A year ago on Saturday, the community of Seal Beach, Calif., was rocked when a gunman opened fire in a salon, killing eight people. Dr. Don Shoemaker, then pastor of Grace Community Church, a Grace Brethren church a few blocks away from the scene, who serves as a police chaplain, was one of the first on site following the tragedy to assist with the victims and their families.
Last summer, during Vision2020 West, he recounted the event and the impact it had in not only his life, but the people of the church.
On Thursday night, October 11, the community gathered for a time of remembrance. About 700 people gathered near the Seal Beach pier for a candlelight memorial to remember the tragic killing of eight and wounding of another in Orange County’s worst case of mass murder. Dr. Shoemaker spoke and Dorothy Collins, a member of the church, sang. Dr. Shoemaker’s words are included below:
By Donald Shoemaker
Senior Chaplain, Seal Beach Police Department
Pastor Emeritus, Grace Community Church
It was my privilege to be senior pastor of Grace Community Church here in Old Town for 28 years, until this past January. It has been my privilege to be a minister in the area these past 42 years.
In 1970, just four months into my pastorate in Long Beach, this young pastor was called the evening after Christmas to come to downtown Long Beach, where one of our church members and his father had been murdered in the store they owned.
Little could I have imagined—less than three months before my retirement at my church in Seal Beach I would be called to the Salon Meritage following the terrible killings and trauma there.
The peaceful community of Seal Beach has been changed forever. I thank God for every opportunity he has given me to be of service to the victims’ families and to our community in the aftermath of that tragedy.
We may ask ourselves and others, including ministers, about why God would permit this to happen. I’ve long given up on the “Why?” question when it comes to God’s ways. I simply don’t know, and when I don’t know it’s better not to speak.
But at the human level I can answer the “Why?” questions.
• Because one man chose to break the commandment, “Thou shalt not murder.”
• Because one man did not “love his neighbor as himself.”
• Because one man did not regard the Golden Rule as worthy of practice: “Do unto others what you would have others do unto you.”
Now, one year removed from this event, many of us still cry out to God in the words of the biblical psalmist if we feel God is distant:
Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
And the answer returns to us:
But you, O God, do see trouble and grief.
The victim commits himself to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless.
You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry.
In this spirit we gather as the close-knit community of Seal Beach to remember, to pray, to reach out and comfort one another, to be God’s hands of mercy and peace.