By David Sedeño
Catholic News Service
DALLAS (CNS) — Religious and civic leaders called for peace after five Dallas law enforcement officers were killed July 7 when a sniper opened fire in downtown Dallas.
"We have been swept up in the escalating cycle of violence that has now touched us intimately as it has others throughout our country and the world," said Dallas Bishop Kevin J. Farrell, who has blogged in the past several months about the escalating gun violence across the country and world. "All lives matter: black, white, Muslim, Christian, Hindu. We are all children of God, and all human life is precious.
"We cannot lose respect for each other, and we call upon all of our civic leaders to speak to one another and work together to come to a sensible resolution to this escalating violence," he said. "Let us implore God our heavenly father to touch the minds and hearts of all people to work together for peace and understanding.
"We pray for consolation and healing for both the families and those killed and wounded," he said. "We are reminded of the ever-present danger to those who are dedicated to protecting us."
The shootings occurred as hundreds of demonstrators were winding down a march protesting recent fatal officer-involved shootings in other parts of the country. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Alton Sterling, 37, was killed July 5 by police during an altercation outside a convenience store after witnesses said that he had a gun. In a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota, Philando Castile was fatally shot after a traffic stop July 6.
The five officers — four from the Dallas Police Department and one from the Dallas Area Rapid Transit — were shot around 9 p.m. local time by a sniper who targeted law enforcement officials from a parking garage. The five dead were among 12 officers and two civilians wounded.
The suspected sniper — who had held dozens of SWAT officers at bay for several hours by saying that there were bombs planted around the area, that "the end was coming" and that he would take down more officers — was killed overnight when police sent a robot toward him and detonated an explosive device attached to the robot.
While the names of the slain Dallas police officers have not been officially released by the Dallas Police Department, family members and other sources have identified them as Senior Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, 48, Officer Michael Krol, 40; Officer Patrick Zamarripa, 32, and Sgt. Michael J. Smith, 55.
Smith, his wife Heidi and their two daughters, Victoria and Caroline, are part of the Mary Immaculate Catholic Church community in Farmers Branch, just north of Dallas. Heidi Smith is a fourth-grade teacher at Mary Immaculate Catholic School.
Father Michael Forge, pastor at Mary Immaculate Catholic Church, sent a letter to all parishioners via email July 8, informing them of the death of Smith, a former U.S. Army Ranger who joined the Dallas police force in 1989.
"I’m asking all of us to pull together in prayer and support for the Smith family, as well as the other officers’ families who were killed along with Mike," he said. "Together with the church and school administration and staff, please pray for them, allow them some privacy, and support them and all of our … families who are grieving this tragic situation."
DART officials identified their officer as Brent Thompson, 43, who had been on the force since 2009, and said that he had gotten married only two weeks ago.
Officials had not identified the shooter July 8, but numerous media outlets had identified him as Micah Xavier Johnson, 25, of the Dallas suburb of Mesquite, who served a tour in Afghanistan and had been discharged from the military in 2015.
The attack was the worst loss in the city of Dallas’ history and for U.S. law enforcement since 9/11.
"We are hurting," said Dallas Police Chief David Brown, who has said that police don’t feel much support most days. "Our profession is hurting. Dallas officers are hurting. We are heartbroken. There are no words to describe the atrocity that occurred to our city. All I know is that this must stop — this divisiveness between our police and our citizens."
The day after the shooting, Bishop Farrell joined other faith and civic leaders at an ecumenical gathering at Thanksgiving Square, a prayer and water garden area a few blocks from the shooting site, to offer a prayer for healing.
"Prompted by the goodness that is in each of us, we pray as the old St. Francis’ prayer teaches us, that each person in our community will become an instrument of peace," he said. "May almighty God hear the prayer of this community on this day and may he stretch out his hands to touch the men and women who give their lives for each one of us.
"It reminds us of the words of Scripture, there is no greater love than one who gives his life for the protection of others. Our police officers deserve our support and our prayers. May God stretch out to them in their pain and their suffering on this day. "
Dallas police were out in force at the rally and heard the call from the police chief that officers need to feel the community’s support every day.
"When you see the outpouring support of the community, it helps in some small way to ease some of that pain that you’re going through," Dallas police officer Warren Mitchell said. "The community has our back in our time of need and events like this really help out when you are going through some difficult times."
Dallas resident Van Stripling said that people have to be more accepting of one another.
"I hope it has opened the eyes of people, because the reality is we are all created under the hand of God," Stripling said. "When I look across the street I don’t see color, I see my brother, I see my sister, so what I saw last night brought pain and hurt to my heart."
Bishop Farrell celebrated a Mass for hope and healing at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe July 9 and asked for prayers for the families of the five slain Dallas police officers. He said the officers gave their lives heroically, doing what they do every day: "protecting us."
The bishop said that the cycle of violence must end.
On July 11 a large crowd turned out at Marine Park in Fort Worth for a candlelight vigil for one of the fallen Dallas police officers, Patrick Zamarripa, who had survived three tours in Iraq.
Father Stephen Jasso, pastor at All Saints Parish in Fort Worth, told those gathered at the vigil that "love is stronger than hate" and urged them to show compassion in their lives.
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Sedeño is executive editor of The Texas Catholic and Revista Catolica, the English- and Spanish-language newspapers of the Dallas Diocese.
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Contributing to this story were Michael Gresham and Anahi Perez Faz.