 100 bullets, went to her office and shot Regan as many as 10 times before killing himself, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s office and a report in the Jacksonville Florida Times-Union newspaper.
Moorehead began her sermon during the open-air service on the Episcopal campus with a declaration: “Let me clear with you: this was an evil act. It was a moment of great darkness for all of us and we will never be the same. This is a Christian school. What that means is that this school was founded on the principle that God will make new life out the worst kinds of darkness.”
The open-air service was conducted from an altar on a raised platform in the school’s Campion Courtyard between Parks and Lastinger Halls. Regan oversaw the 2010 construction of the two classroom buildings.
Thousands of attendees formed a standing-room only congregation that filled the courtyard and spilled out onto the surrounding campus. The school broadcast the service to attendees in another location on campus. Among the mourners were Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown and Florida State Attorney Angela Corey, a graduate of Episcopal.
Students standing on the balconies above the courtyard hung a sign on the railing saying “Our Thoughts and Prayers Are With You.” They also pinned ribbons in the school maroon color bearing the date of the shooting and a cross to their school uniforms.
Students served as readers and a school choir led the congregation in singing the hymns, including “I’ll Fly Away,” “What Wondrous Love is This?” and “God of Grace and God of Glory.” Diocese of Florida Bishop Samuel Johnson Howard presided at the Great Thanksgiving.
Moorehead told the mourners that “we believe that Dale’s love lives on in each one of you, that it surrounds us, and we believe that this love has not only not been diminished by this violence but it has grown.”
“We also know that Dale would not have us make this day [be] about her death,” she said. “She would want us this day to celebrate her life because, although her death was dark, her entire life was a witness to the light.”
Regan, 63, was contemplating when it would be the right time to retire, Moorehead said, describing a conversation she had with Regan a few months ago in which the school head said she feared she would “out-stay” her welcome.
“Dale, you will never out-stay your welcome here. For 34 years we have loved you and we long to see your face. Your love will continue on in this place and it will bless us,” Moorehead said. We will be changed for the better. We will continue on as a school in which young people are taught how to be leaders in this complex and frightening world.”
Regan had been at Episcopal for 34 years, teaching English before she became head of school six years ago.
The Jacksonville Florida Times-Union newspaper offered live blog and streaming video coverage of the service, allowing people from all over the world to add their comments about Regan and the deaths. Leah Armstrong Bennett, Class of 2000, wrote as the service was ending that the fact that people were watching the live feed from as far away as the U.K. and Vietnam, as well as all over the United States, was evidence of “how far of a reach that Ms. Regan had in our lives.”
The school said in a statement earlier in the week that Schumerth was let go because he was “failing to meet the expectations of the school and was repeatedly counseled for issues associated with attendance and a lack of timeliness in complying with the requirements of the position.” He made no threat during the “separation meeting” but the school followed its standard practice of escorting him off the campus and informing the security force, which placed a guard at the entrance of the school, according to the statement.
The Times-Union reported March 9 that Schumerth’s acquaintances remembered him as shy, awkward and in need of a friend. He often spoke of Christian metal music and theology, they said, and appeared to be proud of being a teacher. One neighbor echoed earlier recollections of students and parents that Schumerth talked about socialism in government and Marxism.
Schumerth seems to show none of those tendencies here while auditioning for an independent movie about a month before the shooting.
On March 6, two people, one male and one female, called 911 from the school and identified Schumerth as the gunman. He was dressed in a red sweater or jacket, black shirt, blue jeans and aviator-style sunglasses, according to a recording of the calls.
The recording omits any information the callers give about their identities or involvement with the school but both callers appear not to be students, because they expressed concern about the students.
“We’re very scared,” the female caller told a dispatcher. “We’re just worried about the students and if the headmaster is OK.”
The caller said she heard the shots as she was walking by Regan’s office and at first thought it was roofers. After calmly and precisely telling the dispatcher how to locate Regan’s office, she can then be heard softly saying “Oh, my God, I’m scared” as she begins to cry and later telling the dispatcher, “thank you for helping us.”
She told the dispatcher that she and the people she was with in another school office did not need immediate contact with the numerous arriving police officers. “I think it’s more important if they can tell the kids to get inside if they’re not already and to make sure she’s OK,” she said.
When the dispatcher asks if the school has been locked down, the female caller replied “we started to” issue what she called an “all-call” that sends an announcement to class but that process was interrupted by the automatic bells signaling a change of class periods. Instead, an email was sent “to all campus telling them not to leave.”
The caller later asked for an officer to tell them when it was all right to let students leave.
The campus is closed until March 19, in part because spring break had previously been scheduled for the week of March 12. School officials began providing grief counseling on campus and meetings between students and teachers the day after the murder-suicide.
As part of that process, on March 8, students gathered on the school’s Flag Plaza to paint 3,000 river rocks to give away to mourners as they proceeded to receive communion during the service.
Regan kept a basket of such stones with words such as “courage,” “hope” and “wisdom” written on them in her office, Moorehead explained during her sermon. When someone “was going through a difficult time or had to make a difficult decision, Dale would offer them the basket” and suggest that they take a stone to carry with them. She suggested that the person could return the stone when they no longer needed it.
Moorehead said during her sermon: “I’m going to hold onto my river rock until I see your face again.”
— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.