Where do you go when tragedy strikes?

On January 21 of this year, Purdue University faced a tragedy on its campus--the violent murder of student Andrew Boldt by fellow student Cody Cousins. Just days ago, the wounds of this incident were reopened.


Having just begun a 65-year prison sentence for the murder, Cousins was found dead in his cell last week. Apparently he had committed suicide using a razor blade. This comes at the end of months of controversy in court as to the place of mental illness in the killing. Now there is nothing left but two tragic deaths.


I was there at Purdue, ministering at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center, when the terrible event unfolded last January. It was a day I--and the whole Purdue community--will never forget. What sticks with me the most is not the gruesome violence and the ensuing chaos, but the way that tragedy brought people together. I saw, that day, our student parishioners flocking to the church, seeking a place of safety and community. I saw how people just stopped what they were doing, and amidst all the conflicting emotions they felt, they prayed--for both Andrew and Cody and their families. I saw the sea of people gathering in solidarity the next day for a candlelight vigil, despite the frigid cold and residual fear. I saw people reaching out to comfort those who knew the victim or had witnessed the act and those who were faced with the chilling fact that it could have been them.


Now, the story has come to an abrupt end, but the memories continue. I am again struck by the difference faith makes in responding to tragedy. Turning to God allows anger and a desire for retribution to melt into fervent prayer for healing and mercy. As the pastor of St. Tom's, Fr. Patrick Baikauskas, OP, said: "There's a great sadness of the tragedy in this, now that two young men have lost their lives in ways that are just befuddling to us." In the face of tragedy, we rarely have answers that are sufficient to still our hearts. Stripped of peace, security, and life itself, we carry close to us the only gifts that matter in the end: faith, hope, and love.


May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.