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Community Gathers To Support North Texas Congregation

The congregation of West Freeway Church of Christ gathered in the sanctuary Monday night – the first time since a gunman opened fire during a service Sunday morning, killing two church members. Outside, dozens gathered at a candlelight vigil.

People from all over the area, most from local churches, gathered in the cold night, standing together to sing, pray and support the people mourning inside.

Credit Christopher Connelly / KERA News
Candlelight illuminates those gathered at the West Freeway Church of Christ on Monday night.

"This is to show love and support and healing for a community that has been hit hard," said Blan Chrane, who organized the vigil. He leads the Franklin Church of Christ in Franklin, about two hours south of White Settlement.

"This is an opportunity for us to show unity and show strength and to say to the world 'No. No more,'" Chrane said.

Chrane said he wanted to make it clear that bloodshed in places of worship is not – cannot – be the new normal. Gathering together as a community, for ordinary worship, and to seek each other out in extraordinary times of pain – that, he told the crowd, that is what people are meant to do.

Jay Fannin is all too familiar with this kind of pain. He is a youth pastor at Fort Worth's Wedgwood Baptist Church, less than 10 miles to the southeast. He was at that church 20 years ago when a gunman opened fire, killing 7 people – and he says dealing with something like this is hard and takes a long time.

"On day one you can't process this," Fannin said. "Nobody understands what has taken place. Nobody can rationalize what took place because it’s so raw."

Fannin said he will continue praying for the West Freeway congregation – and will be ready to help if they ask for it.

Credit Christopher Connelly / KERA News
Britt Farmer, pastor of West Freeway Church of Christ, addressed the vigil attendees accompanied by Jeoff Williams, regional director for the Texas Department of Public Safety.

After several men spoke to the crowd, and as the night grew colder, Britt Farmer took the mic. The pastor of West Freeway Church of Christ had just spent the evening consoling his congregation. He thanked people for coming out into the cold to show support. And he talked about the two church members who were killed in the shooting.

Anton "Tony" Wallace, a deacon in the church and a cardiac care nurse, was 64. Richard White, 67, was a member of the church’s security team, Farmer said – and his best friend.

"Preachers don't have many best friends," Farmer said. "If you're not a preacher, you don't understand that. But he was my best friend. And he died saving lives."

Farmer said his church is focused on serving the community. He said he had met the man who would later open fire on the church Sunday morning. He said he’d visited with him before and offered him food. And he said – even after the tragedy – that his congregation would continue to try to serve the community around them.

"You are the reason that we are here. God said go into all the world and teach. That's what we're trying to do."

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.