Lexington officials and local faith leaders gathered in front of the Fayette County courthouse downtown Monday evening to host a prayer vigil for those affected by a recent spike in violent crime.
Dozens of people were in attendance for the event, including Mayor Linda Gorton, Lexington Police Chief Lawrence Weathers, Sheriff Kathy Witt, ONE Lexington Director Devine Carama and others.
Prominent pastors and leaders from churches and religious organizations took turns speaking during the 45-minute event, each condemning the violence.
“We aren’t seeing the violence just outside our doors, but let me say this however, if it impacts this community in any way, it impacts ours as a church because we care,” said Ron Edmondson, pastor for Immanuel Baptist Church. “We care for the city, we care for the people of this city and any way we can help, we’re here to do that.”
Among those in the crowd were family members of Sergio Villarados, a 17-year-old student at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School who was shot and killed in November 2021. Villarados’ family has been adamant in demanding justice for their loved one before and reiterated their call for justice Monday evening.
There have been 35 homicides in Lexington this year, putting the city on pace to break its annual homicide record of 37 set last year. In the last month there have been five fatal shootings, the latest of which left 22-year-old Doricky Harris dead on West Sixth Street.
There have also been 12 other people injured in shootings since Sept. 7, according to Lexington police’s crime data page.
Gorton said during the event that the city needed community members to get involved and learn more about how they can help stop violence.
“Give us your ideas and insights,” Gorton said. “Speak out. It will take all of us working together to end this violence that is infecting our city, our faith and our nation.”
‘Legislate as if the lives of your children were on the line’
Amid increased violence, people have called on city leaders to take action. Rabbi David Wirtschafter of Temple Adath Israel in Lexington said officials and citizens have failed by putting politics and profit ahead of lives.
“We ask our elected officials in Frankfort and Washington to legislate as if the lives of your children were on the line,” Wirtschafter said. “Would we have been having this conversation if the Virginia Tech shooting happened at Yale? If the Parkland shooting happened at Harvard?”
Rabbi Shlomo Litvin, leader of the Jewish Student Center at the University of Kentucky, said it’s important to look at communities across the world and copy the solutions that are working for them. To conclude his speech, Litvin blew a shofar to symbolize the ritual of gathering as a community to mourn and stand up to violence. The shofar is a horn commonly used in Jewish religious practices.
“Often the answer is right where we look that can save our children,” Litvin said.
Richard Gaines, the pastor for Consolidated Baptist Church, closed the event by saying the community needed to work together to handle the problems leading up to the actions committed by violent perpetrators.
“They are not the greatest enemy,” Gaines said. “We see the symptoms of the greatest enemy working through them, and until we’re ready to face that fact, we’ll be here 5, 10, 20 years from now redoing tonight, and I don’t want to be doing that 5, 10, 20 years from now.”