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Tears, prayers for peace on anniversary of rampage shooting outside Catholic Charities

Tears well in Jill Christensen's eyes as she recalls seeing a man shot outside the window of her office at Catholic Charities.

It's been a year since Kori Ali Muhammad allegedly killed David Jackson outside her office – and also Zackary Randalls and Mark Gassett not far from the nonprofit along Fulton Street in central Fresno – but the memory remains vivid and haunting.

After seeing Jackson gunned down, Christensen alerted staff at Catholic Charities that there was an active shooter outside and the building was locked down. She later went out to Jackson with a few others to comfort him as he lay dying. They brought blankets and a pillow and applied pressure to his gunshot wound to try and stop the bleeding as paramedics rushed to the scene.

Bishop Armando Ochoa of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno led a private service and prayer circle Wednesday for around 20 Catholic Charities employees and volunteers on the one-year anniversary of the shooting rampage.

The senseless bloodshed made national headlines. Fresno police called Muhammad's targets random, apart from him allegedly saying he wanted to kill white people.

His case remains in Fresno Superior Court. Muhammad pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to murder and attempted murder charges.

The Fresno County District Attorney's Office said it will seek the death penalty if Muhammad is convicted of killing the three men on April 18, 2017, along with the murder of Motel 6 security guard Carl Williams III the previous week.

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Catholic Bishop Armando Xavier Ochoa leads a private prayer circle of staff gathered inside Catholic Charities Wednesday, April 18, 2018 in Fresno. The prayer circle was was held to support Catholic Charities staff on the one-year anniversary of Kori Ali Muhammad opening fire and killing one man outside Catholic Charities and two others nearby. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA ezamora@fresnobee.com

The service Wednesday included prayers that people be free from pain – including all victims of crime and oppression – and called for an end to all acts of violence.

Since the rampage, the Catholic Charities staff has taken active shooter training, and security guards remain at its three facilities.

Catholic Charities reopened the day after the shooting. Even that morning, there was a long line of clients out the door. The nonprofit feeds and clothes around 120 Fresno families every day and provides many support services.

Kelly Lilles, executive director of Catholic Charities, said there's always a threat of violence at the facility because the organization serves many people who are mentally ill.

"Our security guard is always picking up a gun or a knife or a pitchfork," Lilles said.

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Catholic Charities staff gather in a private prayer circle led by Catholic Bishop Armando Xavier Ochoa Wednesday, April 18, 2018 in Fresno. The prayer circle was held to support staff on the one-year anniversary of Kori Ali Muhammad killing one man outside Catholic Charities and two others nearby. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA ezamora@fresnobee.com

Ochoa spoke with reporters before the service about the need to strengthen health care.

"Obviously we had a perpetrator who had medical issues," Ochoa said of Muhammad, "and we need to be on board to do what we can to really make sure that on all levels of the table, we're doing everything possible to reach out to people who are really hurting … whether they're potential perpetrators or potential victims – which includes all of us, in that sense of the word."

Catholic Charities set up two high school scholarships to do something positive to memorialize the shooting deaths.

"Relieve the anxiety and suffering and emotional distress of those who have been affected by last year's tragedy," Ochoa prayed. "Grant them peace of mind and a renewed faith in your protection and your loving care. Protect us all from the violence of others. Keep us safe from the weapons of hatred, and restore us to tranquility and peace."

Carmen George: 559-441-6386, @CarmenGeorge
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