Something good may come out of the tragedy at Madison Jr./Sr. High School.
Conner Hamrick, a 15-year-old sophomore at Madison, was there on Feb. 29, 2016, when one of his classmates, James Austin Hancock, opened fire in the cafeteria, shooting two classmates and injuring two others with shrapnel.
Hamrick wasn’t hit, but he was close enough to smell gun powder. He crawled to the nearest exit, a door that led to the gymnasium. He and a group of students ran away from the school, then called 911.
After the school shooting 16 months ago, “a light bulb went off” and Hamrick knew his love for technology mixed with his new interest in public safety could go together, said Jeri Lewis, his mother.
Later this month, Hamrick will travel to Washington, D.C., and participate in an U.S. national security forum. The National Youth Leadership Forum introduces students to first-hand experiences and challenging career options in national security and related fields.
Throughout the six-day program, students will develop critical thinking, leadership and public speaking to tackle the complexity of national decision-making in the face of a challenge, crisis or conflict.
“It will be interesting,” Hamrick said.
His mother added: “Only good can come from it.”
When school begins this fall, Hamrick hopes to form a student safety committee at Madison and work with administrators to combat bullying and gun violence, his mother said. Hamrick said he’d also like to implement improved school security and refine safety drills.
“The drills we have couldn’t have prepared us for what happened that day,” he said.
He still has mental scars. Occasionally, he said, when he hears loud noises — firecrackers or busting balloons — they trigger memories of the school shooting.
“That gets my heart racing,” he said. “A huge rush of adrenaline.”
Taking part in programs is nothing new for Hamrick.
He’s volunteering all summer working with neighborhoods and engaging youths through Breiel Boulevard Church of God’s “Move Out” program, his mother said. She said about 100 students are repairing Middletown homes that range from painting and landscaping to fixing roofs and building barns.
“He gets the idea of mission and community,” his mother said.
He also sits on the board for the Middletown Memorial Day and July 4th parades and is active in the drama and choir program and student government at Madison.
Hamrick, sitting in the church, his T-shirt, hands and feet covered with paint, was asked where the love of community service were planted. He pointed toward his mother.
She has five sons, who range from 1 to 15 years old, and she includes them in all of her service projects. They’re there when it’s time to prepare meals for those in Haiti, or provide snacks and water for Middletown children at Sherman Park, or organize the free family movie nights.
“I want them to be raised that way,” Lewis said. “That’s how you share the love of God. It’s not just through a really great sermon. There is nothing with sermons. I think they’re vital, but actually applying it. Being missionary is not a week-t0-week thing. It’s being that light in a very dark city is some aspects.”
Then her son added: “The church is not a place, it’s the people. The church is a congregation of people doing God’s act.”
Fittingly Hamrick graduates in 2020.
That year matches his vision for a better tomorrow.