In downtown Bakersfield, just before 7 p.m., a massive U.S. flag swayed in a light breeze as music with a country twang swelled – calling the large crowd to prayer as the sun faded from the sky.
The prayer vigil, organized by Mayor Karen Goh with the help of the organizers of Bakersfield’s annual observance of the National Prayer Breakfast, drew a crowd that filled the courtyard in front of the Kern County Superior Court building.
A host of Bakersfield’s most prominent pastors, elected officials from the city, county and state, and Bakersfield Police Chief Lyle Martin spoke.
Martin took the chance to sing “my favorite song,” before addressing the crowd.
“Jesus is on the mainline, tell him what you want,” Martin sang with an accomplished voice.
He told the crowd how his phone exploded with texts Sunday night as some of the 20 or 30 Bakersfield Police Department employees at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas told him about the gunfire slashing into the crowd.
Officer Aaron Mundhenke had been shot in the hip.
The tragedy hadn’t even hit the news yet.
“Heroes don’t always wear capes,” Martin said. “Sometimes they wear first-responder uniforms or scrubs. And last night a lot of them were wearing wranglers and cowboy boots and cowboy and cowgirl hats.”
Pastor David Goh of The Garden church – brother to Karen Goh – spoke about the power of those who pulled God’s grace into the middle of the hellish moment in Las Vegas.
“All through the night and all through this day, we’ve seen such moments of unspeakable horrors,” Goh said.
But we also saw husbands shielding wives and sisters lying atop brothers to protect them from flying bullets, he said.
“People stopped and, at the risk of their own lives, helped people they didn’t even know,” Goh said.
Religious denominations, race, politics don’t define us, he said.
“It is our love for another that defines us,” he said.
Bakersfield and Kern County were wounded right along with Las Vegas, speakers said.
Two residents died in the gunfire and a long litany of others were injured or subjected to the horrors of a crowd peppered by automatic gunfire.
Speakers prayed for those who were injured and for those who lost loved ones, had those they love injured or were still waiting to find out the fate of people they cared about.
Pastor Ron Vietti of Valley Bible Fellowship, which has a Las Vegas branch, said two of his flock were killed in the shooting and two others were injured.
Bakersfield resident “Bailey Schweitzer sat in our church every Sunday,” he said.
He said he’s been a “blubbery baby” all day after leaving the Las Vegas church Sunday night at 8 p.m.
Vietti prayed with the crowd that God would send angels and the holy spirit to those who lost loved ones.
And, he prayed, that God would send them “Jesus’ with skin on them” – people who can read their phone messages and tend to their needs while they rest. People to walk next to them, silent, so they can be lifted up.
Vietti urged the people in that courtyard Monday night to tell those close to them they love them – and to live life fully.
“We’re not going to walk in fear,” he said. “We’re not going to stop going to concerts.”