Community gathers at prayer vigil for victims of fatal school bus accident [photos]

National and local media outlets line the street Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, at New Monumental Baptist Church for a memorial service to honor six children who were killed Monday, Nov. 21, 2016, when their school bus crashed.

Prayer vigil Wednesday night

The Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, 214 E. Eighth St. Chattanooga, will hold a prayer vigil Wednesday night at 5:30 p.m. for the children killed in Monday's wreck and for the community that is grieving their loss. The Rev. J. David Carter, rector of the Basilica, will preside. All other clergy from the Chattanooga area are invited to attend. This is an open and ecumenical gathering, and all who are seeking consolation during this time of tragedy are invited.

While coming to grips with the bus crash that left five children dead Monday afternoon, more than 600 people packed into New Monumental Baptist Church on Tuesday night to sing, pray and weep.

Parents, teachers, grandparents and children crowded into the church until there was barely room to stand, heaving and throbbing in a deafening chorus of mourning. Between impassioned prayers from local religious leaders, the choir roared through one gospel song after another.

Brenda Adamson-Cothran, principal of Woodmore Elementary School, was one of the first to speak and one of many who fought back tears through the evening.

"Our hearts are broken. I told a student today you have every right to feel everything you're feeling right now," she said.

"We will grieve together and we will honor our children's lives. For them, we must be strong."

Political leaders also spoke to show solidarity with the grieving families, Woodmore Elementary and the faith community. As they did after the slayings of five service members in the July 16 shootings last year, they pledged whatever support and resources are at their disposal to help those directly affected.

"There's nothing more hopeful we do as a community than send our kids to school," Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said. "At the end of the day, there's nothing more joyful than to welcome them home.

"For those whose deaths we mourn, the hearts and minds of those children must not be defined by Talley Road [where the incident occurred]."

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger also spoke to the crowd, offering their condolences, prayers and support.

"I'm here for only one reason, and that is to share your pain," Corker said.

Less than a day after the crash, signs of support for the families cropped up immediately throughout the community.

A speaker announced that the "homegoing celebrations" for the children had already been taken care of and the crowd was encouraged to give to the Woodmore Fund, started by United Way and the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga to support the families.

At the conclusion of the service, the speakers prayed for strength and peace for the night and the long days ahead. The families of the deceased were the first to leave, and as they recessed down the aisles, they hugged friends with tears in their eyes.

As requested by a family member, the congregation lifted the families up one more time by singing, "Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so."

Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at or 423-757-6731. Follow on Twitter @emmettgienapp.

Woodmore Elementary school bus crash