SAN BERNARDINO—San Bernardino experienced another tragic act of public violence on April 11 when a man shot and killed his estranged wife and a nine-year-old boy in a San Bernardino elementary school classroom.
The shooting at North Park Elementary School took place less than two miles from Our Lady of the Assumption Parish and School. While the school took immediate precautions to protect students’ safety, the parish offered a place for community, school and civic leaders to grieve and pray together, hosting an interfaith prayer service in the church just hours after the shooting occurred.
“Sometimes all you can do is cry, and today is the day for that,” Bishop Gerald Barnes said during the prayer service. “We’ll get up again, we’ll move on, we’ll become stronger. But today is the day to cry that we have come to such a state.”
Other faith leaders and elected officials spoke during the prayer service at Our Lady of the Assumption.
“This is where healing begins,” said Dale Marsden, Superintendent of the San Bernardino City Unified School District. “We overcome the hatred with God’s grace and peace.”
Those who packed the small parish church processed out at the conclusion and stood at the steps holding candles as Father Henry Sseriiso, Pastor, and Father Leonard DePasquale, I.M.C., V.F., the Pastor of St. Bernardine Parish, led a litany in English and Spanish.
The prayer service was initially proposed as a smaller gathering for the north San Bernardino communities most directly affected but soon, through social media postings and word of mouth, it became the place for the entire city to come together.
“We had to pray immediately, especially for the families and the victims,” said Kathleen Estrella, who serves as Music and Youth Minister at Our Lady of the Assumption and helped plan the prayer service. “It escalated to something much bigger than what we anticipated. It ended up being so much more.”
Even before the evening prayer service, there was a Catholic presence at nearby Cajon High School, where the North Park students were taken after the shooting. Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Rutilio del Riego, Monsignor Gerard Lopez, STL, VG, Fr. DePasquale, Deacon Luis Sanchez and Sister Chilee Okoko, D.M.M.M., were among those at the scene.
As with the December 2, 2015 mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center that claimed 14 lives, the North Park incident had a strong Catholic connection. The family of nine-year-old Jonathan Martinez, who was killed in the attack, has attended Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral in San Bernardino.
On April 21, a Vigil and Mass of Resurrection was held for him there. Family and friends of the boy, along representatives of the school, public safety and civic communities packed the church. His white, gold trimmed casket was adorned with flowers, balloons and teddy bears while a large photo of Jonathan in a fireman’s hat was placed at the foot of the altar.