Grief in Redondo Beach after car plows through church crowd

The day after a woman drove through families and parishioners leaving a school Christmas concert, killing or injuring 13, scores gathered at St. James Catholic Church to grieve.

"Do not let your hearts be troubled," Father Francis Aguilar read from Scripture during noon Mass at the Redondo Beach church.


On Wednesday night, the priest received a phone call telling him he was needed outside the church, to anoint people who had been hit by a car.

Three women were killed and two people, one child and an adult, were critically injured when a car plowed through people leaving the concert, which was attended by about 1,000 people.

The car was driven by 56-year-old Redondo Beach resident Margo Bronstein, who was arrested on suspicion of felony vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.

On Thursday, nearly 100 people filled the pews of the church, where they sang the hymns "Be Not Afraid" and "Shelter Me, O God" and listened attentively to the sermon, many looking in need of solace.

For many the grief was hard to hide. Many cried. Some wore sunglasses to hide tear-reddened eyes.

"It was a quiet and joyful evening when it first began," Aguilar said. "Who would have thought something tragic like this would happen especially close to our hearts and our own home."

Aguilar, the congregation's associate pastor, said the crash, which resulted in the deaths of a mother and two grandmothers, is a tragedy for the church community.

"We ask all of you to continue to pray ... for the families," he said.

According to police, Bronstein was driving north on Pacific Coast Highway at about 8 p.m. when she drove through a red light at Vincent Street, striking members of a crowd that had just left the event at St. James.

People had entered the crosswalk and were headed east on Vincent when the driver struck the crowd, authorities said. After plowing into the crowd, she continued driving and headed onto the southbound lanes of Pacific Coast Highway, where she collided head-on with another vehicle, police said.

After Mass, Msgr. Michael Meyers spoke briefly to reporters. He said the church and school families were "tightknit." He said he knew victim Martha Gaza, 36, who was very involved in school activities. He called her a "a very caring individual."

"It's just a tragic situation," Meyers said. "One minute, we were in the church, and each of the classes were singing and joining in the Christmas celebration, and the next minute, so many of them were hit out here in the street in the crosswalk."