Hundreds of people gathered outside of the Muhammad Ali Center in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, on a warm, sunny Wednesday afternoon to remember those killed and wounded in Monday’s mass shooting. This time of the year usually finds the city preparing for a massive influx of attention for the Kentucky Derby with visitors and media from around the world, but not on this occasion.
The community vigil entitled “Reflect & Remember” was organized by Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg to “unite as a city to reflect and remember our loved ones.” Five people died and eight others were wounded Monday morning when a lone gunman walked into the Old National Bank building downtown and opened fire on employees inside. The shooter, also a bank employee, was identified as 25-year-old Connor Sturgeon who, according to police, legally purchased an AR-15 style weapon within the past week. He was shot and killed by police within minutes of the shootings.
The crowd included Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, city and congressional representatives, local judges, former mayors, Metro Council members, and a number of faith leaders, all coming to honor the fallen and to thank first responders. The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), joined Greenberg and others on the platform for a time of prayer and remembrance.
Greenberg said he has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support following the shootings.
“When we talk about lives lost to violence, there is no hierarchy of grief. There is the shocking reality that someone who was here is suddenly gone. Confusion, anger, fear and sense of loss and vulnerability take over,” he said. “We are here to support victims who survived, whose lives have been impacted by physical and mental wounds that will take time to heal. We are all in pain right now. I know how you feel.”
Greenberg concluded his remarks by reminding the crowd that 40 people have died as a result of gun violence in the city in just over 100 days.
Beshear, who lost a close friend in Monday’s attack, thanked all of the first responders including police, emergency medical technicians, and doctors and nurses who saved many lives on Monday.
“We live in a world right now with a lot of anger, hatred and division,” Beshear said. “How about we just love one another, love those we disagree with. My faith is tested and may be shaken, but I believe in a loving God who will one day explain to me how this can happen. When you go home from here, hug your family, call your friends, and tell them how much you care about them. We can live for the fallen, we can be better dads, better moms, better community members, and better people.”
Louisville physician Dr. Muhammad Babar drew the strongest response from the crowd when he demanded government leaders do something to end gun violence.
“I am frustrated by this nonstop vicious cycle of violence. I’m tired of seeing hollow words posted on social media. Today I want to plead with you all as well as the leaders of our nation. It doesn’t matter whether you are Republican or Democrat, live in a rural community or the city, please do something because we want this epidemic of death to end,” he said. “Why can’t we agree on solutions to curb this cycle of violence?”
Nelson, who was the final speaker, urged attendees to lean on each other as well as God.
“Love the Lord your God with all of your mind, spirit, and love your neighbor. I know this city is better than this. This city is good at bouncing back and that’s why we’re here,” he said. “Even in the midst of this time, our God and Creator is with us even now. Keep your heads up and be reminded always you don’t walk alone. And if you think you do, look at this gathering here today. This place can be changed.”
The mayor’s Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods partnered with a number of local churches and faith groups for “A Citywide Night of Resilience,” which took place after the downtown vigil. Dozens of houses of faith across the city, including 13 PC(USA) churches, held on-site vigils with professional counselors on hand.
At Greenberg’s request, churches across the city, including the baker's dozen PC(USA) congregations, held prayer vigils Wednesday evening.
The churches opening their doors to a grieving community included these Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations: Anchorage, Bardstown Road, Beechmont, Beulah, Crescent Hill, Fourth, Harvey Browne Memorial, Highland, John Knox, Okolona, Shawnee, Springdale and Strathmoor.
At Highland Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Megan McCarty, associate pastor for mission and membership, led a 30-minute service that concluded, as every service across the city did, with a moment of silence. Grief counselors were present following the service for anyone who wanted to talk.
“It seems a week cannot pass without violence, and safety is nowhere to be found,” McCarty told the Almighty during an opening prayer. “Hope seems distant, and so we turn to you, trusting in your promises that like a mother hen you will gather us under your wings.”
Psalm 130 was the scriptural choice. Following the moment of silence, McCarty offered a blessing including these words: “Friends … as we go from this place, remember your neighbor. Look around. Hold with tenderness and hope the faces who are present here, in your heart and in your mind … We gather because we thirst for the same thing, a kin-dom where we can all flourish. God is here and God goes with us … God will show up until justice rolls down like water. Amen. Go in peace.”
Those present for Wednesday's vigil included U.S. Rep. Morgan McGarvey, a Highland Presbyterian Church member in whose district Monday’s shooting took place.
“This is so hard. It’s personal. It’s going to take a long time until we have answers,” McGarvey told reporters following the vigil. “My hope is we can find healing and solutions.”
Long after the TV trucks depart and the bright lights are extinguished, “this community will have to focus on healing,” McGarvey said. “We have to take our heartbreak and turn it into positive change.”
When he heads back to Capitol Hill, “I think we’ve got to push these policy conversations” on gun violence, McGarvey said.
He praised McCarty’s efforts in bringing together a service featuring Vini Frizzo, Highland’s director of music ministries, and musicians Edward Caruthers and Rhonda Hibdon.
“I thought Megan’s words were wonderful,” McGarvey said. “She came in talking about the presence of God … This is such a dark time, and we have to hang onto hope."