Church leaders react to hostage incident in Marinette

By | December 1, 2010

Hengel died the next day, Nov. 30, at a Green Bay hospital.

Update: Fr. Dorner’s statement given at Mass

During weekend Masses Dec. 4 and 5, Fr. Joe Dorner, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Marinette, offered the following comments regarding the hostage incident and loss of life. In addition, read his homily here.

This past Monday, when we were confronted with a hostage situation at Marinette High, I received a number of calls, including a few from those closely involved. We offered a Mass that evening for the safety of our school community but tragically we still lost one of her young members.

In all of this, we are confronted by the mystery of the human heart. This experience has left many of us feeling vulnerable and humbled before the power of just one wounded heart. Even the great prophet Jeremiah in exasperation once said, “Who can understand the human heart?” And in another place St. Paul wrote, “Do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.” There are many things about this past Monday we will never understand. In the next life, I believe we will get a better glimpse.

In the days to come, let’s remember Sam, and all those affected by this tragedy, as we pray for the gift of healing and reconciliation. It will take time for us to heal. Even with time, a scar will always remain. So let’s recall what our faith teaches us: no matter how mysterious and difficult life can at times be, we know our heavenly Father walks with us and that He is our strength and salvation.

On Tuesday, Marinette, a city of 12,000 located on the Wisconsin-Upper Michigan border, was going through a mixture of relief that the students and their teacher were unharmed, but disbelief that Hengel had acted so violently. Hengel was said by authorities to be a good student with friends, some of whom were in the classroom with him. Described as an outdoorsman, Hengel had fired at least five rounds from two semi-automatic handguns before shooting himself.

“I could just feel the sadness as I drove into town today,” said Nancy Fennema. “Everybody is concerned and just surprised that this would happen.”

Fennema is manager of clinical services for Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Green Bay. Catholic Charities has a satellite office in Marinette and Fennema was there Nov. 30.

She said county and city services were providing outreach to Marinette residents, but that she expected Catholic Charities would be needed in the coming weeks. She has already made calls to local groups and individuals “to let people know we’re available.”

This is not Catholic Charities’ first time with such a crisis. In October 2007, they also provided assistance after a shooting in Crandon in Forest County left seven people dead. Catholic Charities therapist Deb Mullen was part of the months-long outreach that followed and is the on-site therapist at Marinette.

“It’s important that there be follow-through,” Mullen said. “That much I learned from Crandon. A lot of people rushed in and then left, and a staying presence is very important.”

She added that the first several days after such a traumatic event are crucial.

“I think that we need to be paying attention, we need to be watching over the next 72 hours,” said Mullen, who has worked in the Menominee-Marinette area for 11 years. “Typically, everyone is pretty numb for the first two to three days. When things start to settle, people will need help.”

She and Fennema know that the upcoming holidays will be especially hard, with survivors experiencing many emotional and even physical reactions.

“Everyone experiences this differently,” Fennema explained. “Some roll with it, others feel trauma and shock and need some help talking about it and making some sense out of the experience.”

For now, she said, people are expressing relief and concern for Hengel and his family and friends.

“Everyone is connected here,” she said. “This is a close-knit community.”

Various parish personnel contacted by The Compass had been in contact with families of hostages and knew how they were coping with the events, but wanted to protect their privacy for the moment. Fr. Joe Dorner, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Marinette, was in contact with many as events unfolded on Nov. 29, after receiving a call from a father whose son was being held hostage.

“After I was called by the family,” Fr. Dorner said, “we did have a Mass at Holy Family and I offered the intention up.”

As he talked with families, Fr. Dorner said he started to recall the words of Pope Paul VI: “If we want peace, we have to work for justice.”

The priest added that society needs to be “kinder and gentler” toward people, because “people tend to lash out when they feel they have been treated unfairly. At a certain point, people snap.”

Fr. Dorner added that he has given his phone number to local police and offered to help in any way he can.

Fennema said people in Marinette should contact Catholic Charities if they experience any of the following reactions over the next few weeks:

• Sleep loss;

• Flashbacks;

• Physical and emotional reactions that are out of the ordinary;

• Loss of appetite;

• Aches and pain beyond what might be normal;

• Feelings of sadness, listlessness or restlessness.

Marinette Catholic Charities, located at 1200 Main St., is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., weekdays, except on Tuesdays when the office opens at 11 a.m. and has evening hours. For more information call (715) 735-7802.

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