InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, in collaboration with several student organizations, held a candlelight vigil in the Student Center Quad on Oct. 8 for the victims of the Umpqua Community College shooting.
On Oct. 1, 26-year-old student Christopher Harper-Mercer fatally shot nine students on the Umpqua Community College campus, near Roseburg, Ore., before committing suicide.
Before killing his victims, Harper-Mercer reportedly asked them to state their religion.
Laura Cardona, 20, and Chelsea Titus, 20, members of InterVarsity, began to plan the vigil just hours after the shooting.
Cardona was inspired by Flyleaf’s “Cassie,” a song about Cassie Bernall who died in the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. Before being shot, Bernall was reportedly asked if she believed in God and replied, “Yes.”
“I used to be obsessed with that song and I never really knew why,” Cardona said. “When this happened, I couldn’t stop thinking of that. I figured this was God telling me I had to do something about it.”
After being inspired to take action, Cardona and Titus reached out to other organizations on campus to begin planning the event.
“Once I heard about it, I immediately took action on who would do what,” said Monica Tavarez, 21, president of Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship.
Tavarez felt that it was important to hold a vigil “to spread awareness that [mass shooting] isn’t something that should happen.”
“If it can happen there,” Tavarez said, “it can happen anywhere.”
The vigil began with the poem “Routines” by Sean Aliño, 20, vice president of Speaking through Silence, a creative writing organization.
“It’s becoming all too familiar / Ritual becoming far too routine,” Aliño read, his voice growing louder and more tremulous as the poem went on.
As the 40-person crowd applauded his performance, a passerby, who was late for class, stopped to hug Aliño before running away.
Cardona and Titus were happy with the small gathering. “We didn’t really have a huge thing because that would require more time and we wanted it to be closer to the event, but I liked it because it was personal and intimate,” Cardona said after the virgil.
After Aliño’s performance, Matthew Gallup, the Director of Emergency Management at the Montclair State University Police Department, assured attendees that campus police has the necessary equipment to deal with a shooting, though he hopes they never have to use it.
“You’re our first line of defense,” Gallup said, encouraging students to reach out to others who may be socially marginalized.
After Ben Miller, 22, of InterVarsity, led the crowd in saying the Lord’s Prayer, Religious Studies professor Lisa Sargese spoke of the desensitization that occurs with each new shooting.
On Oct. 1, after the shooting, Sargese had asked her students to take a moment to be thankful for their safety and was shocked by one student’s reply that the Umpqua students “must have felt safe too.”
Sargese urged the crowd that it was up to each individual to say, “No. I will not become numb to this.”
After the candles had been distributed and lit, Pastor Sam Soto of Chi Alpha read the names and ages of the nine victims before praying for the families, as attendees shielded the shivering flames from the crisp breeze with their palms.
Life is too precious to be wasted on arguments. -Chelsea Titus, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship member
Newman Catholic’s Father Jim Chern quoted Mother Teresa: “There is a terrible hunger for love. We all experience that in our lives – the pain, the loneliness. We must have the courage to recognize it. The poor you may have right in your own family. Find them. Love them.”
Chern then said, in a poignant paraphrasing of the quote, “The poor you may have in your dorms.”
Ryan Hicks, 22, of Campus Crusade for Christ, read Psalm 34 and asked the crowd to observe a moment of silence.
Hicks then asked attendees to blow out their candles “as a symbol of the lives lost.”
Travis Skinner, InterVarsity’s campus missionary who assisted Cardona and Titus in planning the vigil, gave the closing remarks. “We prayed. We held a vigil. We had a moment of silence. Now what?” Skinner said, encouraging attendees to find faith even in tragic times.
To close the hour-long vigil, Ann Nduati from Chi Alpha sang Casting Crown’s “Praise You in the Storm” while Steve Nieves, 23, played the guitar.
“Life is too precious to be wasted on arguments,” said Titus after the vigil. She hoped that the attendees would remember that “Jesus is love, God is love and, as a Christian community, we are here for our fellow peers whether they are in the faith or not.”