Three years after experiencing the tragic mass shooting of Aug. 31, 2019, survivors, first responders, community members and officials of all stripes came together to remember those who lost their lives and those who were injured.

The Shine a Light Sunrise Service took place under the University of Texas Permian Basin Mesa Building Deck. The service was initially going be near the site of the Bright Stars Memorial, but the location was moved due to weather.

Seven people died that dark day and more than two dozen others were injured. Empty chairs with yellow tape and black lettering with the last names of each of those killed were set up near the stage and survivors and family members turned out to pay tribute.

People were invited to wear yellow in honor of the day and the crowd of about 200 mostly did.

Kelby Davis, whose daughter Anderson, now 4, was injured in the shooting, was one of the event organizers. Davis and her husband, Garret, are also parents to Anderson’s twin brother, Rhet.

“Today’s the day that’s specifically, for our family, that we just feel it’s so important to go out and shine light on what could normally be just such a dark day,” Davis said.

“It means so much at this event right now that there’s so many community members here. I love seeing everyone’s yellow because this is a day that will always be so painful, but the fact that we can choose as a community to go out and spread light and spread joy and spread kindness is so important,” Davis said.

She said the memorial that is expected be ready by this time next year was what she had in mind.

“I think that Odessa Arts and the community did such a good job putting the memorial together and choosing the artist and I really believe it’s going to be such a beautiful representation of light shining out on the darkness and light shining out across West Texas,” Davis said.

She added that her children don’t remember anything about Aug. 31, but they talk openly about it in their family.

“So they definitely know and are aware of everything,” Davis said of her twins who sat quietly in the crowd with family.

Randy Ham of Odessa Arts speaks of the installation of the Bright Star Memorial. The memorial will be installed in a year’s time in order to honor the seven victims of the mass shooting on Aug. 31, 2019 and will be located on the campus of the University of Texas Permian Basin. (B Kay Richter/Odessa American)

Executive Director of Odessa Arts Randy Ham headed up the search for a memorial art piece that will anchor the memorial site. The work was paid for with donations and was gifted from Odessa Arts and the City of Odessa to UTPB for use at the memorial.

“It never gets easier,” Ham said Wednesday. “It’s bittersweet because as an arts administrator, anytime we have new public art that makes me very happy. But this is the piece of public art I wish we didn’t have a reason to do. That was the big thing. But I’m grateful to UTPB for putting this together. I’m grateful to the community for coming out. And you know, it sounds corny, but seeing all this yellow just inspires so much joy and hope. I hope that we’re able to do the same thing with the Brightstar Memorial when it’s installed.”

Ham said the memorial itself is finished. It will be located on the Loop 338 entrance near where the golf driving range used to be.

A stone seating area will offer a spot to sit and reflect. Odessa Arts raised funds and paid for the art piece by Maryland sculptor Jim Sanborn. An Aug. 31 Memorial Committee selected Sanborn’s design “Bright Stars — A Memorial” from a field of three finalists.

UTPB has plans for a campus transformation and part of that includes the Bright Stars Memorial Plaza. The planned site, UTPB President Sandra Woodley has said, is an important part of that transformation, which coincides with UTPB’s 50th anniversary.

Woodley said walking paths will be placed all around the memorial and there will be multiple points of entry, as well as three different pavilions to enjoy the art piece, which is 20 feet tall and will be lit at night.

Father Rick Lopez of the Odessa Episcopal Community recites a prayer during the sunrise service on Wednesday morning at University of Texas Permian Basin. The service was to honor the seven victims of the mass shooting on Aug. 31, 2019. (B Kay Richter/Odessa American)

“It’s been shipped here. We’ve got it. We inspected it a couple of weeks ago. It’s ready to be installed. We just need to get the land ready, so that’s UTPB’s part. They have been working very closely with Odessa Arts and we feel that the entire thing will be installed by next Aug. 31, so about a year,” Ham said.

He added that the memorial is beautiful.

“It’s exactly what we need because it’s not garish. It’s not loud. It’s very quiet. It’s contemplative and you will never forget being there why we have it. And that’s important is to never forget the lives that were lost, the people that were injured, and the trauma that our entire community faced. I hope that it provides some healing to the community. That’s its purpose,” Ham said.

Medical Center Hospital President and CEO Russell Tippin said Wednesday was a special and emotional day for everyone, including himself.

“It’s hard to believe the events of that day. But what is not hard to believe is how well this community has responded, how they’ve recovered and how they’ve supported each other. I think … that’s a true statement of what West Texas is really all about,” Tippin said.

The hospital has faced the mass shooting followed by COVID, so it hasn’t been an easy few years.

“I’ve had a few challenges and a few unexpected twists and turns. But ultimately, I believe that God has a plan for us all and His plan was to plant me in Odessa, Texas. And I’ve learned a lot through this process and what I’ve learned the most is God’s in control,” Tippin said.

Family members of one of the mass shooting victims speak to Odessa mayor Javier Joven (left) during the sunrise service on Wednesday morning. The sunrise service was meant to honor the seven victims whom lost their lives on Aug. 31, 2019. (B Kay Richter/Odessa American)

Odessa Police Department Chief Mike Gerke and Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis were on hand.

“I think anytime you have events like this, particularly marking the date of tremendous tragedy like we had, my first thoughts always have to go to the victims, the folks that lost loved ones, the people that are still dealing with those physical injuries and those emotional injuries,” Gerke said.

Asked if his officers are still dealing with the emotional scars, Gerke said they take a very proactive stance with mental health. There is a statewide peer support network for law enforcement and OPD has sent people to the Post Critical Incidents Seminar.

“… The emotional and mental health of our officers has always been a very important thing … The city has an EAP program, employee assistance program, and if folks need help, they can get help without me ever knowing, which is also a great thing,” Gerke said.

Griffis said he thinks it’s awesome that there are events like this to remember those were were “innocently taken from us three years ago today.”

He said it’s an opportunity to pray for those families, pray for those who were injured, remember all those individuals and thank the first responders who “were able to neutralize that individual that day” as fast as possible.

Griffis added that everybody did a great job that day, but it’s sad that such a horrible tragedy was what brought the community together.

“I hope the togetherness of this community stays together and we continue forward and support each other, especially those who lost loved ones that day,” Griffis said.

He added that he thinks colleagues are doing OK.

“A lot of our guys have been through a lot of different situations, absolutely nothing like it was that day, but all of our people are doing fairly well today. We always have some resources for those individuals that need to talk about incidents and events that might be bothering them,” Griffis said.

Yellow flags sit on top of a table for attendees for the sunrise service on Wednesday morning. The service was intended to honor the seven victims of the mass shooting on Aug. 31, 2019. (B Kay Richter/Odessa American)

Each year, the city’s Park Department displays 32 yellow flags for those who were lost and injured in the community Aug. 31, 2019, UTPB Chief of Staff/Executive Director of Communication Tatum Hubbard said. Hubbard emceed the morning ceremony.

“We hope that you will take some time this week to go behind Memorial Gardens Park on 42nd Street just about a block away from here, walk around the park, think, reflect and pray on this day. There’s a beautiful display. We hope you will go and see that also with us today,” Hubbard said.

She noted that there were several families of those lost attending Wednesday, but there were others who did not. All received a round of applause from those attending.

“… For our family,” Kelby Davis said, “we choose to take the darkest day and we shine light on it however we can. We never lose sight that our story is very, very different from the lives that are represented by the seven chairs to my left. We never take for granted that we have visual reminders of how healing can occur and time can pass, and as painful as it can be, time does move on. So to us it’s imperative that we choose to honor that time in a way that we honor all that was lost, while also shining a light on the hope that we have for a better tomorrow.”

Josh Herron, who serves at Station 5 of the Odessa Fire Department, said he has helped bring family members of those that were lost together and he does the 9/11 stair climb in their honor. There is a stair climb Sept. 10 at Grande Stadium and he will be adding extra flights.

Station 5 Odessa Fire and Rescue first responder Josh Herron speaks to the crowd during the memorial event. Herron talked about how the mass shooting impacted first responders. (Photo courtesy Bobby Joe Smith)

Herron said he wanted to give the families a chance to come together, something that he said Odessa Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Renee Earls helped him with.

“Their experience is so unique to them. The hope was to give them an opportunity to come together and heal together. They understand what they’re dealing with better than any of us ever will,” Herron said.

“I think that’s why the fire service exists, to serve others inside of work and outside of work. … For me, it’s a great honor to be able to help them in any way I can. Bringing them together and seeing them smile after what they had to go through, it’s nice to see that,” Herron said.

Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, like Ham, said this day doesn’t get any easier for the community.

“But I think it’s important that we be here to support the families of the victims and also to be here to comfort the survivors. This is a day when Odessa is at its best and I’m just proud to be a part of this community,” Landgraf said.

“… I think the artistic expression of the memorial really captures the spirit of our community and Odessa, but also pays tribute in memorializing those who we lost,” he added.

Dawn Weaks, co-pastor of Connection Christian Church, gave the closing prayer and consecrated the site of the memorial. She also reminded everyone of the Family Resiliency Center.

“I was on the committee that put this center together. It is funded by the state of Texas and it is there for our mental health needs. It is a walk-in center. You can walk in there, not far from here off of JBS next to the Ace Hardware store. Today, they are doing a Mental Health First Aid training. And any day you can walk in and receive counseling for any trauma, but particularly related to the trauma we experienced together as a community. There are many ways that we can care for ourselves and each other today, and each day,” Weaks said.

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