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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, September 26, 2001

Pastor provides succor to NY rescue workers Pastor provides succor to NY rescue workers (September 26, 2001)

Chaplain worked with ATF agents in Columbine shooting

by Andrea Gemmet

Menlo Park chaplain Steve Lee spent the week of Sept. 11 comforting families of victims on San Francisco-bound United flight 93, the hijacked jet that crashed in Pennsylvania.

He then began preparations to leave for New York City to give emotional and spiritual support to rescue workers sifting through the wreckage of the collapsed World Trade Center buildings

It is a role that the former police officer and new associate pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church in West Menlo Park knows well.

Lee, who served as a reserve police officer in Menlo Park in 1973 at the age of 21, left law enforcement to become a Lutheran pastor, but didn't stray far from his roots.

He is the founder and executive director of Peace Officer Ministries, a nonprofit organization that specializes in offering support and counseling to the law enforcement community and helps departments establish their own chaplaincy programs.

"In a critical incident like this, where people are severely traumatized emotionally and physically, the typical emotion is one of shock," he said. "They often just need somebody to hold their hand and be alongside them. It's not the time or place for in-depth counseling."

The terrorist attack on the United States is not the first national tragedy where Lee has acted as chaplain, although it is by far the largest. He was head chaplain for ATF agents responding to the Columbine high school shooting in Colorado, where he was living at the time. He said he still is not sure how long he will be in New York.

"I honestly don't know. At first I thought I would be there about a week, but the scale of this thing is unimaginable," he said. "We may have lost as many police officers in this one event as we lose in the entire year in the United States. This is a tremendous blow to the New York Police Department."

What he does know is that the police and other emergency workers have to take care of themselves so that they don't burn out, he said.

"I know what this does to you," he said. "Later on, it can catch up to a person emotionally. I look to other people for support, and I look to my faith. My faith has always been a great support to me. It's gotten me through some very difficult times."

Andrea Gemmet writes for the Almanac, the Weekly's sister newspaper in Menlo Park.


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