The community of Juneau has been hit once again with the tragic death of one of its young members. Kevin Thornton, 19, a 2010 graduate of Thunder Mountain High School, was beaten to death by four teenagers in Arkansas. He died on Wednesday, July 27, 2011.
When I learned of his killing, an unprovoked attack, I was filled with utter shock and then flooded with all kinds of questions — How could someone do this? What causes people to be so numb to violence? How do parents and family members cope with this type of tragedy? The questions continue and a good number of them will not be answered.
The attack occurred a half mile away from Glen Rose Missionary Baptist Church in Malvern, Arkansas. Kevin had been left in the ditch alongside the country road. A passerby stopped and carried Kevin to the church. Parishioners were attending Bible study at the church and the pastor’s wife called 911.
Kevin was a member of St. Paul the Apostle Church here in Juneau. As we prepare for Kevin’s funeral, I called the pastor of the church in Malvern. In a way that we wish we weren’t, our community and their community are now linked by this tragedy. When I spoke to the pastor he informed me, after expressing his heartfelt sorrow at Kevin’s death, that the congregation would be taking up a collection for the Thornton family, to help defray the expenses that they incurred during his hospitalization. He also asked when the funeral for Kevin in Juneau would be celebrated so that the congregation at their church could gather and pray for Kevin and his family.
Apparently Malvern is a very small community. They know the four young men who committed this terrible crime as well as their families. They are experiencing both anger at the perpetrators and sorrow, primarily for Kevin and his family, but also for the parents and families of those who killed him.
In our conversation I asked about the man who carried Kevin to the church. The pastor said he did not know his name, in fact, he asked around the parish and no one knew him. Nevertheless, the traits of being a Good Samaritan are keenly evident and similar to the parable in Scripture (Luke 10:25-37), but in Kevin’s case, it was a tragic outcome.
On Monday, we will have a vigil at 7 p.m. at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church. This vigil will consist of praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary. Within the Catholic tradition, the rosary is a meditation focused on the life of Jesus Christ and elements of the faith. The five Sorrowful Mysteries invite us to reflect on Jesus’ agony in the garden before he suffered on the cross; that he was beaten and whipped at the pillar; that he was mocked and ridiculed by being crowned with thorns; that he was forced to carry a cross to Calvary while being scoffed at and spit upon; and he was put to death by crucifixion.
From my perspective, I am convinced that Christ was present with Kevin in those last dreadful moments because he himself endured similar treatment for the salvation of mankind.
On Tuesday, at 7 p.m., also at St. Paul’s, we will celebrate the Mass of the Resurrection for the repose of Kevin’s soul and the consolation of his family, friends and classmates. Following Mass there will be a light reception in the parish hall. All are invited to join us for both the rosary and funeral Mass.
Last Sunday, at the request of the Thornton family, a message from them was read at all of the Masses at the Cathedral and St. Paul’s. In speaking with Kevin’s mother, Darlene, I sought the family’s approval for this column and also requested if I could include in it the message read at all the Masses this past weekend in Juneau. It is my hope and prayer that Kevin’s family and this community can experience the sense of healing that is so desperately needed.
“Darlene, Bill and Katie Thornton would like to express our sincere appreciation to the people of Juneau for all their prayers, love and support through this very difficult time. This has been heart-wrenching for us all. We are going to visit our family in Massachusetts so that they can all say their last goodbyes to Kevin. By the end of next week, we will be back in Juneau and will be planning a memorial for Kevin at St. Paul’s. Our family will continue to need all of your support and love to find some peace in the world.
• Burns is the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Juneau and Southeast Alaska.