Pierce O'Farrill's story is so mesmerizing, listeners momentarily forgot the cold wind that was blowing down South Hanna Street as they sat on folding chairs outside the Urban League's headquarters Wednesday night.
Indeed, one could even lose focus for a moment on the grim reality that had brought the group together to hear this young man: the killings that have put Fort Wayne on pace to break its own record for murders during a single year.
And O'Farrill's story was grim as well.
When a black-clad gunman tossed a tear-gas grenade into an Aurora, Colo., movie audience and began shooting indiscriminately, O'Farrill was in the third row with a friend.
O'Farrill was shot twice that night, one of 70 people wounded; 12 others were killed.
He told the audience his Christian faith sustained him. After a second blast struck him, "this strange peace came over me. All fear went away."
His faith also led O'Farrill to do something a lot of people would find quite strange: He forgave the man who is facing trial for the attacks.
In his hospital bed the next morning, he saw James Holmes' face on TV.
"Most people saw a monster," O'Farrill said. "What I saw was a lost soul."
His message to the group bracing against the chilly breeze, and the message of the speakers who preceded him, was that a positive approach can be redeeming and powerful.
"I have a .40-caliber bullet still in my arm," O'Farrill said. "It hurts on days like this, when it's cold.
"But it's a reminder that I get to have another day."
To deal with the more day-to-day problem of violent crime in Fort Wayne, O'Farrill suggests the same kind of positive approach, and the same willingness to forgive.
"The power is in the community," he said. The murders here are "horrible things," he continued. "But I see them as opportunities to show our love." He suggests seeking out those who would do violence and offering them understanding, even if that means seeking out gang members, for instance, and talking with them.
"What if we were bold enough to show these hurting people love?"
The "Community Forgiveness and Reconciliation Symposium," one of several Building Bridges meetings the Urban League has organized in response to local violence, was structured around O'Farrill's presentation. Urban League President Jonathan Ray was in harmony with the remarks of the guest from Colorado.
"We have to approach these problems without revenge," Ray said. "You have the freedom to live your life without resentment, restoring, renewing. We need a new beginning, a new revival: We can no longer sit back and say it's OK for 35 people to die.
"Central Fort Wayne, Southeast Fort Wayne – it's Fort Wayne. We're all in this together."
The night before he spoke, Allen County's 36th homicide was recorded – less than a mile from where Ray was speaking. There were two more shooting deaths over the weekend, so that number could rise.
Ray reminded his audience of what happened after the Flood of 1982.
"There was a call to action," he said, and a true communitywide effort. "We got a lot of national attention" because "we saved ourselves."
The details of how we stop the violence have yet to emerge. But whether one shares O'Farrill's religious faith or not, one can't help thinking that he, and Ray, have tapped into the spirit that must be present if we're to find solutions. A community united in a positive way – infused with love and forgiveness – is more likely to succeed at curbing violence than one whose only common ground is hate or fear.
Building Bridges, Ray said, will share all of its ideas with the City Council at a meeting Oct. 29.