Hope is focus following shooting

Faith community leads residents in response to murders of 13 at immigrant center.


"People very much appreciate the opportunity to come out and show solidarity, and respond peacefully to this act of violence."

—Rev. Pat Raube, Union Presbyterian Church

After a devastating attack at a local community center in Binghamton, NY, churches and community organizations rallied together to help the community heal. On April 3, a gunman shot and killed 13 people and wounded 4 before ending his own life. The tragedy shocked residents, but their reaction is one of hope.

Vigils to mourn the dead were quickly planned to help begin the healing process. The Rev. Pat Raube, pastor of the Union Presbyterian Church and Moderator of the Presbytery, said, “People very much appreciate the opportunity to come out and show solidarity, and respond peacefully to this act of violence.”

Despite the tragedy occurring right before Holy Week, an already extremely sacred as well as busy time for many religious groups, local church leaders made special services and vigils a priority. The Rev. Monica Styron, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in the neighboring city of Endicott, NY, said “We have been meeting everyday all week for short and long term plans to help.”

Short-term plans included a special vigil held on Friday, exactly one week after the attack. The Broome County Council of Churches, along with the local government, coordinated a special ceremony to give the community an opportunity to honor the victims and find hope in a dark time. Mourners gathered at the Binghamton court house at ten o’clock in the morning before walking to Confluence Park for prayer services. Fourteen tulips were planted at the park as a memorial one for each of the dead. The flowers, a sign of life and hope, are intended give residents a place to remember the victims.

“Each spring around this time the tulips will come back and people will be able to remember and pray for the victims.” Ed Lane, CHOW director for the Broome County Council of Churches said.

The tragedy occurred at the American Civic Association in Binghamton where immigrants from many different countries take citizenship and English classes. The diverse community united in the face of this tragedy and residents from many different religious backgrounds came together to pray. The vigil on Friday, as well as previous services, were interfaith and included Jewish, Protestant, Lutheran, Catholic and Muslim church leaders. The Rev. Dr. Joseph Sellepack, executive director of the Broome County Council of Churches, said the clergy leading the ceremony on Friday also represent many nationalities, including Vietnamese, Haitian, Hispanic and Chinese.

But vigils are just one aspect of the healing process. Community and church leaders are working with many national organizations, including Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) and Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR), to get services where there is an unmet need. Both of these disaster response organizations have specialized ministries to respond to acts of violence. Local church leaders said they greatly appreciate these resources. The tragedy at the civic center, where many of the victims were immigrants, is particularly difficult to respond to because many of the dead have family in other countries.

“One of the immediate things we did was ask (for travel grants). Our money is going to help folks who have to travel great distances. One of the families had to travel from China to claim the body of their daughter.” Pastor Raube said.

The help a community needs after a violent act like this is multifaceted. Immediate needs include help with funeral expenses and debriefings, but there is much more for response organizations to do beyond that. Survivors and the deceased victims’ family members require financial, mental health and human services attention “What we are trying to do is put together a six month community response. It’s been an incredibly emotional situation,” Sellepack said.

For now church leaders and response organizations are focused on meeting the immediate needs of the victims’ families as well as those of the community, but they have a long road of healing ahead of them. Pastor Styron said, “It is still very raw.”

Organization leaders see it as a long term process to help heal the community. This includes setting up scholarship funds for children of the victims, stress management and aftercare. The First Congregational Church of Binghamton, located next door to the American Civic Association, has offered use of its facilities, but details are still being worked out.

The immediate concern is helping those most closely affected by the tragedy. The Rev. Arthur Suggs, head of the First Congregational Church, said, “What we are trying to do now is give as much support as we are capable of putting into place to facilitate healing.”

And organization leaders refuse to take all the credit for helping the community recover. Residents of Binghamton, as well the surrounding cities, maintain the spirit of hope through vigils and volunteering. Lane, from the Council of Churches said, “The community has really come together to respond.”

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