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In Dayton And El Paso, A Search For Comfort And Healing


Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, have gotten past the initial shock of last week's awful events, mass shootings that took a combined 31 lives and injured dozens of others. Now the focus is on healing. First, we'll hear from NPR's Bobby Allyn, who visited a church service in Dayton.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing) There is a boat in...

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Dozens of residents poured into the McKinley United Methodist Church, among them, Dayton native Raymond Hummons. He was there, like many others, grasping for comfort from each other, from their faith.

RAYMOND HUMMONS: Those like-minded individuals - they want answers to feel better and to think that there's something higher that's guiding us through these tragedies.

ALLYN: The tragedies are unspeakable, and that was on display. Many here still have a hard time understanding what happened. There's still a lot of pain. People who didn't even know the victims are reciting their stories. Bishop Emma White stood in front of a row of crosses bearing the names of the victims in the city's Oregon District, where the shooting happened. On one of the crosses is the name of 27-year-old mother of two Lois Oglesby. She was one of the nine people killed.

EMMA WHITE: I'm a mother, I'm a grandmother and I'm a great-grandmother, and I feel so sad for her. I feel so sad for the entire family. That's why we're down here - feel sorry for all of them.

ALLYN: She's not the only faith leader extending empathy. Peter Matthews, pastor of McKinley United, says he's been meeting one-on-one with many of his congregants even those who weren't at the scene.

PETER MATTHEWS: People are already experiencing PTSD of an unimaginable array because once it takes place, you're always mindful of not only could it be me, but it could have been my loved one.

ALLYN: That can be a paralyzing feeling. But congregant Hummons says it's not a permanent state. He says what he and a city need to move on is simple.

HUMMONS: Just time - time, prayer. Tomorrow, we'll get better. Understanding of why, how can we prevent it - well, just day by day, we're going to get better. We're going to get better.

VANESSA ROMO, BYLINE: That's the hope in El Paso - to get better. But for now, people here still need to mourn. I'm Vanessa Romo, standing where a makeshift memorial several hundred yards from what's still an active crime scene stretches nearly the length of a football field.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

ROMO: Below the towering Walmart sign and heaps of flowers and candles and now-sagging Mylar balloons is Alice Gardea crying softly against her wife's shoulder. It's the first time she's been able to bring herself to the site where thousands of El Pasoans come every day to honor the 22 victims killed more than a week ago.

ALICE GARDEA: There's no greater way that I can help others that by sharing in their pain. I can't stop the hate. And maybe I thought that coming would give me the answer. And I don't have an answer.

ROMO: Gardea's a counselor at Manuel Puentes Middle School, where several of the young girls who were selling lemonade outside the store on the day of the shooting go to school. She says she's been struggling all week to keep it together for the sake of her students. But here, she says...

GARDEA: It's now hitting me as grief because I can't grieve in front of my kids.

ROMO: But it's not just the children and the victims she's thinking about. Gardea and many others here say part of the healing process is praying for the person who unleashed the pain in the first place - the shooter.

GARDEA: If we as a city had known how broken you were, we would have embraced you. We would have changed your mentality about immigration and Mexicans. And we would've taken you in.

ROMO: Jimez Aliz (ph) is standing near 22 heart-shaped tiles and one of probably a thousand stuffed teddy bears against a chain-link fence. It's his fourth visit to the memorial.

JIMEZ ALIZ: To me, it's like good therapy.

ROMO: Like in Dayton, he says people here are reliving trauma.

ALIZ: Because everybody here in some form or another is feeling some sort of PTSD.

ROMO: There's a gnawing feeling of dread in his body that this will happen again somewhere. But each time he stands here near the flickering candles and praying families, he says there's a loosening in his heart, some small bit of peace. Vanessa Romo, NPR News, El Paso.

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Singing) And greater things are still to be done in El Paso. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.
Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.