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San Bernardino residents gather at memorial for victims; more vigils planned

A small crowd of about 20 people gathered Saturday at the memorial site set up near the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino to pray, light candles and remember those killed and wounded in Wednesday’s mass shooting.

Chaplains in blue shirts wandered through the group, offering to lead attendees in prayer.

Maria Benitez, 62, knelt before rows of white candles placed in the dirt and clutched a black rosary in her hands. One by one, she touched the beads and prayed, tears falling down her face.

“I prayed for God’s protection for our cities throughout the U.S.,” she said. “For families to find comfort. It’s such a great loss.”

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Benitez was working at the San Bernardino Superior Court as an interpreter when the shooting occurred. She heard the radio chatter over the bailiff’s radio, she said.

When she heard mention of “one to three active shooters” she looked at the bailiff, panicked. He gestured for her to calm down. Once the hearing was over, he told her not to go near the Inland Regional Center, about five miles away.

“It shows how vulnerable we are,” she said.

Her co-worker Angela Stutte’s daughter was working at the center the day of the shooting, she said. Her daughter locked herself in the bathroom to stay safe.

Benitez, who has lived in San Bernardino for more than 50 years, said she never thought a mass shooting would happen here.

“San Bernardino has its flaws, but I always felt safe,” she said. “We may be on edge, we may need to feel guarded, but the resilience of people here is strong.”

Benitez said she didn’t feel any less safe today than she did the day before the shooting.

“This is not going to bring me down,” she said. “On the contrary, it will keep me going. We are truly a community.”

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Several vigils and memorials have been held this week and more are planned to honor the 14 people killed and 21 injured in the attack.

Spiritual leaders of different faiths planned to gather Saturday evening in the San Fernando Valley for a candlelight vigil to honor and remember those killed and wounded.

The “United We Stand” vigil is planned for 6 p.m. at Granada Hills Charter High School on 10535 Zelzah Ave. in Granada Hills. The gathering is hosted by the Devonshire Division of the Los Angeles Police Department and Muslim Youth Los Angeles.

The vigil not only honors the victims but also their families and co-workers, LAPD Chaplain Ken Crawford said.

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“It’s to pray for them and for their recovery. To pray for the families who obviously are grieving over the loss of their loved ones and also to support those who are affected in the city of San Bernardino,” said Crawford, one of the event’s organizers.

Imam Abdullah Jaber of the Islamic Center of Northridge, various members of the Muslim community, Los Angeles Police Department officials and dignitaries from the San Fernando Valley plan to attend the vigil.

Crawford said they’re expecting at least 500 people to attend the event.

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