A Real Sense of Grief

Chaplains Patricia Kanwischer and Merle Doherty were part of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team that deployed in Calgary after five people were stabbed to death at a house party.

Rapid Response Team chaplains help Calgarians cope with mass murders

As Calgarians try to cope with the worst mass killing in the city’s history, Rapid Response Team (RRT) chaplain Patricia Kanwischer remembers one key moment.

Kanwischer, one of 21 RRT chaplains deployed after five young people were stabbed to death on April 15, was at a memorial service when she noticed a man behind her “sobbing and sobbing.

“So I watched for him after the service and touched his arm. I told him I could hear his pain and asked if I could give him a hug. He said ‘oh yes’ and gave me a huge hug. He said ‘You don’t know how good that makes me feel’.”

Kanwischer, who was part of RRT’s chaplain response to the massive 2013 southern Alberta floods, found this assignment to be different.

“I had an even deeper sense of grief for the city this time,” she explained while wiping away tears. “That allowed me to have even more empathy for people.”

Merle Doherty, an Edmonton RRT chaplain who spent five days in Calgary after the killings, noted, “In a (natural) disaster, you have the tangible of what people are dealing with. Here, the impact was emotional or intangible and everyone was impacted, even if they didn’t know the victims.”

Some of the hardest-hit Calgarians were police officers and University of Calgary students. Police called to the crime scene in northwest Calgary found bleeding victims inside and out, and the man arrested in the murders is the son of a Calgary police officer.

All the victims died at a house party celebrating the end of the university’s school year. Many of their classmates and friends are suffering deeply.

RRT chaplains spent time with police officers and with students at an informal memorial site near the crime scene. They also attended all of the funerals and prayer events—quietly offering hugs, tears, and the unconditional love of Jesus Christ.

At the invitation of the Calgary Police Service, chaplain Doherty also visited the district office that responded to the murders.

“Police by nature are guarded, but they opened up to us,” he said. “We were able to speak with them about grief.”

Fellow chaplain Kanwischer, who once counseled crime victims while working for the RCMP, came prepared for anguished Calgarians to ask her why God would allow five seemingly random murders at a house party. But those questions didn’t arise—yet.

“Because it’s still so fresh, no one knows why it happened and no one (in the police service) can talk because it’s part of an investigation,” she said. “If it goes to trial, that’s when the tough questions will come out.”

Please pray for the families and friends of Zackariah Rathwell, 21; Lawrence Hong, 27; Josh Hunter, 23; Kaiti Perras, 23; and Jordan Segura, 22. In addition, please pray for Calgary police officer Doug de Grood his wife, Susan, and their 22-year-old son, Matthew.

All of them need to know that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39, NKJV).