NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Pictures from 17 years of Mark Rodriguez’s life flashed across screens at Tabernacle Church on Granby Street Wednesday afternoon. The memorial service celebrated the teen who was killed in a shooting rampage in Norfolk Friday night.
The sanctuary holds 1,000 people, and that wasn’t enough. Mark’s friends sat in the aisles of the church, and the seats were filled with family, people from Norfolk Christian School and Redeemer Presbyterian Church and officers from the Norfolk Police Department.
Mark was killed by a gunman who later took the life of a Norfolk police officer. Another officer ultimately killed the gunman.
“To all the officers who are here supporting us, thank you,” said Mark’s mother, Leigh Ellen at the memorial service. “I want to thank Officer Jones, who died coming to the aid of my son.”
As Leigh Ellen remembered slain Norfolk Police Officer Brian Jones, those gathered erupted in applause. She also honored Mark’s favorite Psalm, chapter 23, phrasing the passage in questions.
“What kind of God, what kind of shepherd would lead his lamb into the valley of the shadow of death? That is not a very good shepherd … and then it occurred to me — the only Shepherd that could lead you to the valley of the shadow of death is a shepherd who isn’t afraid of it. The shepherd who already knows. He’s already conquered it.”
Mark’s father, Carlos, remembered how last year his son began to have an even greater awakening in his faith, and became emotional.
“As Mark found Christ, he found himself when he went to Nicaragua, and saw the poverty, and the evil, and all the hatred. It was like his inside began to flow outside,” Carlos said.
Carlos said when Mark found Jesus Christ he found himself. Mark became a window for others: “It is interesting, when we’d walk into his room, the closet door would be shut and there would be a little light on in there, and he turned this into a little chapel. There were verses posted all over the wall, and he would go in there and spend time with God.”
Carlos also said, “At the end of the day it was this: Mark decided to worship God. He took all of his passion, all of his devotion, all of his heart, all of his dreams, and he set them on his Creator. He bowed to a King. He trusted his Savior.”
The service was filled with music, with love, with hope, and sadness. For five years, Carley Schanck dated Mark. She, like everyone, has many questions and tears and grief to deal with.
“I wake up every morning sick to my stomach, and there are several times when I curl up in my closet in the darkness sobbing,” she said. Yet, through the darkness, Carley, and all the others, said they are finding strength to carry on through the foundation of their faith in Christ.
“I don’t have any answers, and I am reeling with deep, awful grief, but even more real than the pain is the hope I have in Jesus Christ,” she said. “I don’t know why this happened, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, God is good.”
Mark’s mother read from his journal, an entry from 2011 when Mark was only 14-years-old: “Out of the chaos in this fallen world you [God] make beautiful things out of sickness, out of pain … even through death you make beautiful things. Hope is springing up from darkness. Father, thank you for your redemption. Thanks you for your rebirth. Thank you for the release from the bonds … I love you, Mark.”
It is that faith, that remarkable faith, that keeps the Rodriguez family moving forward in love instead of resentment and bitterness.
Visibly emotional, and before sitting down int he arms of his wife, Carlos said, “Today, for me, is a day to celebrate my son, who I am so proud of. Thank you.”