Los Angeles Times national correspondent David Montero’s front-page feature on the parents of an El Paso, Texas, shooting victim is not perfect.
But it’s pretty darn close.
It just might be — in terms of the mixture of storytelling prowess and attention to faith details — the best religion story you’ll read all year.
However, be sure to grab a tissue before clicking the link and becoming engrossed in the narrative. Trust me on that.
Montero opens with this powerful scene (it’s a big chunk of text, but I couldn’t bring myself to cut it off any quicker):
EL PASO — The pastor had never prayed so fervently.
Michael Grady had just learned that his 33-year-old daughter was lying in a pool of blood at Walmart.
Shot three times, Michelle Grady had managed to dial her cellphone to call her mother, Jeneverlyn, who jumped in her car and kept her on the line until she reached the store.
His wife called him from the store, and Michael Grady raced to join them. The drive from his house to the Walmart normally takes about seven minutes. It felt longer.
When he finally arrived, the parking lot was already taped off. He saw his wife’s car by the theater next to the store. He parked. He ran.
But his 65-year-old body, which had endured a quadruple-bypass heart surgery a few years prior, couldn’t move nearly as fast as he would’ve liked.
Keep reading, and Montero quotes Grady — in the father’s own words — on exactly what he was praying. And later in the piece, he does so again.
The result: Readers don’t have to guess what the Times means by “Grady prayed.” The writer takes readers to the scene of the shooting — and later to the hospital — and lets them witness the words of the father’s prayers firsthand. It’s extremely moving.
Throughout the story, Montero paints pictures with words, creating powerful images as vivid as any photograph.
Such as this:
There weren’t enough stretchers to move her out, so Grady and his wife lifted her body onto a Walmart shopping cart used for oversized items and wheeled her out to an ambulance.
They waited. Time felt both stretched and condensed. Things needed to move faster, Grady thought. After an emergency crew got Michelle into an ambulance, his wife rode with her. He ran — chest heaving — back to the car, then sped toward University Medical Center of El Paso.
And just when I started to wonder if the Times would offer any specific details about the nature of Grady’s church, Montero does so:
Grady is pastor of Prince of Peace Christian Fellowship — a yellow-tan building less than 10 minutes from where the shooting occurred. With about 45 congregants, he needed to make sure the church was open. An assistant volunteered to preach for him.
On a normal Sunday, his daughters — including Michelle — would arrive a little after 10 a.m. and start warming up as a part of the church’s praise and worship team. Grady would prepare his sermon.
By 12:30 p.m., his wife and daughters would’ve left to go to his house for their weekly dinner. He would be the last to leave. “It’s not a megachurch, so I have to lock up,” he said.
Maybe this is my Church of Christ upbringing (where we learned that the church is the people and not the steeple), but I’d offer one little quibble with the above section: The church meets at the yellow-tan building. The church isn’t the yellow-tan building. But that’s as close to nitpicking as I’m going to get.
Spoiler alert: Feel free to stop reading here if you want to experience the story without me giving away the ending.
If you’re still here, this is how the story wraps up:
He was touched by the outpouring. But he wanted to get back up to the ICU to see his daughter. After more than two days there, he knew his way around the byzantine hallways of the hospital. Up the elevator. Past two sets of double doors. Beyond the table strewn with empty pizza boxes and a roomful of people who were also waiting. The nurses smiled or nodded as he walked by. Tragedy had bred familiarity.
He wasn’t sure what her first words would be when she was finally able to talk. He hoped for, “Hi, Mommy. Hi, Daddy.” His eyes welled with tears.
Grady peeked his head through the door and around the curtain. Michelle was crying.
“We’ve been with her ever since she was shot. We’ve been here every day,” he said outside her room. “And we will be here to try to dry the tears and let her know it will all be OK.”
He took a breath and walked in.
What happened next?
The exceptional storyteller leaves the reader guessing and wanting more. What a remarkable piece of daily journalism!