Darkness can never outshine the light

Aug. 26—As the third anniversary of the Aug. 31, 2019, mass shooting tragedy nears, Odessans are embracing the day as one to come together to honor those who lost their lives and those who were injured both physically and emotionally. Wednesday's sunrise memorial will be about reflection and community service and gathering to support one another. It will be about light.

Seven people died that dark day and more than two dozen others were injured. The trauma that the rampage of a deranged gunman left in this community cannot be denied.

But it can't keep this community in darkness. Instead, the community is invited to gather Wednesday near what will be the site of a memorial to those victims and this community. The landmark will be stunning when finished (which could be by Aug. 31, 2023).

It will be a place of peace, reflection and light.

That light is what is important to Odessan Kelby Davis. Light and celebrating the community that rallied around her family and the families of others three years ago when the darkness came.

Kelby's husband Garret, and her young family are forever linked to that day in Odessa. Their daughter Anderson was the youngest victim of the shooting rampage. The toddler was taken to Medical Center Hospital and then transferred to University Medical Center in Lubbock by helicopter.

Anderson underwent multiple surgeries. She first had shrapnel removed from her chest, mouth and tongue and later she had surgery to remove teeth knocked out by a bullet.

Anderson, along with her twin brother Rhet, are now thriving 4-year-olds who finished up summer soccer and are on to flag football this fall. Kelby Davis said this week the entire family will join other Odessans at 7 a.m. Wednesday near the site of the planned memorial. They will wear yellow and are encouraging others to do so as well to add more brightness to the day.

"I am really grateful that the community has come together to remember and honor all that that day really stands for in the sense of coming together and honoring the lives lost and just shining light," she said.

The Davis family will add a baby boy to their family in October. She said the support of the community has meant everything to their growing family and to Anderson as she recovered.

"She is great and a normal healthy 4-year-old and she goes to speech therapy and things like that, but in the grand scheme of life she's a very healthy preschooler and plays sports." She is also very involved at their church, The Bridge.

Davis has always been quick to point out that her family is one of many affected by the mass shooting and so many did not have the opportunity to recover. The memorial will feature the names of all those who were killed or injured and reflections from family members.

Wednesday's event is billed as a time to honor those losses by doing good in the community.

"I encourage everyone to join us as a community. We have never chosen to let that day define us and the community has done a beautiful job of shining light. We want to start the day and spread lightness as a reminder that darkness can never outshine the light."

Davis said plans for the memorial Wednesday include encouraging Odessans to perform random acts of kindness or community service. "Just smile at people or buy someone coffee and just wear yellow and help us carry on the memory of the lives lost and also honor how amazing this community is."

A lot of work has gone into the plans for not just the Wednesday event, but for the coming memorial, Davis said. Odessans like Odessa Arts Director Randy Ham and Odessa Chamber CEO Renee Earls and UTPB's President Sandra Woodley have been instrumental, she said.

Ham headed up the search for a memorial art piece that will anchor the memorial site. That art is finished and a piece of it will likely be on display on Wednesday. The work was paid for with donations and was gifted from Odessa Arts and the City of Odessa to UTPB for use at the memorial. The memorial originally was planned at UTPB at the corner of 42nd and JBS Parkway.

That plan was scrapped as some felt it was too busy of an intersection and, also, that the site would likely not be a quiet place for reflection due to the heavy traffic.

Ham said his plan for Wednesday is to have one panel of the piece out for display during the sunrise service. "People will get a sense of what it will look like and it will be something you can see and illustrate what to expect when it is complete."

He is pleased with the relocation of the memorial. "It gives you not only the chance to purposely seek it out but also it adds a little walk, 100 to 300 yards, to the memorial so you have time during the walk to mentally and emotionally prepare for what you are going to see."

UTPB has gone above and beyond to make the memorial a top priority, Ham said.

Davis said UTPB, both her and her husband Garret's alma mater, has been instrumental in leading the charge for a memorial that is a place of peace and reflection.

"To us, community means so much and we would have never gotten through Aug. 31 or the years since without the support," Davis said. "To pay such a beautiful tribute means more than words can say. My husband and I are both alum and it makes it extra special and UTPB is just such an important part of our community and I think it is really special that it will be right there and an instrumental part of our town's growth and energy... We are so thankful for the care from the community."

UTPB has plans for a campus transformation and part of that includes the Bright Stars Memorial Plaza. The planned site, UTPB President Sandra Woodley said, is an important part of that transformation, which coincides with UTPB's 50th anniversary.

Woodley said walking paths will be placed all around the memorial and there will be multiple points of entry, as well as three different pavilions to enjoy the art piece, which is 20 feet tall and will be lit at night.

The goal is to have the campus transformation well underway by next August and, she said, hopefully the memorial area complete by that time. An architect is working on the plans and then it goes out to bid and then work should begin this fall.

It will be near what used to be the driving range, which is just off Loop 338 near the current community soccer fields.

A stone seating area will offer a spot to sit and reflect. Odessa Arts raised funds and paid for the art piece by Maryland sculptor Jim Sanborn. An Aug. 31 Memorial Committee selected Sanborn's design "Bright Stars — A Memorial" from a field of three finalists. Sanborn, whose works include the encrypted Kryptos sculpture at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, was one of 138 artists who applied for the commission.

For the memorial plaza, UTPB has contributed and money is still being raised. "We will be looking for donations and there will be donor recognition and we need to raise several million but don't have a final price just yet," Woodley said.

Both Woodley and UTPB Chief of Staff/Executive Director of Communication Tatum Hubbard are confident the area will rally to help fund the memorial and were excited to show renderings of the memorial, which is round with walkways coming in from several areas.

Both plan to attend Wednesday's event and were pleased about the day of light theme and engaging the community in random acts of kindness.

Likewise, Earls said she knows Odessans are willing and able to help with both funding for the memorial and random acts of kindness and community service to mark the three year anniversary.

State Rep. Brooks Landgraf plans to attend Wednesday with his family.

"Three years ago, Odessa endured an evil mobile rampage that indiscriminately stole seven innocent lives and left countless families grieving," he said via email. "But in the face of such daunting darkness, the people of Odessa emerged as a bright light for all the world to see."

He said kind people from all across "our communities—and all across this state—gave anything and everything they had—even their own blood—to help strangers that day, and we did so without batting an eye."

He continues to pray for peace and healing. "I'm grateful for the Bright Stars Memorial, and know that it will allow us to forever keep the names of those seven souls etched in our hearts."

Connection Christian's Rev. Dawn Weaks also reminds Odessans that the Family Resiliency Center at 4682 E. University Blvd., is available for those who need help.

"For most who were directly impacted by 8/31/19, it is as if no time has passed at all. For the rest of us, pausing to remember and shine a light honors the struggle they live with every day," Weaks said via email.

Support the Bright Stars Memorial by contacting the Office of Advancement at 432-552-2800 or [email protected] Naming opportunities are available for benches, trails, and bridges that will surround the Bright Stars Memorial outdoor plaza. Give online at utpb.edu/give/brightstars

Those who were lost on Aug. 31, 2019:

— Leilah Hernandez, 15, Odessa

— Joe Griffith, 40, Odessa

— Mary Granados, 29, Odessa

— Edwin Peregrino, 25, Odessa

— Rodolfo Arco, 57, Odessa

— Kameron Brown, 30, Brownwood

— Raul Garcia, 35, El Paso