Monette Park has been on a long journey of shock, suffering, stress, joy, and love. She calls herself a simple social worker, who was caught up in an extraordinary moment that touched the nation.
That moment was April 20, 1999, when chaos erupted at Columbine High School in Colorado. Two students went on a shooting rampage. Twelve students and a teacher died. The memories still haunt her.
Park says on that fateful day, she was in the area where the initial large bomb was expected to explode. She experienced the terror of the attack. She heard the gunfire and the bombs, and she smelled smoke and fear.
Park also saw many wounded students that terrifying day, and helped them to safety. In the days after, she focused on helping the emotionally wounded cope with the crisis. Park says because she had the same memories as the students, she was able to connect with them. They could talk about the experience and grow beyond it.
For instance, one student who lost his best friend told Park that when he came out of the library, he had blood all over him from his friend. But, when he looked up at that sun, he said he wanted to live forever.
In the middle of the carnage, Park witnessed something beautiful among the students. She says the students show a lot of respect for each other. And those who were trapped inside the building for 4 hours did amazing, wonderful things by caring for one another. One boy dropped his crutches, and other boys quickly carried him out. Another boy picked up the crutches for him.
Park says that caring spirit pulled everyone together, as they struggled to heal from the tragedy. Park says people have a lot of resilience inside of them. She strongly believes that, because she experienced it.
Park's experience leaves her with this advice to her fellow social workers. "Be cautious, be careful, be tender, and never assume." Hattiesburg Social Worker Linda Leggett says her story really touches the heart, because Park was speaking from the heart. Leggett says the comment Park made about being cautious is important, because violence can happen anywhere.
Harrison County Social Worker Melissa Lechner says she doesn't think we're as safe as we once thought we were. She says speakers like Park help them be prepared to handle a similar incident, which hopefully, will never happen again.
Monette Park was named Social Worker of the Year in 2000. She retired last year. Park was the keynote speaker at the "Gulf Coast Social Work Conference" in Biloxi.
By: Trang Pham-Bui
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