A mega church pastor and a former New York mayor offered encouragement and support to thousands of San Bernardino County workers beginning the New Year still reeling from the December terror attack that took the lives of fourteen colleagues.
Even as the Inland Regional Center reopened Monday for the first time since the attack, the county gave workers the afternoon off so they could attend a gathering dedicated to "Remember, Honor and Support." Nearly five thousand attended the event at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario.
They remembered the victims of a radicalized Islamic husband and wife who shot and killed 14 people and wounded 23 others on Dec. 2 during a holiday gathering of the county's environmental health services division.
They heard Pastor Rick Warren encourage them to confront their grief and not try to repress it.
"Tears are a gift from God. Tears are not a sign of weakness, but of love," Pastor Warren said.
He also implored those grieving to reject bitterness — not for the sake of the perperpetrators — but for their own healing. Bitterness, said Warren, can "eat you alive."
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani spoke of the strength his city showed in recovering from the 9/11 terror attack in 2001, and assured San Bernardino it can do so as well.
Giuliani shared the story of a New York woman who lost her father, husband, and youngest son all in the same year, but nevertheless insisted on allowing her daughter's wedding to go forward.
"You don't forget the good things because of the bad things," Giuliani remembered her saying.
He praised San Bernardino's strength in the face of terrorists.
"They didn't beat you. They didn't accomplish their goal," Giuliani said. "Tell the terrorists, 'Screw You, you can't beat us. We're stronger than you.'"
Like Warren, Giuliani also stressed the importance of unity and compassion and holding to values, and said San Bernardino will make a powerful statement "by coming out of this as an example of how strong people can be when they love each other, care for each other."
Officials beefed up security around the facility for the event, including police dogs and metal detector screeners.
"We want our employees to feel safe and secure," said David Wert, public information officer. "That is a priority of the county."
The formal program ended with Supervisor Janice Rutherford proclaiming, "We are San Bernardino strong."
Many stayed to talk and reflect before heading to the parking lot.
"The message that we should unite and stay strong and look for the good, to counteract the bad, hit home with all of us," said Laurie Hunter, a San Bernardino County employee who works in the CEO's office.
"I was very emotional coming in," said Kendra Theroth, who works on a crisis team. "But leaving, I felt strong."