Church becomes haven for families of recent tragedies

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The list keeps growing in Jacksonville this summer with young people killed in tragedies that stun the community.

Jazmine Shelton is the 13-year-old killed in an early Sunday drive-by shooting. Her family is turning to a local church that has somehow become the go-to place of worship and of mourning.

The same church has been involved in the funerals for 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle, who was abducted and killed, the Bohannon brothers, who were shot and killed on the Westside, and 20-year-old Shelby Farah, who was shot and killed in a robbery at MetroPCS.

Pastor Steve Dobbs thinks families in the midst of crisis are turning to Paxon Revival Center Church because of the large heart from his community of believers.

"The very first thing they say is, 'Pastor, why did it happen?' They want to know why," Dobbs said.

Dobbs deals with the toughest of questions, many he said he doesn't have the answers to.

"We all have that question 'why,'" Dobbs said. "Why does a beautiful 13-year-old girl in her own house, minding her own business, playing with her friend, have to lose her life? Why does a little Cherish have to lose her life? Or why does that Shelby 20 year-old that was a great student, great role model, had a job -- why does she have to lose her life? I beleive it's our society as a whole. Our society does not value life."

Dobbs said he did not personally know any of the victims or their families, except for Cherish. So why do families turn to him and his church now?

Perhaps because of how his church handled the Perrywinkle tragedy and the lasting impression they made.

"What people are looking for is someone to love them, to reach out to them because they're hurting," Dobbs said. "If they're looking for answers, I don't have all the answers. But love covers everything. That's what the church is for, is to love them."

Dobbs said his church also wants the community to take a stand for changing laws, and he preaches that family strength gets passed down.

"Our future has been robbed," Dobbs said. "The only way to stop, turn this around, is for parents to be parents, love their kids and live a good example in front of them."

Dobbs said the ultimate solution is a moral one and a spiritual one.

"As a pastor, of course I'll tell you we need to know who Jesus is, and we need to know who God is," he said.

Dobbs met Wednesday with Shelton's grandmother about funeral services.

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