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Jack Sullivan was at the New Jersey high school where he teaches history when he received text after text reporting there had been a mass shooting at the Tennessee school where his father served as chaplain.
Time for him on Monday morning slowed to where a few moments seemed an eternity before he was able to get his mother on the phone. She reported that his father, Matthew Sullivan, was safe.
“For about 30 seconds, a lot of thoughts were going through my head about what could have happened,” Jack Sullivan later told The Daily Beast.
He wondered what it was like for the parents who had young children at the Covenant School in Nashville who were unable to immediately contact them.
“Kindergarteners don’t have cell phones to call and say, ‘Hey, I’m alive,’” he noted.
The worst possible news came for the families of three 9-year-olds and three staff members, including the head of the school. Sullivan headed home to Nashville, and he was among several thousand people gathered outside the state Capitol at 8 a.m. Thursday to demand a ban on assault weapons and what he terms “common sense gun control.” A good number of the protesters were from two nearby high schools.
There was limited space in the lobby and it was closed off before Sullivan was able to get inside. He and others discovered they could gain entry through underground tunnels running under some of the surrounding buildings. He joined several hundred demonstrators inside.
“Just a lot of sustained chants for gun reform, for legislators to do something,” he recalled. “I was amazed at how long it kept itself up.”
Around 12:30 p.m., after more than four hours, many of the teens returned to their high schools.
“If I had my way, I would’ve had people there the entire day and every day next week,” he said. “But, that being said, it was good to see so many people come.”
Sullivan ended up sitting alone on a wood bench in the lobby holding a sign reading ”DO YOUR JOB” that another demonstrator had dropped.
“I was wearing a Covenant school shirt that’s my dad’s,” he said. “I don’t think a single Republican lawmaker even bothered to ask about it. A few of the Democrat ones did.”
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What several Republican legislators did do was post rank falsehoods about the demonstrators and a trio of Democrat representatives who called for gun reform from the house floor.
“Wannabe communists conducted a probing attack upon the state of Tennessee,” Rep. Monty Fritts tweeted. “The Communists failed. Miserably.”
Fritts actually declared three weeks ago that while there are people who commit violent acts with “all sorts of tools…there is no such thing as gun violence.”
Another lie came from Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton. He described the peaceful protest as an “insurrection.”
“Worse than January 6,” he said.
Sullivan dismissed this as “absolute nonsense.”
“Just a vile mischaracterization of things,” he said. “With the intention of drawing attention away from the subject at hand.”
Sullivan reported, “It was very clearly peaceful. Not a hand was laid on a legislator. Nor was anything broken into. Everyone went through security. No one possessed a weapon. And no one disrupted the legislative session.”
Sullivan left around 1:30 p.m., sorry so many had left, but glad he had come.
“It felt good to kind of get out some of the anger that I felt by demonstrating and at least feeling like my voice was being heard, if not received,” he said.
His father later retweeted a photo that The Tennessee Holler posted of his son sitting alone on the bench in a Covenant School shirt, holding the sign.
“My man Jack. Love him so,” his father wrote.
As the school chaplain, Matthew Sullivan teaches Bible studies and holds daily chapels. His duties now extend to consoling the families of the murdered children and comforting the many people who were traumatized by the attack.
“He’s attending a funeral now,” Jack Sullivan told The Daily Beast on Friday afternoon.
That was confirmed by what the father later posted on Facebook.
“First funeral today,” he wrote. “May the Lord wrap His big arms around the family through us.”
As the school chaplain, he later posted, “The first funeral was so very beautiful. Death does NOT have the final word.”
Jack Sullivan will now return to the high school in Trenton where he teaches history, which now includes another mass school shooting as nothing is done about guns.
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