A Florida church community reaches out to Howard mourners


A BASKETBALL signed by friends and endorsed with the words, "We love you Matt."

Oakland Mills High School's lawn sign, draped in black and surrounded with flowers in memory of two alumni.

These symbols and others honor the memory of Matthew Wichita and Kevans Hall.

Our community is struggling to absorb the tragic news. We are stunned by the violence.

Oakland Mills Booster Club President Debbie Welch, members of her committee and Howard Community College plan to plant trees in the young men's memory.

Jan Doherty, chairwoman of the school's science department and sponsor of Oakland Mills Class of 1995 (Matt's class), is coordinating a faculty-student benefit basketball game May 22 at the school.

Brunswick Columbia Lanes, Dick's Sporting Goods and Sgt. Pepper's Restaurant are accepting donations to defray medical and funeral expenses.

The day after Matt's funeral service, Rev. David Anderson, pastor of Columbia's Bridgeway Community Church, invited Matt's and Kevans' friends to attend a "grieving" meeting. People who knew Matt through his love of animals, involvement in sports, Boy Scouts, school and work have reached out to his family.

Jennifer Rodriguez, a close friend of Matt's, wrote a poem for him the day after his death. Here is an excerpt:

"An Angel With Golden Wings -- A Dedication to Matthew C. Wichita, 1977-1998.

An angel with golden wings is watching us today;

He feels our pain, he feels our grief, he hears what we have to say.

He was a special person, so gracious, loyal and true;

His arms were there to carry you, no matter how big or small.

His laughter was unforgettable and filled the room with joy.

His life was just beginning, still he's mother's little boy.

One day this wonderful young man was suddenly taken away;

How could someone who was always there, be gone in just a day?

But I believe there's a side of comfort here, to know he's in a higher place;

Every time I close my eyes, I see his smiling face.

God held him in his arms when it was time for him to go;

He took him through heaven's gates, so he can watch us down below.

For he became an angel, an angel with golden wings;

All the answers to our prayers and dreams, are the messages he brings.

God chose a wonderful angel, to have right at his side;

He's an angel full of love and warmth, an angel full of pride.

See what this angel possesses, he's always had from the start;

Matt is an angel with golden wings and will always be in our hearts.

The grief and heartache in Columbia is echoed in the Florida town where the two youths died.

George Martin, a deacon at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, Columbia, received a letter from 19 young members of St. Peter the Fisherman Episcopal Church in New Smyrna Beach, Fla. Speaking from their hearts to the people of Columbia, the writers of the letter asked that it be published for everyone to read:

"April 23rd, To The People of Columbia, Maryland.

"We, the members of Saint Peter the Fisherman Episcopal Church Youth Group, wish to express our feelings of shock, shame and sorrow over the murder of Kevans Bradshaw Hall II and Matthew Christopher Wichita and the wounding of Seth Kenyon Qubeck by several young people of our community. We are appalled.

"Some of us don't feel as safe as we once did on our own beaches. We feel responsible; because it happened in our town. Many of us know some of the kids who are charged with these crimes, just as many of you must know the families of the victims."

"At times like this, we can say nothing to help you in your grief. We know we can't take back this horrible thing. All we can say is that we are terribly, terribly sorry and that we care. That are a few things we must say to help ourselves.

"We the undersigned make a solemn pledge to reject violence as a way of solving our problems. We will do our best to be different and to learn how to control our own anger.

"We don't think racism had anything to do with it. We think the fight was over 'losing face.'

"But, we don't mind saying that racism and hatred are not what Jesus wants to see in the hearts of those He loves, and we reject them.

"We also will learn to live in a way in which we don't need to save face."

"Some of us are committed Christians. Others among us are seekers who haven't yet made up our mind. But all of us are aware of Jesus' teachings of kindness and love toward others. He taught us to put our problems in God's hands and to turn the other cheek.

"We pledge ourselves to try our best to do always what Jesus would do. We are happy to hear that one of the young people charged with the crime made a commitment to Christ last Sunday. We hope his decision is genuine.

"We will pray for those who did this horrible thing as we are praying for you."

The Rev. John Liebler, pastor of St. Peter the Fisherman, described his meeting with the church's youth group at which the letter was composed.

"I wrote their thoughts onto an overhead projector and everyone's thoughts were considered," he said. "After discussing what they wanted to say, and how to convey their sincerity, I typed the letter for them. Then they had the idea for a tangible memorial to Matt and Kevans. They decided that they would accept donations for trees -- and hopefully even a bench or two -- to be placed in the young men's hometown of Columbia.

"Response of the community has been overwhelming. The heartbreak that an act of violence brings to so many is almost incomprehensible."

When all of the donations have been tabulated, representatives of the youth group plan to travel to Columbia for a memorial ceremony.

The young men's friend, Seth Qubeck, who was seriously injured during the attack, is recuperating in a Florida hospital.

The only ray of hope to come from the tragedy that has left families and friends heartbroken is that people will realize that violence is everywhere, that it can happen to people we love, and it is our responsibility to prevent it.

Our country needs less conflict and more caring.

Pub Date: 5/05/98

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