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In Wake Of Navy Yard Shooting, Some Look To Legislators For Answers, Others To Faith

Reverend Rob Schenck and Peggy Nienaber pray at the corner of 3rd and M Streets in Southeast.
WAMU/Lauren Landau
Reverend Rob Schenck and Peggy Nienaber pray at the corner of 3rd and M Streets in Southeast.

A small candlelight vigil for the victims of the Navy Yard shooting was held at Freedom Plaza last night.

Under the glow of moonlight they stood silently, the glimmer of candlelight illuminating their peaceful faces. The small group listened to Eddie Weingart, the founder of Project to End Gun Violence, which organized the vigil to honor the dead - and call for new gun control laws.

"Mass shootings are becoming as American as apple pie and baseball and that’s almost as appalling as the mounting casualties," he said.

Weingart said that he fears the country is becoming immune to the devastation of repeat gun massacres. "That’s the shameful and scary reality, I think we are just becoming a little bit more desensitized to that," he said.

He said that such violence should be a call to action, starting with demanding mandatory background checks for all gun purchases in every state of the country. Various legislators have already heeded that call, including D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton.

"We’re having a great deal of trouble, but that has nothing to do with the American people. That has to do with some people in the Congress who refuse to understand what events like this mean. If there’s guns around, somebody’s gonna use them," she said.

Jean-Marie Tchokoko, who works down the street from the Navy Yard, agreed with Norton.

"It is very sad to see that people can walk around with guns and that they can just go and buy guns, and I think that this whole gun situation needs to be stopped," she said.

But for every person looking to Capitol Hill or state legislatures to deal with crises like the Navy Yard shooting, there are those looking higher up.

Captain Mark Vandroff was in the building during the attack. "We heard gunfire that was very loud, close by, and when we looked up—because we were all on the floor—there were a couple of bullet holes in the wall of the conference room," he recalls.

Later, he ran into a colleague who had some bad news about one of the victims. "It was a person that I knew and that I was friendly with and had served with before," he said.

Vandroff is still trying to process that, and it’s going to be tough. But he says he draws comfort from his faith.

As the chaos subsided, Reverend Rob Schenck stood on a nearby street corner and cracked open his Bible. "I cry aloud to God. Aloud to God that He may hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord," he said.

Schenck ministers in the Navy Yard community, which is also his home. He says prayer is very important. "And if I’m asked to bury the dead, that’s one of the greatest honors that I get," he said.

He says he’ll keep praying until his soul feels relieved, and that might be awhile.

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