Although a handful of citizens showed up for Marshall Against Violence’s prayer vigil on Wednesday, powerful, mighty prayers were sent up as the group bowed together, asking God to bring comfort and peace to those impacted by recent mass shootings.
“I’m not moved by numbers,” said MAV president Demetria McFarland as she thanked all from coming out to the vigil, held in the community room of Marshall Fire Department.
“You told us that where two or more are gathered, You are in the midst,” McFarland said in her prayers to God.
The intimate crowd shared how heavy their hearts were as they rallied together to pray for the cities of El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, who experienced mass shootings over the weekend.
Saturday’s early morning shooting at a crowded Walmart in El Paso left 22 dead and wounded dozens of others. Sunday’s shooting left nine dead when a gunman opened fire in the Oregon District in Dayton, Ohio. One of the victim’s was his sister.
“I’m very upset at what happened. It seems to be repetitive,” McFarland said, sharing her feelings with attendees prior to praying.
“It seems like every time we look around we’re losing people,” she said.
Prayers were also extended Wednesday for the city of Gilroy, California, who saw the death of three people during a fatal shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival on July 28.
The MAV leader said it seems like such bold actions are influenced by what seems to be hate-filled rhetoric of the nation’s president, Donald Trump.
“Over the years, I can’t say I agreed with every president and what they stood for but to me right now this is just unfathomable just what we’re seeing that’s coming from our current president,” she said. “For me, for him to invoke such hate in regard to where you have people that are comfortable more so now picking up weapons and taking the lives of innocent people ...”
Reflecting on the reported 255 mass shootings that have happened across the nation in 2019 so far, McFarland said there’s definitely a problem in this country, to say the least.
“And my thing is do we sit back and do we just accept it?” she asked. “Do we just continue to say: ‘Ok, well this is just the sign of the times?”
“I’m not buying this crazy, they weren’t in their right mind type of scenarios,” she added.
Beverly Joseph said she was at the vigil because she agrees something needs to be done.
“I came because I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t have a choice because in my lifetime, I’ve been in this world 60-plus years, I’ve experienced hatred from day one, even before I was born, even conceived, by the way of my ancestors and my parents.”
She said the first time she felt fear on America’s soil was during the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Her daughter and grandbaby were living near New York at the time, and all she could think about was if they were OK.
“9/11 took a hard toll on me,” Joseph shared. “All day long I was in panic mode because I couldn’t get a call to them. They couldn’t call me. I know what it feels like (to panic in crisis).
“My children didn’t die, but their souls died that day,” she said. “My soul died that day. I would never get over it.”
Joseph said now the devil’s head is rising again through the bold actions of the mass shootings. And once again, the feeling of panic erupted as she has a close relative that lives in El Paso.
“To say I’m angry, would be saying it mildly; to say I’m hurt would be saying it mildly,” said Joseph. “I empathize with the parents. Every child who has died unnecessarily by way of hatred, by way of torture, by way of abuse, I cried out as a parent.
“I’m here today because I have to be here because I have to be here for an example of my children,” she said. “I cannot slumber, I cannot sleep. I will not rest. What can I do? I can do what I can do.”
Maxine Golightly said she came to support MAV’s efforts as well because such tragedies can happen anywhere.
“It can happen in Marshall,” said Golightly. “So we all should be trying to do whatever it is we can.”
Attendee Sarah Swofford shared she wasn’t there to give any opinions on politics, but did want to join the group in praying particularly for El Paso, which was once her home.
“I lived in El Paso for eight years. My idea is to pray for the city of El Paso and for the people and families that lost their loved ones and also our law enforcement, first responders, all those,” Swofford said, sharing she still has friends there.
Putting all political opinions aside, McFarland led the group in prayer, asking God to lift up the victims, their families and all impacted by the shootings, including first responders, law enforcement, and medical staff.
“We pray for those who had to witness such a senseless tragedy,” said McFarland. “These are things that will stay embedded in our hearts, our minds forever.”
She asked God to provide comfort and peace in the wake of the tragedy. McFarland also prayed for the gunmen responsible for the shootings.
“We lift up their families because we know that even now that they’re questioning themselves what happened and why,” she said.
Continuing, the anti-violence leader prayed against the spirit of hate, racism, and other nonsense that’s invoking such incidents.
“We come together in unity and love and just ask you to continue to guide and direct us how we can make a difference in this world,” said McFarland.
McFarland continued, asking God to lift up the mayors of the cities, governors of the state, President Trump and the men and women of Congress. She ended the prayer, asking for protection of the future generation.
“We don’t want our children and grandchildren to go through what we’re going through,” she said.
In addition to prayer, McFarland said she will send cards to the leaders of the mourning cities as well as letters to the president and Congress, asking for firmer regulations on gun laws to help stop the violence.
“Something has to be done where we’re reaching out to the powers that be and just letting them know that we need change,” she said.
Golightly concurred, expounding how it’s hard for her to understand how someone is legally allowed to buy such a weapon that can cause a massacre in a matter of seconds.
“It’s absolutely heartbreaking,” said Golightly. “This shouldn’t be. The world is in a sad situation. So I’m just here to support Marshall, Harrison County because this could happen to any of us.”
Thoughts from the heart
Reading an excerpt from a journal she brought to express her feelings, Joseph thanked Marshall Against Violence for their concern and the opportunity to speak.
“In the wake of the evilness that plagues these United States of America, I am very much agitated, concerned, cautious and optimistic,” said Joseph. “Optimistic because I know of a power much greater than myself.
“America has been infested with a disease called hatred that is spreading openly, rapidly, basically out of control,” she continued. “Too many times excuses are given and foolishness is accepted. Time out for excuses. As a citizen of these United States of America, we can no longer sit on our couches, relax on our lazy boy chairs, discuss issues among ourselves and do nothing to try and positively solve things. We must take a stand and say no more and put positive actions with the words.”
Joseph said, in her opinion, a call for change starts with open dialogues like that of Wednesday’s event.
“You are doing what we need to do. You took it upon yourself. You didn’t have to,” she told McFarland. “We, as United States citizens, we have a job we have to do.”
Marshall Fire Chief Reggie Cooper said he appreciates the community’s support and concern for the nation, as a whole, in the wake of tragedy.
“I’m always thankful for the prayers that are offered for our lives — whether it be law enforcement or first responders or just individuals altogether — because anytime you have such a hate, there’s always issues, there’s always concerns,” the fire chief said. “And so yes we do have a job to do, we as law enforcement, we as first responders will continue to do our job, because where there is hate there’s still going to be love.”
Cooper said as first responders their action is to always go toward danger.
“We will always run toward the fire, we will always run toward danger in the name of justice, in the name of peace and love,” he said.
The fire chief said he believes love conquers all. He appreciates McFarland’s efforts in showing love to impacted cities.
“I hope that those in this community don’t grow weary and feel hopeless because love will prevail,” the fire chief encouraged. “We’ll always have our room open for individuals that want to come and share their thoughts.”
He expressed his thanks again for praying for emergency officials and law enforcement as they respond to such tragedy.
“A lot of people don’t think about first responders, but I think about the prayers, just tonight,” he said of Wednesday’s vigil, “because first responders have to deal with and live with this and it does affect us because we’re not superheroes. We are people, too, that have families; and oftentimes you just go home and just cry. We appreciate all of it.”