Las Vegas shooting leaves emotional weight on city, Catholic actor says

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Clarence Gilyard, the actor most known for co-starring in the TV hits “Walker, Texas Ranger” and “Matlock” and who now teaches acting in Las Vegas, said the deadly mass shooting at the outdoor country music festival Oct. 1 left a “palpable emotional weight” on the city and its Catholic community.

In the days since the shooting, he said, “there are no answers except to be with God,” which now is the only thing giving him the comfort and strength to go about his days and be able to help others.

The actor, a Catholic convert who is on the board of directors of Holy Cross Family Ministries and is an associate professor at the theater department at the University of Nevada, lives about 10 minutes away from the deadly shooting on the Las Vegas Strip.

When the shooting began, he said, he was the only one awake; his wife and three boys were asleep. As news reports came on television with “really rough” footage from people’s phones, he said, he just started processing things and praying.

Vincentian Father Tomaz Mavric, superior general of the Congregation of the Mission, looks on as Clarence Gilyard, who teaches at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, gestures during an interview with Catholic News Service in late August in Washington. Gilyard, a Catholic and former actor perhaps best known for his role in “Walker, Texas Ranger,” said the Oct. 1 mass shooting has put an “emotional weight” on the city’s Catholic community. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

He couldn’t help thinking that many of the deadly events in the United States in recent years had been coming close to home for him. His work on “Walker, Texas Ranger” was not far from the site of the standoff between Branch Davidians and federal agents in Waco, Texas, in 1993 that ended with a fire killing 80 people.

He and his wife were honeymooning in New York during the 9/11 terrorist attack, and he went to school in San Bernardino, California, the site of the 2015 shooting when 14 people were killed at an office Christmas party.

Gilyard said he served in the military for a few years, but nothing prepared him for these large-scale disasters that were weighing on him.

He also wasn’t sure how to break the news to his children about the shooting at the Las Vegas Strip that left 59 dead and more than 500 wounded, but he and his wife discussed it before the rest of the family woke up.

“We travel that freeway all the time,” he said of the road near the outdoor concert venue. He ended up telling his boys — ages 7, 10 and 14 — that “someone very sick did something bad” and focused on the work of first responders and praying for all who had been affected by the horror.

He also found he needed to be there for his students who were in shock about what had happened and couldn’t articulate everything they were feeling.

The mood in the city, days after the carnage, was very somber, he told Catholic News Service Oct. 3. The billboards were no longer advertising upcoming events but simply posting the words: “Pray for Las Vegas.”

Along this same line, Gilyard said that one of the most touching parts of the Oct. 2 interfaith prayer service at Guardian Angel Cathedral was when Las Vegas Bishop Joseph A. Pepe called for a time of silence.

He said he isn’t sure why that moved him the way it did, but he simply prayed for first responders and victims.

Gilyard, who has lived in Las Vegas for 12 years, said the Catholic community is very active and is “needed in this area” particularly to evangelize following the example of St. Francis and using words only when absolutely necessary.

As he still tries to piece together what happened and what will be the next steps for the city and Catholic community, his sons’ reaction seems to reflect what the country at large is feeling.

He said his 10-year-old “wants to be assured we have his back,” his 7-year-old is asking a lot of questions and the older son is just “physically beat.”

“Who would think there would be war zone right near your house?” Gilyard said, but he also noted that it gives him a different perspective because “so many have that all the time.”

About Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' news and information service.

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