Pastors offer comfort to Oxford community in wake of shooting
Oxford — Throughout the cold night, there were no words Tuesday night for the grief nearly 1,000 people felt as they packed LakePoint Community Church.
Amid the Nativity scenes and Christmas decorations in the house of worship, many struggled to grasp the enormity of the tragedy at Oxford High School less than 12 hours earlier when police said a 15-year-old student opened fire in the school, killing three students and wounding eight other people, including a teacher.
"It doesn't feel real," said Sophia Ziegler, 16, a junior at the school, as she stood outside the entrance to the church.
Scores of mourners from across the region filled the church and parked blocks away for a prayer vigil to honor the victims and console each other.
Many openly wept or embraced each other as multiple pastors offered condolences, shared Scriptures and encouraged the audience to express their emotions — however intense or painful.
One, Oxford-based minister Dave Gerber, asked the attendees to raise their hands if they felt heartbroken. Most did.
"God is heartbroken, too," he said.
After reflecting on how he wanted "the worst thing in high school to be that we lost in the first round of the playoffs," Gerber noted the community outpouring.
"We're not alone," he said. "We're going to get through it together."
Mourners clutched tissues and candles as they prayed for solace and healing while processing an unimaginable loss.
"It was very important" to hold such a gathering, said Jesse Holt, the lead pastor. "I think if there's anything people need tonight, it's hope."
Lakepoint Community Church member Kelley Crowell, who said she knows many families that have students in the high school, said the shooting was a "horrible tragedy."
"I don't understand it," she said. "I don't know what goes through people's minds."
Ziegler said she knew at least one of the victims from riding the bus and other typical school duties. She noted the significance of the day.
"It's never going to leave us," she said while standing with her twin brother, Paul.
The weight of that knowledge drew attendees such as Amy Dymond of Oxford.
Standing in a sea of her neighbors and others, she drew comfort knowing the community united.
"It's just so important to give hope to one another in times like this," Dymond said.
Oxford High School seniors Zeiden Marshall, 17, and Jace McCarthy, 18, attended the vigil. McCarthy stayed home from school Tuesday, sick with allergies.
"It was terrifying to wake up and hear that your friends might just be gone," McCarthy said.