Over 800 people gathered Tuesday night at Allen Temple Baptist Church in East Oakland to commemorate the seven killed in Monday’s shooting at Oikos University. The diversity of the victims, who included immigrants from Korea, Nigeria and Nepal, was mirrored in the crowd, which represented all facets of the community.
During the two-hour vigil several clergy members from different denominations and religions offered support and prayers for the victims, their family, and friends. They were joined by a number of community leaders. The service was attended by, among others, Mayor Jean Quan, as well as Pastor Hyok In Kwon, President of the East Bay Korean Church Association, and Hang Sung Wook, the Deputy Korean Consul General.
At a press conference before the service, Rev. J. Alfred Smith, Jr. of Allen Temple Baptist Church told reporters that this was a time for Oakland to come together. “The city of Oakland is a multi-cultural interracial city,” he said. “If any member bleeds, all of us bleed. If any member weeps, all of us weep. We feel the hurt and pain of the community.”
This sentiment was echoed throughout the service which included sermons by various clergy, speeches from local officials, singing hymns, and the mourners holding hands. “Yesterday was probably one of the most truly sad days,” said Councilmember Larry Reed (District 7). “Before you leave, tell the person next to you how much you love them. Because the next day, the next hour, the next minute, is not guaranteed.”
Reed also stressed that making Oakland a safer place cannot be a job for the city council and the police department alone. “We have to look around us, and ask that family member why he or she is so angry,” he said.
Oikos is a strongly Christian university, and many of those affected have turned to their faith for support. “This week is Passion Week,” said Woo Nam Soo, president of Oikos University. “Easter will be next week, and I hope that the families can find some form of resurrection themselves.”
But beneath the calls for unification was an undercurrent of sadness, anger and incomprehension that such an event could occur. Oakland police have named One Goh as the suspect in the shooting of ten people at the university, of whom seven died. The victims ranged from the age of 21 to 40. Police say Goh carried out the shooting as revenge for having previously been expelled from the school’s nursing program.
James Mueller, a close friend of one of the victims, said he is angry and saddened because of what happened. “I have known the family since 1987, since before [victim] Grace [Eunhea Kim] was even born,” he said. She was only 24 years old. A young woman with everything to lose, and someone just takes it all away. It is hard to understand.”
Mayor Quan stressed that shootings such as these threaten to become routine. “This is America, where it is easier to find a gun than it is to find mental care,” she said. “That is not our America.”
After the service, she added that Oakland police had confiscated 40 guns in the last two months, but that gun used by Goh appears to be legally obtained. “It is too easy to get a gun in America,” she said.
Quan also criticized the smugness with which some members of the media had reported the shooting. “Oakland is a friendly place for immigrants,” she said. “It is a city of dreams.”
After the service, several people they had experienced it as a source of support and hope. But it will be a long time before the wounds heal, they said. “Our main concern is for the students, who are still at school,” said Soo Nam Sun, a former president of Oikos. “How are they getting through it? How can we help them?
Crisis counsellors for the American Red Cross and the Crisis Response Support Network are already talking to families and friends of the victims, and were present at the service, offering their help. Grief counselling will be provided in Korean, Cantonese and English.
“We’ll be here for you for the long haul,” one grief counsellor told a group of mourners after the vigil. “We won’t go away when the media goes away.”
But the consequences of the shooting will be felt in the community for a long time. “A lot of the shock and the anger will come out later,” said Quan. “Even those who were not directly effected will eventually feel the effects.”