Thousands gather to grieve senseless violence and honor the dead

People participate in a candlelight vigil July 11 at the Dallas City Hall Plaza. (CNS photo/Erik S. Lesser, EPA)

In the week since five Dallas area police officers were gunned down, thousands have gathered in churches, parks, plazas, parking lots and a symphony hall to remember the fallen officers, to cry for hope and pray for peace and unity in communities across the country.

On the evening of July 7, as a march and rally protesting police-related shootings in parts of the country was about to end, a lone sniper targeted police, fatally wounding five officers, and injuring nine other officers and two civilians. After a standoff for several hours with a heavily armed, agitated and wounded gunman holed up in a second-story garage, police detonated an explosive device, killing him. The march through downtown Dallas on July 7 had been organized to show support for families of two men killed earlier in the week in officer-related shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota.

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As the night turned into day, the sunlight on July 8 gave way to images of busted windows, bullet-riddled police vehicles and shattered lives; a request from the police chief for better treatment and respect for those taking the oath "to serve and to protect," and a resolve from city and faith leaders that neither a "coward" targeting police or others bent on disrupting a city would divide the community.

The five officers killed were identified as Dallas police officers Sgt. Michael J. Smith, 55; Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, 48; Officer Michael Krol, 40; and Officer Patrick Zamarippa, 32, and Sgt. Michael J. Smith, 55. Also killed was Brent Thompson, 43, an officer with the Dallas Area Rapid Transit.

Smith, his wife, Heidi, and their two daughters, Victoria and Caroline, are part of the Mary Immaculate Catholic Church community in Farmers Branch, just north of Dallas. Heidi is a fourth-grade teacher at Mary Immaculate Catholic School. A funeral Mass for Smith was to be celebrated July 13 at Mary Immaculate Catholic Church. A second ceremony at Watermark Community Church, where Smith worked some of his off-duty hours as a security guard, was scheduled for July 14.

At a citywide candlelight vigil at Dallas City Hall July 11, the families of the fallen officers gathered to hear others, mostly the partners of each of the officers, pay tribute to those they called heroes.

"I think those that love Mike the most that want to honor his legacy by choosing, because it is a choice, not to let our anger drag us into a darker place, but instead choose to continue Mike's fight for good and to not let the evil prevail," said Officer Marcie St. John, his partner.

Police identified the lone gunman as Michael Xavier Johnson, 25, a former Army Reserve veteran who had served in Afghanistan. Authorities said that during tense negotiations the evening of the attack, Johnson talked about wanting to kill white officers and said that "the end is coming." Authorities have said Johnson was heavily armed when he was killed and that they found other weapons and tactical materials from a search of his home in nearby Mesquite.

Since the shooting, city officials and ecumenical leaders have made it a point to show unity in the wake of any divisive talk.

The mayor and numerous ecumenical leaders, including Dallas Bishop Kevin J. Farrell, were joined by several hundred people at an interfaith service in downtown Dallas July 8, just a few hours after, and about a mile from, the site of the ambush. They joined hands and called for unity in the face of polarization and adversity.

On July 9, Bishop Farrell celebrated a special Mass of hope and healing at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The Gospel reading at the anticipatory Mass was from Luke 10:25-37, or the parable of the good Samaritan that speaks about love and mercy.

Bishop Farrell said the officers died doing what they do every day. "Protecting us," he said. He also called for an end to the senseless violence and said that Jesus, through the Scriptures, already had laid out a solution: prayer.

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