Near one of several memorials of flowers and candles along a solemn path marking the locations where three men were fatally shot just north of downtown Fresno, the Rev. Ray Scott vowed not to let senseless violence divide his community.
Scott’s prayer throughout the walk: That God will use the tragedy as a “springboard” to bring people closer together.
The pastor of the House of Miracle Faith Ministries was among a large group of faith leaders who walked to the shooting sites on Thursday afternoon to pray for victims and the city. The pastors started their walk near Catholic Charities – the final stop in the deadly rampage Tuesday morning that ended after Kori Ali Muhammad, 39, was arrested after allegedly fatally shooting Zackary David Randalls, Mark James Gassett and David Martin Jackson. Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula also remembered the victims on Thursday by asking the California State Assembly to adjourn in memory of them and Carl Williams, an unarmed security guard allegedly shot by Muhammad on April 17 outside a Fresno Motel 6.
Fresno police said Tuesday’s shooting was random, apart from Muhammad saying he wanted to kill white people.
Before the prayer walk started, the Rev. Elias Loera, coordinator of the Fresno-Clovis Pastors Clusters and senior pastor of Christian Temple Fresno, told the crowd that Fresno does not have a racial problem: “It might have a homeless issue, or a mental health issue, but it’s not a racial issue.”
“I think the shooting itself was by someone who is experiencing trauma in his own life, and is inflicting that trauma on others. I think it was primarily racially motivated, but that’s an outgrowth of trauma in a person’s life,” White said. “It doesn’t excuse it, but it probably explains it.”
Two of the deadly shootings were near White’s home close to Catholic Charities.
“I think what this has reminded me,” he said, “is how important it is that we know our neighbors and we know what’s happening in their lives so that we are not disconnected … most of the time when people are going through their own kind of meltdown, they are doing it in proximity to friends and family and, to me, it just illustrates how important it is that we stay connected to our neighbors. For me as a Christian, the No. 1 thing I’m supposed to be doing is loving my neighbors. That’s becoming more of a lost art, I think, in our culture.”
While violence continues, White says it’s been drastically reduced in his neighborhood since he moved into his home 24 years ago.
“When we first moved in there was gunfire almost every night – now gunfire is rare,” White said. “The neighborhood used to have a terrible nickname – devil’s triangle – but no one calls it that anymore, literally, because it isn’t true like it was 24 years ago.”
Organizations like Catholic Charities have helped improve the neighborhood. On Thursday morning, Ashley Swearengin, former Fresno mayor who is now president/CEO of the Central Valley Community Foundation, announced that the foundation will donate $15,000 to the charity. She is hopeful the community will at least double that number by making an online donation at ccdof.org.
Swearengin said the organization helps tens of thousands of clients each year and that shooting victims Mark Gassett and David Jackson visited the charity before they were killed. Gassett came by to pick up groceries, and Jackson visited the charity to cash a check.
“It’s been said that Mr. Gassett and Mr. Jackson were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that’s true, but the truth of that sentiment is particularly disturbing considering that they were here at Catholic Charities,” Swearengin said. “This is a place that turns no one away, regardless of race or religion. This is a place of relief and support and service to our community.”
Kelly Lilles, executive director of Catholic Charities, said the donation will help the charity support the families of victims and continue providing services.
“Most of our funding is through private funding,” Lilles said. “Approximately 75 percent is private funding and 25 percent is grant money, so it’s much needed. … And we’re very blessed because 89 cents of every dollar that is donated goes back to programs and services.”
Loera stressed that Thursday’s showing of support is what Fresno is all about.
“We believe that we are one of the most united cities in America, one of the closest-knit cities in America. … We are not going to let anything, anyone, any deranged individual, take away the identity of what Fresno is,” Loera said. “Fresno is a community that works across all sorts of racial, religious and denominational boundaries.”