“Their journey has just begun.”

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – As the Nashville community continues to grapple with the deaths of six victims in the United States’ latest school shooting, a team of crisis-trained faith leaders is in place to hear some of the painful stories experienced by families and first responders.

“These families who are dropping their children off at preschool the next day, you watch them leave,” Dr. James Kilgore, chaplain coordinator for the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, said. “They leave crying. They wonder if it’s going to be their child next, would be their school next. So even them, they have to be able to process that to find peace and happiness again.”

Rapid Response Team chaplains pray with Nashville Metro Police Chief John Drake. (Photo/BGEA)

Kilgore is a former member of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and a part-time member of the Tusculum Police Department. His current focus is the spiritual security of the community with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, however.

“I retired from TBI last year to do this right here,” Kilgore said.

Kilgore spoke with News Channel 11 over Zoom from Nashville. (Photo/WJHL)

On Monday, early reports of the shooting began to spread throughout the state around noon. By 2 p.m., Kilgore and several members of his team were on the road. By Tuesday, ten chaplains were ready to help.

“Usually, deployments like this will last anywhere from six to nine days,” Kilgore said. “Depending on the funeral, how much involved we are with the first responders to help doing debriefings. We’re also working with the church and school as well.”

The Rapid Response Team (RRT) is never deployed without an invitation from a third party in tragedy-impacted areas. In the last two years, Kilgore said he’s led teams to shooting scenes in Uvalde, Texas, Collierville, Tennessee and the sites of several other mass-casualty events.

“I lead a team of crisis-trained chaplains who can help people emotionally and spiritually,” Kilgore said. “And this is made up of law enforcement as well, retired and active law enforcement who’s crisis-trained as well.”

Kilgore said having that multi-faceted experience is crucial for facing the many devastated families, departments and organizations that are left in the wake of a shooting like Covenant.

Hundreds of flowers and stuffed animals were placed at the gates of the school. (Photo/BGEA)

“You understand the emotions and the aftereffect of what they’re thinking and what their families think,” Kilgore said. “Not only do you have an officer, but you got to help their family too. As you can imagine, their children, their spouses, it’s brought the realization on that this could have been bad for somebody else in the police.”

Kilgore said it’s too early to expect any healing from the parents and loved ones of those killed in the attack, but he hopes his team can be there when it is time.

“I was in Uvalde, Texas, and we worked with different families there, helped them to process after funerals,” Kilgore said. “But it’s a little early on for them right now to start debriefings for them. That will come later. There’s funerals to go through, their journey has just begun.”

Before long, Kilgore said his team will likely sit down with over 200 first responders with the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department for a mass debriefing. The term covers a wide array of ministry and conversation, but Kilgore said it’s all in service of closure.

RRT chaplains speak to all involved in incidents like Covenant. (Photo/BGEA)

“Debriefing is where you gather together with comrades of a like in a room where what’s said there stays there,” Kilgore said. “So you can share your emotions and feelings. Healing comes when you share your story.”

Those stories aren’t finished when the team leaves town, however. The scars left behind will never fully heal, Kilgore said, but locals can make a difference on their own.

“The time is going to come when this half-million dollar mobile command center rolls out of town,” Kilgore said. “But the hurt and the pain is still here. It’s going to take a while to get through it, to process it. What I’m encouraging people to do, churches to do, is to step up the game.”

One way to do so, Kilgore said, is to enroll in the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s program called “Sharing Hope in Crisis” which provides tools for the tough conversations that follow life-shattering events.

“A traumatic event comes not just in shootings, but when you lost a child, or you lost a loved one, or you’ve just been diagnosed with cancer or your spouse left out on you,” Kilgore said. “And so many people are afraid to talk about it because they don’t know what to say.”