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Youngest Orlando shooting victim just graduated from Catholic high school

Youngest Orlando shooting victim just graduated from Catholic high school

A grandmother and her grandson light candles during a candlelight vigil for healing and peace June 15 at St. Norbert Abbey Church in De Pere, Wisconsin.

June 23, 2016
Matthew Gambino

PHILADELPHIA – Akyra Murray, who just recently graduated from West Catholic Preparatory High School, was the youngest victim of the Orlando nightclub shooting June 12.

According to news reports, Murray’s family went to Orlando to celebrate her graduation, and she and her cousin and friend decided to go dancing at Pulse, which admits teens.

When the gunman opened fire, Murray and her cousin escaped, but they returned inside the club to find their friend and the three young women then hid in the bathroom until police broke in three hours later. Murray, who had been shot in the arm, lost a significant amount of blood. Her cousin, Tiara Parker, and friend, Patience Carter, survived the shooting and were recovering from injuries.

The mass shooting at the gay nightclub left 50 dead, including the gunman, and more than 50 wounded.

Police said identified the lone gunman as 29-year-old Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, who opened fire inside the Pulse club in Orlando in the early morning hours of June 12. News reports said that Mateen, who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist group, died in a gun battle with SWAT team members.

At the start of the attack, Murray sent a text to her mom pleading for their help. She also called her and told her she had been shot and was bleeding.

Murray’s mother told The Associated Press that her daughter didn’t drink and wanted to have fun that night.

“Our hearts are broken, but together we will mourn Akyra’s loss and provide comfort to one another to honor the memory of such a wonderful young lady,” said a statement on West Catholic Preparatory High School’s website.

Murray transferred to the school her junior year. By the time she graduated this spring, she had become a career 1,000-point scorer for the girls’ basketball team and was named a Second Team All Catholic by coaches of the Philadelphia Catholic League.

An honors student, she also ranked third in her graduating class.

Murray had earned a full athletic scholarship to Mercyhurst College in Erie, founded by the Sisters of Mercy, which she was planning to attend in the fall to study criminology.

“May God bless Akyra’s soul and provide comfort to all family and friends during this very troubling time,” the school’s statement said. “At a time like this, let us work together to move beyond fear. Let us come together to find peace and strength in God, seeking comfort from our loved ones – and in our community.”

Another message on the school’s website was posted by Murray’s basketball coach, Beulah Osueke.

“Losing Akyra is heartbreaking,” she said. “This is a very difficult day, not just for the Murray family but for the West Catholic family and all that were touched by Akyra’s warmth and magnetic embrace.”

More Catholic leaders react
In Orlando on June 13 about 700 people gathered to pray for those attacked and for peace in the world at St. James Cathedral, less than two miles up the street from where the shootings took place. The interfaith prayer service was led by Orlando Bishop John G. Noonan, who was joined on the altar by Bishop Robert N. Lynch of St. Petersburg, 10 priests of the Orlando diocese and other religious leaders.

“Our presence here tonight is a symbol of hope. We come to pray,” said Bishop Noonan.

In the Diocese of Beaumont, Texas, Bishop Curtis J. Guillory celebrated Mass at St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica for those affected by the mass shooting. In his homily, Bishop Guillory said it is OK to be angry about what happened, as he was, but that anger shouldn’t take over. “We cannot allow our anger to be the GPS that moves us. Rather, it ought to be our faith,” he said. He also urged the congregation not to “pass judgment as the perpetrator did on a group of people. It’s easy for us to do. It’s easy for us to blame the whole Muslim world simply because this individual was a Muslim.”

Chicago Archbishop Blaise J. Cupich said in a statement, “In response to hatred, we are called to sow love,” he added. “In response to violence, peace. And, in response to intolerance, tolerance.”

In a letter to the Chicago archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach, Archbishop Cupich said: “For you here today and throughout the whole lesbian and gay community, who are particularly touched by the heinous crimes committed in Orlando, motivated by hate, driven perhaps by mental instability and certainly empowered by a culture of violence, know this: The Archdiocese of Chicago stands with you. I stand with you.”

In a June 13 blog post, St. Petersburg Bishop Lynch said “it is long past time” for a ban on sales of assault weapons for non-military uses. “If one is truly pro-life, then embrace this issue also and work for the elimination of sales to those who would turn them on innocents,” he said.

Bishop Lynch added, “Second, sadly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence. Those women and men who were mowed down early yesterday morning were all made in the image and likeness of God. We teach that. We should believe that.”

Bishop Lynch also said that “responding by barring people of Muslim only faith from entering the country solely because of their stated faith until they can be checked out is un-American, even in these most challenging of times and situations. There are as many good, peace-loving and God-fearing Muslims to be found as Catholics or Methodists or Mormons or Seventh Day Adventists. The devil and devilish intent escape no religious iteration.”

In a June 13 statement posted on the diocesan website, San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy said, “Once again our nation has been murderously rent by hatred and violence, rooted in a counterfeit notion of religious faith and magnified by our gun culture. The shootings in Orlando are a wound to our entire society, and this time the LGBT community has been specifically targeted and victimized. It is all too easy when faced with such wanton slaughter and human suffering to reach for a solution which is itself founded in hatred, prejudice and recrimination. But our Catholic faith demands that we reject such a pathway and embrace with ever greater strength the solidarity of all people who stand as the one family of the God who is Father of us all.”

Catholic News Service, Catholic San Francisco

Archbishop Cordileone’s statement
The following statement by San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone was posted June 13 on the archdiocesan website.

“Another senseless act of violence leaves us all stunned and horrified. As people of faith we know the folly of responding in kind. A violent response of any kind would only further spread this spiritual disease which has infected our society like a cancer. Instead, we stand in solidarity with all those affected by this atrocity, for regardless of race, religion or personal lifestyle, we are all beloved children of God, called to respond to the mystery of iniquity with love and compassion. I ask all Catholics to join me in praying for the victims and their families struck by this cowardly act of terror in Orlando, and for the first responders attending to them in their time of suffering.”

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