Local authorities, faith leaders gather in Tres Angeles Park
Cameron County Assistant District Attorney Sam Katz and District Attorney Luis V. Saenz could have never known that when they scheduled a vigil to honor those murdered in mass shootings and hate crimes that the ceremony would take place less than 12 hours after another tragic mass killing.
The shooting at a country music bar in Ventura County, Calif. late Wednesday night when 28-year-old David Long shot and killed 12 people, including a veteran law enforcement officer, hung heavy Thursday morning as faith leaders and law enforcement officials gathered in Tres Angeles Park to advocate for dialogue between faiths to show that Cameron County will not stand for crimes against people because of their race, color, disability, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, gender, sexual preference or because of their status as an officer or judge.
The seed for the vigil organized by Saenz’s office was planted in another senseless and violently hateful attack on members of Tree of Life Congregation on Oct. 27 when Robert Bowers, fueled by anti-Semitism, barged into a Pittsburgh synagogue and opened fire, killing 11 people. Bowers, who survived, is facing 29 charges in federal court that include hate crimes.
When the news broke, Saenz said he knew he needed to talk to Katz, whose parents survived the Holocaust while Nazis murdered the remaining 90 percent of his family in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944.
Katz, however, already had an idea and approached Saenz, telling the DA about his idea for a “One Voice, One People,” rally that he hopes catches like wildfire and spreads across Texas and throughout the nation.
“This is going to be our ticket to change the way we go as a country,” Katz said.
He said the intent is to meet in Tres Angeles Park each year to hold a rally.
During the vigil, Katz recited a poem by Martin Niemöller, a German Lutheran pastor and former World War I submarine commander who spent seven years in a concentration camp.
The poem is famous and epitomized the lack of effort in Germany leading up to World War II and the mass genocide against Jews that begins “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out-Because I was not a Socialist,” and ends “Then they came for me-and there was no one left to speak for me.”
That poem resonates with Katz, who said that since 1998, the U.S. has become increasingly divided and hostility within the country has grown.
“That’s why our voices need to be one, so they hear us,” Katz said.
The vigil also featured faith leaders, including Iglesia Bautista Jerico Pastor Moises Molina and Christ Church of the Valley Pastor John Phillips.
Molina said part of the solution to ending this cycle of violence is love.
“We can love each other. We just don’t do it,” Molina said.
Molina talked about how he visited with the pastor and congregation of the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs on Nov. 5, 2017, when 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley shot and killed 26 people. An armed civilian shot Kelley, who later shot himself in the head, as he fled.
“I couldn’t talk,” Molina said. “There was a knot in my throat. I couldn’t talk. My tears and my hugs was enough for them.”
Phillips spoke about how the Winter Texans who visit his church are always asking what security precautions his church takes. Phillips said there are armed people in his congregation, which includes members of law enforcement.
But because of the times, Phillips also talked about how he and his wife earned their concealed carry licenses and have since learned to shoot.
“Right now, I am dealing with a bipolar delusional man,” Phillips said.
The man who taught him how to shoot has been admitted into mental health facilities three times and authorities had to seize his weapons, Phillips said.
People shouldn’t be paranoid, but should be wise and pray that people get the help that they need, Phillips said.
“You live in a time where we need to pray for our country, for law enforcement,” Phillips said.
Saenz, for his part, said his staff recently participated in an active shooting drill.
“It’s a sad reality of where we are today,” Saenz said. “That’s the reality of the world we live in today.”
But the main message in Tres Angeles Park Thursday morning was one of love, prayer and a need to heal the nation of the violence that has beset it in a society that is becoming more and more polarized.