A woman and a child stand near a sign that reads, "7/20 Gone Not Forgotten,"… (Ted S. Warren / Associated…)
AURORA, Colo. -- They came by the dozens — reverends and pastors — to pray for peace, for the slain and for the families of those killed when a gunman opened fire in a crowded movie theater. In all more than 50 clergy members gathered in a parking lot across the street from the Century 16 multiplex, scene of the carnage unleashed on moviegoers who had gathered to see latest Batman movie.
The candlelight vigil, which began at 7 p.m., was hosted by local clergy members and Rhonda Fields, a state representative whose son Javad was slain in 2005 just before he was set to testify at a murder trial. In all it drew about 50 members of the clergy.
They recalled how faith had enabled Coloradans to carry on past other tragedies in the past. Twelve people were killed at the theater and dozens wounded.
PHOTOS: 'Dark Knight Rises' shooting
“I want you to see all the reverends and pastors praying for our community. We cannot allow these tragedies to lock us up in fear. I remember it was 1999 and we had another tragedy, the Columbine killings. I had to do the service for Isaiah Sholes,” said the Rev. Patrick Dimmer, referring to victim of the Columbine High School massacre in nearby Littleton, Colo.
“Prayer was answer then and prayer is answer now. Help us not be divided by politics or ethnicity,” Dimmer said, prompting a few “Amens!” from the crowd.
He then asked for a moment of silence, and the multicultural crowd, then about 150 strong, fell quiet.
The speakers led the group in prayer, offering solace as well as inspiration through song and dialogue. One girl wore a blue shirt with carefully written letters in black marker: “Save my City Aurora.” Two children held a sign reading “Amor.”
TIMELINE: Mass shootings in the U.S.
People joined hands, gave hugs, held candles and cried as gathering dusk brought cool breezes and dropping temperatures, a welcome relief from the 100-degree heat.
Brendon Hutchinson, 11, who lives catty-corner to the Aurora Town Center, where the Century 16 complex is located, sat perched on a fence holding a sign stating for passing traffic: “Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone impacted by this tragedy.” He said he'd been sitting on the fence since he heard the news early this morning.
“I saw what happened on the news and I just felt so sad about the people that had been hurt. I wanted to do something to help. I've been out here all day. Just waving,” he said.
As the sun set the crowd grew larger, to about 300 people. Even after the pastors finished speaking, many people lingered, holding onto one another, and perhaps sharing a moment of peace, on a day of chaos and sorrow.
Angelika Bravo, 20, and her boyfriend, Gerardo Vaca, 21, came from nearby Denver with candles and tears.
“We live 10 minutes away. We come to this theater all the time. This is our family. This is our community. It could have been me. My mom. My sister. That's why I came. To show my support,” Bravo said. “I've been hurting all day. There has been so much violence this summer. In our neighborhood we hear gunshots every night. It scares me. Denver never used to be like this.”
Soon after Pastor Thomas Mayes of Living Water Christian Center told the crowd they would have to disperse about 9:30 p.m., two girls saw a text message and broke down in tears.
Someone had announced on Facebook that a boy they knew from Gateway High School was among the dead.
“I want to know the rest of the list,” said one of the girls, Cydney Hilbrecht, 16, between sobs.
But parents nearby disagreed.
“I hope there's no rest of the list,” said Tiffany Marsh, 39, of Aurora.
The girls prayed with Marsh and some parents on the sidewalk across from the theater.
Iowa girls' disappearance is now officially 'abduction'
Colorado shooting: Mother describes fleeing with her kids
Parents of missing Iowa girl stop talking; another day goes by