Sutherland Springs community seeks peace at nighttime vigil

Some had lost friends and neighbors. Others knew victims only tangentially, but felt the quiet peace of their close-knit community shattered. Some didn’t yet know whom they’d lost because not all victim names have been released.

Residents of tiny Sutherland Springs and nearby towns stood on the edge of a baseball field Monday night — a day after a a gunman took 26 lives at the local First Baptist Church — and hugged, wiped tears, held each other up and lifted hands to God.

“Lord, even in the midst of a storm, you are our peace,” said San Antonio Chaplain Phil Johnson, as he and other area religious leaders led those grieving in prayer and song. “What Satan meant for evil, you’re going to turn to good.”

The Guerrero family came from nearby Floresville. Cosme and Nicky Guerrero stood with their daughter Cameron, 16, who had a close friend shot in the attack.

“They had a rough day at school,” Nicky Guerrero said, still worried that, for his daughter, the reality of the shooting hasn’t sunk in yet.

Elsewhere in the crowd, April Clark stood with her daughter Allison, also 16, who knew classmates at La Vernia High School who’d been shot, Clark said. It’s eye opening, she said, that such violence really can happen anywhere.

Melissa Urtiaga, a resident of nearby Atkins, was at church herself in La Vernia when she heard about the shooting. She later found out her brother was on the scene, helping tend to bleeding victims.

“It’s devastating,” Urtiaga said. “It’s heartbreaking. Your brain can’t even process it and, when you try to, you push it out.”

Still, she knows the answer is in the prayer that brought the mourners out to the ball field Monday night.

“It is not going to break us,” she said.

Some closed their eyes as they sang and danced, lifting hands, candles and cell phones toward the sky. Others sobbed and held each other, while the Red Cross passed out plates of food.

Patti Allred, who lives down the road from the church, said her first instinct after the shooting was to hold her boys, 6 and 11, close. Second, was to look for answers.

“We live in a town where the cows outnumber the people,” she said. “We don’t even have law enforcement in town because we don’t need it. (The shooting) shows that we have this deep aggression in this country. We have to find our way back… and get the sense back that life is precious.”

After a day when the media seemed to outnumber actual residents, San Antonio pastor Ray Torres urged everyone, regardless of what brought them to Sutherland Springs, to come together in prayer and not to let the shooting define the place.

“If you’re out here to report, I want you to report this: God is alive,” he said. “God is alive in this place.”

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