Town pulls together after killing rampage

First Baptist Church in Samson, Alabama, held a Wednesday night prayer service.
As the crime scene tape starts to come down in this small Southern town, the residents are leaning on one another for comfort and the strength to move on.

First Baptist Church, a few feet from the neighborhood where Michael McLendon, 28, opened fire Tuesday, welcomed members of this close community Wednesday night for a prayer service. “It’s what community is about, isn’t it Crying together. Holding each other,” a pastor said. It’s hard for many to believe the shooting rampage could happen in this town of about 2,100 people. Authorities said McLendon went to three towns, slaying 10 people. He started in his hometown of Kinston, killing his mother, before moving on to open fire in Samson and finally Geneva. McLendon was once a police officer in Samson, the small town hit hardest by the deadliest crime in Alabama history, authorities said. His nearly hourlong assault ended at the Reliable Metal Products plant in the last town, 24 miles from where it began and where police said McLendon engaged in a shootout before killing himself inside the building.

Slaying victimsJames Alford White, 55
Tracy Michelle Wise, 34
Dean James Wise, 15
Corrine Gracy Myers, 18 months
Andrea D. Myers, 31
Virginia E. White, 74
James Irvin Starling, 24
Sonja Smith, 43
Bruce Wilson Malloy, 51
Lisa White McLendon (identity not confirmed), 52

In the aftermath of the rampage, among those seeking comfort at First Baptist Church was Josh Mathews. He was driving down the street around the time of the shootings. “Could’ve been anyone — just missed the gunfire, could’ve been any of us,” Mathews said. Watch report from CNN’s Brooke Baldwin » After the shootings, he found out one of the victims was a friend. It will be hard to move on, he said. But “you have to. He was like the happiest dude in the world. He would’ve wanted us to move on and remember him for who he was.” High school baseball coach Chris Reid said he knew almost all the victims. “Everybody knows everybody. Everybody’s always been willing to go out of their way to help people in need around here, no matter what the case may be. It’s just a small town where you consider your friends as family.” Reid was walking out of the Big-Little convenience store when he stopped to talk to CNN. A little more than 24 hours ago, the gas station was the site of one of killings. Watch deputy talk about his loss » Reid was at baseball practice when he heard the shots. “They were one block from us, ” Reid said, adding that while driving, he saw a man killed in the street. “It really hasn’t set in yet,” he said. “It is still kind of a dream where you wait for it to not be real, to be over. But it’s a fact, something we have to go through.”

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Inside the church service, Steve Sellers, a visiting pastor, spoke to several hundred in attendance, praying for God to give the community strength. Some sat in the pews and sobbed. “I want to thank you, Lord, that in the coming days that this community walks through that process of healing, that there is a God who carries them through that valley,” he said. Sellers also thanked town leaders, medical personnel and local law enforcement while asking the question that’s been on so many minds: “I don’t know what set a young man off like that, but I, too, want to pray for his family. We also come, knowing Lord you taught us to forgive those who trespass against us.” Watch how state copes with “shock and disbelief” »

While members of this tight-knit town may never fully understand how McLendon could’ve committed this crime, many find comfort in faith and friends. As one pastor put it, “Thank God for this town.”