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Shooting victim's church rallies with message of hope and peace

Michael Wetzel, 37, was killed in the deadly attack at the Inland Regional Center on Wednesday, Dec. 2. He leaves behind a wife and six children.
Michael Wetzel, 37, was killed in the deadly attack at the Inland Regional Center on Wednesday, Dec. 2. He leaves behind a wife and six children.
Turtle Dove Photography courtesy of Wetzel family

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The heartbreak was palpable on Sunday at the Church of the Woods in Lake Arrowhead where, just the previous week, 37-year old Michael Wetzel had stood on the stage surrounded by his children.

Against a backdrop of holiday lights and holding his baby in one arm, Wetzel helped light a candle of hope during a special advent ceremony.

Wetzel was among the 14 people killed when two shooters opened fire at a holiday gathering of county employees at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino last Wednesday.

He leaves his current wife, Renee, an ex-wife Amy, and six children that were in his care.

Pastor Rod Akins took on the difficult task of breaking the sad news of their father's death to the younger ones.

"I go, 'Your daddy was very brave and at work, and a bad guy came in and started shooting, and he got shot,'" said Akins, fighting back tears.

Wetzel and his family have been a mainstay at the church for more than a decade. Youth Pastor Mike Encoe said the congregation has come together as a family in the wake of its loss.

"I can't imagine getting through this if I didn't have the church behind me," he said.

His daughter is best friends with Wetzel's 5-year old daughter and he's been scheduling play dates with the two to try to leaven the mood.

"It helps," he said. "We kind of woke up Friday with the understanding that it's gonna be alright. It's gonna take a while, but it's gonna be alright."

On Sunday, Encoe lit the second candle for advent in the name of peace.

The church has been helping prepare meals for the family and is taking donations for Michael Wetzer's wife and children at ChurchOfTheWoods.org.