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Care follows MS shooting

"The people of Meridian have been defined not by one lone shooter but by acts of compassion they offer each other."

BY SUSAN KIM | MERIDIAN, Miss. | July 9, 2003

"Everybody was still in that traumatic phase."

—Rev. Jamie Lamoreaux

"The people of Meridian have been defined not by one lone shooter but by acts of compassion they offer each other."

The morning after a workplace massacre that stunned his town, Mayor John Robert Smith spoke about the vital role of people's faith.

On Tuesday, an employee of Lockheed Martin plant opened fire, killing five fellow workers before killing himself.

Local pastors from a variety of denominations were on the scene minutes after the shooting occurred. "I issued a call for ministers to come and offer spiritual counseling," said Mayor Smith.

The Rev. Jamie Lamoreaux of Briarwood Baptist Church was one who answered not only the mayor's call but also what the pastor described as a call from God.

And many other clergy felt compelled to join him, said Lamoreaux. "The response was amazing," he said.

What the pastors found was a collective state of disbelief. "Everybody was still in that traumatic phase," said Lamoreaux. "They hadn't processed it. There was initial shock big no, enormous shock."

The shooter, a white man, had been described by some of his coworkers as a racist. Four of his five victims were black but Wednesday morning police investigators were still saying they thought the gunman fired at random.

The heavily armed man was able to enter the defense contractor's plant despite security that was supposed to meet defense department criteria.

Pastors on the scene simply allowed people to talk and share their feelings, said Lamoreaux. "We assured them God was still in control."

It's the second time this year clergy have responded to trauma. Earlier this year, a boy committed suicide inside a school in Meridian.

Pastors helped people cope with that tragedy, and for a second time they have been "indispensable," said Mayor Smith.

Townspeople gathered on the steps of City Hall yesterday for prayer. "It meant so much to have people of faith gather and lift prayer," he said. "It was the most moving spiritual event I've been to in my life. The love, the affection, the compassion was palpable."

"And I can't tell you the number of ministers that called my office."

Meridian, near the Mississippi-Alabama border, is home to some 30,000 people.

At times the spiritual response in the town seemed to happen on its own, said Smith. "You didn't have to orchestrate it."

Church members have come forward to publicly pray with pastors, added Smith. "You don't have to wear a collar to deliver a prayer," he pointed out.

While yesterday's response seemed largely spontaneous, the faith community was organizing more structured community-wide services Wednesday. Many churches opened their doors for prayer vigils, and people gathered at the United Methodist-affiliated Wesley House for pastoral counseling and prayer.

It will be prayer that carries people through this tragedy, added Smith. "I am realizing that my people are defined by their faith."

And he urged the nation to pray for people in Meridian. "Prayer is a simple act. But it's a profound act," he said.

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