Crowd Fills Blackham Coliseum To Unite, Honor, Heal
It has been one week since the Grand Theater shooting. As the nation's eye turned toward Lafayette last Thursday, Acadiana was inundated with the tragic news that we had lost some of our own community in what has been repeatedly referred to as "an act of senseless violence."
Lafayette, and the surrounding community, was shaken by tragedy, rattled by uncertainty and stalled by the grief we felt for the victims. But as a community we were never torn; we were never broken. Within minutes of those 15 gunshots, stories of heroism emerged as a hallmark of what it means to part of Acadiana.
Within one week, the community has united to show the world that this tragic event would not tarnish the "joie de vive" that makes Lafayette the happiest city in the country.
Tonight at the Blackham Coliseum, hundreds of people united to honor the survivors, victims and first responders affected by the shooting as the community heals. The "Unite, Honor, Heal" ceremony joined prayer and fellowship with reflection and gratitude.
The coliseum, festooned with handmade flags of remembrance, echoed with music from area musicians, who like the hundreds of volunteers on hand, shared their time and talent to commemorate the community's resilience following the shooting.
City-Parish President Joey Durel told the families of Mayci Breaux and Jillian Johnson that we, as a community, all hurt for the loss they have experienced.
"We've been engaged in a community-wide group hug," Durel told the crowd. "It is inevitable that we will be happy again. It is our cultural DNA."
Mayci Breaux's mother, Dondie Breaux, tearfully told the crowd that her daughter was diligent and loving. As Mayci's family stood on the stage tonight, the throng listened attentively, some tearfully, as her mother described what she sees as a silver lining in this tragedy.
"This tragedy has brought people together from all over the world," Breaux said. "Our girls had a positive influence on everyone around them."
A message from Jillian Johnson's family was delivered by family friend and one of the planners of tonight's event, Kevin Blanchard. The family shared thanks for the support that the community has shown towards them.
"You have all helped us make it through the worst and most painful time of our lives," Blanchard recited."Your words and support, not just for Jillian, but toward all the victims has kept us upright and moving in the face of so much heartbreak and pain."
As for the those people being called heroes,the first responders, who so swiftly approached the scene last Thursday in the face of danger, they were shown much gratitude as nearly all in attendance shared in a standing ovation. Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft, who Durel thanked for his "strong and steady leadership," thanked the emergency personnel who responded to the tragedy with "courage, comittment professionalism."
"You reverted to what you learned in training," Craft said." This quick response likely foiled the shooter's attempt to injure more people and prevented his escape. You rendered aid to the injured, possibly saving the lives of the wounded. It was true bravery at its finest."
"When the history of this horrific tragedy is written, it will show that your swift, brave actions saved lives," Durel told the first responders present.
As our community continues to heal, it is inevitable to feel grief and loss. Though we mark last Thursday's shooting, an event rife with tragedy, it seemed obvious at tonight's gathering that the community has united to heal.