Jacksonville church empowers hurting community through prayer after deadly mass shooting

A Jacksonville church held a prayer vigil to remember the lives of those killed in Saturday’s shooting and to encourage a hurting community during a difficult time.

The St. Paul AME Church on New Kings Road hoped to combat hate with prayer following Saturday’s deadly shooting that claimed three innocent lives.

It is a shooting that investigators are calling “racially motivated.”

Several prayers were spoken including one for a group of four students. They say they saw the shooter when he initially went to Edward Waters University’s campus before ending up at Dollar General.

“I just want to be there for them and fulfill whatever need they need,” said David Jamison, who is a history teacher at EWU and previously taught two of the students.

The four students at the vigil were too shaken up to speak on camera.

“They are overwhelmed and thankful to be alive,” Jamison said.

This service included five specific prayers: one for the victims’ families. One for the community. One for peace, and one for the five elected officials who all sat on the front row at the service.

They included Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan, State Senator Tracie Davis, State Representative Angie Nixon, Duval County school board member Daryll Willie and At-Large city council member Terrance Freeman.

Willie Barnes, Jr. is the pastor of the church who wanted this service to bring healing.

“Don’t allow those lives to be taken in vain,” Barnes said after the service. “We need to build coalitions of people who are committed to having dialogue. Having conversation, engaging in meaningful action across race, ethnic, religious lives and class lines to really make our community more loving, just, equitable, safe, and the list goes on.”

Barnes and Jamison say this change in service was critical.

“Prayer was necessary today,” Barnes said. “We need to keep praying. But as I said previously, there is more that we have to do. Faith without works is dead.”

“We need to reach each other,” Jamison said. “We need to heal each other. We need to reach across the lines. We need to have integrated church services. We need to come together as a community.”

They say that is what will lead to hope.

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