By TOMIE V. PARKS
Special to the Taylor Press
They passed out posters and made a lot of posts on Facebook.
"It was an invitation, plain and simple, for people to come out and pray," said Casey Preusse of Hutto, regarding Thursday night's prayer vigil for Sgt. Chris Kelley at Fritz Park in Hutto.
She organized the event as a nod of respect to the widow of Sgt. Kelley, for she also lives the life of a law enforcement officer's wife. She's married to Texas State Trooper David Preusse of Hutto and is all to familiar with the sacrifice and hardships that work entails.
"I know it's hard, so I just started asking people to come," Preusse said.
She wasn't sure what the results would be, and she wasn't entirely sure what the vigil would entail when plans were set in motion.
"Yeah, we didn't know if 10 people would come or 10 hundred," said the Rev. Alan McGrath of Hutto Discovery United Methodist Church, the vigil's host pastor who opened and closed the program.
The pair's invitations started to circulated late Wednesday night. By Thursday morning the high number of RSVPs caused them to change venues from the parking lot at Hutto City Hall to Hutto Fritz Park.
"We enlisted the help of the Taylor and Round Rock Police Departments as well as the Williamson County Sheriff's Officers to direct traffic," said Christina Kane-Gipson, the public information officer for the City of Hutto, on Thursday at lunchtime. "It looks like a lot of people are going to be there, and we want to be prepared." (These law enforcement agencies have been covering for the Hutto Police Department in all other areas, as well, Kane-Gipson said. The local officers have been relieve of duty in effort to give them the freedom to mourn.)
By the time 7 p.m. came along, all of the parking lots near Fritz Park were full as well as the curbs of all the streets in sight. Several hundred residents had come in response to the invitation, alongside a host of community leaders, which included representatives of the Hutto School District, Hutto City Council, the Hutto Fire Department, Williamson County Regional Response and the ROTC members from the school.
Volunteers from the Hutto Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association were on site as well, pointing cars to appropriate parking places and helping attendees find places to sit.
The vigil itself was a prayer service for the entire community, led by representatives of all the faiths represented in Hutto.
Sgt. Kelley's friends and family sat underneath the pavilion alongside the pastors who came to pray while everyone else surrounded them on the grass lawn beside it.
Speakers included Brian Black, the campus pastor from the Fellowship of Hutto; Bobby Pruitt from Hutto Bible Church; Hutto Mayor Pro-Temp Michael Smith; Anne Cano from the Hutto City Council and the Rev. Will Hutchinson of Resonate Church in Hutto.
Seth and Sarah Simmons from New Life Pentecostal Church in Hutto provided the music and sang "Amazing Grace" at the end of the program. The presentation of the flags was carried out by the Hutto Fire Rescue Honor Guard.
Several of the pastors quoted various pieces of scripture from Second Corinthians about "partners in comfort" to Psalm 23, which starts with, "The Lord is my Shepherd..."
Despite the high number of people who attended, the vigil didn't make much noise. Many had their heads bowed and eyes closed. Some were crying while leaning in the arms of a loved one, and others were fidgeting nervously unsure of what was expected. But everyone was respectful, and there was nothing that disturbed the peace.
Given at the beginning of the program after the introductions, the Rev. Black's prayer was specific to Sgt. Kelley, the man who drew everyone together.
"God... we pray to you in this dark hour," Black said. "No mortal life you have made is without eternal meaning. No earthly fate is beyond your redeeming. Your grace can do far more than we can think or imagine, so fulfill in Christopher your purpose that reaches beyond time and death. Lead Christopher from strength to strength and fit him for love and service in your kingdom."
It was during this prayer that several of Sgt. Kelley's friends and family began to weep and seek comfort from loved ones.
The prayer that netted several nods of approval and sounds of "Amen" came from Hutto Mayor Pro-Tem Michael Smith.
"We are mourning for Sgt. Chris Kelley and his family and colleagues, yes," Smith said. "But let us also pray for the people who are out there right now working for our safety. Let's ask that they receive strength for the dangers they face. And lets us pray for love."