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Executive minister Matt Mazza reflects on Saturday's mass shooting at Allen Premium Outlets, north of Dallas.
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Photo by Bobby Ross Jr.

‘God, we come with broken hearts’

Dallas-area church grapples with mass shooting in its 'back yard.'

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ALLEN, Texas — In America, mass shootings keep happening.

The bloodshed has ravaged churches, schools, homes, offices and — just this weekend — a crowded outlet mall about 30 miles north of Dallas.

Roughly 18 hours after eight people, including three children, were killed at the Allen Premium Outlets in this suburb of 105,000, the Greenville Oaks Church of Christ came together for Sunday morning worship.

Related: War at home: Former Army officer aids Texas massacre victims, seeks God’s healing

“God, we come with broken hearts, sadness, fear, uncertainty, worry, anxiety, loss,” executive minister Matt Mazza said as he opened the assembly with a special prayer. 

“God, we ask you to show your mercy on our community — for your comfort, your peace and your love in this place — because we have experienced the unthinkable,” Mazza added. 

He pleaded for God to lift up the families directly touched by the shooting.

“Father,” he prayed, “may they feel your spirit and your presence in a way that only you can provide.”

While gunmen in tactical gear opening fire with AR-style rifles have become all-too-commonplace in the U.S., Saturday’s massacre — just a few miles from the Greenville Oaks church building — stunned the close-knit suburban congregation.

Related: Prayer and protest: Nation’s latest mass shooting highlights competing messages

“It’s shocking when it happens in your back yard, and this is our back yard,” said church member Andrea Henderson, who with her husband, Cam, passes the 120-store outlet mall while driving to church.

“It’s a place that’s usually very crowded when we go,” she added. “Sometimes it’s difficult to find a parking place.”

Andrea Henderson

Andrea Henderson

An Allen police officer responding to an unrelated call heard the gunshots and killed the assailant just after 3:30 p.m. Saturday, the department said in a Facebook post. Besides those slain, seven were wounded with three listed in critical condition.

The suspect was identified as Mauricio Garcia, 33, whom The Associated Press reported had expressed an interest in White supremacist and neo-Nazi views.

“It makes you realize anything can happen at any time,” Andrea Henderson said of the shooting. “As a Christian, it makes you realize that you’ve got to be ready. Also, it impacts you because you ask yourself: How can this happen in a safe area?” 

Cam Henderson said he keeps asking himself, “Why?”

“It didn’t seem to happen in years past like this,” he said. “So is it mental illness that needs to be treated? Is it a nation being divided to get people mad at each other, people taking their frustrations out?”

He’s not a fan of gun control: “Taking the guns away from everybody leaves the criminals with guns. That doesn’t seem to be the solution. But nobody seems to be coming up with anything.”

Angry and frustrated over the nation’s latest mass shooting, Greenville Oaks members — like the nation as a whole — grapple with what to do.

In the wake of Saturday’s attack, President Joe Biden, a Democrat, reiterated his call for banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines as well as enacting universal background checks, requiring safe storage of weapons and ending immunity for gun manufacturers. 

Worshipers at the Greenville Oaks Church of Christ in Allen, Texas, bow their heads during a special prayer Sunday.

Worshipers at the Greenville Oaks Church of Christ in Allen, Texas, bow their heads during a special prayer Sunday.

But Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, rejected the need for gun control and instead emphasized the importance of mental health funding, the Dallas Morning News noted.

“It just makes me angry that we as a country haven’t been able to do more,” Greenville Oaks member Chris Macon said. “I’m an advocate for gun control, and I think it’s ridiculous — the one party that doesn’t want to do anything about it and stokes their constituents through fear.”

His wife, Paula Macon, said she recently traveled to Uvalde, Texas,  where 19 students and two teachers died in a school shooting last year. 

She fought back tears as she spoke.

“We were there to celebrate a family wedding. But we would drive by and cry for the pain that the community felt and continues to feel,” she said. “And now, we’re in our own community, and we see this (the outlet mall shooting). It’s just such darkness. It’s evil.”

Chris and Paula Macon, members of the Greenville Oaks church, discuss Saturday's mass shooting.

Chris and Paula Macon, members of the Greenville Oaks church, discuss Saturday’s mass shooting.

Church member Sarah Stirman, a sixth-grade public school teacher, said Saturday’s shooting — sadly — did not shock her.

“My initial reaction was all of them: I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m so tired of hearing about this kind of horror,” Stirman said. “So I have a lot of reactions. I don’t know that I’ve really processed any of them.”

Troy and Sarah Stirman

Troy and Sarah Stirman

Her husband, Troy Stirman, said: “Certainly, we grieve for all of the families, all of those that lost lives, those that have loved ones that are being treated at hospitals, and especially for our first responders who had to deal with that aftermath. It’s always sad.”

The Stirmans own guns, and Sarah said she believes they have the right to be armed and to hunt.

“But at the same time, I am of the belief that automatic weapons do not need to be for the general public,” she said.

Troy said he and his wife may not agree totally on that question, but he advocates both parties engage in a civil, reasonable conversation about guns.

“At the end of the day, people are getting killed,” he said. “So maybe we need to have a conversation about safety beyond just catchphrases, beyond the knee-jerk reactions and certainly beyond the emotional pendulum swings that always seem to follow this.”

After Saturday's mass shooting, Matt Mazza leads a special prayer at the Greenville Oaks Church of Christ in Allen, Texas.

After Saturday’s mass shooting, Matt Mazza leads a special prayer at the Greenville Oaks Church of Christ in Allen, Texas.

BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].

Filed under: Allen Allen Premium Outlets Allen Texas Christians and guns God and guns Greenville Oaks Church of Christ guns mass shooting National News shooting Texas Top Stories

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