“Today Pensacola hurts,” Pastor Ted Taylor said to those gathered at Olive Baptist Church in Warrington, which is located less than a mile from NAS Pensacola, where a gunman on Friday killed three people and wounded eight others before he was killed by deputies.
The vigil ended with another powerful display of unity as more than a dozen active duty military members and veterans locked arms and moved toward the front of the church.
“We thought it would be good just to gather together where we like to come and have a few folks share their hearts with us, read scripture and pray,” Taylor said. “And that’s what this is about.”
Close to 100 people attended the vigil at the church, whose congregation is comprised of about 60% military members, many of whom are or have been stationed at NAS Pensacola.
“This vigil means a lot,” said Caleb Fields, 23, of Richmond, Virginia.
An active member of the U.S. Air Force, Fields has trained to be a navigator for the past year at NAS Pensacola. He was not on base when the shooting occurred but said he had friends who witnessed the gunfire.
“I had friends who were in the room when it happened. Talking to them, it’s starting to get a little bit harder for me now,” he said. “It’s great to get all this love and support.
Escambia County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Chip Simmons spoke at the vigil and shared more details about the law enforcement officers who rushed to the base to respond to the shooting.
He said three law enforcement officers were injured in the shooting, and all of them were “going to be OK.”
Pensacola shooting:FBI investigating tweets purportedly from suspect
Simmons said he spoke Friday at the hospital with the two Escambia deputies who authorities have said took down the shooter. He said one deputy was treated for an arm injury and released from the hospital Friday. The second underwent surgery after being shot in the knee and was expected to recover.
Simmons said he also spoke with a Navy police officer who was injured in the shooting. He said that officer sat up in his hospital bed and seemed “as jovial as could be given the circumstances” when Simmons spoke to him.
Simmons also recounted what he experienced Friday morning as he listened to the situation unfold over his radio.
“To hear an active shooter, and then to hear our officers, our deputies, who are getting to the location, and you can hear in the background that shots are being fired,” Simmons said. “All this is going through your mind, but you are trying to get there as fast you possibly can.”
Simmons said he kept waiting for a dispatcher to say it was all a false alarm, but that never happened.
“The closer I got to the NAS, the more gunshots I heard over the police radio,” he said.
Then Simmons said he heard those words you never want to hear: “Officer down!”
‘He just shot through the door’::Injured airman describes base shooting
The names of the law enforcement officers injured in the shooting have not been released. But the deputy who was injured in the shooting and released from the hospital Friday is a member of Olive Baptist Church, according to Mike Dimmick, the church’s military pastor.
Dimmick asked that everyone be mindful when speaking to others about the shooting in the coming days, saying that Pensacola is a tight-knight community and everyone has been personally affected by the shooting in different ways.
Mayor Grover Robinson said vigils like the one at Olive Baptist help the community heal, particularly in a military town like Pensacola.
“They are a part of us and we are a part of them,” Robinson said of the base. “I have told the FBI and all other authorities that if there is anything that they need from us, we’re there.”