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Coloradans bow in prayer for shooting victims

By Kristen Wyatt
Associated Press / July 22, 2012
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AURORA, Colo.—Voices and hands raised in prayer, mourners of many beliefs joined Sunday to remember the 12 killed in the early-morning mass shooting at a movie theater in Colorado.

For those whose loved ones survived, there were shouts of joy and tears of relief. There also were questions from those whose faiths were shaken by the massacre.

Congregations sent up prayers for the survivors and the relatives of the dead. Churches sent out social-media appeals for neighbors who wanted to join in remembrance. President Barack Obama, who visited victims' families and survivors, cited Scripture as he spoke at a hospital where some of the wounded were being treated.

The prayers came in different languages, but the message was the same: hope and faith in the face of unimaginable evil.

"You're not alone, and you will get through it," said the Rev. Kenneth Berve, pastor at Grant Avenue United Methodist Church and a witness to Friday's horrors. "We can't let fear and anger take control of us."

Berve's 19-year-old stepdaughter Emma Goos was in the movie theater, and Berve sped to the theater after she called to say someone had started shooting and that a lot of people were dead.

When Berve and his wife arrived, they saw horror they couldn't have imagined. Teens whose white shirts were red from blood. Children screaming for their parents. A man who had been shot in the head asking strangers if he had a hole in his forehead.

Berve and his wife, Judy Goos, shared their story Sunday with congregants.

"The blood -- it wasn't just on the sidewalk. It was everywhere," said Goos, whose daughter survived the massacre. After communion, she knelt at the altar in prayer. Others lit votive candles in remembrance.

Her daughter wasn't at the service. After showering off the tear gas smell and sleeping through most of Saturday, she wanted to go to a state park.

"She just needed to get out. Get away," Berve said after the service.

At another Aurora church, members of an aging Presbyterian congregation within walking distance to the suspected shooter James Holmes' apartment joined in prayer. None had ever met him. At the church of the suspect's family in San Diego, signs inside asked for prayers for those in Colorado affected by the shooting and for Holmes' family.

The services weren't the first mass prayers for the victims and survivors, of course. Thousands gathered on the night of the shooting in a parking lot by the movie theater. Mourners heaped flowers on photos of the deceased and collectively sang the Lord's Prayer. A few blocks away, newly installed Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila led a Mass where prayers were offered in English, Spanish and Latin.

"The heart of our Father is stronger than the bullets that killed 12 people," Aquila told mourners.

Several thousand gathered on an Aurora lawn to pray for the victims as the sun set. Mourners released purple balloons and cheered police officers who responded to the shooting.

Gov. John Hickenlooper choked up in his remarks after meeting relatives of the dead with Obama.

"It was almost like somehow God had come down and picked the most vibrant and alive among us and taken them," the governor said.

At Grant Avenue Methodist, where parishioners showered hugs on Goos Sunday, many talked about Emma's friend, A.J. Boik, one of the victims. Goos talked of comforting Boik's girlfriend.

Church members abandoned the usual handshakes of greeting in the service and hugged each other instead. They even added a surprising song to the beginning of the service -- a group "Happy Birthday" to a congregant.

Berve told church members there was nothing wrong with singing the birthday song.

"Celebrating another year of life is something that we need to be doing right now," he said, then joined in the song.

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