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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

‘Drive-By’ vigils offer hope

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Families of Indianapolis residents who have recently become victims of violent crime are now able to see that they are not alone, thanks to a growing group of fellow citizens who work with the Drive-By Prayer Vigil.

Each month the group, which operates under the motto “If drive-by guns can kill, then drive-by prayers can heal,” selects various neighborhoods where recent homicides have taken place.

They then gather in those areas for vigils, which usually include praise songs to thank God for the victim’s life, prayers for the victim’s family and the city at-large, and remarks from relatives and friends of the deceased.

Pastor A. Thomas Hill, pastor of Healing Streams Word and Worship Center and founding leader of the Drive-By Prayer Vigil, noted that its mission is to help families heal and use prayer to battle the spiritual forces responsible for the actions of perpetrators of crime.

“Our goal is to respond to the homicides in Marion County, to come along side and comfort families of victims and pray for peace and safety on our streets,” Hill said.

The most recent Drive-By Prayer Vigil was held on Monday evening at 30th and Catherwood, where taxi driver Herbert Coomer was found dead in the backseat of his taxi, shortly after picking up a passenger from a bar. Kenneth Bartley, who had Coomer’s cab in his driveway, is currently in custody for that slaying.

Last Friday the Drive-By Prayer network joined other groups to pray for Congresswoman Julia Carson, who is battling terminal lung cancer.

In October the Drive-By Prayer Vigil team gathered in the 3500 block of Illinois Street, where three homicides have taken place this year alone. They included the deaths of 38-year old Andre Norris, who was shot while sitting in his car; Howard Stevenson, 20 who was shot two days before on the same block and Tamon Belin, 25, who was killed nearby a month before.

The first Drive-By Prayer Vigil was organized in August 2006, following a rapid spike in violent crime on the streets of Indianapolis. The vigil’s founders, Hill and City-County Councilman Paul Bateman, have maintained its vision of uniting residents in the face of crime and launching a movement of residents who want to take their streets back from criminals.

Lula Mae Norris, grandmother of Andre Norris, is among many relatives of homicide victims who have expressed thanks for the caring support of people who don’t know them. She is just hopeful that individuals who see the vigils will be inspired to push for positive changes in the community.

“Hopefully everybody will take heed from this and live a better life,” she said.

Participant Melinda Wright describes the vigils as gatherings to declare peace and stop the cycle of violence.

“We want to bring comfort to the families that they won’t seek vengeance and that they will trust God for whoever did the crime,” said Wright.

Hill noted that contrary to the belief of some, the vigils are about more than prayer. He remembers being moved when 20 young people accepted Christ during a service in August for a 25 year-old man.

“Lives are changed,” Hill said. “We always have an evangelism team on hand, and many people have come to Christ at these gatherings, received healing and pledged to turn their lives around .”

The Drive-By Prayer Vigil group will continue efforts to prevent crime next month, with vigils being held in memory of 17-year-old Eric Hendricks, who was shot at a party following a basketball game last December and 3-year-old Tajanay Bailey, who died from severe physical abuse last month.

Organizers of the Drive-By Prayer Vigils have made participation very simple; all interested individuals have to do to keep up with upcoming vigils is log on to the Web site www.driveby.com or call Hill’s church at (317) 280-8077.

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