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Chattanoogans Pray And Reflect After Shooting Tragedy


Staff Sergeant David Wyatt, Lance Corporal Squire Wells, Sergeant Carson Holmquist, Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Sullivan - those are the four U.S. Marines who were killed this week when a gunman opened fire at two military facilities in Chattanooga, Tenn. And today a Navy petty officer who was injured in the attack died from his wounds. The suspected shooter, Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, was shot and killed by police. Officials are investigating it as a terrorist attack. Federal investigators are focusing on a trip that he made last year to Jordan, as well as his online activities in search of a motive. Chattanooga is beginning to grieve in the wake of the attack. Emily Siner from member station WPLN reports that community turns to faith for comfort and solidarity.

EMILY SINER, BYLINE: The day after Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez attacked two military facilities in Chattanooga, Muslims were supposed to celebrate Eid, one of the holiest days of the year. At the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga, where the shooter's family frequently prays, the mosque canceled its annual Eid festival. But Saffa Abou-Alfa came to the mosque for afternoon prayers and she admitted she was scared for her family's safety after she found out the shooter was Muslim.

SAFFA ABOU-ALFA: We don't want to be hated by everybody. You know, everybody hates us and it's scary.

SINER: Tennessee has seen several Islamophobic incidents in recent years. In a city just 100 miles away, a mosque under construction was vandalized and its equipment set on fire. A commissioner in a nearby county once posted a Facebook photo suggesting Muslims should be greeted with a shotgun. But here in Chattanooga, it's been different, says Bassam Issa. He's the president of the Islamic center, and he describes almost ideal relations with the rest of the city.

BASSAM ISSA: Every Muslim in this community feels that they live in a normal, everyday, any other American. Chattanooga itself has been very exemplary.

SINER: And these strong interfaith ties were celebrated at a prayer vigil last night.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) God bless America.

SINER: More than 1,000 people came out to Olivet Baptist Church in downtown Chattanooga. Pastors, rabbis and political leaders called on God to get through the tragedy. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam cited Scripture.


BILL HASLAM: Jeremiah wrote, seek the peace of the city to which you are called.


HASLAM: For in its prosperity, you will find your prosperity.

SINER: There were also many, many Muslims in the audience. Most sat toward the back and they were barely acknowledged until Islamic society member Mohsin Ali came to the podium, representing the center.


MOHSIN ALI: If you are a Muslim, please stand up and be recognized as a Muslim Chattanoogan.


SINER: The applause turned into a standing ovation. It lasted almost 30 seconds. And that makes Wanda Officer, a member of Olivet Baptist Church, think maybe something good will come out of this tragedy.

WANDA OFFICER: And it actually brought unity into our community with our sisters and brothers that we knew not of and not to the extent of who they were.

SINER: After all, she says, they all have something in common. Even though they have different faiths, they all believe in one God. For NPR News, I'm Emily Siner in Chattanooga. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Siner is an enterprise reporter at WPLN. She has worked at the Los Angeles Times and NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., and her written work was recently published in Slices Of Life, an anthology of literary feature writing. Born and raised in the Chicago area, she is a graduate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.