Vigil Held for Victims of Club Blu Shooting

A community too often rocked by violence reacts to the tragedy.

BY July 26, 2016


Monday evening, a crowd assembled at the spot where a mass shooting erupted just about 12 hours before.

Sabrina Bouie was there, looking a little dazed. She’d been up all night, at the hospital, waiting for word of her friend, Stef’An Strawder, who’d been hit when bullets sprayed the parking lot of Club Blu, a nightclub in the Dunbar community, as young people left a teen-focused event.

Strawder, 18, a basketball standout at Lehigh Senior High, didn’t make it. “He was a star,” Bouie says. “He had D1 colleges looking at him.”

She pauses. “It coulda been anybody.”

Pastor Kyle Jackson of Next Level Church leads a community prayer in front of Club Blu.

Another child, 14-year-old Sean Archilles, died, too, there at the scene. Eighteen others were wounded, some critically.

Around 6 p.m., Pastor Kyle Jackson of Next Level Church grabbed a microphone and invited the crowd to gather in prayer.

“My hope tonight is your soul will be restored,” he said. “Yes! Yes!” people murmured. Many held hands. Some wept.

The scene felt too familiar.

Dunbar has been rocked by violence—repeatedly and with seeming frequency—for years. There have been vigils like this before, with their promises of opened eyes, community solidarity, outpourings of love and resolve to change. It’s hard to imagine that anyone would expect this one to be the last.

Pastor Tony Bridley of See His Face Ministries talks about the impact that the shooting has had on his family and on his community.

Pastor Tony Bridley doesn’t object to such gatherings, but he didn’t feel compelled to join this one, either, set against a sea of news trucks and satellite dishes and media reporters that may have matched in number the mourners. 

He unlocked the door of See His Face Ministries, his small church located in the same plaza as Club Blu. This loss was particularly hard; Stef’An was a friend of his sons’. Growing up, he’d spent plenty of nights at the Bridley house.

“It hurts and it hurts very close to home,” Bridley said. The young man’s death re-opened raw wounds; Bridley’s 23-year-old son, also named Tony, was killed a year ago, in a hit-and-run while riding his bike home from work one night.

That death, too, had happened on a Monday night on the 25th day of a month.

“The way I felt last May, every time I see another parent having to go through that, I feel so bad for those parents. I know exactly how they feel. I know exactly where they are.”

Flowers, prayers and other mementos were left in front of Club Blu, the scene of Monday's mass shooting in Fort Myers.

Bridley’s a pastor—he frames his community’s story in Biblical terms—God versus Satan; virtue versus sin. You can interpret it however you like, but the central conflict remains the same: In too many families, the moral foundation has crumbled, and in its place guns, drugs, crime and sex have taken root.

“No kid in his right mind says, ‘Oh I can’t wait to get to be 16, 17 and get me an A-K assault rifle and kill some people. No kid grows up thinking that. So where does that come from?

“We deny God, we defy God, and we say, ‘We don’t need you God’…. When he steps back and takes his hands off the world, look what happens. We blame everybody and point fingers all around, but every individual needs to look within themselves: Have you taught your children? Have you been an example for your child?”

Late in the day yesterday, police announced the identities of the three suspects in custody. They are: Derrick Church, 19, and Tazje Battle, 19, of Fort Myers, and Demetrius O'Neal, 22, of Lehigh Acres. The trio made their first appearances this morning.

They are black.

And what that means is this story—which made international news—will likely fade quickly. There’s no link to terrorism, no foreign-born suspects, no conspiracies, just another sad example of a community that is tearing itself apart.

“If another race kills a black man, it’s an all-out war cry, but when a black man kills a black man, people won’t say anything, people are quiet. Nobody wants to step up. We do this song-and-dance around a funeral and two or three weeks later, everybody gone on living life as usual and it’s not right,” Bridley says.

Some 22 years ago—he remembers the day—Bridley found his way to God and started rebuilding his own cracked foundation. That’s why he runs this church now, tying to help others do the same. But Bridley knows that he—and those who are likewise trying to influence change—can only point out a more virtuous road.

“It comes down to individual decisions. Period,” he says. 


Related Images: