Church Shooting Family Funeral

Balloons are released at a graveside service Wednesday for members of the Holcombe family who were killed in the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Associated Press

Diane Bauso felt sad about what's happening in the world.

After the devastation of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas and unnatural deaths in her hometown of Auburn, Bauso felt dispirited by one tragedy after another. And as head of school at Creative Minds Montessori in Auburn, Bauso found herself having to explain these tragedies to the elementary and middle school students in her classroom.

"Every time they would come in with another news flash, like, 'Why are people doing this?'" she said Friday.

Then a gunman opened fire at a service of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5, killing 26 people.

Several of them were Bauso's family.

The victims were Bryan Holcombe, 60, Karla Holcombe, 58, Marc Holcombe, 36, Crystal Holcombe, 36, and Noah Grace Holcombe, 1. Also killed were three of Crystal's children from a previous marriage, Gregory Lynn Hill, 13, Emily Rose Hill, 11, and Megan Gail Hill, 9, as well as close family friend Tara McNulty and Crystal's unborn child. Bauso said the children had taken to calling the unborn child "Billy Bob," though it was uncertain whether the baby was a boy or a girl. Crystal's husband, John Holcombe, was wounded but survived. 

All were related to Bauso through Ronald Scott, husband to her cousin Ruth. Neither was at First Baptist Church that day. Bauso said she and her cousin were "very close" when Ruth was in the Auburn area, growing up together and at one point living under the same roof. After Ruth moved away, and as her and Ronald's family grew, Bauso remained close with them on Facebook, she said.

And that distance, Bauso continued, made the loss of her relatives hurt even more.

"Just knowing you have a family member in such a tragedy and there's no way for you to get to Texas to help — it was hard," she said. "Usually, no matter what happens in our family — a marriage, a baptism, a funeral — we're all there for each other."

Bauso, however, found another way to help: Light the Night for Peace, a candlelight service with songs Tuesday at The Episcopal Church of SS. Peter & John.

If the weather doesn't force the service into the church, it will take place in the memorial garden outside. In the middle of the garden is a large bell Bauso's students call "the peace bell," she said.

The idea for the service started with discussions she had about peace at Creative Minds Montessori. She compared it to a catchy song that gets in one's head and, when they sing it, spreads to others. Around the same time, Bauso continued, the school's annual Harvest Dinner and Curriculum Night was approaching. And so her children asked if they could do something different this year.

"They came to me and said, 'After our dinner can we stand around the peace bell and ring it for peace?'" she said. "We're always looking for an answer, and so many times it comes out of the mouth of children. I just started to cry and said, 'Yes, we can.'"

Bauso shared the idea with the Rev. Kathlyn Schofield at the church, as well as Lt. Brian Schenck of the Auburn Police Department and the Heroin Epidemic Action League. Both threw their support to Bauso and Creative Minds Montessori and, weeks away from the night of the service, helped her set it up and spread the word. 

Tuesday, the community is invited to gather around "the peace bell" with HEAL and the Creative Minds Montessori and SS. Peter & John families to hold candles and sing, Bauso said.

"I keep explaining that if we sing loud enough, the people driving by will hear and the people in the houses nearby will hear," she said. "Or they'll see the lights on our candles. And that's going to make them so happy inside."

Because of the short notice, the Harvest Dinner and Curriculum Night will remain open to the Creative Minds Montessori family only, Bauso said. The night also provides an opportunity for her students to "show off" their work to their parents, she added. But if the service returns next year, Bauso continued, the dinner might open to the community, too. 

She just hopes the service has no reason to return.

"We hope this will be the first step in bringing our community together so peace prevails," she said. "We want to plant these seeds in our children so they, in turn, plant them into someone else."

Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or david.wilcox@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.

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Features editor for The Citizen.