THE 34 Primates of the Anglican Communion who were meeting in Canterbury this week expressed their “great distress” at the loss of life in the deadliest gun attack in recent United States history.
At least 59 people died and more than 520 were injured after a gunman opened fire on crowds at a country music festival, “Route 91 Harvest”, in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Sunday night.
Witnesses reported seeing automatic rounds being fired from the 32nd floor of a hotel room across the Boulevard into the 22,000 people who were attending the final night of the three-day sell-out event. The country musician Jason Aldean was performing at the time of the shooting.
The Primates’ statement to the Bishop of Nevada, the Rt Revd Dan Edwards, was read out by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the US, the Most Revd Michael Curry, in a video posted online on Monday evening.
“We were greatly distressed to learn of the dreadful events in Las Vegas last night,” Bishop Curry said. “The scale of the loss of life and the numbers of injured is truly shocking. We are sending our deepest condolences to you and to the people of your diocese — in particular, the people of Las Vegas.
“We are praying for the families and friends of those who have died and for the many people who have been wounded. We remember, too, everyone else caught up in this tragedy — including the emergency services (first responders). We pray that the peace of the Lord Jesus Christ will be with the people of Las Vegas as they endure this trauma.”
The Primates asked Bishop Curry to lead prayers for the victims at the start of evensong in Canterbury Cathedral, on Monday evening.
More than 400 people had been transported to hospitals by Monday morning, Clark County officials estimated. The number dead exceeds that of the 49 who were shot and killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last year (News, 17 June 2016).
PASolidarity: an electronic sign across the street from the Mandalay Bay Hotel
The suspect, named by police as Stephen Paddock, aged 64, a white male from Mesquite, Nevada, shot and killed himself in the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino, before a SWAT team used a controlled explosion to enter his room. He had no criminal record.
Bishop Edwards told the Episcopal News Service that the attack was “heartbreaking” for both victims and society. “Our societal embrace of violence as a response to any form of unhappiness is a very serious spiritual concern. The churches have the primary responsibility for converting America away from the veneration of violence back to the prince of peace.”
Police reported finding at least 47 weapons, including a semi-automatic rifle, in a search of the room, and Paddock’s home in Mesquite. He had also set up cameras around the hotel room.
A woman, Marilou Danley, 62, believed to have been the girlfriend of the suspect, was named as a person of interest. Reports suggest that she was abroad at the time of the shooting, and will be questioned on her return to the US. It has also been reported that Paddock transferred $100,000 to an account in the Philippines before the attack.
The motive for the attack remained unclear on Wednesday, as the Church Times went to press, although the county sheriff, Joe Lombardo, said: “This person may have radicalised, unbeknownst to us, and we want to identify that source.”
President Trump said in a tele-vision statement that the attack was “an act of pure evil”, and that he was praying for the victims and their families.
On Tuesday morning, the Prime Minister told LBC radio that there were no known British victims, although many attended the festival and would have witnessed the attack. Regarding US gun laws, Mrs May said: “America has a different approach to guns. It’s up to them to see what they will do now, but I think most people in the UK will say: ‘If you look at what’s happened here, surely they will want to do something.’”
Bishops United Against Gun Violence, a group of more than 70 bishops of the US Episcopal Church, called for an end to civilian weaponry. “It has become clichéd at moments such as these to offer thoughts and prayers. But as Christians, we must reflect upon the mass killings that unfold with such regularity in our country,” their statement said.
“And then, having looked, we must act. As Christians, we are called to engage in the debates that shape how Americans live and die, especially when they die due to violence or neglect. Yet a probing conversation on issues of gun violence continues to elude us as a nation, and this failure is cause for repentance and for shame. It is entirely reasonable in the wake of mass killings perpetrated by murderers with assault weapons to ask lawmakers to remove such weapons from civilian hands.”
PAVigilant: emergency services’ vehicles in Las Vegas, on Monday evening
The World Council of Churches (WCC) and the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA condemned the “senseless and brutal” violence. “Any violence destroys human lives, but nobody is born to be violent,” the General Secretary of the WCC, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, said. “This tragedy calls for empathy and prayers, but also more efforts to build quality of relations of justice and peace.”
Pope Francis expressed his “spiritual closeness” to the victims. In a telegram sent to the RC Bishop of Las Vegas, the Most Revd Joseph A. Pepe, on behalf of the Pope, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, wrote: “Deeply saddened to learn of the shooting in Las Vegas, Pope Francis sends the assurance of his spiritual closeness to all those affected by this senseless tragedy.”
A service of prayer was held at Christ Church, the Episcopal church closest to the scene of the attack, on Tuesday evening. Meanwhile, Episcopal churches across the country tolled bells simultaneously in memory of the victims.