ATLANTA (RNS) — About 30 people gathered for a prayer walk on Sunday (March 21) to pray for victims of a mass shooting at three Atlanta-area spas last week, including two in the Buckhead neighborhood.
Organizers say they wanted to show solidarity with the Asian American community and to pray for God’s healing and presence in the aftermath of the tragedy.
Joshua Scott, an associate pastor at Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church, about 2 miles from two of the spas, said news of the shootings had left him in shock. Eight people died in the attacks, including six women of Asian ancestry.
“I’ve lived in Atlanta, all my life and have never seen anything like this before,” said Scott. “Being that I’m African American and have experienced what it means for our ethnic group to be victimized, I don’t want anyone a part of that group.”
Scott had recently been teaching a series on the New Testament Book of Revelation, which describes a multiethnic vision of the afterlife. That inspired Peyton Bell, a local attorney, to co-organize the prayer walk in response.
“I knew I had to do something,” he said.
Participants carried signs with messages such as “STOP HATE” as they walked to the spas and prayed. Scott spoke to the group and offered words of encouragement.
Among those at the event was Betsy Holland, a member of the Georgia House of Representatives, who attended with her son. She said the entire community was in shock over the shootings. The prayer vigil helped shine a light on anti-Asian racism, violence against women and the need for gun control, she said.
Greg DeLoach, interim dean of the school of theology at Mercer University, was also at the prayer walk, along with Sharon Lim Harle, a vice president for alumni services at the university.
“Being here hits you when you see it up close,” she said.
Passion City Church, an Atlanta megachurch about 2 miles from two of the shooting sites, also held a prayer rally for the victims. About 300 people attended that event on Friday, which featured prayers, songs and candles.
Andrew Eun, who spoke at the Friday vigil, said he was encouraged by what he witnessed there, feeling a genuine sense of concern from those gathered.
“I had a strange sense of hope,” he said. “Leaving the event, it felt like there was solidarity.”
Scott said Atlanta had been rocked by a particularly difficult year — the COVID-19 pandemic, the protests after the death of George Floyd, the controversies over the presidential election, the special senatorial election and now this mass shooting.
“It’s been a lot,” he said. “I don’t know if we can take anything else.”
(Bob Smietana contributed to this report from Nashville, Tennessee.)