Grieving parishioners filled St. James Catholic Church in Redondo Beach with song and prayer at a Mass Thursday, the day after three people were killed leaving its Christmas pageant when a driver plowed through the holiday crowd.
"God called them. That’s all we can say," said church member Dorothy Home. "We all have deep faith and our community will rally around each other and support each other."
Many, including Home, attended the Christmas concert at the parish Wednesday night, where they gathered to listen to students from St. James Catholic School sing carols.
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A group, including some of the children, were crossing the street after the concert when a car failed to stop. Mary Wilson, 81, Saeko Matsumura, 87, and Martha Gaza, 36, all from Torrance, were identified as the deceased victims by the LA County Coroner. One of Gaza's three children, a 5-year-old boy, was hospitalized in critical condition.
"As soon as I got there, it looked like a battlefield," church priest Father Jim Kavanagh said. "They were scattered, eight or nine, all over the street, and nobody moved."
The driver, Margo Bronstein, 56, was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of prescription drugs. Bronstein, who uses a motorized wheelchair because of a disability, was jailed in lieu of $300,000 bail and is expected in court Friday.
"There’s so much sorrow in the world. To have so many kids and their grandparents and the older people get hit, though, (it’s) pretty rough," Home said.
Three women who belong to the church were killed and more than a dozen injured, including five children.
Michael Tovar, a St. James parishioner, said his granddaughter's friend is a young boy critically injured in the collision. He said he will never recover from what he saw.
"I was standing by the front of his car and looked down, me and another gentleman, and there was the little boy underneath his left front tire," he said. "I thought it was a jacket his car was on. It was underneath the left front tire. I could not believe that."
As they move through their grief, though, members of the church community said they will move toward forgiveness, a parish leader said.
"I know nothing about the woman or that situation, but yes. We are called to forgiveness and to understand and compassion and we cannot live our life in anger and vindication," said Monsignor Michael Meyers. "We have to rely on God’s love and stand strong in his presence and our life."
Toni Guinyard contributed to this report.