Doug Cunningham, wearing a neon yellow vest and holding a large umbrella, stood at the entrance of Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch. Under a gray sky, as heavy rain poured down, he walked adults, teens and children from their cars to the building.
The church volunteer didn't know Kendrick Castillo, the 18-year-old who was killed in the May 7 shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch, or any of the other eight other students who were injured.
“I just got a heart for kids,” Cunningham said.
Cherry Hills was one of several churches and schools across the community that held vigils and services the evening of May 8 to provide a space for people to grieve, to honor those injured and affected by the tragedy.
Nearby, St. Andrew United Methodist Church hosted a service for STEM families. In the lobby, students embraced one another. In the sanctuary hundreds of people prayed, shared feelings of grief and lit candles. Security personnel from Douglas County School District, along with Superintendent Thomas Tucker, watched the crowd from the outskirts.
“We know that we are strongest as a community,” the Rev. Annie Arnoldy said.
Cherry Hills Community Church provided a buffet dinner for families, followed by a service with song and prayer. Childcare was available for children in third grade and under.
Hundreds of community members filled the sanctuary. Many people stood with their hands in the air, belting words of hope and love. Among the guests were the three Douglas County commissioners.
Shane Farmer, senior pastor, was candid with the audience. He honored Kendrick, who witnesses say lunged at the shooter to save other students.
“We are so sick of being the epicenter of the violence on our kids. We are so sick of it,” Farmer said. “This is a day when we need help, we need hope, we need healing.”
After hearing news of the shooting, Serene Erickson, a student at Heritage High School in Littleton, texted her grandma and asked if she could join her at church. The 15-year-old said she felt stressed, scared.
“Tonight really helped,” Erickson said after the Cherry Hills service. “It was refreshing to hear positive words and to see everyone come together.”
Cherry Hills Community Church, 3900 Grace Blvd., will host another service at 7 p.m. on May 9.
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