Billy Graham Chaplains Join 10,000 at UNCC Prayer Vigil

By Todd Sumlin   •   May 1, 2019

On Tuesday, a shooter opened fire in a classroom at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC), killing two and injuring four others. Less than 20 miles from the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team's (RRT) headquarters, several chaplains provided a ministry of presence shortly after the school was put on lock down. They returned to the campus on Wednesday evening for a prayer vigil, caring for their own community instead of one across the States or world.
In the sea of green worn by UNCC students—known as the Forty-Niners—16 blue-shirted chaplains asked numerous passersby how they were holding up, and offered conversation and prayer.
Chaplain Alex McCay returned to his alma mater to minister on Wednesday, praying with students and other chaplains. Although he's deployed to a man-made disaster before, he said that "it's different when it hits this close to home." He and other chaplains were able to encourage more than 120 students and staff through prayer at the vigil.
Approximately 10,000 people gathered inside the Dale F. Halton Arena on UNCC's campus to pay tribute to the two who lost their lives—Ellis Parlier, 19, and Riley Howell, 21. As the women's chorus sang "Rain Come Down" and the chancellor and others spoke, red-eyed students wiped tears.
The vigil continued outside with a candle lighting as thousands stood together quietly. Many had given each other a tight embrace, some seeing their friends for the first time since the attack.
"Forty!" students yelled on one side of the grass. Across a sidewalk, more students chanted "Niners!" in return.
"Healing takes time," said Chad Stillman, RRT's law enforcement relations manager. "We're here to give a ministry of presence and Lord willing, share the hope of Jesus Christ."
Chaplains could be found with clusters of students, many who wore soft smiles as they heard words of hope.
"They're trying to balance the stress of finals and the stress of the incident that happened," chaplain Allie LaBruna said. "It means a lot to be able to be here, to let them know the Lord loves them, that He has good plans for them, and this was an incident of evil but God can bring good out of it." LaBruna talked with a student who is classmates with one of those shot. The student was in the library when the shooting occurred and had a gut feeling she needed to get out but didn't know why. "That was the Lord that told you to get out of the building," LaBruna told her.
"The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit." —Psalm 34:18
A small group of students from a university ministry called Campus Outreach gathered in prayer at the event's conclusion. Among the group was sophomore Micah Crowell, who was next door to the Kennedy building where the shooter killed two and injured four others. One of the injured students ran into the building she was in, leaving a trail of blood behind. "It didn't feel real at first," Crowell said. "I think this [tragedy] will hopefully open the eyes to a lot of people on campus and get them thinking more about what's going to happen to us when we die."
Chaplain Al New talks with a UNCC student just hours after the shooting took place on campus.
First responders quickly took the shooter—a 22-year-old former UNCC student—into custody.
RRT chaplain Kevin Williams talks with a news crew in the Harris Teeter parking lot near the school's campus. His son is a UNCC student and normally would've been in the classroom across from where the shooting occurred.
"The days ahead will be some of the most challenging we have ever encountered," said UNCC Chancellor Philip Dubois. "All I can say for certain is that we will get through them together."
"My daughter was in that classroom," a father told Josh Holland, assistant director of RRT. While in the Harris Teeter parking lot on Tuesday night, chaplains talked with students' parents waiting to reunite with their children, who were being bussed to the area. Chaplains offered prayer to several parents, who were feeling a mix of both shock and relief that their children were OK. Here, chaplains pray with UNCC Chancellor Philip Dubois.
International Director of RRT Jack Munday talks with a police officer. Many chaplains have a background in law enforcement and know how difficult tragedies can be for those in the line of duty.
Please pray for the brokenhearted families and shaken students who lost loved ones Tuesday. >> Do you trust God in the midst of crises?