Monday night wasn’t the first time the Rev. James Gailliard has heard gunshots from his office at Word Tabernacle Church, but he said he knew this time was different.
He said he heard between 15 and 20 shots extremely close to the church around 5:45 p.m. and ran to see what had happened. The senior pastor was one of the first to get to the church’s basketball courts where four youth had been shot.
“The first thing that went through my mind was the need for this to be a defining moment for the community,” he said. “We have to make up our minds to turn this around and address all of the factors that contribute to violence.”
Three of the victims – Michael Lyons, 17, Jakavis Whaley, 19, and Antwon Jefferson, 13 – were treated and released for gunshot wounds at Nash General Hospital. A fourth victim, 12-year-old Nyreek Horne, was flown to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, where he is listed in critical condition in Greenville.
“I am deeply saddened by yesterday’s shooting,” said N.C. Rep. Bobbie Richardson, D-Franklin. “As a community we need to address the violence happening around us and how we can play an active role in quelling future incidents of gun violence. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the individuals affected by this senseless act.”
While none of the victims are members of Gailliard’s church, he and other local religious leaders gathered with the victims’ families at the hospital. Gailliard and about 20 other pastors gathered with more than 100 members of the community Tuesday afternoon for a Concert of Prayer.
“The only sounds we want to hear is the sounds of children playing in the snow, but instead we hear the reverberation of gunfire in our hearts,” said the Rev. Jody Wright, pastor of Lakeside Baptist Church.
The hour-long event was filled with prayers for not only the shooting victims, but for all area youth as well as the gunman. Many of the pastors included calls for action and for the shooting to serve as a catalyst for change within the community. “People need to get involved, not point fingers,” Gailliard said. “Every single person in this community is carrying a piece and the puzzle is called Rocky Mount. If everyone brings their piece to the table, we can put together the puzzle and solve this together.”
Various community leaders have vowed to hold public meetings in the coming weeks to identify the issues that lead to violence as well as identify solutions to address the issues. Gailliard urged the community not to seek revenge for the incident, but turn toward God.
“I hope we can stem the temptation of retaliation,” he said. “This is four people with gunshot wounds of some kind and those four people are in four communities, four families and four groups of friends. The ability for this to ripple is very significant, but it is important for everyone to remember that the old law of an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.”
The Rev. Dennis Darville, pastor of First Baptist Church, urged the community to recognize the positive ripple potential from the event – a sentiment that was echoed by other church leaders.
“Oh, Lord, forgive us when we have put out your light by looking the other way or being lazy in our faith,” said the Rev. Kathy Jo Mitchell, pastor of First Christian Church. “We ask that you set your light burning within each and every one of us again, Lord.
May there be a glow at the corner of Nashville Road and Raleigh Boulevard, so that the city might wake up.”
Rocky Mount police are searching for a single suspect who was seen around the basketball court before the shooting and was seen running toward a light blue small SUV.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Crime Stoppers at 977-1111 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Text a tip to police at 274637 by beginning messages with RMPOL to direct the tip to the Rocky Mount Police Department and type up to 155 characters about the information.