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County Hall Corner: School Shootings: Action and Reaction

There are times that even the best of writers are at a loss for words. The incredible tragedy that took place at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, which took the lives of nineteen children and two adult teachers, is simply unfathomable to comprehend. What causes an individual to not only want to take their own life but sacrifice innocent children in the process speaks of the worst depravity imaginable.

The reaction to this catastrophe, especially among government officials, has been mixed. In fact, it was literally mixed when Governor Greg Abbott was conducting a press conference expressing the state’s grief and got interrupted by Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke confronting him on gun control laws. There is a time for everything, but that was not the time to discuss second amendment issues, and O’Rourke was unceremoniously escorted out of the auditorium.

Former President Barack Obama tweeted, “As we grieve the children of Uvalde today, we should take time to recognize that two years have passed since the murder of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer. His killing stays with us all to this day, especially those who loved him.” Quite a number of pundits, even those who admire Obama, questioned how appropriate or even logical it was to tie together George Floyd, a criminal who died in police custody, with nineteen elementary school students killed in their classroom by a teenage maniac. What do they have in common?

These actions are simply provided as a backdrop to appreciate the initiative taken by Lycoming County Commissioner Scott Metzger — who has a long-standing participation with Little League. He opened the Commissioner’s meeting on Thursday, May 26th, by sharing a conversation he had with Jesus (JJ) Suarez, President of the Little League Chapter in Uvalde. When Metzger spoke with him on the phone to express our area’s condolences, he related how those in Lycoming County have also experienced the terrible pain of loss, which took place on July 7th, 1996, when the TWA Flight 800 out of New York exploded and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 230 onboard. Included among that number were sixteen students and five chaperones from the Montoursville Area High School French Club that were headed to Paris.

Suarez and Metzger talked on the phone for some time, and it seemed from the way Commissioner Metzger described it, Suarez needed an understanding ear for what he was experiencing. Ironically, the man had just been voted onto the Uvalde School Board of Trustees. He is a lifetime resident that worked with the Uvalde Police Department, particularly focusing his career around helping youth. He became a certified Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) officer working closely with students and faculty at Flores Elementary School (two miles from Robb Elementary), and also took local at-risk youth to the Police Activities League (P.A.L.) camps. He was so good at law enforcement, he eventually left the police department to pursue a career in education as a full-time criminal justice instructor at Southwest Texas Junior College, eventually becoming Department Chair of Criminal Justice.

But it is obvious in the public information about JJ Suarez, the man who cares greatly about kids is also passionate about Little League Baseball. Even though he didn’t have any children of his own, he loved coaching, and even while at the police department, he encouraged his fellow officers to coach the t-ball team (truly a challenge, even for police officers). Suarez has been an active coach and board member of the Uvalde Little League for nearly twenty years.

Thus, it was a tremendous honor for him to have the President of the Board of the Lycoming County Commissioners, home of International Little League itself, calling him and asking how our community could help those in Uvalde.

Metzger noted that the man was quite touched by the gesture and was not exactly sure what practical help they needed at the present time. Suarez was simply thankful for the call and concern — and perhaps that might be the best help of all to a public official that must help a citizenry that is in shock and will be suffering for many, many years to come.