To honor those most impacted by the mass shooting four years ago, University of Texas Permian Basin is hosting the “Shine A Light” Sunrise Service at 7 a.m. Thursday.

August 31 is the date of the shooting in which seven people were killed and 25 injured. The shooter, Seth Ator, who was traveling between Midland and Odessa during the mass shooting, was shot and killed by multiple law enforcement agencies as they made a final stand in a field near Cinergy Theatre.

The Bright Stars Memorial will be a place for the Permian Basin community to gather and reflect while enhancing the university’s campus transformation efforts, which coincide with UTPB’s 50th anniversary, the UTPB website details.

A rendering of a night view of the Bright Stars Memorial. Maryland sculptor Jim Sanborn’s piece is complete and in Odessa. (Courtesy Photo)

The memorial will be 11 feet high and 5 feet in diameter, Executive Director of Odessa Arts Randy Ham has said.

The memorial will feature the names of all those who were killed or injured and reflections from family members.

The Bright Stars Memorial, created by Maryland sculptor Jim Sanborn, will be on a plaza that will have stone, landscaping and a way to get to from the trail. The art piece will be lit at night. The art piece has already been delivered to Odessa.

Eventually, the trail will be redone and the memorial will be in conjunction with the walking path. They will have to temporarily block off the walking path for safety during construction. There will be a water feature and trees around it.

“It’s not a small project. Making sure that we have all those pieces in place will be important,” UTPB President Sandra Woodley said.

She added that they are in the middle of fundraising for the plaza.

“The plaza itself and the artwork, all of it … will cost between $5 and $6 million. We do have some funding set aside already that is set aside to start the construction. … We’ll be working with the community. We know that there are many who have expressed interest to donate for this beautiful plaza … Well be finishing up the fundraising campaign over the next year or so, but construction will get started this year,” Woodley said.

Plans are to announce a contractor soon. Ten Eyck Landscape Architects and Parkhill are the designers and will be managing the project for whoever is chosen as the contractor, Woodley said.

The Davis family including Garret and Kelby and Rhett and Maverick. Young Anderson, Rhett’s twin, was the youngest victim of the mass shooting in Odessa. Mom Kelby says her sweet family is doing just fine and Anderson is thriving along with Rhett in kindergarten. (Courtesy Photo)

Odessa Fire Rescue Chief Jason Cotton, who assisted several of the victims on the day of the shootings, will speak as will Kelby Davis, a pastor at the Bridge and the mother of the youngest victim, Hubbard said.

Donnie Williams, lead pastor of The Bridge, will speak as well.

Hubbard said they believe landscape architect Christine Ten Eyck will join Odessa Arts Executive Director Randy Ham to talk about the art piece and there will be a special music performance. Musician Eric Baker, UTPB director of community engagement in music and visual arts, is helping put music together for the event.

“So it will be a really special moment,” Hubbard said.

Woodley said the university is happy to welcome the community to campus.

“The art is beautiful. We know it’s taken a while to get the memorial completed and it’s still not complete, but we’re on our way. The construction is about to start soon and we’re confident that we’ll have the plaza and the art piece and all of that in place for next year’s ceremony,” Woodley said.

Bringing the community together, she said, is a great way to honor the resilience of the community and the families who are most impacted.

“The beautiful art piece will be on display, so you’ll get to see it before it’s set in the plaza. We plan to display the art piece in our newly renovated library for this entire year while we wait for the plaza to be built, so it’s exciting for all of the community to get to see this beautiful piece of art at the ceremony,” Woodley said.

One of the things Woodley said she’s most excited about living here is the closeness of the community.

“It’s very family oriented. There’s just such a sense of camaraderie and resilience,” Woodley said.

Asked what has taken so long for the memorial to be complete, Woodley said the construction, design and approvals always take longer than you think they will.

“We did have some issues making sure that we had all those approvals in place and getting the bids for the contractor and finishing the design work,” Woodley said.

A rendering of the Bright Stars Memorial. Maryland sculptor Jim Sanborn’s piece is complete and in Odessa. (Courtesy Photo)

They also had to make sure they weren’t hitting any utility lines and it took a while to get those surveys.

“We’ve gone through all of the design pieces. Now we are hopefully in the final stages of identifying a contractor. That work should be done in the next week or two and then it will be off to the races to get the actual work done,” Woodley said.

“It will take the entire year to get the plaza completed. In fact, we’ll work really hard to make sure that it is completed before next year, but we want to do it right. We want to make sure that it’s beautiful and that the community is proud of it and that it is at the highest standard that we can make it for the community. I’m … constantly feeling impatient about how long it’s taking, but I think it is going to be well worth it,” Woodley added.

Chief of Staff/Vice President of Communications and Marketing Tatum Hubbard said last year they set up seats for 250.

“We’re planning for a few more than that this year. … The Chuck Wagon Gang will be here to serve coffee and those kinds of things,” Hubbard said.

She added that it is important to those on the committee to reframe such a tragic day and make it into something that is positive.

“We call it the Shine the Light ceremony. There is an initiative to have random acts of kindness that day. The blood bank will be on our campus that day so anybody can donate blood,” Hubbard said. “There are many ways that anybody can get involved and do something kind on that day.”

Some of those who were impacted attended last year’s ceremony and were happy to be recognized. Others just wanted to “fall in place and not be recognized,” Hubbard said.

“We’re not trying to dictate how that day feels for anybody. It is different for every person, so while it is a somber day, I think the intent, at least by some, is to try to find something” that allows it to be a day of light and not of darkness.

UTPB President Sandra Woodley talks about campus transformation plans in her office Friday, Feb. 3, 2023. The Bright Stars Memorial marking the Aug. 31, 2019, mass shooting is complete, but there is still work to be done on its surroundings. (Ruth Campbell | Odessa American)

Woodley said she thinks people will find what’s most comforting to them.

“That’s what we hope to provide in this really beautiful ceremony. That’s what we hope to provide in this beautiful plaza, in this memorial. It will be a place that the community will enjoy for a long time. I think the ability for us to spearhead this for the community is humbling for us because we want to make sure that we do it right, that people enjoy it and that it serves that extra purpose that we know it can for our community,” Woodley added.

Chandra Wiginton, MA, program director of the Family Resiliency Center, said although her staff may attend the sunrise service, they are not going to be officially present because they have other things going on that day.

The center will have free mental health screenings from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in conjunction with PermiaCare. They don’t need an appointment.

“People just come on by and … have a screening done. … Anybody that’s finding it difficult to cope on that day, they can come by and speak to us, one of our staff. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have to have a screening. (If) they just want to come and vent, get some encouragement, things like that they can do that as well,” Wiginton said.

The center will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 30 and 31.

“People can just come on by and talk to somebody. Then we are putting together a compilation of videos so people can come and participate. What we want to do is spread encouragement through our community, so if people want to come and record a video and be part of that compilation and just share encouraging words with their neighbors and other community members, they can do that on both of those days the 30th and the 31st,” Wiginton said.

The center also is asking the community to display yellow lights (such as porch lights) on Aug. 30 starting at 7 p.m. through the morning of Sept. 1.

Penny Moore, who was injured during the events of August 31, 2019, recalls her experience during the mass shooting as she picks a quilt from the Family Resiliency Center of the Permian Basin on Thursday, June 3, 2021. The Midland Quilters Guild was handing out handmade quilts to first responders, survivors, and families affected by the mass shooting past August. (Eli Hartman | Odessa American)

When the Family Resiliency Center opened right after the mass shooting, Wiginton said they received gifts from other communities that had experienced mass shootings. The city of Aurora, Colo., sent a wreath which they have displayed, and the city of Santa Fe, Texas, where another shooting occurred sent them handmade hearts.

“We want to spread that hope forward,” she said. “We have gifts for Allen and the folks in Uvalde, so if people want to come and write a message of encouragement to those communities (they can). We’re four years past our event and we have evidence of healing, so we want to encourage others that it’s coming. It’s possible when you come together as a community for healing to occur after even tragedy like this.”

For people who are not local, the center can work with them to submit a video to them online. There will also be a Facebook and Instagram where they can comment if they want to send encouragement to Allen or Uvalde.

“We’ll print those messages for them and make sure they go out with our gifts,” Wiginton said.

“We want to make sure that people have different ways to participate and honor the memories of lost, but also celebrate the lives of those who survived,” she added.

Wiginton said the center is actually busier now than when it opened.

“I think because of the pandemic … a lot of people were trying to cope with COVID and all the changes that occurred,” she said. “As things have settled down, they realize they’re still struggling and some people may not even realize what they’re struggling with until they come and talk to us. But I know that every time another shooting occurs it can be re-traumatizing to people. That kind of mass violence really doesn’t ever leave you. There will always be a reminder of the way things were and the way things are after an event like that.”

Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis and Odessa Police Department Chief Michael Gerke pose for a photo at the Odessa Police Department on August 18, 2020. (OA File Photo)

Odessa Police Department Chief Mike Gerke said the shooting is still fresh even after four years.

“It’s an extremely tragic event … I think it’s going to be fresh for a very long time,”Gerke said. “I think everybody in this department feels it, and certainly everyone in the community, and absolutely all the families of the victims. I’m sure that’s a scar that will probably never go away.”

Gerke said he has every intention of attending the memorial Aug. 31 at University of Texas Permian Basin.

Asked if it was helpful for the community to have this memorial, Gerke said yes and no.

“I think some members of our community appreciate that sort of thing, but I also think there are some members of our community that when you keep going through these things it just brings up old wounds and peels the scab off the wounds that are starting to heal a little bit, so I think it’s a double-edged sword,” he added.

Since the shooting, training mandates from the state have changed.

“We try to stay ahead and do more than what is required of us; the alert system; the alert training, which is the active shooter response training that is mandated by the state, we give that to our recruits in the academy so everybody that comes out of the academy already has that training. We constantly train on it. You see other agencies in this area — the school district, the sheriff’s office — constantly training and doing drills. I know Odessa College had a drill not too long ago … the Ector County Hospital District had a drill not too long ago. You see those local law enforcement agencies here that are constantly drilling on this type of thing just to make sure they’re as sharp as they can possibly be,” Gerke said.

One of the biggest takeaways is an update in technology. He said all the entities are working together to create a regional radio system.

“We have some license plate readers around town that would help track that vehicle at that point in time; some cameras that we didn’t have access to (that) we have access to now. Those types of things would have helped track (the shooter). That was the main issue was locating this person. Once he was located, within a very short amount of time that threat was eliminated. It was finding him and locating him,” Gerke said.

When talking about Aug. 31, he noted that it always comes back to honoring the victims and the families of those victims.

“Your heart and your prayers keep going out to them because you understand — if anyone has ever lost someone and I think we all have — but not many of us have lost someone in the violent manner that those folks lost their loved ones. Your heart goes out to them and you know regardless time heals all wounds, but maybe not sometimes, and then those scars remain. I think it’s something they’re going to have to deal with forever,” Gerke said.