Parents wait for news after a reports of a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)

The tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday is unimaginable. The loss is breathtaking and incomprehensible. The hole left in the lives of the families and parents of the deceased is beyond reckoning, inconsolable, unbelievable.

If ever there was a community that needed thoughts and prayers, it is this one. If you have a heart, you will offer both.

It matters.

Long ago, I went to boot camp at Parris Island, only days after graduating high school. It was July. In our small town of Lynchburg, nearly everyone I knew, all of my friends, were leaving town for college or the military. Only a small percentage stayed.

Among my closest and best friends nearly everyone was leaving. Sarah, four years my best pal, who used to call me “Bubba”, was among them. She, my best friend Nikki, and I were a three amigos set. Closer in the summer before 9th grade than in the summer after 12th but still, nevertheless, friends for life we were sure, we parted ways after a last hurrah; a party at Nikki’s house and a road trip to an amusement park across the state.

Nikki went to her basic training. I went to boot camp. Sarah went to college. And was murdered.

Sarah was raped and murdered. I won’t go into the details here. I didn’t know it happened until after I graduated boot camp. Until after the funeral. When I left, she was alive. When I returned, she was not.

It is so hard to explain what it feels like when someone you love is murdered. It’s a concept that is almost impossible to digest. You can’t imagine how anyone could do that to her, not her, why her. You can’t accept it at first. It’s been 25 years, I still find it hard to process.

But knowing that people prayed for her and for her family, that people thought about her… it’s huge. I think about Sarah all the time and, when I go too long without thinking about her, I feel guilty and sad. I wish she was here.

Nikki and I remain best friends. She too still processes the horror. It matters to me that we think about Sarah. That somehow she’s still part of everything, not left out, not forgotten. Thought about. Mourned. Prayed for.

Imagine how much greater the horror and heartbreak for these parents. Like Sarah’s mother, like all of us, we thought all these kids were in a safe place. We expected to see them again. And some monster, some animal, took them.

Offer your thoughts and prayers and mean it. It means something to the victims and their families, and it always will. It doesn’t mean you can’t complain if you think people aren’t doing anything to prevent future murders. You can. But offer your thoughts and prayers anyway and never regret it.

And if you are a person who goes on social media and laments thoughts and prayers because you think they are offered as an excuse for inaction, don’t do that. Stop it. Rethink your point of view. You can decry inaction without mocking thoughts and prayers. Never mock them.

Sarah’s murderer was executed for his crime. I don’t think about him. I’ve deliberately forgotten his name, his face. But I think about Sarah. I pray for her, and for those she left behind.

I am thinking of and crying for and mourning with everyone affected by loss in the tragic and terrible shooting yesterday in Florida. It tears me apart inside. I am devastated. I will pray for them. We all should.

Please do.