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Church asks 'why?' amid prayers, tears

The congregation gathers to seek healing for victims of the rampage and to support the suspect's family

By Dan Nakaso

LAST UPDATED: 3:27 p.m. HST, Jun 6, 2011

Youth pastor Jason Simpson presided over a somber Sunday service at the North Shore Christian Fellowship and offered no answers to explain Friday's random shooting spree allegedly by one of its own — the 28-year-old son of the church's senior pastor.

"I don't know why it happened," Simpson said as church members openly wept. "There are many people this morning who are without hope. … The only I hope I have is Jesus."

About 300 faithful gathered inside the warm, wooden Haleiwa Gym, and Simpson divided them into small clusters of prayer circles to pray out loud — or in private — for the victims of Friday's shootings, which left a mother dead and two others wounded.

The congregants held hands, bowed their heads and cried as Simpson said, "We call upon Jesus to heal the victims and families."

At one point, Simpson stepped off of the stage and sat in silence, with his head buried in hands clasped in prayer.

Toby Stangel was charged Saturday night with murder, seven counts of attempted murder and firearms charges and was being held in lieu of $5 million bail after he allegedly killed a mother of 10 and wounded two others in a 17-minute shooting spree that stretched from Kaimuki to Aiea.

Police said the shootings appeared to be unconnected and random, with no apparent motive.

Church elder Bob Prasser, a retired Hono­lulu Police Department assistant chief, told the congregants on Sunday that he and other church leaders urged Stangel's father, senior pastor the Rev. Mike Stangel, to stay in California, where he is vacationing with family.

"We asked him not to come back at this time," Prasser said. "They can't do anything for Toby at this point. None of us really can. I can't even get into the cellblock without violating rules."

Mike Stangel has been in constant contact with church leaders and is grateful for the hundreds of emails, phone calls, text messages and Facebook postings he has received but has been unable to return the sentiments, Prasser said.

"I'm emotionally drained from the last few days," Prasser said. "We all know that more than four lives have been shattered."

He told the gathering that Sunday's service would be a departure.

There would be no formal offering because the church leaders want to organize a "substantial" fundraiser for the victims of Friday's shooting beginning Sunday.

"We want to really help those families who are suffering," Prasser said.

And there would be no lei greeting — or customary jokes — for visitors to Sunday's service.

"Normally we make a big deal of our visitors," Prasser said. "We give you leis and have a little fun with you. … We're not in the mood to celebrate today. It's a sad morning. It's a somber morning."

He read aloud the Star- Advertiser's account of the shootings and paused — then choked up — when the coverage identified the suspect as Toby Stangel.

"Toby's facing second-degree murder charge, first-degree attempted murder — several cases — several firearms violations," Prasser said. "As of last night he had 15 felony charges against him. … We woke up this morning and hoped it was a bad dream. I think that we'll wake up and it'll all be gone. It's not gone. It's for real."

Simpson, the church's youth pastor, presided over the prayer portion of the 90-minute service with a message that only God knows the reasons for Friday's shootings.

"We're grieving, crying out, Lord," Simpson said. "We're dumbfounded, Lord. Why did this happen?"

Simpson asked why the husband of Tammy Nguyen, 54, of Palolo had to wake up without his wife — and why Nguyen's 16-year-old daughter had to see her mother shot in their van at Kapiolani Boulevard and Kapahulu Avenue around 12:43 a.m.

He then asked church members to pray for Nguyen's family.

After several moments Simpson asked his followers to pray for Kalihi resident Amie Lou Asuncion, 24, who was shot after her pickup truck allegedly was rammed by Stangel.

Simpson also had the church members pray for Salt Lake resident Samson Naupoto, 38, who slowed his SUV amid the commotion and then was shot.

"I believe, God, that you used him to save a life and avoided two deaths," Simpson said.

He asked the church members to pray for Mike Stangel and his family.

"They are absolutely devastated," Simpson told the gathering. "He wanted you to know that they covet your prayers."

Simpson then paused and finally said, "Some people on the outside probably won't get it. But when you pray for the Stangel family, Toby is a Stangel. … I'm going to ask you to pray even for Toby."

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