When there have now been more mass shootings than days in 2023, it’s a national crisis, and our children are crying out for help. The children perpetuating the violence and the children suffering from the violence.

We can bury our heads in the sand or take action. Action for one can be comforting a grieving child, and action for another could be simply becoming aware of weapons that your child may have access to. If you or someone you’re close to is dealing with stress or mental illness matters, we have a civic responsibility to take action.

Macy and Jaelynn Credit: McCombs Family

Great Mills and the surrounding areas are still reminded every March of the violence that took place at Great Mills high school on March 20, 2018, at the hands of a student.

Jaelynn Rose Willey, who had just celebrated her 16th birthday on February 24th, 2018, was wounded by a classmate and passed two days later. She was an honor roll student, a member of the Hornets swim team, and participated on the GMAC swim club team, where she had set a record in the 100 butterfly.

Willey did not get to experience her first prom, and her eight siblings, friends, and loved ones were left instead to mourn. Processing grief takes many stages, and shock was one that the local community was forced to deal with first.

Willey’s good friend Macy McCombs spent time processing her grief and mourning as she wrote to Jaelynn to express her thoughts.

She just published her writings in a new book entitled ‘Letters to Jaelynn’. It’s available for purchase on Amazon. McCombs said she wanted to assist others grieving and to write something in Jaelynn’s honor.

McCombs said initially, she was in shock and didn’t know how to react.

“I was devastated. I was mad at God,” McCombs said, “and I didn’t understand why he would let something like this happen. I didn’t have much time to think about that because we left town quickly after it for spring break, and we just needed a break and to be away from what happened.”

McCombs began writing letters to Jaelynn shortly after the tragedy. She shared her journey with her family and decided to write the book.

“I knew I wanted to be vulnerable and share my grief with the world to show others how God can heal them from even the deepest wounds,” McCombs said. “I want people to read my words and know they’re not alone, and it will improve. I started writing these letters to Jaelynn the night of the shooting.”

McCombs started writing on the night of the shooting. Willey was in the hospital overnight in the intensive care unit.

“I wrote to her how worried I was and that I was praying for her to get better,” McCombs said. “Once she died, I kept writing to her because it was helping me grieve and process even though I didn’t realize that right away. Sometimes I wrote really long, grief-stricken emails, and other times, I wrote to her telling her my newest jokes or when I got my first car or memories that came to mind. I wrote to her about anything and everything.”

McCombs said writing to Jaelynn helped to keep her connected to her.

There did come a point two years after the tragedy when McCombs felt she needed to put her pen down.

“I felt like they [the letters] weren’t beneficial to me anymore and that they were actually preventing me from continuing to heal,” McCombs said. “When I felt in my soul that I needed to stop to continue healing, I wrote one final letter to say goodbye. I told her I would never forget her but that I needed to stop writing to her for my sake. I don’t write consistently anymore, but I do write her occasionally on special occasions, when I’m having a particularly hard day or missing her, on her birthday or the anniversaries of the shooting and her death.”

McCombs said she hopes the book encourages people to turn to God when tragedies such as this occur.

“In the book, I talk about how He [God] is there the entire time,” McCombs said. “He never leaves your side. If people want to find true healing for the deepest wounds in their souls, the only way to do that is to turn to Christ and let Him heal them. Whenever I hear about another school shooting in the news, my heart breaks because I know what these kids are going through, and I desperately want to help them.”

“I wrote this book to honor Jaelynn and help kids who go through the same thing,” McCombs shared. “I am raw and real in my words about how I felt and what happened because if someone who suffers the same type of tragedy I did picks it up one day, I want them to know that even if they’re at rock bottom and can’t see a way out, there is hope and that hope is Jesus. These children who live through school shootings are left with so much trauma to deal with and I want them to be able to experience the same healing that I did because of Jesus and I want them to know they’re not alone.”

McCombs said it had been five years since that fateful day and that God has been her anchor. She also praised her parents and sibling, who were there to help her maneuver this journey.

“They loved on me so well and really encouraged me when I needed it most,” McCombs said. “I had a couple of really good friends that I shared everything I was going through with too. They helped me and encouraged me to go to counseling. Having a small group of core people to help you is really important. Without those people supporting me and without God, I wouldn’t be where I am today in the healing process.”

McCombs said for one dealing with such a tragedy to give themselves time to heal.

“I would tell them that it can get really dark before it gets better,” she said. “It can get so dark that you forget what the light in your life looked like before the tragedy, and it can be so scary. It takes time to heal from the trauma and grief. Don’t try to rush it.”

The St. Mary’s County Public school system has a health and safety Hub located on its website at www.smcps.org. If you’re experiencing a health crisis or would like resources, please visit Student Mental Health & Wellness (google.com)

The school system has partnered with Rosen Digital to provide students access to website videos on Teen Health & Wellness: Real Life, Real Answers.

There is also a virtual Calming Room for students that are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each school also has a counseling office open to students throughout the day. Students are encouraged to say something if they see something. Take a screenshot and share it with the authorities. Spreading gossip won’t solve the matter. Share it with a teacher or a parent. The new three-digit number for the suicide and crisis hotline is 988. 

You can purchase the book on Amazon here: Letters to Jaelynn

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