Collierville community turns to faith to try to make sense of tragedy

COLLIERVILLE, Tenn. — Waves of shock and grief continue to ripple through the Collierville community after a gunman walked into a Kroger on Thursday and shot 15 people, killing one, according to police.

Sunday ushered the first day of prayer service at churches all over the area since the tragedy unfolded, and many people turned to their faith to cope.

Those people came to try to make sense of tragedy the best way they knew how.

At Central Church in Collierville, the congregation gathered for service Sunday morning to listen to their pastors’ words. The church is located just two miles from where the shooting happened.

“When I heard this was happening at our Kroger, I was stunned,” said Matt Shackelford, lead pastor at the church, as he spoke to the congregation.

Hundreds of people attended the service.

Shackelford said he rushed to the Kroger, meeting people in the parking lot, to pray with them.

“I had never seen anything like this,” he said. “Thursday at (the time of the shooting), everything changed, including my sermon. We just had to pause.”

Using the experience of praying with those fleeing the chaos, Shackelford preached about finding strength through the trouble, teaching from the book psalms.

“It was emotional. It was one of those things where you just don’t sleep well after the days we’ve had,” Shackelford said in an interview before the service began.

Shackelford said days before the shooting, Collierville Police Chief Dale Lane was present for service.

On that day, he said, he brought Lane to the front of the church and prayed over him. Shackelford said he believes those prayers guided Lane as he responded to calamity.

“I’d rather not see that stuff happen,” said Tom Schwendimann, who attended the Sunday service, recalling the shooting. “I can’t do much about it, but I can do what (Shackelford) said: keep my refuge within God Almighty.”

As Kroger’s parking lot filled with people looking for refuge from the gunfire, Dillon Hall, a member of the church, said he was driving past.

He, too, he said, was compelled to stop and pray.

“Because I’m able to cast my cares on Him, it’s not as hard as it could be,” to carry those images with him, Hall said in an interview.