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The Role of a Chaplain During a Tragedy

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SACRAMENTO -- Street cops and detectives, medics and crime scene experts -- in the army of personnel that is responding to Sutherland Springs, Texas, there are also gentle soldiers you never really hear about.

"We break their heart and then we help them mend again," said Mindi Russell, executive director of Law Enforcement Chaplaincy Sacramento.

From 9/11 to the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas, she has spent her career tending to the survivors of America's worst moments and tending to the families of those who didn't survive.

"When a chaplain is called to a tragedy such as this, they better be prayed-up. We are very prepared when we get on scene," Russell said.

While much of America is clamoring to learn the names of those who died, chaplains already know. That's because they often have the painful task of telling a family their loved one is gone, telling them before they hear it in a more callous setting like on the news or social media.

She says the question she hears often is "why?"

"When somebody looks at me desperately and says, 'when is this going to stop?' I have to tell them, 'it's not going to stop.' But we still have a just God, and we still have a God that hates what's happening," Russell said.

And it's not just the identities of victims, but also the identity of the gunman, delayed while, in this case, his family is notified.

"I'm gonna tell you, families... moms don't look at a baby when they first are born and say, 'ah, you're going to grow up and be a bad guy,'" Russell said.  "Just because that person did that we don't go in there judging that family."

Obviously the currents of God and religion run through the work of chaplains, making them all the more suited to Sunday's crime scene -- a Baptist Church.

In the field, though, they remain nondenominational so they can help as many people as possible. And just like a physical gunshot wound, a wounded heart is more likely to heal, the sooner you treat it.

"They have proven that 87 percent of people who have crisis intervention within the first 72 hours never have to have therapy," she said.

And she says the help isn't only important for victims, but also for law enforcement and other first responders who, this Sunday morning, found themselves responding to a nightmare.