THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- The wind that roared through Thousand Oaks on Thursday night threatened to drown out their voices, but the mourners still sang, channeling their grief, shock and anger into a familiar melody.
More than 100 people fell silent as the strains of "Amazing Grace" wafted through the crowd and the light-wrapped trees on the lawn outside the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.
The song, rising from a prayer circle, marked the start of the first night of vigils and memorials in Thousand Oaks, 20 hours after a gunman fatally shot 12 people at the Borderline bar before dying of a gunshot wound himself.
Despite a fast-moving brush fire that forced evacuations from hundreds of homes, mourners packed three memorial events in Ventura County: a rosary at California Lutheran University, a memorial at Moorpark College and a vigil in a theater in the Thousand Oaks Civic Center.
The 1,800-seat performing arts theater quickly reached capacity. Dozens more pressed their faces against the glass doors and watched a television feed of the vigil inside, where mourners held faux candles with battery-powered flames.
When several cellphones buzzed in unison, many in the crowd sighed, knowing it was a warning about the ominous orange smoke rising in the sky outside.
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The last 24 hours, they said, had felt like an apocalypse.
At a chapel at Cal Lutheran, a service for students and community members was standing-room-only. Sounds of sniffling and crying reverberated as university pastor Scott Maxwell-Doherty tried to explain to students how they could find meaning in the midst of tragedy.
"What has happened should have never happened, and we have been drawn into this terror," he said. "The endless stream of questions will bubble up in our souls, as they have begun in mine. Is this real? How can this be? How will I work my way through this event to make sense of it?"
There will be very few answers to those questions, he said. But God would not leave them alone.