Following the mass shooting that occurred this weekend in West Texas, six golden retrievers have arrived in Odessa to comfort survivors of the tragedy. The dogs are part of the Lutheran Church Charities (LCC) K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry and are specifically trained to provide emotional relief to people who have experienced trauma.
“In the same month as mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs will once again deploy in less than 24 hours in response to yet another horrific mass shooting in Odessa, Texas,” said the LCC in a Facebook post. “Lutheran Church Charities has been invited by the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) Texas District and Rev. Robert J. Pase of Grace Lutheran Church in Midland, Texas to bring the LCC K-9 Comfort Dogs to the shocked and hurting communities that have been impacted.”
Another Texas Mass Shooting
Last Saturday afternoon, a man identified as Seth Ator killed seven people and injured 25 others after police pulled him over in Midland, Texas, for failing to use his turn signal. Ator shot at the officers and then fired bullets randomly as he fled the scene. According to CNN, the gunman left his Honda for a postal truck and continued firing as he headed to Odessa, which is about 20 miles away. After he arrived, a shootout ensued between Ator and the police in the parking lot of a movie theater, a confrontation that ended when officers killed him. Those who died in the shooting spree range in age from 15 to 57, and the injured include three members of law enforcement, a 70-year-old woman, and a 17-month-old girl.
Ator had been fired from his job as a truck driver only hours before the incident. According to USA Today, both Ator and his employer called 911 regarding Ator’s firing, but Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke said the gunman made no threats during that call. After leaving his former employer, Ator also called the FBI’s tip line, but again, made no threats. The officers who tried to pull him over had no knowledge of those events.
Authorities believe that anger over losing his job was not in itself the motive for Ator’s actions. FBI Special Agent Christopher Combs said, “He was on a long spiral of going down. He didn’t wake up Saturday morning and go into his company and then it happened. He went to that company in trouble and had probably been in trouble for a while.”
Ator was arrested in 2001, but there is little information available about that case currently. No motive is known as yet for his actions, and authorities say they do not know how he came to possess a firearm.
Bringing God’s Love to the Suffering
The community of Odessa is reeling from the sudden violence. One of those killed was a 40-year-old man named Joseph Griffith whose family was with him at a traffic light when he was shot. His sister told The Washington Post, “We are so broken.” In a Facebook post, Griffith’s wife asked people to turn to God: “I’ve been up most of the night and I’d like to ask you all to get up and go to church. Pray for those still fighting for their lives, pray for those devastated by what they witnessed yesterday and pray for those dealing with losses. Get the word of God in your heart and love each other.”
One of the purposes of the LCC’s Comfort Dog Ministry is to show God’s love to those who are grieving. According to the LCC’s director of K-9 Ministries, the group’s mission is to “bring the mercy, compassion, presence and a bold proclamation of Jesus Christ to those who are suffering.” The dogs are accompanied by trained handlers who say they focus on “being present, not on preaching,” although people often open up after petting the dogs.
The LCC, which relies entirely on donations and volunteers, is based out of Illinois and currently has around 170 dogs in over 27 states enrolled in its program. Two of the six dogs ministering in Odessa are part of the K-9 Comfort Dog program at Bethany Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas, and the other four are from other cities in Texas. The dogs will remain in Odessa for several days.