Prayers held in Plymouth as city grieves for victims of attack

Parishioners asked to pray for gunman and those he killed in last week’s mass shooting

Prayers have been said across Plymouth for the victims of last week’s mass shooting as the city continued to be engulfed by feelings of shock, grief and anger.

At St Thomas church in Keyham, a modest redbrick building close to the scene of the shooting, parishioners were asked to pray for the gunman, Jake Davison, and the five people he killed.

It was the feast of the assumption – when Christians believe Mary’s body was taken to heaven – and the parish priest Father David Way said there would be celebrations in churches across Europe. But he said: “We don’t feel like that here in Keyham; here we are grieving, we are hurt. It is a time of sadness, shock and horror.”

Way asked the congregation to pray for the five who were killed: Davison’s mother, Maxine, three-year-old Sophie Martyn and her father, Lee Martyn, 43, Stephen Washington, 59, and 66-year-old Kate Shepherd.

He added: “We pray also for peace for Jake.” And Way also asked for people to pray for those who held the power to fight against extremism, especially on social media – a reference to the gunman’s obsession with “incel” culture.

People attend a service at St Thomas Church in Plymouth
People attend a service at St Thomas Church in Plymouth on Sunday. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

Speaking outside the church, Way summed up the mood of the community as “fluid”. He said: “On the evening people locked themselves away and didn’t know what was going on. Next day when it became clearer what had happened there was bewilderment and shock. And then as more details have come out there has been horror.

“One of the byproducts of bereavement and grieving is anger. In the last 24 hours the feelings of anger have started to surface.”

Way said Davison had clearly been “engulfed” by hatred but he said he would continue to pray for him. He said: “At the forefront of our prayers is the five innocent people who died. But I have to pray for peace a very troubled soul, Jake. We pray for those who have committed terrible crimes.”

He said he was concerned at feelings of anger towards the police after it emerged that the Devon and Cornwall force had returned Davison’s shotgun licence to him weeks before the attack.

“The police experienced things nobody wants to experience in their lives. The police were running into that situation to protect people as best they could. Let’s not aim anger at the police. Let’s aim our anger at extremists on social media.”

Way said the area, a home for many workers at the nearby naval dockyard, would rise again. “It’s a bumpy road but love is here, it always has been, always will be.”

Later on Sunday, the Home Office said that all police forces in England and Wales were being asked to review their firearm application processes in light of the Plymouth attack, and whether any existing licences needed to be revisited.

The government said it was preparing statutory guidance to help ensure higher standards of decision making for police firearms licensing applications. The guidance will cover social media checks of those applying for permission to own a firearm or shotgun, according to the Home Office.

An eyewitness told on Sunday night how Davison shot himself dead as police moved in. Mother-of-four Kamila Ignac, 33, who lives opposite the spot, said: “There was a shot and when we looked outside there was a lady [Kate Shepherd] slumped on the floor in front of the hairdressers.

“Two men ran over to help her and there was a young boy, who looked to be about 13, who joined them.

“Two young girls were walking down the road at the time and when they saw the man with the gun, they turned and ran back the way they had come.

“Two police cars then arrived and the man with the gun shot himself by the wall. The police performed CPR on the woman outside the hairdresser’s and she was taken away by ambulance.The gunman’s body was covered over by a towel.

“My six-year-old daughter’s bedroom looks out into the street. We don’t know if she saw the man shoot himself or just heard the gunshot. But she saw his body on the floor.

“She seems to be OK but the school have been good and offered her counselling if she wants it.”

The family of Stephen Washington, who was shot as he walked his dogs, said in a statement on Sunday: “Stephen was a friendly, outgoing person. He would help anyone at the drop of a hat, he loved his animals and was often seen walking his two huskies.

“Stephen was a devoted family man, a loving husband, father, grandfather and best friend. Since the devastating events a couple of days ago, our world has been turned upside down in the blink of an eye and he will be sorely missed by everyone who knew him. Our hearts and thoughts are with the families also affected by this tragic incident.”

His wife, Sheila, described Stephen as her soulmate, and said: “Fly high, you’ve earned your angel wings.”

Martyn’s cousin, Jess Morcom, paid tribute to him and Sophie.

Morcom, a journalist at PlymouthLive, told the site that Lee had the “kindest heart”. She said: “He would do anything for anybody and you only had to take one look at him to see how much he loved and adored his family, Bex [his wife] and his children.”

Addressing Martyn directly, she said: “I was always so proud to be able to say you were my cousin. The world is going to be a much darker place without you in it.”

She added: “Beautiful little Soph my darling, how truly blessed we all were to have seen you grow into such a beautiful funny and clever girl for the three years that we had with you. My heart hurts so much thinking about how it should have been so many more. I will miss your cheekiness and your dancing the most. I will think of you both every single day for the rest of my life. Our family will never be the same.

“It really is the best people that get taken too soon. I hope you’re both up there dancing in the sky far from any evil and reunited with your mum Lee, I know that you two and Auntie Chris will be watching over us all forever.”

More details about the life of the killer emerged. He attended a community special school in the city, Mount Tamar, and friends and neighbours said he had had depression and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Some locals have reported that he had anger issues and several times got into fights with local teenagers and young people. Several people have said that in recent years his mother tried unsuccessfully to get more mental health support for him. Police have said that their previous contacts with Davison – and his mental health history – will be investigated.

Luke Pollard, the Labour MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, said the city needed prompt answers to the question of why police restored Davison’s firearms licence weeks after suspending it over concerns about his suitability to hold a weapon.

Pollard also called for the city to receive extra support from mental health experts. He said: “I’ve met a lot of families who have spoken of how their children witnessed it. This happened in a very tight-knit and active community. A lot of people have seen bodies on the street, horrendous things.

“We are going to need support. Mental health services in the south-west, like the rest of the country, are creaking. People are working their socks off but we don’t have enough people to support a city let alone when there is a major incident like this. It could be additional bereavement counsellors, additional expertise, it could come from communities that have been through attacks, be it Salisbury or London Bridge.”

The period of official mourning will continue. Flags across Plymouth are being flown at half-mast and there is to be a minute’s silence on Monday. A service will be held in the church of St Andrews on Wednesday.


Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp